On January 30, 2018, the Kenyan government shut down four news channels; Citizen TV, Inooro TV, NTV and KTN for announcing plans to air the swearing-in of opposition leader Raila Odinga as president.
Kenyans took to the streets of Nairobi and through various social platforms, protested the closure. The protest was joined by lawyers, who, on February 1, went to court and ordered a 14-day suspension of the shutdown to allow for a legal challenge.
These protests and condemnations by citizens who know and value the role of the media, is a lesson Ugandans should pick.
Unfortunately, in Uganda, it has become common for government to shut down media houses as and when it pleases. During the 2016 elections, social media was shut down on Election Day in February and as Yoweri Museveni swore-in as president on 12th May.
Most recently, since September 2017 to date, media houses have been on the receiving end of crackdown. The Red Pepper (and by extension its sister publications), was in November shut down following the publication of a story that government says was in breach of national security, among other charges. The paper only resumed operations on 29 January 2018 after meeting President Museveni and getting a ‘presidential pardon’.
Before that, several upcountry radio stations were shut down for airing content relating to the presidential age limit removal contained in Article 102(b) of the Constitution. Uganda Communications Commission, in all counts stated that the stations were in breach of minimum broadcasting standards. Relatedly, editors of Daily Monitor and Red Pepper were summoned by police in relation to publishing stories about the presidential age limit debate, while a ban was slapped on live media coverage of the same.
Through all these crackdown against the media, Ugandans remain conspicuously silent, except for a few voices on social media and by civil society organisations. These voices eventually died down.
In my view, the problem of intimidation of journalists and the crackdown against the media can be solved if the Ugandan public learned from their Kenyan counterparts. Every-time a media house is shut down, Ugandans should protest using social media and various legal means. If the local press cannot carry the story of the shutdown, the international media will pick it up and keep it running. The idea is not to relent every time intimidation rears its ugly head.
Secondly, media houses should at all times publish fact-based and objective stories. These stories will speak for themselves in courts of law and in the eyes of the public. While some journalists lack professionalism, this should be addressed so that the entire media fraternity is not exposed to high-handedness by the state and individuals because of lapses by a few rotten eggs.
By Charity Ahimbisibwe
Charity is the Communication and Advocacy Manager at FHRI/CCEDU
MESSAGE OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE AFRICAN COURT ON HUMAN AND PEOPLES’ RIGHTS HON. JUSTICE SYLVAIN ORÉ FOR THE YEAR 2018
Dear members of the African human rights community,
Dear stakeholders of the judicial protection of human rights in Africa.
The protection of human rights in Africa is not the exclusive duty of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights: It is “our collective responsibility”. It is against that postulate that I extend this message to all of us as a Community, whether we are Judges of the Court, Policy Organs of the African Union, Litigants, Applicants, Respondent States, Civil Society or only friends of the African human rights system.
Dear members of the African human rights community, it can be stated with no doubt that the year 2018 begins under a promising note of political commitment in favour of human rights. In light of the African Union decision to devote the year 2018 to a restated commitment in fighting corruption towards an African continent that will overcome under-development, it is key to stress the critical link between corruption and human rights: the former constitutes a serious and massive violation of the latter, especially economic and social rights.
In 2018, the African Court will harness efforts towards synergy in the African human rights system on the one hand and in strengthening judicial efficiency on the other. With respect to synergy, the Court’s logical aim is to work for more concerted and efficient action as required under the reform process conducted by the African Union. In that regard, we must all bear in mind, all year long, the dire need to promote complementarity between the Court and the Banjul Commission. We should seek to overcome the hurdle of the limiting 8 declarations in the Court to capitalise ingeniously on the immense potential of the 30 ratifications in the Commission. The least to observe in that regard is that individual applicants and civil society in Africa have yet to put to test judicial complementarity as inaugurated by the Ouagadougou Protocol with extraordinary hope.
The Court for its part has adopted an annual work plan which encourages a catalytic engagement with all the stakeholders of the African human rights community. In the Court’s motto, in addition to pulling for synergy, the year 2018 will be one of judicial productivity and efficiency. Under this second limb of its action in 2018, the Court will finalise its formal Legal Aid Program, proceed with the training of registered counsel, introduce a Code of Conduct for Counsel, finalise the review of its Rules of Procedure, pursue the release of its Guidelines on Reparations and complete the process of setting up a Compliance Monitoring Mechanism for the enforcement of its judgments.
Improved judicial activity requires constant awareness of fast changing legal thinking. It is therefore with enthusiasm that I announce the uninterrupted publication of the African Human Rights Yearbook whose second volume is already under way. Along the same lines, the first decade of the Court’s jurisprudence will finally be published in an accessible format and will be placed at the disposal of the entire community for the overall interest of litigants, victims, in short of Parties before the Court.
Dear stakeholders and friends of human rights justice in Africa, the responsibility of an Africa that is respectful of human rights and endowed with a rule of law culture is incumbent on us all. Such responsibility behoves however in a very special way on civil society and media professionals. One cannot think of life-changing human rights advocacy without an innovative involvement of civil society and the media.
