By Frank Tumwebaze
The Banyankole say; “Falsehoods wake up early in the morning, move rapidly but the Truth always reaches the targeted destination first.”
This is what is happening to the false narrative against Hon Raphael Magyezi’s Bill spurn by its opponents, who have been selling lies spiced with intimidation and propaganda to fault the proposed amendment of Article 102 (b) of the Constitution.
Some of their widely propagated falsehoods go as follows;
That removing the age limit is “raping” the Constitution and therefore abrogating it. That is what informs their intimidatory slogan “Togikwatako ” or “Dare touch it”. They deceptively created the impression that amending Article 102(b) is illegal and a forbidden act. Partisan religious leaders, after being called on by opposition activists, then joined this deception bandwagon and have been using the pulpit to propagate it. The propaganda here seeks to deny Ugandans an opportunity to objectively listen to the substance of the Magyezi amendment bill by making it look illegal and sacrilegious to amend article 102 (b).Their fears are that if the citizens get to know the merits of scrapping age-limitations in the Constitution, they would definitely buy into them because ultimately term and age limits affect voter choices and reduce on the scope of their power as enshrined in Article 1 of the Constitution. This explains why many jurisdictions world over does not have these restrictions in their constitutions.
The second component of their deception is that; amending the Constitution entrenches a life presidency for Mr Museveni. Besides being false, this exposes their inherent fear for a man and political leader called Museveni in competitive politics. Their fear, therefore, is not about a bad law rather about a tough opponent whom they pray can be locked out of the competition by a technicality. It is why they consider this a do-or-die affair, laced with threats of bloodshed—as symbolized by their red ribbons.
They also make a deceptive argument of this amendment being the removal of the last safety valve in the Constitution. It is a vague and illogical argument. The ultimate safety valve of any Constitution is its relevance to the wishes and aspirations of the people at any given time. If people believe in it and follow its provisions, then that is the safety valve to talk of.
It is for this reason that the Constitution actually has the amendment clause whose purpose is to ensure the supreme law matches the people’s wishes and aspirations at any given time. That is how it becomes a living document lest it collapses.
After assembling these lies, the Opposition then moved into an aggressive marketing drive, bringing on board partisan elements in the media and faith institutions to use the airwaves and pulpits to sell it as a credible neutral narrative of “defending the constitution”.
They then tried to incite the population against MPs by alleging that each had been given billions of shillings by President Museveni to support the amendment. Most media houses gave decimal or no coverage at all to any proponent of the Bill. That is how the anti-age limit propaganda and wave of their falsehoods woke up very early to try and reach its destination but unfortunately for them truth has overtaken. It is unwelcome news to them and their allies.
Initially, many Ugandans including some NRM members fell for this propaganda. Certainly, nobody would want to support life presidency neither abrogation of the Constitution nor support anarchy. This veil, however, is off and the “Togikwatako” campaign has been exposed for what it is—lies, lies, and lies.
The first chink in their campaign is their desperation and criminality. Ugandans are wondering why the threats of violence? Why the violent behaviour in Parliament? Why issue threats of bloodshed on TV and radios? For a country that has already had its fair share of a turbulent past, citizens are right to question the political motives of this group.
The proponents of the Magyezi Bill, however, have kept their cool. We continue to engage on social media and in our constituencies Despite the intimidation from the opposition, amplified by their allies in the media on the airwaves and religious leaders on the pulpit, the logic of the amendment has kept on emerging. We continued engaging mainly on social media and in our constituencies to dismantle one by one of their deceptions.
First, it has become clear to all and sundry that amendment of the constitution was and is provided for in chapter 18 of the same constitution by its framers and so the Magyezi bill is not sacrilegious. Claiming that amending the constitution is raping it and issuing threats of “don’t dare touch it” gradually got exposed and became meaningless. Their grand propaganda started to get fractured from the basics. Ugandans started picking the interest and listening more and more attentively to the alternative voices pro-the Magyezi bill.
