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

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