This national meeting was a historic event for more reasons than one. It brought Ugandans from all walks of life together, to set parameters of how they want to be governed since this is within their power. The three days of the National Consultation were very vital for facilitating open discussions on matters to do with Electoral democracy. I noted that Ugandans can shade off their political and religious differences to unite over what is dear to them. Save for a few, it was hard to find political slogans in Nile Hall, which housed the Consultation. Men and women embraced each other and discussed the Uganda they want to see and the need to have a peaceful transition of power.
In fact this was the second momentous event for Ugandans to discuss peaceful transition of power, after the Lancaster (London) and Moshi (Tanzania) conferences all of which were held in the name of ensuring that Uganda would have a peaceful transition away from militarism. Remarkably, the representatives in the Mosh conference failed to agree on a resolution for a peaceful transition, and in the result they plunged the country into a costly civil war but even after the 1980 – 1985 war, we seem as a country not to have learnt from our history.
Since NRM captured power through non-democratic means in 1986, to date, Uganda has never transited from military rule to civilian rule. A road map for that transition had been well laid out in our law. The framers of the 1995 Constitution hoped that the Constitution would be followed to the letter, and that this supreme law of our land would be respected by all and sundry as it represented the aspirations of the people of Uganda. However, the 2005 amendments to this Constitution came with utter shock when the Parliament went out of its way to delete a fundamental principle of governance from the Constitution. The five year presidential term limit was a cardinal piece of law whose removal has held all of us at ransom. It was hoped that a particular President would be in power for a maximum of two terms, precisely ten years. This was a Constitutional safeguard that some Members of Parliament deemed fit to remove, and now some have apologised for their short-sightedness.
As a country, the need to transition from militarism to a civilian led democracy cannot be overemphasized. In order for a nation to transit from one system of governance to another, there must be actors willing to discuss and implement a process, path and pace in which the kind of transition they want can be achieved. If Ugandans want a transition to happen, and they are not doing anything about it, they should not complain when vital issues are arrived at in their absence. If you want change, be part of the change you want to see. I do agree with Dr. Kizza Besigye who, while at the National Consultation said; “This is the point where the role of the citizens begins, we must determine how to be governed.”
The architects of the National Consultation on Free and Fair elections have immense love for our country and I must commend these men and women, that their diligent efforts will not go unrecognized in the history of our country. These efforts resulted into the Uganda Citizens’ Compact on Free and Fair Elections which was adopted by over 1,000 delegates from all regions in Uganda.
The Compact included various proposals but notable among them is that mechanisms must be put in place to safeguard the Central bank coffers, government ministries and International assistance bank accounts from financial raids before general Elections are conducted. It was also proposed that save for women, the youth and the disabled, the Army and the Workers’ representatives as special interest groups should be removed from Parliament. The Delegates proposed that in the establishment of a new independent Electoral Commission, the President be stripped of the powers to out rightly search and appoint the Chairman of the Electoral Commission. It was agreed that a process of open application be followed in determining who will be at the helm of managing elections in the country. The delegates also proposed that a new, clean and verifiable Voter register, which also includes Ugandans in the diaspora should be made accessible to all.
The delegates agreed that the office of the Resident District Commissioner should be abolished or transformed into a public service job to be managed by the Public Service Commission since Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs) are now appointed by Central Government. It was also proposed that the National Leadership Institute for Political Education (NRM Political School) at Kyankwanzi should be abolished and instead, there should be established, under an Act of Parliament, a National Institute for Administration, under an independent Board of Directors.
Furthermore it was proposed that Polling station committees must be set up comprising political parties, civil society, and the presiding/ returning officers, to monitor the voting, counting, and tallying process and deal with complaints and disputes in the voting and tallying process, including the determination of valid, invalid, or spoilt ballots. Another proposal was that the military should have no involvement whatsoever in the electoral process and should remain focused on its constitutional duty of securing our borders and defending our sovereignty. The delegates also proposed that the President should relinquish tactical command and control of the armed forces to the Joint Chiefs, and must not serve as chairman of UPDF High Command. The above are some of the Seventeen proposals that have been reduced into the Compact.
What you missed at the National Consultation on Free and Fair Elections in Pictures.
A copy of the Compact will be presented to the Parliament of Uganda to enable the Members of Parliament enact these proposals into appropriate legislation within the next two months in order to create the necessary infrastructure for conducting free and fair elections in Uganda. Then we will pass the baton to Parliament to run their race in the journey for democratic governance in Uganda. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Elections belong to the people. It is their decision. If they decide to turn their back on fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”