Despite opposition hired hooligans that attempted to disorganize NRM gatherings in various constituencies like in Katakwi and sponsoring false stories in the media about outcomes from consultations, most consultations of MPs country-wide have become successful with the majority of the people understanding the merits of the amendment. I am sure on the basis of those consultations many MPs will report and vote without fear in favor of the Magyezi bill. Even in those few constituencies where it’s reported that the people rejected the amendment, it is clear there was no objective explanation about the objects of the amendment bill. The already biased few MPs only presented to the People their prejudices and deliberate distortions about the bill contents. By and large, majority Ugandans have now understood and appreciated the Hon Magyezi bill. Those who thought that their blackmail and engineering of bad press against MPS would work have been shocked and disappointed.
What are merits of the Hon Magyezi bill?
The intimidation and diversionary propaganda of the opposition notwithstanding, it’s important that an honest and objective discussion on this political matter be facilitated to emerge so as to allow reason, logic, and objectivity to come out. Let those against the amendment, advance the substance of their arguments and avoid trading in their usual anti-Museveni rhetoric. After all, we know that even before the proposal to amend article 102(b) of the constitution was tabled by Hon Magyezi, they have always been anti-Museveni and NRM. So their lack of objectivity and opposition to President Museveni and NRM on each and every proposition is neither new nor surprising.
Personally and with the support of my constituents, I will vote in support of the Magyezi bill. Here is why?
First of all, it’s nothing but deception, to say or imply that amending the constitution is raping or abrogating it as if it’s illegal or its the first time a constitution is being amended. The same constitution provides for mechanisms of the amendment in Chapter 18. It Provides in articles 259, 260, 261 and in 262, what can be amended through a referendum, district councils and what is for parliament. There is what a referendum can amend and what parliament can amend within its powers. This is what the Constitution provides. If the framers didn’t envisage any need to amend a constitution in future, these elaborate provisions wouldn’t have been put in the constitution. The “Togikwatako” talk, therefore, is redundant, wrong and superfluous.
Secondly, The opening article of our constitution, article 1 and which is entrenched, gave power to the people. It didn’t mean to give people the same power in limited proportions. Why then should the same constitution in other provisions negate that same spirit of giving power to the people, by imposing limitations on who should be elected on account of young or old age? This is the substance that needs to be discussed soberly without any emotions. So, the logic of the Hon. Magyezi motion is; if we claim that power belongs to the people, why again impose limitations to any person and deny him/her the right to be elected? It becomes clear that article 102(b) contradicts article 1.
If one reads the Hansard recordings of the Constituent Assembly(CA), which not many media outlets have picked interest in re-publishing or broadcasting so as to put the debate in perspective, one will see all these Same arguments to have dominated the debate in the CA. The majority argued that; it was negating the power of the people given by article 1. I am sure that is the same reason why this very article 102(b) was not entrenched. They let it pass just like they did to many others, knowing that one day it will be amended by parliament.
It is also worth noting that the Odoki Commission which collected people’s views prior to the Constituent Assembly didn’t report or make any known prominent recommendations on the issue of the upper of an age-limit cap. The commission only talked about the lower Cap. I am sure if it had been an issue of much interest from the citizens, the Odoki commission would have given it prominence and documented it. I have perused the Odoki commission report in search of any possible recommendations on this particular matter, I have found none.There is no evidence to suggest that people demanded it . Issues that people were so much concerned about were submitted to the Odoki Commission and were recorded.
Another issue to know is that; there isn’t any much literature on precedents of age limiting in other jurisdictions of the world. From America, Europe, Asia to much of Africa, not many countries have embraced this practice of age-limiting as a democratic best practice. That means age limiting is not a universal democratic best practice or principle to benchmark. Universally Known principles which are pre-requisites for building a strong democratic culture include; Conducting of Free and fair regular elections, Participation of the Citizenry in determining their destiny, Free Press and Political Pluralism. This is what Professor Nsibambi former Prime Minister used to lecture us on during our political symposiums at university in the mid-90s. I never heard him add to the issue of Term and age-limiting as necessary pre-requisites for building a democratic culture.
