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1995 Constitution wasn’t Built on Consensus

By Ofwono Opondo

Sept. 26, 17 

As Ugandans begin another round of discourse over the proposed constitutional amendments, and other reforms, it is imperative that we keep reminding ourselves of recent historical facts in our constitution-making profile. This week’s brawls in parliament, instigated by the opposition who caused stampede, broke furniture and fist-fought each other and staff, in an effort to paralyse the house, were unfortunate, but not entirely unexpected. Certainly, the opposition doesn’t have the numbers in parliament and valid reasons, and hence the desperate maneuvers, and should know that Uganda will not brook impunity bordering on criminality.
Prof. George Kanyeihamba, former minister of commerce, Attorney General, and Supreme Court Judge, was on television this week claiming that the 1995 was a product of “national consensus,” which I would like to disagree with, and here is why. Firstly, Legal Notice No. 1 of 1986 which legitimized the NRM/A revolution and government, was introduced and enforced by the force of arms.
While Kanyeihamba meant well, as Attorney General when the Constituent Assembly (CA) was considering the Odoki report, and draft constitution (1994-5), he knows, that the establishment of Justice Benjamin Odoki Constitutional Commission, 1987, was never by consensus. The UPC remnants who had recently been swept off by a coup, and the NRM/A, had Mrs. Cecilia Ogwal as their leader, refused to submit their views. Led by Ogwal, Yona Kanyomozi, Francis Butagira and Adonia Tiberondwa they parroted Milton Obote’s position from Lusaka, that the 1967 constitution was legitimate, adequate, and no need to write a new one.
The setting up of the CA too was very divisive because some people in the National Resistance Council (NRC), the interim legislature wanted to be turned into a CA to debate and promulgate the constitution. It was, president Yoweri Museveni, who at the time, as now, held multiple interlocking positions as president, chairman of the National Resistance Movement and its military wing, the NRA, Chairman and Speaker of the interim parliament (NRC), and Commander-in-Chief who prevailed over the Army Council, Military High Command, and later NRC that they should have an entirely a new body elected through universal adult suffrage.
It was partly because of the protracted discussions within NRM/A and NRC that Eriya Ketegaya, and Lt. Col. Kiiza Besigye as NPC brought a Bill in 1989 extending the interim administration to enable it ‘complete’ writing the new constitution. That extension of NRM from 1990-1995, and later 1996 was so controversial that Omulongo Wasswa Ziritwaula, representing Kampala Central stormed out in protest and resigned from parliament. Upon his resignation Capt. Francis Babu was elected.
Ziritwaula’s move had been hatched as a joint action by the DP group in parliament led by Paulo Kawanga Ssemogerere but they grew cold feet on the D-day, and thus left Ziritwaula a lone political wolf from which he never recovered to-date. While the CA Statute stated that delegates would be elected on individual merit, both sides, NRM, and the discredited old parties-UPC, DP and CP actually openly sponsored candidates who promised an immediate return to party politics if elected. The NRM Secretariat where I also worked sponsored candidates and won majority seats in the CA, and formed the NRM caucus chaired by Kategaya and deputized by Jaberi Bidandi Ssali. The party advocates chaired by Aggrey Siryoyi Awori from Samia-Bugwe North formed the National Caucus for Democracy (NCD).
I still remember that when James Wapakhabulo and Rebecca Kadaga, both NRC members lost the CA elections, and were nominated by President Museveni as possible Chairperson and deputy for CA, NRM historicals described as rejects unfit to lead the CA.
Again, President Museveni prevailed and both names were forwarded to the Chief Justice Wako Wambuzi who convened and presided over the election of the CA chairpersons. Wapakhabulo easily won because Justice Herbert Ntabgoba withdrew, and while Kadaga lost as she was vigorously decampaigned by the same historicals who preferred Prof. Victoria Mwaka.
In the CA sides became extremely polarized with many walkouts staged by the NCD and Buganda caucus who had forged an opportunistic alliance on federalism (Federo), land and immediate return to party politics, which the NRM strongly resisted. I do remember the NRA caucus led by Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu as then Army Commander staging a walkout over the proposal to change the name of the NRA. NRA and NRM delegates had wanted to maintain NRA as the name of the army. Discussions were suspended for months as consultations went on behind doors with President Museveni and they eventually yielded to rename the army the Uganda Peoples Defence Force, borrowing from the TPDF of Tanzania.
And as delegates wrapped-up the constitution making, NCD and Buganda caucus tried all ways to filibuster its promulgation, walked out and refused to sign the Constitution because their demands for Federo, and immediate return of multipartysm, and the so-called 9,000 sq miles of Buganda land had been rejected by the NRM. Therefore, Uganda is constitutional making, and building of the state and nation, is work in progress searching for a more durable consensus.