When democ­racy has bad taste, a case of Par­lia­ment of Uganda

By: Jacky Kemigisa

This last week in Par­lia­ment has been dra­matic, Ugan­dans wit­nessed their MPs come to­gether, com­mit­ting to amend the the con­sti­tu­tion.

Ar­ti­cle 262 re­quires that a bill for an Act of Par­lia­ment to amend any pro­vi­sion of the Con­sti­tu­tion, other than those re­ferred to in ar­ti­cles 260 and 261 of this Con­sti­tu­tion, shall not be taken as passed un­less it is sup­ported at the sec­ond and third read­ings by the votes of not less than two-thirds of all mem­bers of Par­lia­ment.

NRM hav­ing a ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment to­gether with in­de­pen­dent NRM lean­ing MPs, age re­moval could be a re­al­ity.

For the in­tro­duc­tion of a Bill, Par­lia­men­t’s Rules of Pro­ce­dure stip­u­late that the process starts with a mo­tion. The mo­tion would then be sec­onded, af­ter its sup­port­ers have had a chance to speak on it.  The speaker then puts it to vote, if they house votes yes, the mover of the mo­tion is given leave of Par­lia­ment to in­tro­duce a pri­vate mem­bers bill.

Now what is a Pri­vate Mem­ber’s Bill? You may ask.

There are two types of bills; a Gov­ern­ment Bill and a Pri­vate Mem­ber’s Bill.

A Pri­vate Mem­ber’s Bill is a piece of leg­is­la­tion spon­sored by an in­di­vid­ual MP and not the Ex­ec­u­tive while a Gov­ern­ment Bill is leg­is­la­tion spon­sored by the gov­ern­ment.

Un­der Rule 110 of the Par­lia­men­tary Rules of Pro­ce­dure, every mem­ber of Par­lia­ment has a right to in­tro­duce a pri­vate mem­bers bill and if the mo­tion is passed, the bill is then printed in the gazette. Gov­ern­ment will then is­sue a cer­tifi­cate of fi­nan­cial im­pli­ca­tion then when bill comes to Par­lia­ment, the Speaker sends it to ap­pro­pri­ate com­mit­tee.

What is rather in­trigu­ing about the move by NRM MPs to table a Con­sti­tu­tion Amend­ment Bill to among oth­ers, amend Ar­ti­cle 102(b), is why a rul­ing party-that com­mands an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity in the House-wants the bill pri­vately spon­sored and not Gov­ern­ment backed.

The spirit be­hind al­low­ing MPs to come up with pri­vate Bills was to en­sure that propos­ing leg­is­la­tions is not the sole re­spon­si­bil­ity of the Ex­ec­u­tive.

In other words, a Bill that is not par­tic­u­larly like­able by the Ex­ec­u­tive can be spon­sored by an MP and passed if it gar­ners the req­ui­site sup­port.

How­ever, the irony is that the NRM-In­de­pen­dent MPs joint cau­cus meet­ing, that re­solved to back Igara East MP Raphael Magezi to table a mo­tion seek­ing leave to table the Con­sti­tu­tion Amend­ment Bill, was at­tended by 7 Cab­i­net Min­is­ters.

Why would Min­is­ters at­tend a meet­ing of rul­ing party MPs to kick-start a process for a Bill that the Ex­ec­u­tive is not in­ter­ested in?

If the Min­is­ters at­tended in good faith, then it was a vote of no con­fi­dence in the Ex­ec­u­tive.

The af­ter ef­fects of the meet­ing were the fa­mous rebel MPs call­ing for a press con­fer­ence, dis­tanc­ing them­selves from pro­pos­als to amend the con­sti­tu­tion for the pur­pose of lift­ing the age limit.

Im­por­tant to note is that our Con­sti­tu­tion usu­ally gets amended when the clauses in con­tention do not fa­vor Pres­i­dent Mu­sev­eni.

The 2005 amend­ment of Ar­ti­cle 105 to re­move pres­i­den­tial term lim­its is a sad case in point.

Pro­po­nents of the Bill to delete up­per age caps on the pres­i­dency must be aware that a Bill/​leg­is­la­tion/​con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment “must not have an eye.”

A law can not be made to cure the predica­ment of one in­di­vid­ual.

We can have a sep­a­rate de­bate on the ad­van­tages and dis­ad­van­tages of these caps in the con­sti­tu­tion but I will not di­gress.

My is­sue is that if the NRM MPs want to pass a pri­vate mem­bers bill lift­ing the age limit in the con­sti­tu­tion they can de­mo­c­ra­t­i­cally. They have the num­bers, it would­n’t be il­le­gal.

The ques­tion pro­po­nents of the age limit re­moval have to con­tend with is a moral one.

Is it all about po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal for those loyal to Pres­i­dent Mu­sev­eni?

Pres­i­dent Mu­sev­eni, like any par­ent re­wards those loyal to him, we saw Min­is­ter An­ite on her knees for the sole can­di­da­ture pro­posal and the re­ward was a min­istry. You can un­der­stand why re­moval of term lim­its has its own po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal.

The un­for­tu­nate sub-plot how­ever about this dis­course for re­moval or re­ten­tion of age lim­its is that the av­er­age cit­i­zen has been com­pletely left out.


As Ugan­dans, we have lost our moral com­pass to cast the first stone at MPs in a way, for MPs are a clear re­flec­tion of who we are as a so­ci­ety, the mon­e­ti­za­tion of our pol­i­tics, as cit­i­zens we par­take in ac­cept­ing the money.

It is also im­por­tant to note that our Pol­i­tics is a huge em­ployer, just by look­ing at how many picked forms to learn, our MPs look atead­er­ship not as a ser­vice but rather a source of em­ploy­ment.

It is time to have a ro­bust cit­i­zenry that is will­ing to get dirty in fight­ing for what they be­lieve, any form of ac­tivism should also in­ter­ro­gate who we are as a so­ci­ety, what sort of morals do we as­pire to have and how to de­mand for what we de­serve from those who are rep­re­sent­ing us. We have a rest­less im­pa­tience with pol­i­tics in Uganda, for ex­am­ple the elec­tion of Bobi Wine to Par­lia­ment.

What­ever re­sults may come from re­moval of the age limit de­bate or even the bill be­ing passed, one thing is clear, the bet­ter kind of pol­i­tics we need is should be ori­ented less to the pur­suit of in­di­vid­ual ben­e­fits but a pol­i­tics of a so­cial good.