Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Guard against terror without abusing rights
Recently Monitor Publications Ltd , in one of its editions , quoted top security officials talking grandly about the new tough measures instituted to secure the country against terrorist attacks.

As a country, its important that we secure our porous borders and waterways against terrorism. Ugandans must remain vigilant in the global fight against terrorists- whose extremist ideologies are hell-bent on causing maximum causalities and destruction of property in the civilised world.

But be that as it may, the new government anti - terrorism measures should not, at the same time , dull our pursuit as a people, the promotion and protection of the civil liberties enshrined in our national constitution.

While the state must be resolute in ensuring the safety of its citizens from terror acts , government should also take seriously the International Commission of Jurists, (ICJ) a body of human rights legal scholars- who are concerned that the new global counter terrorism legal regime has led to an increase in cases of human rights violations.

These extreme cases of human rights violations in the fight against terrorism which include interalia (among others), the holding of suspects in un-gazetted detention centers with out trial - coupled with torture - have been challenged in the US Supreme Court.

The court has since held among others, that the Guantanamo detainees (majority of whom are suspected terrorists arrested following the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States), have the right to go to federal court(s) to seek their release from indefinite detention.

Following that decision some ICJ scholars have argued and this column concurs ; that safe guarding persons from terrorist acts and the respect for human rights and humanitarian law, allow states a reasonably wide margin of flexibility to combat terrorism without contravening human rights and humanitarian legal obligations.

This is because in some countries the post 9/11 climate of insecurity has been exploited to justify long-standing human rights violations carried out in the name of national security.

Just like many countries around the world, following the events of 9/11, Uganda’s legislature enacted the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2002 as a measure to counter the threat of terrorism in the country.

The import of this law was the creation of the offences of terrorism, aiding and abetting terrorism, establishment of terrorist institutions, support, finance or execute acts of terrorism.

The Act also allows government security agents to intercept correspondences of and the surveillance of persons suspected to be planning or to be involved in acts of terrorism. The Act also specifically lists the terrorist organisations as, The Lords’ Resistance Army, The Lord’s Resistance Movement, Allied Democratic Forces, ADF and Al-queda.

Terrorism according to the Act has been assigned the meaning of an act committed by a person or organisation for purposes of influencing the government or intimidating the public or a section of the public and for a political, religious, social or economic aim, indiscriminately without due to regard to the safety of others or property intentionally or unlawfully cause death or serious bodily injury or extensive destruction likely to or actually resulting in major economic loss. When convicted one can suffer the death penalty.

But during the implementation of this law, there have been cases perceived by both the general public and international community especially those involving politicians as being an attempt by government to use the anti-terrorism law to harass or intimidate opposition politicians without having incriminating evidence against them.

Now that’s what is called political persecution and its not the right approach in fighting terrorism.
Let suspected terrorists be accorded their legal rights and once convicted by our courts then they should ultimately suffer the full force of the law.

We can protect ourselves against terrorism without necessarily infringing on the individual’s fundamental human rights. It’s possible to this balance right.

The writer is a journalist and advocate

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Mr President, don’t hunt your honest ally
President Museveni has of late come hard on the media which he accuses of sabotaging investment by maligning investors. This is a worrying development, not that it’s a direct attack on the freedoms of speech and expression but that it comes at a time when our Parliament has been cowed by the executive.

In a true democracy, both Parliament and the media play the role of watchdog to check the excesses of the executive. The Judiciary on the other hand, plays the role of an arbitrator to resolve conflicts between the other three arms of the state namely the executive, legislature and the media while at the same time upholding the provisions of our constitution and the attendant laws.

Ugandan journalists have continued to be harassed and more than a dozen are now facing various charges ranging from criminal libel to sedition and promotion of sectarianism even when these bad laws are now a subject of a constitutional petition which was filed by Andrew Mwenda and the East African Media Institute.

And since the matter is yet to be disposed of by the Constitutional Court, it would be prudent for the executive to suspend such offences until the court makes its ruling on the their fate. This would also be the right criminal procedure whenever there are constitutional issues to be determined in substantive petitions lying before court.

Instead, the state conveniently prefers to ignore these rather obvious/basic procedures of the law in their relentless effort to stifle media freedoms and the citizens’ right to challenge bad governance. These machinations by the state to gag the media have far reaching consequences for the wider freedoms of the citizenry, the stability and development of our young democracy.

Democracy thrive best in an atmosphere of trust, openness and accountability. It’s a constitutional right for the citizens to access information held by government and its agents in order to hold our leaders/public servants accountable for their actions.

In civilised societies media offences have been decriminalised and those wronged pursue civil remedies. The media has an important role to play as a watchdog of the public by exposing the ills in government and effectively help to stem government’s abuse of power. For democracy to flourish therefore, there must be an independent, free and vibrant media and the individual’s rights of free speech, expression and access to information must be protected.

Governments must encourage and allow positive criticism and promote tolerance in the interest of public good. Whereas Uganda is said to have relative press freedom compared to other African countries, it should be noted that the said freedom does not arise out of instrumental guarantees, but out of the mere goodwill will of the regime in Kampala. This must change. All Ugandans including the President must appreciate that fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual are inherent and not granted by the state.

Uganda still has on its statute books some of the most obnoxious, obsolete laws which were largely designed to curtail free speech and media freedoms to allow the dictatorial regimes of the day to entrench themselves in power. Some of these laws have been applied by government whenever its interests of beating the media into line arise.

These bad laws which can be successfully challenged in any court with competent jurisdiction, including the East African Court of Justice, (EACJ) can be found in the Uganda’s Criminal Penal Code Act as amended, The Press and Journalists Act, The
Anti Terrorism Act and the Electronic Media Act 2000.
The President’s apparent determination “to deal” with the media is very disturbing to say the least. The heads of state and government from Eastern Africa must embrace and work with the media for the region’s greater development. Instead of bashing the independent media, Mr Museveni should listen to them more and get unbiased information that can help him and his government grow our democracy.

Mr Sserwanga writer is a journalist and advocate

Tuesday, November 25, 2008



When Parliament recommended radical changes to our land law in 2007,exactly 10 years ago,  I wrote this article in my Column The other Side of The Law, which was published by the Daily Monitor for five  years . I'm glad to reproduce it given the on going  debate about the government Land amendment Bill  2017 and the the Land Inquiry Commission headed by Lady Justice Catherine Bamugemereire.

This and many other articles on topical legal issues can also be found on my blog: msserwanga.blogspot.com.

The parliamentary joint committee appointed to handle the Land (Amendment) Bill 2007 has once again succumbed to pressure from the executive arm of government and recommended that the controversial changes to the land law be enacted in total disregard of public opinion.

Whatever the mischief the new amendments are intended to cure, the entire process of protecting the rights of ‘squatters’ has been flawed in a sense that no national consultations were carried out to rally Ugandans to support the new legislation. It’s ironical and illogical that the legislators could have the audacity to recommend that the amendments be passed into law and then national consultations be held later. Of what purpose will these ‘consultations’ serve when Parliament has already pronounced itself on the matter?

The machinations by the state to do as it pleases, without taking into consideration the opinions/views of the stakeholders, are a clear manifestation of leaders who are out of touch with the people they lead. In a recent survey commissioned by Monitor Publications Ltd (MPL) and carried out by a reputable research organisation, the Steadman Group, it transpired that six out of every 10 Ugandans are not satisfied with the government’s approach to solve the land problems in the country.

The polls showed that 66 per cent of Ugandans are disenchanted with President Museveni’s management of land issues. And this is besides the fact that knowledgeable and independent interest groups like the Uganda Land Alliance , Uganda Human Rights Commission and the Uganda Bankers Association are all opposed to the amendments and have since called for nation-wide consultations to be conducted before the law is amended.

It’s clear that the amendments will face serious legal challenges because they are basically creating competing rights of ownership of land– which is an important factor of production. With the peasants pitted against the landlords, land will unfortunately be rendered a non-saleable commodity.

The bankers have already, and rightly so, warned that the controversial land amendments being forced onto the people will close the market for mortgages and loans from which banks depend for most of their business. With a struggling economy and land prices going through the roof, people can only own a piece of land by acquiring mortgages through their bankers. But this cannot be possible when in the market, you don’t have a clear legally recognised owner of the land!

And this is not to argue that citizens should be evicted from their land illegally. The existing law has sufficient safeguards against illegal land evictions. The peasants, the majority of whom are squatters or settlers on vast chunks of land, already have their rights protected by the constitution.

The constitution provides for the protection of the land rights of the registered land owners (landlords) and those with equitable or secondary interests in land like the tenants by occupancy or bibanja holders , the bona fide occupants (people who have lived on any given piece of land unchallenged for more than 12 years before the coming into effect of the 1995 constitution) and lawful occupants (those who settled on land with the consent of the registered owner by virtue of the Busuulu and Nvujjo law of 1928). The provisions of the constitution are reinforced by the enabling law, the Land Act.

This column has stated in the past and repeats now that there is no serious lacuna (gap) in our land legal regime. The major problem is the poor implementation of the law and politicisation of the land conflicts across the country.

