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