Within the African human rights community, civil society and the media were quick to be satisfied with the establishment of the African Court, which they had relentlessly called for. This state of affairs leads me to call on civil society and the media to support the Court after contributing successfully to its establishment. Civil society’s contribution to the development of the Court’s relevant jurisprudence has unfortunately remained at its embryonic state since the Mtikila, Konaté and Zongo cases while many other areas remain to be covered. I wish to refer to the critical role that bears on civil society and the media in supporting submission of cases to the Court by the Banjul Commission, disseminating the Court’s judgments at the national level, undertaking strategic litigation informed by the complementarity between the Court and the Banjul Commission, providing States with the assistance needed to effectively enforce the decisions of the Court and finally, taking innovative litigation stands that are needed by the Maputo Protocol on the rights of women to change the face of human rights litigation on the continent.
Judges and staff of the Court, judicial, technical and policy organs of the African Union, human rights activists, civil society stakeholders and media professionals, litigants, applicants, respondent States and friends of human rights in Africa, it is our struggle, our common responsibility for an Africa which places human rights at the heart of the African Union reforms and as the key to socio-economic and human development.
This is the concerted action that I call on you to join during the year 2018 for the sake of fostering human rights in Africa and for an independent, strong and effective African Court.
By Taryn Weninger (University of Simon Fraser University and intern in Research Department at FHRI)
Fred Sekindi (Director Research, Advocacy and Lobbying at FHRI)
Uganda last held Local Council elections in 2001. The Government’s plan to conduct the election towards the end of 2017, was interrupted by a High Court challenge, in which among others, the petitioner alleged that if the elections were to be conducted at the time, they would impede on class time, and thereby exclude students to partake in the election.
The High Court has now authorised the Electoral Commission to start the local council election process. The elections are to be conducted under the Local Governments Amendment Act, 2015. However, the manner in which the elections are to be conducted remains contentious.
A constitutional petition brought forth by the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative and Legal Aid Service Providers Network Uganda alleges that subsections 12 (a) and (b) of the Local Governments Amendment Act, which amends Section 111 of the Local Government Acts, allowing local government elections to be conducted other than by secret ballot, violates the right to free elections guaranteed by Article 1(4) of the Constitution.
Subsection 12 (a) and (b) of the Local Government Amendment Act states:
Election of village, parish and county council chairperson and other officials shall be by the electorate lining behind the candidates nominated for the office or his or her representative or portrait.This makes subsections 12 (a) and (b) of the Local Government Act inconsistent with Articles 1 (4), 21, 33, 35, 45, 59 (1) (3) and (4), 68 (1) and 79 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. The Constitution requires the Electoral Commission to ensure that elections are both free and fair, as well as ensure that election complaints are heard and determined both pre-polling and during polling. Along with questionable legality, the use of the line-up method has also fostered immense criticism from citizens across Uganda. In maintaining and utilising the right to vote under Article 59 of the Constitution, this provides that free and fair elections are one of the fundamental principles of democracy and the rule of law, with the secrecy of voting being a key aspect.
Article 68 (1) of the 1995 Constitution sets a standard of voting by means of a secret ballot using a ballot box. Conversely, subsections 12 (a) and (b) sets a lower standard of an election which is not justifiable in a democratic society. The key provision mandating how people shall be allowed to choose their leaders is found in Article 1 (4) which attests that elections must be regular, free, and fair. In addition, Article 68 (1) further augments the concept of both free and fair elections by urging that elections should solely be conducted by means of secret ballot. These sections are further supported by provision Article 61 (1) (a), which mandates the Electoral Commission to conduct free and fair elections.
The issue at stake is whether an elected leader can be considered a sovereign leader if the election is neither free nor fair. For an election to be free, a voter must be guaranteed the right to vote without any undue influence or fear. The manner in which the elections are to be conducted, which requires people to openly line up behind their preferred candidate, leaves the voter vulnerable and exposed to extensive social scrutiny and political pressures which can ultimately sway a voter to choose differently in the apprehension of negative repercussions. It also violates the principle of a secret ballot as it erodes confidentiality. For an election to be free and fair, a secret ballot should be implemented. Conducting elections by secret ballot ensures that the voter's choice in an election remains private and the voter remains anonymous. The secret ballot method also prevents voters from being subjected to undue influence or intimidation and is aimed at achieving political privacy. It, therefore, ensures the credibility of the elections and preserves the integrity of the electoral process. FHRI calls upon the judiciary to issue an interim order suspending the election until the constitutional petition has been disposed of.
Aidt, Toke S, and Peter S Jensen. "From Open to Secret Ballot." Comparative Political Studies 50, no. 5 (2017): 555-93.
Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda “Public Consultation on LC1 & 2 Elections Lunyo Sub-County, Busia District” (2017)
Farooq Kasule & Michael Odeng “Court Okays LC Polls” New Vision (2018)
Petition of Foundation for Human Rights Initiative & Legal Aid Service Providers Network Uganda V. Attorney General of Uganda Electoral Commissions (2017)
Opinion of LGA
The Constitution of 1995, Art.53(2) (a).
The Local Governments Amendment Act (2015)
 Farooq Kasuld and Micheal Odeng “Court Okays LC Polls” New Vission, 1 Fberuary 2018.
 Petition of Foundation for Human Rights Initiative & Legal Aid Service Providers Network Uganda V. Attorney General of Uganda Electoral Commissions (2017)
 The Local Governments Amendment Act (2015)
 Petition of Foundation for Human Rights Initiative & Legal Aid Service Providers Network Uganda V. Attorney General of Uganda Electoral Commissions (2017)
 Petition of Foundation for Human Rights Initiative & Legal Aid Service Providers Network Uganda V. Attorney General of Uganda Electoral Commissions (2017)
 Aidt, Toke S, and Peter S Jensen. "From Open to Secret Ballot." Comparative Political Studies 50, no. 5 (2017): 555-93.