Securing lasting legal rights for the peasants/squatters can only be realised through purchase and subsequent transfer of title from the registered land owners to the buyers who in this case can be the peasants. The government should put in place a land fund to enable the peasants buy land and thus secure their land rights. Artificial legislation shall be successfully challenged in court and we shall be back to square one!

The writer is a journalist and advocate.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


African leaders must learn to accept defeat
There is a raging debate about how Africa and Uganda in particular will benefit from a new US administration headed by not only the first African-American but also a man with roots in the East African region, President-elect Barack Oboma.

This perspective is particularly important now, given the fact that the record low ratings of out- going US President George Bush, is a clear manifestation that unilateralism can’t work in the 21st Century. Rather, it’s the combined effort of the world community through globalisation that will bring peace and prosperity to the human race.

That’s why the antidote to this new reality is not about militarism and financial handouts in terms of aid from the generally democratic developed world to the largely undemocratic and less developed countries, but the attainment of good governance, rule of law and respect for human rights. Uganda can only partner with the new US government if we can guarantee good governance.

Already, President-elect Obama, has been quoted as saying that the problems facing Africa are more about leadership than financial.

It’s more about the willingness of African leaders respecting the opinions and decisions of the people they lead. Ultimately, this means that leaders, especially in Africa, have no option but to test their abilities to lead by holding regular, and free and fair elections and allowing voters their civil liberty and other constitutional freedoms like the right to associate and express their political ideas without fear of being haunted by the state.

This again requires that political campaigns and elections should be free of violence, especially the kind that is state-inspired and designed to intimidate voters. And once the people make their decisions using the ballot, their votes should count and not be stolen by the incumbents, who are not in the habit of giving up power peacefully .

The peaceful transfer of power is one of the hallmarks of a true democracy. Irrespective of all the bruising he suffered at the hands of a gifted orator Barack Obama, President Bush has promised to ensure that the transition to a new administration is smooth.

Never mind that Mr Obama spent all that time deriding Bush for “failed policies,” or mocking him for hiding in an “undisclosed location” because he was too unpopular to show up with his party’s own candidate Mr John McCain. African leaders must also learn to be gracious when beaten at the polls.

Obama’s opponent Mr McCain is one good example. He was the first to send out a congratulatory message and even told his supporters that whatever the politicians differences, they should put their country first and rally behind their new president- elect.

Last week, Mr Bush and his wife had the courtesy to invite the incoming chief executive Obama and his wife Ms Michelle Obama for pep talk at the seat of power, the White House. Mind you, these are politicians of two different brands from two different political parties.

Unfortunately for Uganda, it’s 46 years of independence and the country is still counting to a day when we shall witness a peaceful transfer of power from one president to another. But this is not to say that we can’t do it. The framers of our Constitution provided for the blue print for a legal and peaceful presidential transfer of power.

The question then is; do we have the courage as citizens to respect and uphold the provisions of our constitution that calls for democratic elections? Can we stand firm and say bye to election fraud? Do we have the ability to mobilise, vote and ensure that it counts? Yes. We Can.

Mr Sserwanga is a journalist and advocate

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


NSSF inquiry; Parliament has capitulated
The independence of our national parliament has come under trial once again after the Speaker, Mr Edward Ssekandi, made a rather ridiculous ruling about whether members of parliament have powers to investigate errant cabinet ministers.

Ssekandi’s decision has also left the country wondering whether the taxpayer whose money was misappropriated in the NSSF-Temangalo land scandal should continue to foot the bill for the endless commissions of inquiry which are not only very expensive but also whose recommendations never get to see the light of day.

It’s also common practice for governments to employ the commissions of inquiry to buy time and divert public attention and subtly suppress dissenting views. Instead of using the commissions to restore public confidence about the way the country is governed , the inquiries like in the case of the National Social Security Fund land saga serve the purpose of humiliating the victims- in this case the workers- whose hard-earned savings the NSSF managers are mandated to manage.

But before we address the legal issues and Mr Ssekandi’s interpretation of the law to suit the powers that be, let us pose some questions here. If indeed, Ssekandi, as the Speaker, (and he has a legal mind too) knew that Parliament had no business investigating ministers for contraventions of the law like political influence peddling, conflict of interest and general abuse of office, why did he allow the Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises to go ahead with their investigations?

And these investigations were conducted within the precincts of Parliament in full public view and lasted nine weeks. That’s besides the numerous caucus and cabinet meetings called by the President to save the embattled Security Minister Amama Mbabazi and Finance Minister Ezra Suruma, costing millions of taxpayers’ money.

The nation needs to be reminded that although the primary role of Parliament is to make laws, that alone does not extinguish its inherent powers under the constitution to rein in members of the Executive when they abuse state power. Parliament is mandated by the constitution to defend the constitution and promote the democratic governance of Uganda.

It’s also a cardinal principle of law that the constitution is supreme and therefore takes precedent over any other enabling law like the Leadership Code. The constitution provides that if any law or any custom is inconsistent with any provision of the constitution, the constitution prevails and that other law or custom shall to the extent of the inconsistency, be null and void.

Mr Ssekandi, with due respect, made a gross mistake when he relied on an erroneous interpretation of the law to suggest and rule that a committee of Parliament does not have powers to investigate errant public servants like ministers and make recommendations including sanctions against such wrongdoers.

This is because article 90 of the constitution is very clear; it mandates Parliament to appoint committees with powers of the High Court. This in effect means that these committees have unlimited jurisdictions like the High Court to inquire into any matter, make decisions and even pass a sentence/sanctions.

It’s disappointing and a very sad development for the country that the Speaker and Parliament are ready and have surrendered their supervisory authority and constitutional independence to the Executive arm of government. Parliament has betrayed the people of Uganda by succumbing to the manipulations and coercion of the Executive and not serve to protect national interests. But there comes a time, like in the just concluded elections in one of the world’s leading democracies- the US, when the voters or the citizens reclaim their constitutional supremacy and say; it’s enough!

Mr Sserwanga is an advocate and journalist

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


We should end injustices against women
Daily Monitor last week ran a depressing story about a 19-year-old girl Ms Fatuma Nansamba, who was refused to write her A’ level examinations at Kibibi Secondary School in Mpigi District merely because she gave birth during school term.

And what a tragedy! For starters, at the age of 19, Ms Nansamba is considered under the provisions of our constitution to be an adult – meaning that she can legally consent to have sex, marry and even give birth. There is nothing illegal there.

However, what is unconstitutional and therefore illegal, is the school authority’s decision to deny Ms Nansamba her constitutional right to pursue education. Her case is also part of a wider problem - the wide spread inequitable gender relations in this country that largely and unconstitutionally confine women and the girl-child to a second class citizen status.

The concept of gender refers to the distinctive qualities of women and men that are culturally, socially and economically determined. And because of the patriarchal nature of our society, where women have for long been treated as subservient members of the family, the gender imbalance and the inequalities that come with it, is something that can easily pass for being normal.

This perhaps, explain why a boy(s) responsible for the pregnancy of a young girl(s) can be allowed to sit for their exams while the girl(s) who suffer labour for nine months are not accorded the same opportunity.

And all this happening at a time when it’s common knowledge that women’s rights are protected by our constitution in the Bill of Rights (Chapter four) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted 60 years.

In fact, The Universal Declaration in Article 1 provides that: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

But the provisions of the Universal Declaration on Human rights and several other international and regional legal instruments such as the Convention on the Elimination of discrimination against Women have not helped much to ensure the full enjoyment of equal rights by women in this country.

Women are still considered to be labourers in the home and yet they can’t lay any claim to property in your typical rural family home. The biting poverty cannot help matters either because when parents have to make the tough decisions on which child to send to school – such decisions are always in favour of the male gender. The abilities of the girl-child are never considered.

Even those (girls) who make it to school against all odds like Ms Nansamba are still discriminated against.
So, why do women continue to be discriminated against? The discrimination against women can be traced to politics, economics, social relations and even the law, which predominantly remain the preserve of men.

And as long as these old prejudices remain entrenched in our minds, women emancipation shall remain a big joke and to a great extent, a myth! But one thing is clear though - the injustices that are continually meted out against women and the girl-child must be brought to an end.

Women should not be treated as second class citizens or worse still as men’s property. Women who are our mothers should be treated with dignity and allowed the full attainment of their constitutional rights which include but are not limited to, the right to good health care and education. Women should at all times enjoy the same, equal opportunities as men.

Mr Sserwanga is a journalist and advocate

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Tumukunde case a test of court’s boldness
The Supreme Court has once again upheld the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers by ensuring that the constitutional equilibrium between the organs of government; the executive, parliament and the judiciary are maintained at all times.

In it’s recent decision in the matter of Brig. Henry Tumukunde versus the Attorney General/ Electoral Commission, the Supreme Court which is the highest appellate court in the country has once again set a precedent by putting the powers of the executive ( the president and his servants) in check.

