By Prof. Dani Wadada Nabudere
Feb 8, 2004 - Sunday Monitor
The recent unanimous judgement by the Supreme Court in the appealed constitutional case lodged by Dr Paul Ssemogerere, Mr Zackary Olum and Ms Rainer Kafiire presents us with the situation that prevailed in August 2000 after the same court declared the Referendum Act of 1999 unconstitutional.
“Open Letter to the President” rendering him advice on how to resolve the crisis then.
This advice was in the form of a number of scenarios that the government could pursue.
I weighed different options that were available to the government, including declaring of a state of emergency or the president deciding to rule by decree, which I ruled out as treasonable since this would have implied the president staging a coup de’tat against his own government! I then concluded:
“The third option, which I very strongly recommend and call on you to follow, would require you to look at the crisis as a political one which has to be resolved politically.
This being the case, the best course for the country would be for you to call a sovereign national conference to resolve the crisis. This conference would involve the parties, your government, the NRM, the religious leaders, traditional leaders, youths, women, people with disabilities and sections of civil society.
This option seems the best in view of the nature of the crisis. You yourself have indicated that you would like a Constitutional Review Commission, which perhaps you wanted to use to strengthen your hand even more. The parties have also been asking for a constitutional conference.
“Since all sides seem to support some kind of amendment to the Constitution, the best thing would be to hold a national conference, which can make constitutionally binding decisions. A legal mechanism could be found to accommodate this technique, which has been used in a number of Francophone countries. It was especially successful in Benin.
For this option to succeed however, you personally would have to show that you are open to other solutions. The best constitutional arrangement would be where we agree to hold elections on a multiparty basis, but form a government of national unity, which would accommodate all the parties in the next Parliament, and government.
The National Caucus for Democracy-NCD offered this same solution to the NRM Caucus in the Constituent Assembly, but it was rejected out of hand.”
This open letter appeared in The Monitor around August 14th to 20th, 2000. There was no response from the powers that were. There was no “political or constitutional crisis.”
Today we hear the same reasoning from the same quarters. There could not be a constitutional or political crisis when a military government ruled the people.
The people did not come out to demonstrate their support for the court ruling. Could they?
The argument about a political or constitutional crisis could only be made if Ugandans had a constitutional government.
But we were under the illusion that after the 1995 Constitution, Uganda had moved into the era of constitutional governance.
How mistaken we were. The NRM government continued to rule with an iron hand claiming there was no political crisis, justifiably so since they were a military Junta with a civilian appearance. Now we know better.
The recent Supreme Court’s ruling has exposed the fact that since the very beginnings of the 1995 Constitution, we have actually been ruled by a system other than a constitutional one.
The idea that we can now expect the government to respect the constitution has already begun to sideline by some abrasive comments from these same quarters.
One of the President’s personal assistants was recently quoted in the press as saying that the president has ruled because he was elected by a large majority of Ugandans, never mind that it was unconstitutional.
The said “Young Turk” added rather ominously: “The Movement was not created by law and it will not be killed by law.” Paul Ssemogerere was described to be a “professional litigant” to which “profession” he was advised to “stick.”
What more do you need to prove that we are still under a tight military dictatorship?
Be that as it may, the Movement government must realise that they cannot go on playing this militaristic game forever. Tough talk will not help anybody, let alone create stability in the country.
Our advice to the government is the same: please let us follow the democratic process and not pull back into “Aminism” or “Chwezism”.
Feudalistic Militarism will not solve Uganda’s political problems. Nor can attempts aimed at restoring old empires that had long withered away! With this in mind, I would supplement the following addendum to the president to my Open Letter of 2000:
The problem is real. Since you symbolically took off your military uniforms and assured the people of Uganda that you had now put on a kanzu and given olubengo to carry on behalf of the people, you have been operating under the claim that you are a democratically elected leader.
Now the basis of that claim has been blown openly apart. The very laws upon which your “political system” was “selected” in a referendum have been exposed to have no constitutional basis. Your election as President in 2001 is therefore null and void.
“Therefore, at this moment, if you want to demonstrate your democratic credentials, you, more than any one else, need the political parties to give you support?
It is not the 50 odd parties you recently helped to create in order to frustrate the dialogue the country needs critically at this moment who will help you. They do not have any democratic and political credentials, except their “merit.”
You need the real political parties that have been tested countrywide, especially the DP and the UPC, to come to your rescue.
You can only do that if you can demonstrate openly that this time you seek reconciliation for the good of our country.
Then it will be possible to organize a Sovereign National Conference to discuss all the pending national issues that you have avoided to discuss openly and genuinely with the other political forces in the country.
“One of the most important issues you will have to put on the table as part of the agenda will be a discussion on how to end the Northern war.
You should not think that the International Criminal Court, whose authority you had not so a long time ago tried to undermine with unilateral agreements with the United States, could help you solve that problem. You know how that war begun because you started it in the Luwero Triangle in 1980 for the purposes of getting rid of the “northerners” from dominating the Uganda government. It turned into an ethnic cleansing.
You have fought ‘the northerners’ for the last eighteen years but victory has eluded you. Now is the time to atone the people of Acholi in particular, and seek their forgiveness and not turn Joseph Kony into an international criminal as if this war is about international legal niceties. It is a local war that has to be solved internally and this is the only chance you have to do so.
“For this reason, I advise you to embark on consultations with the political parties, the religious leaders, traditional leaders and Parliament to agree to the convening of the Sovereign National Conference, which will have the power to make binding resolutions, including the validation of the constitutional situation since 1999.
You need to do this in haste since the legality, legitimacy and cohesion of your government is in serious trouble.
“Abandon the old gimmicks of putting on a brave face. The issue we are facing is a serious one. You now need the help of the people to demonstrate that you can listen to their advice and for the first time proceed along a democratic path.
© 2004 The Monitor Publications
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