Right to dissent must be respected and protected

Everyone should ideally be entitled to his or her opinion. PHOTO/NET

What you need to know:

  • Holding a different view in this country has increasingly become difficult and yet it is impractically impossible that all 50 million Ugandans will always agree on every matter.

The right to dissent is by and large an extension of the freedom of conscience, expression, movement, religion, assembly and association enshrined under Article 29 of the Constitution of Uganda, 1995.

Uganda too signed the African Charter on democracy, elections and good governance (ACDEG) in December 2008, which espouses the right to dissent and holding opinions important for any democracy.

The charter further under Chapter 4 enjoins states to protect such freedoms and under article 27(8), States are enjoined to protect and promote the freedom of expression, opinion and the press and media.

Now that Uganda has committed to promote and protect these freedoms, why is the right to dissent in this country becoming increasingly an offence?

In the recent past, we have had episodes where those who hold a divergent view from the majority have been demonised, threatened, and called all sorts of names just because of their different opinions about a matter. Covid-19 too has not spared us on this; there has not been meaningful debate allowed as those who seem to hold a monopoly of the information call it scientific and therefore should not be commented on by everyone.

In a free and democratic state, it is important that all voices are respected regardless of which side they fall; for this is what democracy demands, to respect every opinion and this is what measures the level of growth as a country.

There should never at any one point be a situation where only certain individuals have the monopoly of opinion and that the rest should only follow suit, this is bad for democracy. 

We should promote the culture of intellectual discourse in this country by allowing dissenting views too; they should not be harassed and victimised for opining differently rather this should generate intellectual debate.
Article 38 of the Constitutions allows citizens to participate and influence the affairs of the government.

This does not mean that at every opportunity citizens will only be in agreement with a state policy or practice all the time. For instance, Ugandans are being charged departure tax at the Airport $10 and we have consistently asked under which law this deduction is being made but all in vain. To request for information on why we are being charged to depart one’s country is not sabotaging government plans, but it is for knowledge and debate; you cannot expect citizenry to pay taxes they have no knowledge about.  

We are currently engulfed in the discussion of banning bail for capital offenders and the discussion seems one-sided; those dissenting on the matter need to be listened to and given an opportunity to express their views on the subject-for this is not just a caucus matter but rather a national matter.

Holding a different view in this country has increasingly become difficult and yet it is impractically impossible that all 50 million Ugandans will always agree on every matter. We need to stop pretending. If we are indeed a free democratic state as we call it, then the practice of the same should be seen! Dissenting views must be respected all the time because that is what democracy is and as long as we don’t respect them, then we are a pretending democracy.

To those who feel we should not have dissenting views, where should those with dissenting views go? How should we live without debate? How should we live with only one opinion? As a country, we need to think critically about these issues because as a citizenry, we shall always speak out our minds, like I am doing in this article and it is always our right to do so and whoever feels disturbed b our opinions, before they procure tear gas or order brutal arrests, they should invest in reading and writing intellectual rebuttals to our opinions-this is what they call democracy.

Moving forward, each one of us regardless of the power and position they hold must respect our views whether in agreement or in dissent because they are our views and they matter too.

Secondly, public participation in all affairs of the state is a right guaranteed under Article 38 and for that reason, there will always be different views pinions different policies and decisions and it is still our right as citizens to challenge any undemocratic and arbitral policies that do not reflect our will and power for the leaders are our servants and must at all times respect our views! We must respect all views everywhere. 

 Michael Aboneka, [email protected]