The doctrine of separation of powers is very important for our fragile democracy because as it were, there is a constitutional desire to protect citizens of this country from the excesses of the executive and stop it from abusing state power. That’s one of the roles of the judiciary and parliament and the former needs to be commended for standing up to this high ground.

The Supreme Court’s decision followed a petition by Brig. Tumukunde after President Museveni and some members of the High Command forced him to resign from his position as army representative in parliament .

Through his lawyers, on appeal to the Supreme Court, Tumukunde argued that he wrote his resignation letter under immense fear and undue coercion thereby making his purported resignation unconstitutional. In other words, it was argued that the brigadier’s resignation had no legal effect because it was secured by unconstitutional means when the executive ( the president and senior members of the UPDF), violated Tumukunde’s rights as a member of parliament when they forced him to resign from his seat.

A key piece of evidence adduced before court was the ‘resignation’ letter which Tumukunde wrote to the Speaker of Parliament in which he stated that he was directed and given a 12 hours to resign his parliamentary seat. The Supreme Court found that the manner and style in which Tumukunde framed his ‘resignation’ letter was not that coming from a free mind. The court therefore ruled that a member of parliament should never have to resign under the threat or directive of anyone but only in accordance with the provisions of the country’s constitution and the laws made by parliament and do so voluntarily. The court found Tumukunde’s letter as constituting a soldier’s obedience to superior orders under protest.

The court noted that neither the Commander–In-Chief nor members of the High Command are empowered by the constitution to force a member of parliament to resign or recall him or her from parliament. The court particularly addressed itself to the provisions of article 83 of the constitution which lays down the legal circumstances under which an MP can vacate his or her seat in parliament. And these are very specific - that’s, if one resigns voluntarily, if one is disqualified by law, when parliament is dissolved, if member is absent for 15 sittings without satisfactory explanation and if found guilty of violating the Leadership Code of Conduct.

A member of parliament can also lose his/her seat if they are recalled by the electorate, if the member leaves a political party for which they stood as candidate and if when elected as an independent decides to join a political party and if a member is appointed a public officer. The court also emphasised that the role and functions of the speaker should be impartial. Court cited a 1964 scenario in England when Charles I, then an absolute monarch, attempted to arrest five members of the House of Commons and demanded the Speaker to identify them.

The Speaker, Lenthall, bravely replied to the king thus : “ Sir, I have neither the eyes to see nor ears to hear except as directed by this House whose servant I am.” Court emphasised that the primary role of the Speaker was and has always been to parliament and not to the king or the executive. This is the reason why the separation of powers doctrine is premised on the concept of checks and balances which are core values of a democratic society.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Can Museveni do a McCain in 2011?
The US presidential race is now on the home-stretch , with 22 days to the polling day on November 4. The Americans will decide whether to continue with George Bush’s policies by electing the ‘maverick’ Republican candidate John McCain or embrace change which has been proclaimed by the Democratic candidate Barack Obama.

But there is a lot about America’s elections that developing nations like Uganda can learn from . Take for instance the role of women in national politics. For the first time in the US presidential campaigns four amazing women- Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Cindy McCain and Sarah Palin have made their mark and elevated the women’s role in national politics to a level that has never been witnessed anywhere in the world before.

These women have demonstrated that they too are smart and can hold their own on a level political playing field. They have debated the issues with the same intellectual intensity and stamina just like their male counterparts.

That’s why a Washington veteran the Democratic VP nominee , Mr Joe Biden (65)– tried so much not to appear to be disrespectful when he came up against a far less experienced Republican VP pick ,Ms Sarah Palin (44) during the Vice Presidential debate watched by a record 69 million global audience.

Although we are yet to have a serious woman presidential candidate in Uganda, if one chooses to exercise their constitutional right- to have a shot at the presidency, they should be accorded the same respect given to women in the US presidential campaigns.

The other important lesson for us has got to do with disabusing our national and local politics of any manner of personal attacks and have our politics cleaned up to focus on the issues that are matter to the Ugandan people. The McCain campaign has unleashed a barrage of nasty attacks on his main challenger Obama. But the polls show that such smear campaign doesn’t work in a civilised political society.

An election dominated, at its inception, by the war in Iraq is now overwhelmingly focused on the country’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression in the 1930s- that’s what concerns the people and not whether Obama is a Muslim or McCain is a Christian. Because Obama is doing well on issues, the polls are favouring him with double digit leads among voters on who can fix the US and global economy.

It’s not surprising therefore that at a Town Hall event on Friday in Minnesota, McCain took the microphone from a woman who had called Obama an Arab. McCain said, “No, ma’am,” and he called Obama “a decent, family man.” McCain also drew boos at the same event when he told a supporter who expressed fear at the prospect of Obama’s election that the Democrat is a “person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States.”

This is the kind of tolerance that we should demand of our leaders in Uganda. Can our politicians borrow a leaf from McCain’s rejection of the politics of fear and hate mongering ? Can President Museveni make similar, respectful remarks or compliments about his formidable opponents such as Dr Kizza Besigye? Only time will tell. But that’s what civilised leaders do.

One thing for sure though is that there has been too much name calling and hatred in our national politics. Now is the time for the Ugandan voters to say no to such divisive tactics in our body politic. The US campaigns have also demonstrated that everyone can be president including forks who come from modest means like Obama if they are well prepared and focused to address people’s needs.

But perhaps the most significant lesson from the US elections is that of our civil duty to take our national politics seriously. We, as citizens, must be vigilante and exercise our constitutional right of electing democratic leaders who can take our country forward. Ugandans must pay attention to issues of governance because they directly impact on our lives. We can disagree without being disagreeable or without demonising one another.

The writer is a journalist and advocate

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Arming the traffic police is a little on the extreme
The Uganda Police leadership is never short of surprises. This time round, they want to arm the traffic police with automatic rifles to defend themselves against violent motorists. Whereas the traffic police have a right under the Constitution and the Police Act to defend themselves against violent criminals, employing guns is a little on the extreme.

The Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura, though a military man, is said to be a supporter of democratic policing - a principle that calls for less confrontation. This notion of democratic policing is fundamental, given the country’s history.

Uganda is one of the countries that have grossly abused the Russian made Kalashnikov assault rifle also known as AK 47. According to a report by Control Arms Campaign spearheaded by Amnesty International , Oxfam International and the International Action Network on Small arms, the AK47 assault rifle will remain a killer machine in Uganda for the next 20 years unless urgent measures are put in place to regulate its use.

Already, an estimated 50,000 illegal guns are in the hands of rogue elements including some security personnel who at times hire them out to robbers. It’s also on record that there are about 100 million AK 47s and variations of its design produced in 18 countries and used in 82 countries. About 30 million illegal guns are in circulation in black Africa - (including south Sudan and Somalia).

These killer weapons have led to the death of an estimated 3 million people globally. To back-up their misplaced idea of introducing more guns on our streets, the Police leadership have cited the examples of USA, Indonesia and Thailand where traffic police officers are armed.

What the Police don’t tell the public though is that the countries they are citing are far more developed democracies than Uganda and have punitive gun laws. The levels of training for security personnel in those countries are more superior.

The level of gun abuse by the Special Police Constables is testimony to this. The human cost as result of gun-related crime is frighteningly high. No week passes without reports of innocent Ugandans killed by armed gangsters.

Not long ago, the government through the Uganda Police and Uganda Revenue Authority introduced the express penalty scheme where wayward motorist are fined on the spot.

This is a good scheme because whoever came up with the measures knew that traffic offenses should be of civil nature and only assume a criminal element where there is malicious injury to or loss of life and damage to property.

Arming traffic police to police petty traffic offences is contrary to the principle of democratic policing. This measure, if implemented, can also be misunderstood to mean that government is militarising the Police whose role is different from that of the army.

The Inspect General should instead launch a nationwide campaign to rid our city, major towns and the countryside of illegal firearms. The proliferation of illegal fire arms especially through our porous borders with DR Congo and Sudan, coupled with trafficking in the city and towns is a complex local and international problem that calls for a tough legal regime.

Parliament should review the Police and Fire Arms laws to make it difficult for people to posses guns illegally.

The writer is a Journalist and Advocate

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


If we had a Mbeki, what would Besigye be?
The legal showdown between former South African President Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki and ANC President Jacob Zuma rattled the political establishment in Pretoria leading to last week’s resignation of Mr Mbeki.

It was a turning point in African politics with a president of a major industrial country calling it quits for alleged ‘persecution’ of his political rivals. Mbeki’s decision to resign followed a stunning court ruling by Judge Chris Nicholson in which he noted with disconcert that Mbeki and his then justice minister, Penuell Maduna had interfered with the independence of the national prosecuting authority to prefer politically instigated corruption charges against Mr Zuma.

Justice Nicholson’s ruling included biting criticism of prosecutors and political leaders all the way up to President Mbeki, saying there was reason to believe the decision to charge Zuma was politically motivated.

The judge also expressed concern that prosecutors were influenced by members of Mbeki’s Cabinet, and said it was “improbable” the ministers acted without Mbeki’s knowledge and agreement. Nicholson’s observations in the Zuma case are not unique to the Ugandan situation where opposition leaders have gone through similar tribulations when the state abuses our prosecution system to prefer charges against them without credible evidence.