By Rashid Bunya, Research Associate Foundation for Human Rights Initiative
The Vision of Thursday 1st February 2018, it was reported that, “the police will no longer fine traffic offenders but instead take them to court immediately”. The assumption is that once the offender fails to pay the fine on that day, he or she will be remanded to prison until trial.
It is alleged that the move will help reduce accidents. A report released by Foundation for Human Rights Initiative-“Justice delayed is Justice denied: the plight of pre-trial detainees” in March 2017, revealed that the prison population stood at 54,059 of which 52 % were pre-trial detainees.
The report further noted that the government spends 1,350,000 Shillings to feed an inmate every year, thus about 70, 000,000,000 Shillings is spent on feeding prisoners every year. It further disclosed that prison occupancy in Uganda is at 300%.
This means that a space for 1 inmate is occupied by 3. A report from Forbes ranked Ugandan prisons as the sixth crowded prisons in the world with an occupancy level of 293.2 percent. Forbes also noted that for every 100, 000 people in Uganda, 129 are prisoners basing on the total country population of 41.99 million according to the United Nations.
In this context the government needs to consider alternative solutions, such as community service for minor traffic offences as punishment and not imprisonment.
For two years, a peasant family was hopelessly stuck in a legal crisis, facing murder charges: Deus Tumwine*, 15 and his brother Lawrence*, 13, in Ihungu Remand Home, their father in an adult prison in Hoima.
Back in 2008, Imanriho, their herdsman, had allegedly stolen the family’s savings. Villagers mobbed on him, but just when Tumwine’s father tried to stop them, one landed a huge stone on his head that finished him off. Meanwhile, the two boys were at school and only heard of the commotion. Days later they were arrested. (This story was reported by BBC and The Washington Post. We hide children’s names).
In 2009, as a prefect in the juvenile detention centre, Tumwine was accused of another murder. Rose Mpairwe, the matron, could illegally take the children to dig in nearby farms, for her gains, and whoever refused faced her wrath. Innocent Kirungi, a new detainee, was sick and could not dig. The matron forced Tumwine to whip him for disobedience. She also ordered the boys to bury Kirungi up to his neck. When he tried to escape, the unforgiving matron ordered four boys to give him 40 lashes. The next morning Kirungi was found dead in the dormitory.
In 2010, Jim Gash and lawyers from Pepperdine University, California visited Ihungu. It was ‘Divine Collision’ as Gash, a law professor, who led the rescue mission, called it.
Two months later, court acquitted the family of Imanriho’s murder—Lawrence and their father were released. But Tumwine faced another murder count (of killing Kirungi). The state-appointed lawyer who represented Tumwine and Mpairwe, the matron, decided to defend Mpairwe who faced maximum penalty at the expense of Tumwine, who at 17, faced three years on conviction. He never let him talk to counter Mpairwe’s word, yet some witnesses were seen taking bribes to pin the boy.
Still, court convicted both of murder. Mpairwe was given 10 years; Tumwine was sentenced to a year's probation but having been remanded two years already, he was released.
But disturbed by Tumwine’s criminal record, Gash returned from USA to launch an appeal and in 2015, court quashed the conviction, ruling that the teenager was denied a fair hearing.
Thanks to that ‘Divine Collision’ (as Gash named his book about the case), Tumwine is now a free, clean student of medicine.
But many poor Ugandans, young and old, crave that divine intervention as they waste away in prisons, enduring lengthy remands or waiting for the executioner’s strike after being sentenced to death. They just cannot afford justice.
Depleted by justice
Evans Africa Gabula was this vibrant teenager, with virgin dreams of a good education and a prosperous career. Imagine a high-schooler whose essay won him an invitation to the BBC’s Bush House. But today, he struggles for a living in a swampy Kampala suburb, condoling with his ageing mother, after 27 years in prison (17 on death row) for treason.
In his memoirs ‘Downing Stone’, Gabula strongly professes his innocence and accuses Godfrey Kamukama, a security operative who fabricated charges on him to steal his money.
In 1986, Gabula presented his aforementioned essay at Stratford University, Virginia. Impressed, the Black Caucus raised US$5m to his cause of forming The States Union to unite Africa against the “borrowed ideologies” of capitalism and communism and adopt Ubuntuism.
By then foreign currency was restricted and Gabula trod the necessary steps with the money which was in form of traveller’s cheques. He says, Lieutenant Kamukama was at first helpful, attending States Union meetings, as he infiltrated and hatched sinister allegations on the members, and particularly the leader, Gabula. First: illegal possession of foreign currency, then treason.
At first, Gabula used his money to put up a spirited defence. His lawyer Edward Elue made two trips to the US (one cost $16,000) to gather evidence and bring witnesses from US. Thrice, his client was acquitted by the Court Martial and High Court.
But determined to finish him off, Gabula says, his tormentor embarked on quashing his finances. After re-arresting Gabula, Lt Kamukama allegedly connived with the Local Council chairman to dupe Gabula’s semiliterate mother into selling her land in Jinja Town. She lost her home and rentals which facilitated his only son’s legal battles. “This was the last straw that broke the legendary horse’s back,” Gabula writes.
