On 9th October 2020, Uganda celebrated its 58th independence, marking yet another error of a political dispensation of continued sovereignty. Behind the imaginations of the architects of independence was a promise to attain independence from colonial rule and be a self-governing state that could determine its own destiny. Galvanizing voices of unity through political parties such as Kabaka Yeka, Democratic Party and Uganda People’s Congress carried the day as to what message Ugandans were to heed to. The withstanding central to the objective of attaining independence was the desire to uphold the principles of constitutionalism where the government could be legally limited in its powers. However, despite the tumultuous times of experiencing dictatorship under President Idi Amin Dada (1971-1979), the objective of embracing the ideals of constitutionalism were partially suspended by virtue of Legal Notice No. 1 of 1971 and later nullified by Legal Notice No. 1 of 1979 that fundamentally recognised the 1967 Constitution once again.
It’s now 58 years later – Is Uganda still running its course? Have we lost sight of the gains we hoped for as a country? This is rather subjective to debate but will base this on the ideals of constitutionalism and how we have scored as a country.
First and foremost the sovereignty of Uganda has been revered regionally and internationally. The Oxford dictionary has defined it as “the authority of the state to govern itself or another state.” On several occasions being led by example, the President of the Republic of Uganda Yoweri Museveni has occasionally expressed a firm stand on foreign intervention in regard to meddling in the internal political affairs of the country. For example, while delivering a keynote address at the France-Africa Summit in Bamako-Mali in 2017 he said “You have all seen the chaos generated in Libya and the whole of the Sahel as a consequence of military action by foreigners against the express objection of the African Summit of Heads of State. Such a crime should never be tolerated again.” He has rather rather promoted the advancement of bi-lateral agreements between states. Such clarion calls continue to affirm the idea of respecting our sovereignty as a country is continuously being upheld.
Secondly, the separation of power; where the branches of government, that is the executive, legislature and judicature, are separate from each other and act independently. This has continued to promote a system of checks and balances where the excesses of one arm of government are checked by the other so as to prevent the abuse of power and to safeguard the freedom for all. We have evidenced the three arms of government exercise their powers separately and acting independently from the other.
Thirdly, Uganda continues to observe the rule of law where all people and institutions are subject to and accountable to law that is fairly applied and enforced. The government has been subject to existing laws as much as its citizens are. No one has been treated exceptionally before the law reflecting that we are all subject to the law. This has not favored high placed government officials either.
More still the democratic principle continues to be exercised where people have been given the liberty to electively choose leaders of their choice for legislative positions. The Uganda Electoral Commission organises periodical elections for all elective positions including the minority persons such as the elderly among others. The opportunity to vote is also given to Uganda nationals who are above the age of 18 years. The elements of freedom of assembly and speech, inclusiveness and equality, voting and respect for the minority continue to be promoted.
Lastly the prevalence of a vibrant civil society in the country is testament to the gains of the constitutional path that Uganda is on. The World Bank defines CSOs as ‘non-governmental and not-for-profit organizations that have a presence in public life, expressing the interests and values of their members or others, based on ethical, cultural, political, scientific, religious or philanthropic considerations’. They have largely been composed of a wide range of organised and organic groups including nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), trade unions, social movements, grassroots organisations, online networks and communities, and faith groups. The National Bureau for Non-Government Organisations currently has over 1000 registered NGOs whose roles have varied from provision of basic services such as education, health care services, advocacy roles such as lobbying governments or businesses to participate in indigenous challenges, performing watchdog roles especially monitoring government’s compliance in areas of human rights, building an active citizenry and also participating in global governance processes.
We might not be at that place of general satisfaction but the steps taken so far promise a brighter future and path for the principles of constitutionalism to be embedded in the fabric of our political and nationalistic spectrum.