But Mbeki’s resignation has also proved one thing - that Africa’s big men are not indispensable after all. The ANC’s decisive action to call for Mbeki’s resignation was significant in many ways. It sent a clear message that a leader should never abuse his authority to terrorise the citizenry especially his political opponents .

That good governance entails a fair legal system which is not manipulated by the state to victimise those who are legitimately opposed to its ideas. This calls for the full protection of human rights particularly those of minorities- those who are less privileged including opposition politicians.

In a business of bitter rivalries and awkward alliances , few political relationships have been more bitter than that of Dr Kizza Besigye and President Yoweri Museveni. After their nasty 2001 battle for the presidency it has been a mouse and cat game- with Besigye being on the receiving end much of the time
The outspoken Dr Besigye, one of the toughest challengers to Mr Museveni’s leadership, has been arrested on several charges ranging from rape, terrorism, to treason, without concrete evidence.

In fact Dr Besigye has been vindicated by the courts of law who have cleared him of many of the trumped-up charges.
And it matters less the argument that African politicians will engage in all manner of schemes to capture power including being subversive (rebellious) against the state which is a capital offence under our constitution and penal laws.

The prosecutors should have enough evidence to prove a prima facie case (on the face of it that the accused person has committed the said offence ) before they deny them or restrict their human liberties like the freedom from malicious prosecution.

The courts in Uganda must not give in to any political influence from any person or authority for the simple reasons- courts are the temple of justice and the only available reasonable avenue of resolving political disputes without violating the law.

The words of Prof. George Kanyeihamba , who is a Supreme Court judge and accomplished legal scholar come in handy here: “ the overriding constitutional dogma in this country is that constitutionalism and the 1995 constitution of Uganda are the alpha and omega of everything that is orderly, legitimate, legal and decent.

Anything else that pretends to be higher in this land must be shot down at once by this court (Supreme Court) using the most powerful legal missiles at its disposal.”

The write is a journalist and advocate

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


There is urgent need to review the NSSF Act
One of the issues the Parliament’s committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises investigating alleged political meddling in the management of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) will have to address, is that relating to the legal application of a power of attorney.

A power of attorney is basically a legal contractual instrument created between the donor (person who gives the power of attorney) and donee ( the person to whom the power is given) for purposes of contracting/dealing with third parties.

Courts of law have developed principles that govern the operation of a power of attorney. One such principle is to the effect that an attorney acts on behalf and in the name of the donor. This means that the donor has imputed notice of all the information that the attorney has.

A donor of a power of attorney takes all the benefits and blame arising out of his attorney’s activities and therefore cannot escape liability. The court interferes, not on the ground that any wrongful act has in fact been committed by the donee, but on the ground of public policy - to prevent the relations created between the parties and the influence arising therefrom being abused. By the very nature of this relationship, it’s clear that in the NSSF matter, the actions of Arma Ltd. can be imputed on the donor who is Security Minister Amama Mbazi.

That said, the public should be made aware that the latest NSSF financial scandal is largely due to the weak laws that govern the pensions sector and a corporate governance culture -that allows the Office of the President and the line ministries (in this case the Ministry of Finance) to wield too much power in the management of workers hard-earned savings.

The NSSF Act, the principle legislation that regulates the Fund, has many loopholes that can be exploited to literally run down the Fund. The law, for instance, gives the minister unilateral powers to appoint the management and board of NSSF bringing into play political considerations and influence when deciding who should manage the Fund.

This is wrong because such appointments are not normally made on merit. It’s political patronage that informs many of these decisions and the appointees are forever indebted to the appointing authority. This explains why decisions by public managers are mostly made in total disregard of publc interest.

Public corporations like the NSSF should be insulated from political oversight. They should be governed by independent regulatory bodies with clear legal mandates. In the case of NSSF, government must disabuse itself from the notion that it owns the Fund.

This calls for President Yoweri Museveni’s urgent intervention to deal with errant ministers for purposes forcing them to follow procedures when dealing with public assets. Parliament also has a duty to put in place legal mechanisms to check the growing mismanagement and misuse of workers’ savings. This calls for an urgent review of the NSSF Act .

For instance, Section 3 of the Act empowers the minister to appoint the board of directors . No special attention is given to the workers’ representatives. The law should compel the Fund management to consult workers’ representatives before undertaking big investments. And if government fails to act, then the 299,233 members can sue government and the Fund managers to bring them in line.

Mr Sserwanga is a journalist and advocate

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Accountability is the main issue in NSSF saga
The on going investigations by the Parliamentary committee on Commissions , Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises into alleged political meddling in the management of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) has attracted mixed reactions with some sections of the public accusing the independent media of witch-hunting. Far from the truth.

To put the debate in context, the public needs to know and understand the nature and net worth of the National Social Security Fund and the managers’ legal obligations. The managers of NSSF have a legal duty to manage the fund in trust of the 299,233 members who make monthly contributions of Shs15b.

This in effect calls for ministers and managers of the fund to take seriously the principles of good governance while executing their various constitutional and legal mandates and the general decorum expected of them in conduct of public affairs.

The fund’s net worth is now estimated at Shs1.1 trillion, which could constitute a sixth of the national budget valued at Shs6 trillion. In short ,we are talking about huge sums of money by Uganda’s standards - let alone the region. And this is workers’ hard earned savings.

It’s not in dispute that the managers of the fund should optimally invest the savings to realise maximum returns for the benefit of the members. What is in issue is the processes -legal and otherwise which have to be strictly adhered to, to guard against illegalities that can ruin otherwise well-intentioned investment decisions. Much has been talked about the Fund’s controversial purchase of the Temangalo land at Shs11b from city businessman Amos Nzeyi and Arma Ltd, a company linked to Security Minister Amama Mbabazi.

There have been issues about the alleged inflated price. This is diversionary and it’s being peddled to side step the bigger issues which are basically- the flouting of the legally bidding rules of procedure in public procurement and the valued practices of good governance that call for transparency and accountability.

The issues which should be examined before pronouncing anyone guilty, among others are; did NSSF management flout procurement procedures as laid out in the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority rules to give undue advantage to one company or person(s)?

Was there undue political influence peddling on part of a senior government officer to secure the deal for a company in which he has declared interest? Was there a cover –up of this political pressure by creating ad- hoc 3rd parties (creation of power of attorney) to facilitate expedient completion of the transaction?

Can this cover-up be construed to mean a direct conflict of interest on all the parties involved in the deal- an act which is against the principles of good governance and the provisions of the Leadership Code Act?

The Solicitor General Mr Billy Kainamura stated in his testimony before the committee that his office was only involved when the negotiations and deal was as good as sealed. He also acknowledged that NSSF never followed the PPDA rules of procurement.

And wait a minute, shouldn’t the accused officers in this matter step aside to allow for a free and fair hearing? It’s standard procedure that once a serious public inquiry of this nature is instituted –those accused take leave of their offices to avoid prejudicing the investigations let alone tampering with evidence.

The writer is a journalist and advocate

Thursday, September 11, 2008


MPs should not allow govt to destroy our forests
Fighting environmental degradation in a country where the managers of our critical national resources (like forest reserves) are hell bent on pursuing partisan commercial interest than protecting the public good, can quite be a hard job.

In Uganda, it’s even more scary because those responsible for ensuring a clean and healthy environment are executing their duties under constant fear of incurring their appointing authority’s ire.

These managers’ decisions are in most cases on the wrong side of public opinion. And unlike in the more advanced democracies where national leaders and managers of public assets are accountable to the people, in the not so polished societies like ours, public opinion is never a factor in the management of scarce resources.

Although the public mood in regard to the management of our national forest resources has been a mixture of hope , frustration and nervousness over the last three years - the National Forestry Authority (NFA) seems to have taken no clue.

How else can one explain the latest decision by NFA (a body charged with the duty of protecting the country’s forest cover) to grant a licence to Uganda Electricity Transmission Ltd to cut 69 hectatres of Mabira Forest to enable the construction of a new high voltage power line. The power line will run from Bujagali Power Station to the main grid through Kawanda and Mutundwe, west of Kampala.

This is one of such wrong decisions. And it’s imperative for us to remind NFA that there can be no doubt about the dangers posed by their reckless disregard of the conservation of critical resources like Mabira Forest.

NFA’s latest machinations point to one thing though - the well known government plot to illegally parcel out more than 7,100 hectares of the natural forest to private investors like Mehta and now Uganda Electricity Transmission Ltd.

This is what they call human culpability - when people work to destroy their environment - thus threatening their own very existence. With the on-going campaign against global warming resulting from poor management of the world’s environment, everyone including NFA bosses should be deeply concerned about the threat that climate change poses to human security and their economic wellbeing.

This is particularly important because our President is the Chairman of the Commonwealth Heads of Government who in 1989, passed the Langkawi Declaration on the Environment with commitments to support improved land use management, including conservation and sustainable use of forest resources.