His mother homeless, Gabula could no longer hire a lawyer. After being tortured at Gadaffi Barracks in Jinja, he forcibly confessed. The fourth trial was the most heart-breaking: his state-appointed lawyer—whose name he doesn’t even know—only met him in court on the days of trial; the judge denied his witnesses a chance and Gabula was convicted of treason and sentenced to death in 1993. “They convicted me because of poverty,” he says.
On death row Gabula met Edward Mpagi who was convicted in 1982. Both retell the grisly executions they witnessed as they awaited their own turn, like they happened yesterday.
Ironically, Mpagi and his cousin Fred Masembe were arrested for robbery, (which they also denied) but were convicted of killing their neighbour. Masembe died in prison but Mpagi says their ordeal resulted from wrangles between his family and their tormentors. Mpagi was released in 2000, 18 years later when the person he was accused of having killed was still alive.
In 2004, Gabula then heading the prison school he founded, welcomed Patrick Zizinga to death row. Zizinga’s story had clear similarities with Mpagi’s and Gabula’s.
Like Mpagi, Zizinga was arrested for aggravated robbery, but in 2004 was sentenced to death for murder of his wife. However, his wife still lives, albeit with gruesome memories of her persecution by her husband’s tormentors. Like Gabula, Zizinga lost his property, cars, etc, amid several detentions; his persecutors robbed his bank account of about Shs60m. His friends got him a lawyer, when he could no longer hire one, but he under persecution, did not help much. Zizinga was sentenced to death. Released after nine years in 2013, he’s still battling to rescue his land on Entebbe Road: 351 acres on Block 380, Kajjansi and 3.49 acres on Block 708 Kyadondo, which were grabbed by his tormentors.
Can’t pay the piper, can’t call the tune
State must provide and facilitate a lawyer for a defendant in a case that carries a death sentence or life imprisonment. State must also facilitate the defendant’s witnesses to ensure a fair trial (Article 28 of the Constitution).
Unfortunately, state-appointed lawyers, called state briefs in Uganda, are more reviled than revered. Death row inmates, survivors, relatives, human rights activists and judges, say these lawyers “just don’t help.”
In the above cases, except one, defendants lost their litigations in the hands of state briefs. “I met the lawyer on the day of the trial, I didn’t even know his name,” most indigent defenders tell you.
Gash’s dedication gave Tumwine justice, just like the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), in the famous Suzan Kigula case reduced death row convicts from 417 by 2003 to 170 today.
A recent study of the socioeconomic background of the Kigula petitioners by FHRI concluded that 93 percent of the convicts were “an overwhelmingly impoverished population,” whose legal representation under the state brief system was inconsistent with the “fair trial” enshrined in Article 28(3)(d) of the Constitution.
Yet the woes of poor defendants in capital cases are not unique to Uganda. In USA, where the death penalty still exists, public defending in Missouri, Utah, Idaho, Florida and Gash’s California, faces serious funding crises. Public defence lawyers are accused of paying little attention to detail, and rushing poor defendants into pleading guilty (to save time).
But it is worst in Louisiana, where the system is funded by fees and fines. In 1984, when the local bar divided all of Shreveport’s lawyers alphabetically, to represent the poor, Glenn Ford, accused of murder, was defended by two attorneys: one experienced in oil and gas, another an upstart in small motor accident insurance cases.
At the trial, the Guardian reported, they failed to challenge prosecutors’ selection of an all-white jury, which then found Ford (a black man) guilty after deliberating for only three hours. Ford spent the next 30 years on death row before being exonerated in March 2014.
Poor Ford died of lung cancer a year after he was released from prison, with no compensation from Louisiana.
Public defenders too are frustrated by high caseloads and little pay. Tina Peng, serving in New Orleans, Louisiana, wrote in The Washington Post September 3, 2015 “I miss filing important motions; I am unable to properly prepare for every trial.
“I plead some of my clients to felony convictions on the day I meet them. If I don't follow up to make sure clients are released when they should be, they can sit in jail for unnecessary weeks and months.”
According to the American Bar Association, a public defender should not handle more than 150 felony cases a year, but in 2014, Peng handled double that.
For dire demand, the random practice that denied Ford justice continues in Louisiana. In one judicial district, one woman runs the entire system, from cleaning her office to representing clients in court. In Winn Parish, prosecutors double as public defenders.
Imagine that is in USA, where there’s a robust criminal justice system. But in Uganda, those “unnecessary weeks and months” Peng decries, are actually years.
Fredrick Mbaziira of Mbaziira & Co. Advocates told me that some of the 660 remanded in Kigo Prison are desperately waiting for that chance to plead guilty for a lenient sentence, because since the Kigula case, death is no longer mandatory.
In his eight-year practice, Mbaziira has also served as a state brief, handling aggravated defilement, rape, murder, et al, winning some and losing some.
A pastor, who was accused of raping a woman who did his laundry, but whose alleged victim did not appear in court, was acquitted.
But the ruthless man who defiled, impregnated and hacked his stepdaughter to death in broad daylight, was sentenced to death. “Not even Jesus could win that case,” Mbaziira said. “He was so remorseless and I was so unfortunate to represent him.”
Mbaziira, a Makwanyane Fellow of the Cornell University Law School, USA, professes passion for the poor man’s justice, but says poor government funding makes the state brief a very inefficient scheme.
