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OP-ED: Centrality or Peripherally Of Uganda Constitution 1995 in The Governance of Uganda?


By Charles Oweyegha Afunaduula
During the promulgation of the Uganda Constitution 1995 in 1997, the President of Uganda, who was promulgating it at Serena Conference Centre, then called International Conference Centre, if I remember well, declared that it was the best Constitution Uganda had got since independence in 1962. He even told his listeners countrywide that it would stand the test of time.

The question is: has the constitution stood the test of time as the Supreme Law of the Land? How, when State Capture and Presidentialism are growing at the expense of the Constitution sub served by militarism?

Wikipedia has defined State Capture as “a type of systematic political corruption in which private interests significantly influence a State’s decision-making processes to their own advantage. On the other hand Freedom From Fear Magazine sees State Capture as occurring when the ruling elite and /or powerful business manipulate policy formulation (and implementation), thereby influencing the emerging rules of the game (including the law).

Presidentialism arises when the President, the head of the Executive arm of Government, consumates the entire Executive and the other arms of Government – the Legislature and Judiciary -so that everything begins and ends with him and all elites -political, economic, technical, bureaucratic, etc – dance to his tune (my own definition). What then matters is the sovereignty of the President; not that of country. All institutions begin to function in relation to the President; not the Constitution. So the Constitution becomes peripheral to the governance of the country as the President becomes the central factor to everything -small and big – in the country. Even problems start with him (his choices) and end with him.

It is sad our constitutional lawyers, such as Prof. Oloka Onyango at Makerere University, have recently chosen conspiracy of silence.

The last time I heard Professor Oloka Onyango publicly giving a strong critique on the status of Constitutionalism in Uganda was in 2017 when he deplored Presidentialism in the governance of the country. He was disturbed by the fact that the Institution of President was penetrating every institutional space in the country and making itself over and above other arms of government, thereby confusing the functionality of constutionalism in the governance of the country. He could have pursued the matter in other media that I am not aware of. He is a prolific writer.

Presidentialism has meant that the Presidency (not so much the Executive arm of Government ) penetrates and weakens the other arms of Government – Parliament and the Judiciary – which now manifest as if they are extensions or dimensions of the Presidency.

In his article in the New Vision of 2nd June 2017 “The Phenomenon of Presidentialism Must Be Dealt With And Examined”,
David Lumu quotes Prof Oloka Onyango saying:

“For Uganda to sort out internal contradictions and set a firm foundation for institutional building, the idea that everything begins and ends with the President must be tamed”.

Lumu records Prof Oloka Oyango describing the over centralization of power into the hands of President Yoweri Museveni as the “phenomenon of presidentialism”, and rooting the phenomenon partly in the colonial history of the country.

Prof. Oloka Oloka Onyango, who was speaking at the launch of a book titled: “Militarism and the Dilemma of Post-Colonial Statehood: The Case of Museveni’s Uganda,” at Makerere University School of Law, then hit the hammer on the head of the nail when he said , “The idea that everything begins and ends in the Governor’s chambers is leading to internal colonialism. The phenomenon of Presidentialism must be dealt with and examined”.

It is clear that a combination of State Capture and Presidentialism , all mediated by the President of Uganda, is making it difficult and almost impossible for democracy, constitutionalism and institutionalism to work in Uganda. Uganda is now governed according to the choices of the President. “Unfortunately, the legislature and Judiciary find themselves in the unenviable position of being subordinate to the Executive and dancing to the tuñe of the President”, decries a political critic.

In an upcoming book “Uganda Essential Knowledge”, by a veteran journalist, in the last chapter, the author talks about the centrality of the Constitution in our governance, and quotes several sections on the duties responsibilities and obligations of the three arms of government, the media and the citizenry. He may have to rethink the Chapter after reading this article. The Constitution is under siege. It is being rendered peripheral to governance.

The Writer is a Ugandan Scientist and Environmentalist.

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