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