During the interview that Friday afternoon at his firm on Carol House, Bombo Road, he showed me a cause-list of 17 cases he would handle in 40 days beginning November 1. Two other advocates had been assigned 17 each, but for the 51 cases, he told me, court offered a paltry Shs9.8m.
We did the simple math: each lawyer got Shs3.26m, meaning each case carried Shs192,000. Some files had five co-defendants, meaning each individual is represented for Shs38,000.
“That doesn’t even fuel my car to and fro court for a day,” Mr Mbaziira said.
As a private attorney, he charges Shs200,000 for just a warning letter, and at least Shs5m for a criminal case. “If you are moneybags, we can even charge you Shs100m.”
The Poor Persons Defence Act 2000 provides that State will pay a lawyer a maximum of 50 currency notes to defend a poor man in a capital case. A currency note is worth Shs20,000 which means Shs1m.
But state briefs end up getting Shs200,000 per case or even less. Why? “The judiciary operates on just a third of its budget,” said Paul Gadenya, the chief registrar of the judiciary. He explained that in a criminal session of 40 cases (of 40 days), a judge is allocated Shs40m. That is Shs1m per case, for the judge’s allowances, the witnesses’ expenses and the lawyer’s expenses.
He admits that under such circumstances, a lawyer so passionate for the defendant’s justice faces the tough choice of spending his own money on research, investigations, regular prison visits or doing just what fits the slim State budget.
“And it’s not the best advocates, who take up the state brief, rather it’s the average ones,” Gadenya adds. “So the suspect might not receive the best counsel…” His general assessment: “Yes, they try very much, but they can do better.”
Explaining the cause of inexperience, Jaffer Senganda, president of Muslim Centre for Justice and Law, a voluntary legal aid service provider, says “Civil suits are lucrative; so the best lawyer would prefer a land case, sure that if he wins even if his client is poor, can sell part of that land and pay him, reasonably.”
But win or lose, there is little or no gain for a state brief in a capital case.
I asked Mbaziira whether losing many cases has negative implications on a state brief’s record. He answered ‘NO’, unless one is implicated in corruption.
Hence, it’s not just the poor defendant who cannot afford justice; even the State that can’t facilitate comprehensive criminal investigations or command its underfunded public attorney. As Mbaziira simply put it, if you can’t pay the piper, you can’t call the tune.
But the biggest worry, like Peng wrote in the Washington Post, whenever a public defender is constantly required to do more with less, it’s the client to suffer.
STORY PUBLISHED BY THE DAILY MONITOR
Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) together with the South Western Institute for Policy and Advocacy (SOWIPA) are deploying 30 community election observers to the Ruhaama County by-election to be held on 11th January 2018. Observers will be deployed in the 11 Sub Counties of Ruhaama, including: Ntungamo, Itojo, Nyakyera, Ruhaama, Ruhaama East, Rukoni East, Rukoni West, Kafunjo TC, Rweikiniro, Kitwe TC and Rubobo.
Observers will report on general election administration including opening, polling and closing processes of polling stations; tallying and announcement of results; the conduct of security agencies; the role of media; participation of special interest groups; as well as the immediate aftermath of the by-election. The observation is intended to verify whether the electoral processes adhere to international standards and national legal provisions of conducting credible, free and fair elections. Observers will also pay special attention to any arising good practices that could be replicated in subsequent elections.
The Ruhaama Constituency seat fell vacant after the death of area MP William Beijukye Zinkuratire (NRM) on 4th November 2017.
The by-election has attracted a total of four candidates:
1 Mr. Moses Mugabe Kahima (NRM)
2 Eng. Jackson Mubangizi (Independent)
3 Dr. Penninah Bainomugisha (Independent)
4 Ms. Vastine Orishaba (Independent)
Campaigns for the by-election commenced on 11th December 2017 following a successful nomination of candidates’ exercise conducted by the Electoral Commission. Although campaigns have been largely peaceful, community observers have noted widespread reports of political intimidation especially in Rweikiniro Sub County; instances of voter bribery; isolated incidents of violence as well as cases of candidates holding campaign meetings beyond 6:00pm, which is in contravention of the EC guidelines on campaigning.
Every year comes with its challenges and opportunities. When a year comes to an end, we tend to remember the last moments more. Many highs, many lows; but for Uganda the dying moments of 2017 could easily qualify as dampening. I will tell you why I think so, in a moment; but first, let’s toast to the opportunities well seized as well as the challenges encountered. Challenges are our best friends; they teach us lessons to be better people.
As we toast to a New Year, let’s celebrate life, let’s commiserate with those who lost their dear ones.
At a more professional level, it is just right and fitting that we empathize with our media friends whose resolve to keep Ugandans informed could have either landed them in jail or left them physically and emotionally bruised. Let’s salute the men and women in leadership positions who stood with Uganda amidst the murky political torrents. As we party away a year of scars, wounds, healing and successes, let’s also remember to toast to the men and women in uniform, especially those who did their work dedicatedly with professionalism amidst undue pressures and persuasions. Three cheers for those who opened their hands to warmly receive and help the refugees who fled wars, calamities and other situations from their original home countries.