The claim that removing the age-limit will institutionalize life Presidency of Mr Museveni is also hogwash. The power to vote in and out any leader is not being taken away by the amendment bill. Instead, it’s being reinforced by the same Magyezi bill. Removing limits makes the power of the people to vote in and out any leader the ultimate limit. So how can life Presidency be so in this case? It’s true that If a leader is good, he/she will be voted for many more times. That can only lead to longevity but not life Presidency. Longevity perse isn’t bad. It has its known advantages. Famous Amin didn’t need 30 years to cause the havoc he did and neither was he a creation of having no age-limit. With or without term/age-limits, dictators can wreak havoc. The sustainable way, therefore, to fight dictators is not by putting term or age-limits in the constitution, but by civically empowering citizens to choose leaders of their choice and be able to resist bad in favor of good at all times. That is how NRM with the support of the Citizenry was able to defeat the dictatorships of the past. Full involvement of the citizenry in determining the affairs of their governance and not symbolic term or age limits; is the permanent therapy to the emergence of dictators. This is what the NRM government invested in. Even before full take over of government in 1985, the NRA then, immediately mobilized people in liberated zones to form their own elected village councils called Resistance Councils(RCs) so as to manage their own affairs. All interest groups of the citizenry(Youth, women, disabled, elderly, workers and army that hitherto was used as an anti-people tool ) were catered for in the governance structures by the NRM. This is what civic empowerment means.
It is also becoming clear that the opponents of the Magyezi bill aren’t forming their opposition on the basis of the demerits of the amendment but rather using it to play politics against Museveni and NRM. It’s not what they talk about the amendment that they mean. They are scheming for 2021 and beyond. They are trying to use that constitutional technicality to bar the person they fear most at the polls. This should raise our political consciousness as NRM supporters. It’s not our opponents to tell us which Candidate/flag bearer to field against them. Why should FDC continue fielding their only one candidate time and again for almost 20 years now and yet again rant over our own as NRM? We are not foolish to seek advice from our opponents on how best to compete with them. And even if NRM was to field President Museveni again, how is that their business? If Ugandans don’t like him because of being old (above 75years) as the Opposition claims, they will not elect him, period. In fact, that way, NRM opponents wouldn’t be bothered. They would let NRM remove the age limit, field again the “unpopular old Museveni” and then suffer defeat. Why then become restless with the proposal to remove article 102(b)? The truth however is; They fear President Museveni’s popularity and they wish to lock him out using technicalities of age limiting. So, talking of political schemes and benefits; it’s the opposition seeking shortcuts to benefit politically from the age limit technicality which they believe will eliminate for them a potentially strong contender in the name of President Museveni. They believe this is their chance after getting so many resounding rejections from the citizenry. Let nobody be fooled, therefore, by their rhetoric of life Presidency, raping the constitution etc.
A humble message to some of our Spiritual leaders.
To some of our good faith leaders that have chosen to take a partisan stand on this matter and purely lent support to one group. Just know you are wrong and dividing your flock. While religious leaders are free to give neutral counsel for the common good of all on any matter, it’s wrong to use the pulpit to sell a one-sided political message. We don’t come to those places of worship to be mobilized either for or against certain political opinions. We come here to receive uncontested counsel and messages of spiritual instruction. When you go partisan, you remove yourselves from the positions of being impartial spiritual umpires to being partial Political activists. And therefore you must be ready to be challenged and answered. Honest religious leaders who still care to stand for the truth just like many of our leaders stood firm against evil practices of gay marriages and cut ties with some of the big churches in the west that were pro-gay marriages, should raise and oppose this growing tendency of making the pulpit a platform for partisan politicking. It endangers the future of our places of our worship. I salute many bishops and reverends that I know of, who have openly called for tolerance from both sides of the political divide and refused to personally take sides for fear of diving their congregations. We thank them and still count on them to protect the church. The church is not for NRM, FDC or DP. It’s for all. So any political messages from the church shouldn’t be meant to benefit one political group against another or to promote a certain political opinion against another. Objectivity is key in all this.
Otherwise, Truth is unfolding and has taken over the falsehoods. Ugandans have discerned the usual Opposition rhetoric and known what the Magyezi amendment bill is all about. That is why most consultations of MPs returned overwhelming support.
So let the Hon Magyezi Bill be debated on the basis of its substance without the intimidation of any form and from anyone.
Frank K. Tumwebaze, MP
Minister of ICT & National Guidance