According to the declaration, sustainable development should at all times ensure the preservation of standing forests; provisions for reforestation and afforestation; and measures to combat illegal logging and other causes of deforestation. Sustainable development means development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Unfortunately, Uganda’s sustainable development policy has been poorly thought through, badly implemented and this has caused so much public anger. It’s all about destruction of what remains of our forest cover without planning for the future.

However, much as the government has struck to its guns and is not about to re-examine this botched policy, the law is clear. The Forest Act bars any individual or company from destroying, damaging or disturbing a natural forest except in the course of carrying out activities for the sustainable management of the reserves.

It’s clear from it’s provisions that the Forest Act was intended to provide for conservation, sustainable management and development of forests for the benefit of all the people of Uganda and not a few selfish private investors
Parliament should not give free rein to government to do as they please; to destroy what remains of the country’s forest cover.

Mr Sserwanga is a journalist and advocate

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Selective application of justice in Uganda is sad
Fourty five years ago on August 28, 1963, one of the world’s most celebrated civil rights crusaders, Martin Luther King addressed a sea of people on the National Mall in Washington , USA . On that day , King proclaimed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, “I have a dream, that one day, this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed — ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’”

The equality Dr King talked about is one of the tenets of our national constitution - that all people are equal before the law. Sadly though, the majority of Ugandans are yet to realise Dr King’s dream because our justice system is poorly managed.

Many citizens continue to suffer due to the selective and unfair application of the law in criminal cases . One of such cases is that of Peace Muhindo , the 15 -year-old girl who was allegedly assaulted by ‘Pastor’ Irene Manjeri Nalongo . The girl who is admitted at Mulago Hospital suffered a spinal cord injury that has left her paralysed following the alleged assault by Manjeri, who is herself a mother of twins.

Muhindo’s case is said to have been poorly investigated by the Police and those responsible for the girl’s suffering are yet to be taken to court. The latest incident is one of a growing list of felons (serious crimes) committed by Ugandan “pastors” .

In America , another Ugandan pastor - the flashy Jackson Ssenyonga of Christian Life Ministries - was arrested and detained for allegedly fondling a 13-year-old girl while on a plane.
The US authorities are now preparing to refer criminal charges against the ‘pastor” for his alleged lewd and lascivious acts against the girl . There is also the case of Mr Julius Lukyamuzi alias Kitaka who was allegedly sodomised by a pastor and is yet to receive justice five years since his case was first reported to Old Kampala Police Station.

In many of these cases, the Police investigators have either deliberately, or incompetently done a sloppy job and we are yet to see any of these self acclaimed men and women of God answer for their criminal acts .

But not all Ugandans are gullible. The citizens are watching and documenting these cases and praying that one day sanity shall prevail over those in charge of our justice system to raise the red flag and say no to the injustices.
And can also take solace in the fact that in every desperate situation, there are people who want to stand up and be counted. This time round, it’s the Police’s head of professional standards unit, Mr. John Ndungutse, who has instituted an investigation against the Police officers who mishandled Ms Peace Muhindo’s case.

Mr Ndungutse’s actions need to be commended because just like many other lobbyists, the pentecostal movement in Uganda, is very powerful. It’s an established fact that the majority of pastors in this country are not only filthy rich , they are also very influential people. This perhaps best explains why many of the criminal cases reported against them have not been successfully prosecuted by the Police and Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP).

This column has it on good authority that Lukyamuzi“s file is gathering dust somewhere in the DPP’s office. Can someone take action about this specific case at least in the interest of justice. And it’s important because the Constitution has raised the stakes about the citizens’ right to be accorded justice. The DPP should take the high road and prosecute the high profile cases involving the mighty and powerful to ensure justice and accountability.

Mr Sserwanga is a journalist and advocate

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


The Law Development Centre (LDC), an institution that trains would -be judges, magistrates and legal counsels, is back in the news, again for the wrong reasons - examination malpractices.

What a shame! We are aware that cheating is a common phenomenon at all levels in our education system, but for the vice to assume the magnitude reported at LDC, is a disgrace to the noble legal professional.

The cheats at LDC are also an indictment of the moral decadence that is entrenched in our society. It’s common knowledge that in Uganda today, part of the adult population don’t want to work yet they want to live a lavish lifestyle! You find well built man begging for a Shs1,000 to buy a cigarette. Not that the guy is working so hard but earns so little. No- far from it. The chap is simply lazy and is addicted to handouts from his toiling peers.

These are the same people who loiter the streets from January to December doing nothing! They lurk around to mug and terrorise the unsuspecting public because they want to ‘earn’ what they have not worked for. They are not any different from the Karimojong women who are a nuisance on our city roads. They have the energy to produce very many kids whom they torture under the coldness of night life begging for freebies. Yet they can’t apply the same energy to till the land back home and fend for their offsprings. What a tragedy!

Back to the LDC fiasco. The legal profession is tailored around the important virtues of integrity, honesty and knowledge of the substantive law and specific legal procedures. The legal profession is also the custodian of our law.

As the dispensers of justice, one would have expected that integrity, honesty and fairness should be the core values held dear by those who are bestowed with the responsibility of administering justice in society. This is because justice , law and order are the most important factors for the realisation of economic and social development.

Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki, has said that advocates and judicial officials can achieve true understanding and respect only as a public response to their integrity, impartiality , and fair play . These values have to be inculcated right from school and that’s why cheating at LDC is simply inexcusable.

LDC students who cheated were not fair to their colleagues who spent sleepless nights preparing for exams. One of the subjects that are taught at LDC is that of professional conduct. There is a working definition of professional misconduct which covers an act done by a professional man/woman in the pursuit of his/her profession which ‘would be reasonably regarded as disgraceful, or dishonourable by his professional brethren of good repute and competency.” When you seek to take unfair advantage of others then you deserve no empathy from the rest of society.

That’s why the authorities at LDC must impose severe sanctions against those who facilitated the leakages and the students who benefited from the illegal act . The authorities should also review the examination–oriented education system which is basically about cram work and studying to pass examinations. This system retards and is prohibitive to progressive and industrious thinking.

In fact, LDC conducts weekly classroom assessments of students although the points gained account for a very small percentage of the final marks awarded to each student.

But changing the system alone will not help matters if those charged with the duty of imparting knowledge are not liberated from the wanton behaviour of dishonesty that is so prevalent in our society. If we are to eliminate corruption, then that battle should start in our schools.

Mr Sserwanga is a journalist and advocate

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


It’s scary child-abuse in Uganda is on the rise
The media last week carried two saddening reports about two children (girls) who were sexually abused and their lives possibly shattered forever. One of the sexual predators is an 80-year-old man who defiled his 15-year-old grand daughter, impregnating her in the process. The other case involved a teenager who demonstrated no remorse at defiling a 5- year-old baby girl.

These men don’t only abuse the young girls to quench their sexual fantasies but they also infect their young victims with the dreaded HIV/ Aids virus . Sexual assault against the girl-child is one of the worst human rights violations against children.

It’s pretty scary that in Uganda, cases of child-molestation are on the rise. In western Uganda, a woman seems to have paid heed to calls by some radical women activists to castrate defilers – when she severed the penis of a man who defiled her daughter. And the situation can only get worse with many cases of child-sexual assault not being reported to authorities. All this happening when the Criminal Penal Code was recently amended by Parliament to strengthen the sections relating to defilement of young girls.

Men who defile girls under the age of 12 and those who infect them with the killer HIV/ Aids virus suffer a mandatory death penalty. International conventions also provide that children should enjoy the benefit of social security to allow them develop in a healthy environment. But Parliament’s efforts to strengthen the criminal penalties for child- defilers seem to have registered no immediate deterring effects.

As a result, the girl-child continues to suffer disproportionately with no help in sight . The situation is also not helped by the fact that in some cases, parents encourage the beastly abuse of their own children for monetary considerations. Many defilement cases are never reported to the authorities because either the relatives of the abused child have wantonly pocketed a few hundred bucks, or they simply don’t want to ‘annoy’ the domineering male folks. And the abused children suffer quietly for the rest of their lives.

Much as the law can have it’s place in the scheme of things, especially if we have a strong enforcement mechanism, we can’t keep reinventing the wheel either. In a situation where you have parents abusing their own children while others are covering up the crime, the problem ceases to be a family matter. The implications of this slippage in our traditional and social norms, extend far beyond the family unit. It becomes a community/society issue.

But do Ugandans still have the moral high ground to say no to child-molesters! With the advent of the global media and the Internet - our traditional moral values are being eroded at a fast and alarming rate. The extended family which used to help in fostering good values among the young and protect them from abuse, is no more.

We are no-longer each other’s ‘policeman’. Everyone is for themselves and God for us all! But for the sake of the young abused girls – we can surely do something. For instance, it’s not difficult to detect a child who is suffering abuse. They normally develop a range of anti-social and self-destructive behaviours and thoughts, by trying to cope with the abuse as well as trying to understand the situation and why the abuse is happening.