Let’s pay tribute to all those Ugandans who worked tirelessly to preserve and improve their environment. Let’s acknowledge those men and women who stood against any form of injustices – social, economic or otherwise. Of course, we need to pay special homage to those who fought viciously against the scourge of corruption that has eaten deeply into our society. Let’s not forget to express our invaluable gratitude to those who made a step towards reawakening the value system upon which Ugandan was originally founded (Ubuntu). Let’s pass on our special gratitude to all those who defied odds to create and nurture opportunities for Uganda and Ugandans. Let’s salute all those who put Uganda on the map for good reasons irrespective of field. Three cheers to the men and women who brought life to earth, those who nurtured lives and those who saved lives. Let’s toast to those who produced unadulterated food that fueled our souls and bodies.
Back to my pet subject, for most of the civic groups working on governance issues, 2017 has been yet another tough year. The year ending will be remembered as that of a ‘broken promise’. Advocacy civil society groups continued to bear the brunt of a skeptical regime. Besides implementing their programmes in a highly suspicious atmosphere, civic outfits had to contend with vilification, office break-ins, technological intrusions, unclear security incidents, alongside navigating the unchartered waters of a new regulatory framework for NGOs.
Some voices critical of government policies and actions were scornfully viewed with not-so-much attention paid to the issues they were raising. Independent expository works by researchers, academics, philanthropists and media that were deemed thorny towards government occasionally attracted the unkind eye of the state. Book censorship increasingly became a troubling trend.
An assessment of both 2016 (which was an election year) and 2017 clearly reveals that a lot of energies were expended on bigoted politicking rather than championing socio-economic development. The last quarter of 2017 for instance has seen a lot of attention paid to amending the Constitution to remove the age limits for presidential candidates. Unfortunately, by giving this amendment primacy over other ‘matters of national importance’, government only succeeded in one thing; keeping the country on a political agenda, continuing from 2016, which was an election year. By so doing, government’s moral authority to claim that Ugandans spend a lot of time politicking rather than doing productive work may have been successfully punctured. Ugandans are not the kind of people interested in spending too much time politicking; Ugandans want a corrupt-free society, they want good quality education, they need accessible quality health care; Ugandans want jobs for their children, they want political stability; Ugandans want to feel part and parcel of Uganda; Ugandans want safe-guards that will guarantee peaceful leadership transition at all levels; and most importantly, Ugandans want a Uganda that works for each of them.
The final bend to 2018 harbored clear testaments that the bridge between citizens and the state has either weakened or is now inexistent. As citizens thought they were getting over a litany of broken promises and social contracts, the linchpin between the wanainchi and the state did it again; they broke the hearts of many Ugandans when they removed age limitations for presidential candidates contrary to the wishes of majority of citizens. Like the saying goes, “since hunters have learned to shoot without missing, birds will have no choice but learn to fly without perching”; now, citizens have to inevitably learn to represent their views and aspirations without necessarily going through the ‘middle-men/women’ who have recently handed the citizens a raw deal.
The rough 2017 may have only made citizens and civic actors even stronger. Citizens have to inevitably confront 2018 with hope and resilience. While 2017 may have explicitly demonstrated that citizens are at the periphery, 2018 offers a new opportunity for wanainchi to expand frontiers and ensure they are at the center of their country’s destiny. It is high time that citizens engage new gears to sort the challenges that have affected the country in the previous years. A genuine dialogic approach is worthy exploring. We need to resolve to whine and criticize less, but challenge and act more.
May the New Year inspire a unity of purpose to build the Uganda that works for each one of us. May our choices and resolutions for 2018 reflect our collective hopes rather than fears!
Happy New Year, 2018!
The East African Community’s (EAC) ultimate goal of political federation is being held back by differences over presidential term limits, term durations and age limits in partner states, a member of community’s parliament has said.
Tanzanian representative to the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), Abdullah Makame, told The Observer on Wednesday that the discrepancies have delayed certain protocols that would have led to faster political integration.
“At the EAC, much as we have protocols of common markets, customs union and others, we have overtime failed to conclude the protocol of good governance. Now, no one seems to care about it anymore,” Makame said on the sidelines of an Eastern Africa civic education conference organised by the Foundation for Human rights Initiative (FHRI) in Entebbe.
When the community first tried to adopt the protocol on good governance, Kenya, Burundi and Tanzania had term limits but Uganda and Rwanda didn’t. Partner countries, as a result, failed to agree on what procedure to adapt for political integration.
Rwanda eventually installed term limits, leaving Uganda as the only country without that essential check. President Museveni has constantly said that the reason he can’t leave power now is because of some things he hasn’t yet accomplished, including political integration of the EAC. Ironically, local politics in Uganda with him at the helm seem to be thwarting this particular wish of his.
In 2005, towards the end of his second and last term, Museveni controversially mobilised parliament using millions to scrap the two-term limit from the Ugandan constitution.
Now, as he is 73 years old and about to clock the 75 year mark beyond which one cannot stand for president of Uganda, Museveni is at it again, pumping billions of shillings into a campaign to have the age limit also scrapped from the constitution.
Museveni now says that term and age limits are technical matters which cannot be left to stand in the way of development.
Shadow minister for regional and foreign affairs, Atkins Katusabe, yesterday agreed that Museveni is the main reason why the region has failed to politically integrate because he is a “regional political liability who makes statements full of deception.”
Katusabe told The Observer that the region cannot integrate well economically before it integrates politically and that Uganda risks being left behind.
“We are the only ones in the region without term limits now and as long as we continue like this, we are not moving ahead. East Africa cannot wait for Uganda. It is moving forward,” Katushabe said.
