Tuesday, February 12, 2008


In Africa a tribe is bigger than the country
The disputed presidential vote tally that sparked mayhem across the border in Kenya has yet again exposed the political meltdown that is being experienced across Africa. The debilitating anger that has seen neighbours pull out machetes to slaughter each other shouldn’t come as a surprise to any informed mind.

It’s now an established fact that a few of the once stable democracies like Kenya and a handful of other would-be emerging democracies are now caught up in the old destructive African politics of ethnicity and, in some extreme cases, dynasty building where self-centered leaders flout the law in pursuit of bequeathing power to their family members or tribesmen.

Our national leaders are no longer elected or appointed to positions of responsibility on merit. Rather they assume political power along tribal consideration or ‘regional’ balancing.

The citizens, many of whom live below the poverty line, are burdened with the cost of big governments presided over by the autocrats who want to please every tribe or, ‘region’ in order to rule for life. Ultimately, you have impoverished countries that literally have to deal with the skewed allocation of scarce national resources.

Experience has also shown, especially in Africa, that politics of ethnicity does not rhyme well with the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers among the different arms of government. African politicians in tandem with their tribesmen will do anything and everything to circumvent the law or national constitutions to consolidate their political tribal base at the expense of the unity of the countries they lead.

They will employ people from the ‘right’ tribe to run government organisations, a situation that breeds resentment and violent opposition due to the erosion of the democratic principles of equity/fairness for all. This behaviour by our leaders also creates another problem– impunity!

The public servants feel obliged to account to only one individual – the man or woman at the top and not the country they are employed to serve.

In the meantime, the rest of the country watches in bitter silence because the citizens are too afraid to question or challenge the illegal actions of those in leadership. They fear to be locked up or ‘eliminated’ for standing up to demand their constitutional rights.

But by entrenching themselves in power, your typical African leader forgets one thing; that the moment you promote ethnic politics, you face a genuine danger of creating insecurity among the competing tribes and their leaders, which ultimately leads to the kind of indiscriminate violence now being witnessed in Kenya.

It’s not in dispute that our country has been relatively stable both in terms of national politics and security for some time now. However, given the Kenya experience and the growing level of intolerance and the emerging politics of tribe among our leaders (both those who are political and apolitical), is it tenable to hold that the country’s stability sustainable?

Isn’t it high time we pulled together as a people (Ugandans) and renew our purpose as a country-three years to the next general elections? Indeed, the next presidential elections may seem a distant future but are our laws adequate to ensure the country doesn’t experience the blood letting that has shattered a once stable democracy in Kenya?

And this is not to spell doom. But if we don’t do something to strengthen our electoral laws, national institutions like the police, electoral commission and inculcate values of a true democracy, rule of law and respect for our divergent political thinking (views and opinions), the country will be in trouble.

In other words, there is a huge moral test for the country to show that our politicians and the voters can steer clear of the politics of ethnicity and destruction. Whatever the outcome of an election (and that’s why we should have strong laws and institutions) there is absolutely no need to incite the masses to engage in mass violence which like in the case of Kenya can degenerate into mass murder.

What Uganda needs now are leaders who will inculcate a spirit of nationalism among the 56 indigenous communities (tribes) as recognisded by our constitution and stamp out the destructive politics of ethnicity.

Next week: We shall look at our electoral laws

The writer is a journalist and advocate


Wednesday, February 6, 2008


IGG; why crucify the messenger?
Two more senior editors at Monitor Publications, Mr Joachim Buwembo Managing Editor (daily editions) and Mr Bernard Tabaire (weekend editions) were arraigned in court over stories that exposed the irregular salary scandal involving the Inspector General of Government (IGG) who is also a High Court judge, Faith Mwondha.

The two editors joined Daily Monitor News Editor, Robert Mukasa and Chief Parliament Reporter Emmanuel Gyezaho to answer charges of “unlawful publication of defamatory matter.” Another Dailly Monitor journalists Mr Angelo Izama, now on a fellowship in the US, will also face the same charges upon his return.

This is indeed a story of trepidation where offences which are against the spirit of our constitution are preferred against journalists to keep them forever in a state of fear.

The charges are basically designed to harass and intimidate journalists in the exercise of their constitutional rights to inform the public about the conduct of government/public officials.

But the citizens of this county must stand up and not allow our fears to be far outweighed by what we know is our obligation - to protect the provisions of our constitution. To help those who are victimised for the ideals they stand for; freedoms of liberty, speech, association and media not to feel alone.

There is also this sad reality; the IGG’s determination to persecute journalists by abusing the state machinery at her disposal, has a lot to say about her character. She is a very paranoid woman.

Just like many of her colleagues in government, she is consumed by fear, the kind that blurs their good judgment in the conduct of state affairs. This is why the bizarre twists of the current IGG’s hysteria has all the characteristics of the undemocratic hardliners in government who are under the illusion that by clamping down on the media, they can deter the people’s sheer will power to live in a free and democratic society.

By crucifying the messenger, the IGG too, is under the false belief that she can get away with her short-comings. But given her standing in society, one would expect the IGG to be on top of her game. She should anticipate the consequences of her actions in order to remain civil in the execution of her constitutional mandate. Instead, she has thrown all caution to the wind!

For the record, the Monitor story was not ‘manufactured’ by the journalists now under trial. This was a story based on a public document in which some spirited public servants (and there still exists some sombre-your typical traditional civil servant(s) who feel for this country), that raised concerns over the IGG’s conduct when she altered her position to benefit from the revised and improved salaries for judges.

This is now a matter for the court’s adjudication and evidence shall be adduced to resolve the case judiciously. However, the continued harassment of journalists, call it taunting of the media by the state and its functionaries needs to be put in constitutional perspective.

The offence of criminal libel, together with the offences of sedition and promotion of sectarianism are a subject of a constitution petition which was filed by Andrew Mwenda and the East African Media Institute and since the matter is yet to be disposed off by the Constitutional court, one would think that it would be prudent for the executive to suspend such offences until the court makes its ruling.

This would also be the right criminal procedure whenever there are constitutional issues to be determined in substantive petitions lying before the constitutional court.

Instead, government officials conveniently prefer to ignore these rather obvious/basic procedures of the law in their relentless effort to stifle media freedoms.

Unfortunately, these machinations by the state have far reaching consequences for the wider freedoms of the citizens, the stability and development of our young and fragile democracy.

Democracy thrives 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 decisions and actions.

In the ruling of the US supreme court, it was held that it’s no longer possible for the state to gag the media. The court ruled that the government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure government.

That the press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of the government and inform the public to make democratic decisions. If the lady IGG was wronged in any way by the Monitor stories, she can seek a civil remedy and recover damages from the journalists and their employer. She should not employ un-constitutional means to satisfy her ego.
The writer is a journalist and advocate