Simply enacting strong laws when we don’t have the will to enforce them, let alone to have the culprits answer for their criminal/ grisly acts, will not be of any help to reverse the male hostility against the girl- child. Children’s rights cannot be perceived as an option - as a question of favour or kindness to children. Children’s rights generate obligations and responsibilities that must be honoured.

Mr Sserwanga is a journalist and advocate

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


The Olympics reveal case of discrimination
The 29th summer Olympic games are upon us and the world will remain spell bound for the next three weeks as the human spirit, which is basically about endurance and endeavour, comes to the fore with 10,500 athletes from a record 204 nations chasing 302 medals in 28 sports.

One of such athletes who did not make it for the games though, is Mr Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius. Although eligible to compete in Beijing, Mr Pistorius did not qualify for the South African team.

Despite achieving third place and a personal best time of 46.25 seconds in the 400 metres in Lucerne, Switzerland, on July 16,2008 he was short of the Olympic qualification time of 45.55 seconds. But what makes Pistorius story fascinating and a subject of this column is not his failure to qualify for the games but his passion, determination, grace and grit to liberate himself from the bondages of discrimination.

Pistorius is a disabled person who against all odds has shown that he too can compete and do it very well against the non- disabled athletes. He has also set a precedent and generally shamed the stereotypes who believe that the disabled should be relegated to the special Olympics specially designed for people with disabilities.

If a disabled person can compete ( and Pistorius has proved this) with non- disabled sportsmen, then they should be given a chance.

Besides, this is the spirit of the Olympics: one world, one dream! Pistorius is a double amputee, and wears “Cheetah” prostheses (artificial legs) to walk and run. But some members of the International Association of Althetics Federation ,(IAAF) could not hear of it .

They argued that his artificial legs would give him an unfair advantage over other athletes. Pistorius petitioned the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) where he won after the court’s decision that he was eligible to compete in competitions under IAAF rules.

Many Ugandans with disabilities similar to those of Pistorius would have loved to be part of the historic event but they cannot because they simply don’t have facilities like those available to athletes from the advanced societies .

That said, Pistorius’s story in the run up to the games is also quite captivating from a human rights perspective. Observance of the rights of disabled persons in conservative societies like ours. All too often, persons with disabilities are perceived to be cases of charity, rather than individuals who are entitled to the effective enjoyment of all human rights as spelt out in chapter four of our constitution.

Traditional explanations of disabled people rest upon the assumptions of the medical practitioners who argue that impairment causes such a traumatic physical and psychological impact upon the individuals affected - that they are unable to achieve a reasonable quality of life by their own efforts.

And then you have the more offensive social tribulations suffered daily by people with disabilities. The well entrenched restrictive environment and disabling barriers. The disabled people are treated like a cursed lot among their non-disabled peers. They can’t do this they can’t do that. And the story goes on.

This is what is called social oppression . It’s institutional discrimination which is clearly repugnant to the spirit of our national constitution: that all Ugandans are equal including people with disabilities. This social tyranny is a perspective that is now recognised as an inadequate basis for understanding disability.

It’s this bias that can best explain why apart from the media no civil rights group or local and national leader came out to condemn, let alone investigate the case of Ms Namusoga (not real name), the 13-year-old blind and double amputee who gave birth after being defiled. We are even yet to hear from the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU) about this particular case.
Discrimination against disabled people is now widely understood as a major social problem that can only be solved by statutory means. Let parliament enact a law that will help empower the people with disabilities.

The writer is a journalist and advocate

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Museveni’s govt must rethink the Land Bill
There is no denying that the controversial Land Bill, which partly led to the arrest of Buganda officials more than a week ago, has triggered off panic among the landlords and their impoverished tenants.

Considering the acrimony caused by the proposed law, members of Parliament cutting across party lines are now supportive of a proposal to suspend debate on the Land (Amendment) Bill 2007 given the current politically charged environment over the touchy issue.

The Uganda Human Rights Commission (which is a state institution) has also in its recently released annual report rightly highlighted the numerous problematic areas in the Bill.

They include allowing a Minister for Land to set the rates for the tenants’ rent payable to the landlord, failure to criminalise transactions by a tenant without the consent of the landlord, failure to deal with bad tenants who degrade land and lack of a definition of ‘customary interests’ in land since customary law is not codified or defined.

From all the above, it’s clear that the Bill in its present form is dangerously pitting landlords against tenants in a political confrontation that will register no winners. This is because land is a tradable commodity and a precious factor of production that if you cease to have a legally recognisable owner, no one can pass what in law is called good title. In simple terms, you cannot sell what you don’t own .

This kind of scenario should be avoided for many reasons, but the major one being that it will retard development. Developers will not invest in land as a commodity and factor of production due to the many competing legal rights over land ownership.

This is not to say that citizens should be evicted from their land illegally. The law is very specific about the rights that accrue to individuals who occupy land for a given period of time.

These include the registered land owners (landlords) and those with equitable or secondary interests in land, like the tenants, by occupancy or bibanja holders, the bona fide occupants (people who have lived on any given piece of land for more than 12 years before the coming into effect of the 1995 constitution) and lawful occupants ( those who entered the land with the consent of the registered owner by virtue of the Busuulu and Nvujjo law of 1928).

This column has stated in the past and repeats now that there is no serious lacuna (gap) in our land legal regime. The major problem is the poor implementation of the law and the politicisation of the land conflicts across the country.

Take, for instance, the much talked about evictions of peasants; who is responsible for these said ‘illegal’ evictions? It’s the powerful– politically connected tycoons who are enjoying state patronage and in some cases military generals that are carrying out forcible evictions of people from land without court orders.

In fact the Uganda Human Rights Commission, in its report, states that government has not even attempted to prosecute the perpetrators of the alleged illegal evictions under the current laws which are sufficient.

The evictions are not the work of your traditional landlord who has sat on land with his/her tenants for years! The land problems in this country therefore, will not be solved by political considerations but rather by economically empowering the peasantry to secure their land rights on the open market.

Thus far, there must be social and economic rules that stimulate the freedom and initiative for the masses to secure their land rights and have the legal capacity to put land to productive use. The government should operationalise the much touted Land Fund to help the landless acquire land.

On the same note, President Museveni and his government should accept that throughout the country, there is a convergence of views that the Land Bill is not socially, legally and economically correct.

The writer is a journalist and advocate

Thursday, July 31, 2008


Religion will not shield war criminals
One ardent reader last week expressed his disappointment that for once, this column, had lost its objectivity when it supported the trial of Sudanese President Al-Bashir for crimes against humanity.

The reader stated thus: “You do not deserve to be blamed. You are a victim of a well-organised and well-coordinated campaign against Islam and the Islamic way of life (including governance) worldwide.

This campaign is conducted on all fronts including, but not limited to, mass media propaganda, military invasions, economic sanctions and legal battles. But you also deserve the blame because despite your education background, you have accepted wittingly or unwittingly to be manipulated and used by global anti-Islamic elements.”

For the record, this reader’s views are completely at odds with the arguments that were made- that people need not politicise or radicalise in a religious sense, charges brought against dictators for war crimes and crimes against humanity visited upon innocent, unarmed civilians anywhere in the world.

The function of the International Criminal Court (ICC) as per the provisions of the Rome Statute is above manipulation for religious, political or any other benefit. The judges are given unprecedented independence in the performance of their functions.

The law bars judges of the ICC from taking part in any case in which their impartiality might reasonably be doubted on any ground. Similarly, neither the court’s prosecutor nor his or her deputy is allowed to engage in any activity which is likely to interfere with his or her prosecutorial functions or to affect confidence in his or her independence. The court’s prosecutors are also prohibited from engaging in any other professional occupation.

These are the same principles that govern the special war crimes tribunals set up under special resolutions of the UN General Assembly to try war criminals like in the cases of Rwanda and Yugoslavia.

And in that regard, the international community should take comfort in last week’s capture of Radovan Karadzic, a psychiatrist accused of masterminding the deadly wartime siege of Sarajevo and the executions of up to 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, Europe’s worst massacre since World War II. The victims of this brutality were Muslims and this should cement the argument that international criminal law doesn’t discriminate against anyone along religious lines.

The suspected war criminal, Karadzic, has been in hiding for 13 years after he was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 1995 on 11 counts of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and other atrocities committed between 1992 and 1996.

Governments worldwide have applauded the arrest of the man described by the tribunal as the mastermind of “scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history.” But for the victims and the entire civilised/free world the message is clear: massive human rights violations cannot go unpunished.

The capture of the fugitive demonstrates that nobody is beyond the reach of the law and that sooner or later, all fugitives including our very own, Joseph Kony, and his other indicted Lords Resistance Army (LRA) commanders will be caught and brought to justice.

In the land mark case of Pinochet, another dictator who was indicted for his savage and barbarous crimes, court stated that international criminal law imposes an absolute obligation to all members of the international community to help in the arrest and trial of suspects accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Court further noted that offences against humanity may be punished by any state because the offenders are common enemies of all mankind and all nations have an equal interest in their apprehension and prosecution.
The international community should bring all its resources to bear on the process of ensuring justice and peace in the world.