Makame also said that the length of presidential terms for the different partners states is another factor holding back the good governance protocol given that different countries are proposing different durations, Rwanda last year voted to give President Paul Kagame a seven year term and two more five year terms after that.
In Uganda, Museveni has said on record that the current five year term is too short because “just as you are starting to concentrate on your manifesto, then another election comes in.”
In Tanzania, a lawmaker is proposing presidential terms be extended to save money on elections, a move that may see President John Magufuli stay longer in office and echo steps in other East African nations. As critics fear a drop in appetite for democracy, there is talk of scrapping term limits in Burundi.
Uganda’s minister of East African Affairs, Kirunda Kivejinja, couldn’t be reached for a comment by press time. However, the minister for Information and National Guidance, Frank Tumwebaze, disagreed that term limits are hindering EAC political federation.
Tumwebaze said political federation depends on harmonisation of a good governance framework.
“The good governance protocol whether adopted or not can only make sense if EALA moves to adopt one constitution for all the member states because there are a number of disparities in our constitutions,” Tumwebaze told The Observer yesterday.
He added that because EAC countries are obliged to follow their constitutions first, the good governance protocol, if adopted, will not work in its current formulation.
“It is hard if we still have sovereign states with different constitutions that are backed by different history. Uganda scrapped term limits because of their own reasons,” Tumwebaze said.
Dr Livingstone Ssewanyana, the FHRI executive director, said that besides political efforts, civil society has a role in pushing for a complete union of the EAC basing on universal values of democracy, mutual respect for one another and human rights.
“Civil society has to push for the interests of the people. Look at the issue of the term limits, it is not fair for one country to have it while another doesn’t have it,” Ssewanyana said.
Story Published by The Observer
By Tim Drunkenmölle (Intern in the Research Department at Foundation for Human Rights Initiative)
Jaiman Singh (Student at the University of British Columbia and intern in the Research Department at Foundation for Human Rights Initiative)
Fred Sekindi (Director Research and Advocacy and Lobbying at Foundation for Human Rights Initiative)
The armed usurpation of government in Zimbabwe draws us back to old ways of violent struggles for political power that the continent has rarely witnessed in the last decades. The recent innovation of African leaders has been the manipulation of constitutional orders to retain power. Such manipulations have been justified by the illusion of elections. Thus, in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the incumbents have removed constitutional constraints on the presidency arguing that the citizens can vote them out of power, if they choose so. In the case of the Gambia, Yahya Jammeh’s refusal to give up power, after he lost the presidential elections, demonstrates the resolve of the ‘Big Men of Africa’ to hold on to power against the will of the people. All these actions have been declared unconstitutional changes of government by the African Union, yet its responses to these undemocratic acts vary.
Following the end of colonialism, many African countries experienced violent seizures of power through military coups resulting in unquantifiable loss of life. This is despite post-colonial Constitutions providing for elections as the only lawful way of transferring political power. African countries that endured bad governance in the aftermath of colonialism at the hands of African leaders sought to adopt new Constitutions that provide limitations on exercising power. Thus most Constitutions of African countries, adopted in the last 30 years provide limitations on the presidency. However, the continent has witnessed a wave of constitutional disparagements aimed at entrenching power by removing limits of the presidency. In this context the three main challenges to democracy, good governance and stability in post-colonial Africa are military coups, failure to respect and conduct meaningful elections and amendments of Constitutions to embed monarchical rule.
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe
Recognising the instability that these challenges pose to the continent, the African Union adopted the African Charter on Democracy, Good Governance and Elections, 2007. The Charter recognises that the transition of power through a military coup or armed intervention, the overstaying in power by the incumbent government after being voted out of office and the amendment or revision of the Constitution or other legal instruments in a manner that infringes on the principles of democratic change of government as “unconstitutional changes of government”.
The Charter provides for sanctions by the African Union in all above-mentioned cases, however the response by the African Union paints a different picture. The manipulation of the Constitution to maintain power is widely ignored by regional organisations, whereas military coups as well as the prolonging of power are criticized and sanctioned.
Although the military in Zimbabwe has denied orchestrating a military coup, the African Union has responded by, urging the parties to resolve the situation in accordance with the Zimbabwean Constitution as well as the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance and warning the military of the possible sanctions.
Similarly, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as well as the African Union intervened resolutely when the former President of the Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, refused to accept the outcome of the presidential elections held on the 1st of December 2016. The African Union Peace and Security Council explicitly pointed to violation of the Charter by Jammeh.
In contrast, the African Union has turned a blind eye to the third method of unconstitutional change of government by means of clasping on to power by manipulating the Constitution, in countries including Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo Democratic Republic among others. Sparked by the insatiable hunger to wield continued power, authority and wealth, African leaders, to a large extent, have successfully managed to manipulate their country’s respective constitutions to hold on to political power.
This mode of unconstitutional change of government, however, seems to be the preferred method of unlawfully holding on to power by African leaders. While Africa has rarely witnessed military coups in recent years and the refusal to hand over power by Jammeh amounts to another isolated incident, the continent has witnessed unpopular constitutional amendments in Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Cameroon, Chad, Gabon and Togo, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Burundi, and in Uganda.