The writer is a journalist and advocate


Tuesday, July 22, 2008


ICC will find easy evidence against Bashir
Another precedent was last week set in the international criminal justice system when a sitting president, Omar el-Bashir of Sudan and one of the worst military dictators on the African continent, was indicted by the International Criminal Court to answer charges of crimes against humanity.

The ICC indictments have been politicised, radicalised in a religious sense and even scorned at by renowned scholars in the field of humanities as being lopsided. This column will not engage in these side arguments.

Instead , let’s examine the fundamentals; the merits of the evidence provided to prove a prima facie case (that on the balance of probability there are criminal legal issues that the court should determine) and therefore Bashir has to be put on his defence.

We also need to do a quick recap- Bashir is the fourth suspected war criminal to be indicted by the ICC in recent time and arrest warrants are out for the leadership of the LRA who are still at large. The question then is, will this global court have all the indicted suspects face trial in the internationally accepted spirit of according justice to the millions of civilians suffering under the dictatorships and the attendant senseless wars?

Well, let’s start by addressing the merits of the evidence available for the ICC prosecutor to prove that there is merit in the criminal charges brought against Bashir so that he is put on trial.

In order to prove that the accused person committed crimes against humanity the ICC prosecutor has got to provide relevant facts in evidence. This he/she can do by providing documentary evidence ( moving or still pictures and or satellite images).

He can also call on the victims to testify as witnesses or to record their narrations to corroborate the brutality visited upon them by the notorious, vicious Janjaweed militia armed and supported by Bashir’s regime in Khartoum.

The documented facts, as we know them, are to the effect that there has been a long running bloody civil war in Darfur region in which Bashir has been a big player. During this war about 35,000 people have been massacred and rape has been used against the unarmed civilian women– as a weapon of war to mastermind genocide in the region. In all, about 2.5 million people have been subjected to a campaign of rape, hunger and fear in refugee camps.

The criminal acts of Bashir are not only limited to southern Sudan. The brunt of his brutality has been felt here in Uganda and President Museveni has stated that he has impeccable intelligence that Bashir has on numerous occasions over a long time, armed and funded the LRA and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels who led to deaths of thousands of people in northern and western Uganda respectively.
So, the ICC prosecutor Mr Luis Moreno-Ocampo should not have any difficulty in proving his case before the ICC panel.

The argument made by some scholars that the conflict in Darfur started in the late 70s long before Bashir assumed power in Sudan doesn’t absolve the dictator. In fact the mass slaughter took place as recently as 2003-04.

The ICC also has limitations– it can only try cases for crimes committed after 1998 when the Rome Statute, the law that governs the court, came into force. That said, it’s also pretty damn obvious that a man of Bashir’s pedigree in criminal conduct, will not turn himself in for trial. Khartoum has already rubbished and made a silly legal argument that because they didn’t sign and ratify the Rome Statute that set up the ICC, they cannot submit to its jurisdiction.

Bashir, conveniently ignores a now established principle of international criminal law-- that the ICC has unlimited global jurisdiction. This is the more reason why arrest warrants should be issued for Bashir to stand trial.

The challenge facing the efficacy (effectiveness) of international law has always been its enforceability. For instance the ICC doesn’t have a police of its own to enforce its decisions. It relies on the good will of the civil world.

But that does not mean those who commit acts of genocide and crimes against humanity should be let off the hook. War criminals and leaders who orchestrate violence against civilians should answer for their crimes.

The writer is a journalist and advocate

Tuesday, July 15, 2008



The army-police fusion breeds anarchy
A select committee of parliament has been set up to investigate the conduct of the police following public out try about excessive use of force and outright abuse of authority.

The parliamentary investigations come at a time when government is also being accused of militarising the police force. It’s reported that several soldiers have taken up positions at the police headquarters and others are undergoing training before they are posted to up-country stations.

These developments are worrying because this is surely not the time to turn the police into a military force. The Constitution created the institutions of the police and army for two parallel functions. One is for civil purposes i.e taking care of the internal security ( generally ensuring public order ) and the other (army) to protect our country from external aggression or military attacks.

Similarly the training of the people who are deployed to carry out the two distinct constitutional duties is quite different. Parliament in enacting subsidiary legislation (the laws that operationalise the provisions of our constitution), has created the Police Act and the UPDF Act. Again, two distinct laws to regulated the conduct of two different armed forces.

But given the wanton/unprofessional conduct of many men and women in the police force, it’s becoming evident that they also know very little or nothing at all about the laws that govern their professions. And the problem of ignorance of the law among the rank and file of the police is further compounded by poor training, planning and sheer cowardice-- releasing a bullet should be the last call by any police officer on public duty.

And if that call is to be made at all, it should not be for purposes of shooting to kill unless the police officer’s life is in danger and shoots in self defence. How, for instance, does the police authorities explain the recent Bwaise tragedy where three peopled were shot dead if it’s not due to a combination of poor training and planning (command and control)?

Before the deployment of the police unit that carried out the operation to arrest drug abusers in the Bwaise slum commanders at the headquarters should have assessed the magnitude of the mission, determined the required number of personnel for the operation without endangering anyone.

Instead, a small force was deployed and it was literally overpowered by the very criminals they had gone to arrest. And tragically, the threatened police officers ended up shooting each other including an innocent child! A police vehicle was burnt. The cost to the country is simply maddening.

This bad policing which is a result of mistakes made by the leadership in the police creates an unwarranted culture of impunity and lack of accountability that greatly affects people’s civil liberties. Both the police and the public end up being suspicious of each other. This is the reason why any armed police officer is always ready to shoot at the slightest confrontation.

But the provisions of the law are clear. The use of extreme force, which among others includes shooting to kill, is only allowed in situations of armed resistance or during the arrest of very dangerous suspects such as terrorists strapped with bombs.

The Police Act is more explicit on this matter. Police officers are not allowed to use firearms or excessive force unless they have reasonable ground to believe that their lives are in danger. The police are also required to carry out their duties in a dignified manner especially when dealing with women and children.

The policing strategy of giving soldiers police uniforms will not help improve the image of the force. It can only make it worse. These illegal acts normally erode public confidence and I guess that’s not what the leadership of the police force has set up to achieve.

The writer is a journalist and advocate

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Are terrorists holding the country hostage
Panic and anxiety has gripped the media fraternity last week following damning acts of terrorism targeting journalists and their operations. First was the well calculated arson attack on the premises of a Kampala tabloid Red Pepper by gunmen captured on CCTV.

The sophistication and confidence with which they conducted their attack in a city with very elaborate security checks should have everyone worried about our lives and what the future holds for the country.

As if that was not bad enough, Mr Sebidde Kiryowa, a journalist working with The New Vision was abducted by four men wielding AK-47 assault rifles at the gate of Sheraton Hotel in the city centre. Mind you, Sheraton is just a stonethrow away from the second home of the president.

Mr Kiryowa’s attackers were riding in similar vehicles like those used by the terrorists who raided the Red Pepper premises. We should now ask the tough questions; is terrorism back on our streets? Are the perpetrators of this terrorism targeting individual journalists and the independent media generally? Are these armed squads, which seem well coordinated and facilitated, working for the mighty and powerful in government to solve personal scores?

Or is this part of the government’s promise to sort out and cramp down on ‘errant’ media and practitioners perceived to be critical of the wrongs of government ? Are we seeing the emergency of militias with a mission to instill fear in the public and effectively curtail the liberties enshrined in our constitution? Should the country take this path at this critical stage of our democracy?

These are very pertinent and legitimate questions which should be answered by both government and the civil society. The managers at the Red Pepper have called upon those in charge of national security to explain the latest wave of armed attacks on the media and unarmed journalists. They deserve answers.

The New Vision Editor in -Chief Els de Temmerman supported by the Uganda Newspapers Editors and Proprietors Association ,(UNEPA) has come out strongly to condemn the abduction, intimidation, torture of journalist(s) and economic sabotage as a grave infringement on freedom of the press.

Temmerman has promised to take the matter to the highest authorities. Hope she does. On the other hand Gen. Aronda Nyakairima , the UPDF chief, deserves a pat on the back for being the only senior national security official to state that no UPDF soldier in active service can carry out terrorist acts against unarmed citizen(s).

President Museveni has also remained firm in his opposition to assassinations whether politically, economically or socially motivated. He is also against the use of fire arms to carry out economic sabotage- we respect him for that.

This column is on record for its support for the death penalty especially for convicted murderers and men who defile children/babies. Similarly, President Museveni’s view that armed terrorists who attack and harass civilians should be prosecuted under the UPDF and Terrorism laws, should garner the support of all peace loving Ugandans.

Of course this is not to say that suspects brought under the operations of the two laws should not face fair trial. The due processes of the law must be respected and followed- but once convicted for terrorism such terrorist(s) must suffer the death penalty.

This country has bled enough. Gone are the days when civilians were picked up on streets by rogue elements in broad daylight and never to be seen again. Daily Monitor is currently running series of the hallowing tales of people who lost their beloved ones in incidents akin to that of the attack on Red Pepper and kidnap of The New Vision journalist.