The adoption of ‘constitutional coups’, a term coined by the Human Rights Watch, as a means of retaining power without the use of military or physical force poses the biggest threat to continental stability as well democracy and good governance. Born out the struggle to end colonialism, the objectives of the African Union have now shifted to promoting peace, security, and stability on the continent; democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance; and protect human and peoples' rights, among others. To achieve these aims, it must seek to confront the on-going wave of constitutional manipulation.
 Art.23 of the African Charter on Democracy, Good Governance and Elections, 2007.
 Military Takes to Streets in Zimbabwe but Denies Coup. Daily Monitor 25, 15 Nov. 2017, www.monitor.co.ug/News/World/Military-streets-Zimbabwe-coup-Mugabe/688340-4187384-format-xhtml-s5kwm2/index.html.
 “Statement by the Chairperson of the African Union Commission on the Situation in Zimbabwe.” Statement by the Chairperson of the African Union Commission on the Situation in Zimbabwe | African Union, 15 Nov. 2017, au.int/en/pressreleases/20171115/statement-chairperson-african-union-commission-situation-zimbabwe.
 Kodjo, Tchioffo. “AU Peace and Security Council.” African Union,Peace and Security Department, African Union Peace and Security, www.peaceau.org/en/article/the-647th-meeting-of-the-au-peace-and-security-council-on-the-post-election-situation-in-the-islamic-republic-of-the-gambia.
As the government tightens controls over non-governmental organisations, citing political interference, a leading human rights defender has made the case for self-regulation.
In the face of mounting state pressure, which has seen NGO premises searched by police and bank accounts frozen recently, Dr Livingstone Sewanyana, makes a passionate case for the right to associate, organize and for accountable government.
The executive director at Foundation for Human Rights Initiative has expressed these views in a recently launched book, Comparative Experiences of NGO Regulatory Frameworks: Eastern and Southern Africa.
Dr. Livingstone Sewanyana
Some states have embraced self-regulation, which, according to Sewanyana, is best. A few countries have a hybrid model.
“Most countries around the region have adopted particular models to suit their own circumstances and political contexts,” Sewanyana says.
Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Uganda have state regulation while Malawi and Kenya operate under hybrid regulation. Countries such as South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, India and Ghana have adopted self-regulation.
“This speaks volumes about their democracy and how they respond to the right of people to organise and associate,” Sewanyana says.
Nicholas Opiyo, the executive director of Chapter Four, said it is no coincidence that countries with questionable ‘democracy’ impose state regulation on NGOs.
“This control of NGOs by the state is an issue of power and space,” said Opiyo, adding, “There is no need to have eight laws governing one sector.”
Richard Ssewakiryanga, executive director, Uganda National NGO Forum, said there is an uneasy relationship between the state and NGOs because government views them as competitors.
“Many NGOs provide services much better than the state,” noted Ssewakiryanga.
He said the number of NGOs has grown from 21 in 1996, to 14,000.
“That space is highly contested. Governments all over the world are wondering how these people [NGOs] out of nowhere claim the space and become a substitute for the state,” Sewanyana said.
This partly explains the police raids on NGO premises, freezing of their accounts and break-ins into their offices, he said.
Uganda’s regulatory framework, despite some improvements in the new NGO Act, 2016, is criticized for undermining public participation.
The need for a stronger civil society has now seen civil society law become a new discipline to be taught at the school of law, Makerere University.
The law school recognizes the contribution of African NGOs in the promotion of democracy and holding governments accountable, according to Prof Christopher Mbaziira, the acting Principal at the law school.
“The problems have risen partly from the regulatory framework,” says Mbaziira.
Sewanyana’s book explores possible reforms that uphold internationally accepted human rights principles. The book investigates these issues within the historical context of NGOs in Africa, as well as a theory of democracy that stresses participation, accountability and respect for individual liberties.
The book concludes that Uganda’s law does not meet these basic requirements. He proposes self-regulation alongside minimal state involvement.
“This model would entail the establishment of an autonomous NGO regulatory authority composed of members selected autonomously by NGOs, ‘decriminalisation’ of NGO activities, reducing the powers of the state-led regulatory model, and increasing the involvement of NGOs…,” Sewanyana said.
This week, state minister for internal affairs, Obiga Kania, told The Observer that regulation is the duty of the state.
He maintains that the NGO Act 2016 and subsidiary regulations were a result of extensive consultations with these very organisations and 1,200 sub-counties.
“I don’t know who Dr Livingstone consulted to arrive at the conclusion he makes in his book but he is entitled to his own opinion. However, for us as government, we extensively consulted the stakeholders before making our decisions,” Kania said.
“With more than 13,000 NGOs, there must be a legal structure to govern their activities,” said Kania, referring to the NGO bureau, which he said has a “team [which] is more modern and interactive. It has eased registration, accountability and the overall operations of NGOs.”
Kania said there was nothing unlawful about the confiscation and freezing of NGO accounts, which he said will be restored after investigations.
“NGOs must be transparent and accountable,” he said.
Two organisations, ActionAid and the Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies (GLISS), were raided by police in late September. Computers, cameras and mobile phones, among other items, were confiscated.
On October 3, Bank of Uganda wrote to Standard Chartered bank directing it to freeze the ActionAid bank accounts. Not long afterwards, GLISS’s accounts were also frozen. Both organisations’ field activities have since been paralyzed and staff salaries remain unpaid.
Police said they are investigating the NGOs on suspicion of money laundering. Other circles suggested they had been targeted because they were the channel through which money for political activities opposed to the lifting of presidential age limits was being disbursed.