The goons who attacked Red Pepper and kidnapped Kiryowa committed terrorism and should face the full force of the law. No Ugandan should allow this nation we love so much to slip back to the dark days.

The writer is a journalist/ lawyer

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Govt is back at its cat and rat game
Without shame, and respect to public opinion, government is back to its old schemes to give away about 7,100 hectares of a national treasure- Mabira tropical rainforest- to Mehta Group for sugarcane growing.

But the most bizarre aspect of this latest government plot is the uncoordinated and contradictory actions of the technocrats who serve in the Ministry of Water and Environment.It’s hardly two years when the same technocrats who are now plotting to zone the 29,964 hectares of Mabira and effectively pave the way for its destruction- warned of the severe consequences of such actions.

Early last year these technocrats wrote a detailed memorandum based on scientific evidence that warned of devastating effects that await the country if government goes ahead to change the land use of the forest cover to sugarcane production.

Reminding government about its international and regional legal obligations to conserve and sustainably utilise biological resources, the experts warned that by parcelling out Mabira, the country especially the areas around the forest will suffer water reduction, high temperatures and loss of unique ecosystem whose economic value is estimated at Shs23.3b.

There is no doubt that due to pressure being exerted by the executive to satisfy the greed of a few private investors like the Mehta Group, the same technocrats are now reneging on their word and encouraging the division of the forest into zones. The Ugandan public should be reminded that these machinations by the government will not only worsen the turbulent climatic conditions in the country but are also illegal.

For years now, eminent international researchers have been warning of a climate disaster and Uganda will not be spared if we don’t protect what is left of our natural forest cover. And this can be done in many different ways. First is to put pressure on our parliament not to succumb to the executive’s illegitimate demands to degazette Mabira forest.

The judiciary should also remain active in the global campaign to protect nature for the benefit of today’s and future generations. That’s why it’s imperative for the public to take keen interest in a petition that has been filed by a coalition of environmental activists in the Constitutional Court challenging government’s actions to destroy the forest reserve.

The petitioners led by the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment have argued in their petition that government’s determination to parcel out parts of Mabira forest have the effect of limiting the citizens’ fundamental right to a clean and healthy environment.

There are quite a number of legal principles that have been developed over time to help preserve a clean and healthy environment. One of them is the intergenerational equity principle that calls for equity and fairness in the exploitation of environmental resources between generations.

In essence the principle demands that the present generation should ensure that the health, diversity and productivity of the environment are maintained for the benefit of the present and future generations.

It’s imprudent for government to serve the interests of a few private investors while ignoring the concerns of the majority of the citizens of this country.

On the thorny issue of Mabira where the public has demonstrated unprecedented solidarity in the resolve to protect this national resource, government should take precaution when making decisions that will hurt national interest. The concept of sustainable development comes in hand here. Any development especially President Museveni’s much touted industrial development should be ecologically viable.

Situations where such development can cause irreversible harm to the environment should be avoided. The destruction of our forest cover spells trouble for the country’s reservoir of biodiversity. The public should remain firm in the struggle to save Mabira forest.

The writer is a journalist and lawyer

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Powers of the president need trimming
Just like many African tyrants, Zimbabwe’s strongman, Robert Mugabe’s larger-than-life ego came full circle last week when he decreed that only God can remove him from power!

Mugabe, 84, is so powerful that at most times he seems immortal. But the truth is, there comes a time when we all have to leave the stage. This is not alien to politicians either. What is of essence, however, is how our leaders opt to give up power. Do they want to be carried out on a stretcher like Malawi’s Kamuzu Banda or to die a lonely life with a dollar stuffed briefcase like Congo’s Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga?

Whatever the scenario leaders need to be cognisant of the fact that in this new world order where democracies are sprouting across the globe they can’t use extremism as a tool for any purpose. Mugabe has on many occasions locked up his chief political rival Morgan Tsvangirai- denying him a chance to campaign for his ideas on how to take Zimbabwe out of its current predicament .

It’s not surprising therefore, that Tsvangirai who won the March general elections is now weighing his options; whether to pull out of this week’s Zimambwe presidential run- off which is widely expected to be a travesty. Tsvangirai’s MDC has stated that 70 of its supporters have been murdered by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF rampaging militias.

Amnesty International says most of the victims appear to have been tortured to death by their abductors. Soldiers commanded by generals loyal to Mugabe are also going about threatening villagers with guns, instructing them to vote for Mugabe on June 27.

Much of what is taking place in Zimbabwe, a once upon a time food basket of Africa, is not new to Ugandans who have suffered under dictatorial regimes for decades.

The events in Zimbabwe though, seem to have led our own President Museveni to have a personal reflection and express a change of mind ( at least for now) when he told the media on his recent trip to the UK that his old friend should prepare to leave power once he loses the June 27 elections.

This is the same Museveni who like Mugabe had in the past vowed never to hand over power to the opposition even if they had won the presidential elections. And to put this whole question of presidential handover in perspective; should Ugandans trust that Museveni’s word alone will drive a tired senile Mugabe from power if he loses the vote? And should the country’s destiny be left to the swing moods of a leader? This cannot possibly be the best approach to good governance and empowerment of the ordinary people to choose their leaders in a free democratic environment.

As a country we need to encourage development of viable institutions around which politics can be organised. One of these institutions is the Electoral Commission whose independence must be guaranteed by our electoral laws and respected by the incumbent regime.

Sadly though, with the 2011 presidential elections just around the corner, there seem not to be any move by our parliament to clean up the electoral process by amending our laws to measure-up to the present challenges.

Already, the Supreme Court has pointed out numerous loopholes in our electoral laws which, if not corrected, can breed political turmoil in the future. For instance, parliament should amend our constitution and the attendant subsidiary laws to drastically reduce the powers of a president waiting to hand over power to a successor after elections.

Such a president should lose the power to unilaterally declare a state of emergency or suspend the constitution– which powers have been employed by military tyrants to rule by decree and reverse the gains of a growing democracy.

The out going president should also be barred from dissolving parliament and reshuffling the government . These and many other reforms are needed to establish stability in our electoral process. And time might not be on our side.

The writer is a journalist and lawyer

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Police should protect, not impede liberties
The recent Constitutional Court ruling on the role of the police force in organised public assemblies and demonstrations has attracted mixed reactions and varying interpretations from the public.

Various interested parties have made differing interpretations presumably to suit their competing agendas. Sections of the society have the misconception that the court ruling generally rendered the broad functions and role of the police in maintaining public order and peace redundant.

As a result, both the public and the leadership of the police force are at loggerheads over whether the police have any role left in policing public assemblies and peaceful demonstrations.

This misunderstanding can also best explain the events of last week when opposition members of Parliament walked out of theBudget presentation session in protest of police brutality. The MPs’ action was justifiable given the manner in which highhanded police officers bundled wo female legislators in a very indecent manner.

From press reports and television images, surely the police officers involved in the fracas with the MPs acted unprofessionally. The Constitution Court specifically examined the powers of the police under section 32 (2) of the Police Act which hitherto, allowed the Inspector General of Police to prohibit (stop) the convening of public assembly or processions.

The petitioner in the case expressed worry that the police was becoming increasingly partisan by blocking the political activities of political opposition parties. The petitioners argued that the unfettered discretion on the part of the police contravened the freedoms of equality, expression , movement and assembly.

On the other hand, the Attorney General argued that the police powers as provided for under Article 212 of the Constitution read together with Article 43 allowed for restrictions on the enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms in public interest.

Court rejected the AG’s arguments because Article 20 of the Constitution provides that fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual are inherent and not granted by the State. And that the rights and freedoms of the individual and groups shall be respected, upheld and promoted by all organs and agencies of the government and by all persons.

The court noted that for the police to evoke Article 43 to limit individual freedoms, the grounds for such limitations must be sufficiently important and they should not be arbitrary, unfair or based on irrational considerations. The court also noted that a society, especially a democratic one, should be able to tolerate a good deal of annoyance or disorder so as to encourage the greatest possible freedom of expression , particularly political expression.

So, did the Constitutional Court ruling bar the police from exercising their duties to maintain order at public rallies and during demonstrations? No. In fact, the court noted that the right to a peaceful protest is not absolute. The police have a wide range of powers to control and restrict the actions of protesters.

But the court stated that the police’s powers should not be exercised in an unaccountable and discriminatory manner. In a nutshell, the meaning of the ruling is that the police’s powers should be regulatory but not prohibitive. This same notion is captured in international legal instruments that govern civil policing. In a democracy, the police should serve to protect and not impede civil liberties.

The police should work to create an enabling environment where civil liberties can be realised. Use of excessive force to a degree that police officers can attempt to ‘lift’ a female MP’s skirt is deplorable. However, the police-MPs fracas also exposed the lopsidedness of our Parliament in dealing with the problem of brutality of our armed forces.

Parliament should not wait for their own to suffer the excesses of the police and other related abuses by the State before it acts. The last thing Ugandans want to see is a violent police force.

Mr Sserwanga is a journalist and advocate