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Research Report

BEYOND ‘THIRD-TERM’ POLITICS: Constitutional amendments and Museveni’s quest for life presidency in Uganda

Juma Anthony Okuku
Series editor Garth le Pere
Copyright Date: May. 1, 2005
Pages: 39

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 1-2)
  2. (pp. 3-3)
  3. (pp. 4-4)
  4. (pp. 5-5)

    ‘Third-term’ politics have taken centre stage in the debate over Uganda’s transition from the ‘movement system’ of government to multiparty democracy. Since 1986, when Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM)¹ came to power, the country has been governed under the ‘movement system’, in essence a quasi-one-party/ military regime. This paper contends that besides other constitutional changes proposed by the NRM, the attempt to remove the provision limiting the president to two terms of office is an attempt to sanction an executive dictatorship. We interrogate the underpinnings of third-term politics and their implications for constitutionalism and democratic governance in Uganda. We...

  5. (pp. 6-9)

    The proposed constitutional reforms raise a number of conceptual and empirical issues surrounding the constitution and constitutionalism, democratic transition, and democratic governance. A clear understanding of third-term politics and the entire process of constitutional reform is required because they will stamp the character of the resulting constitutional order. Some commentators mistakenly equate paper constitutions with constitutionalism. These concepts must be defined clearly at the outset.

    Constitutions are institutional frameworks which, in functioning democracies, provide the basic rules and incentive systems concerning government formation, the conditions under which governments can continue to rule, and the conditions under which they can be...

  6. (pp. 9-12)

    The salient issues concerning third-term politics in Uganda can be put within two categories: legal and political, though they are not mutually exclusive. Uganda’s term limits originated with constituent assembly, which limited the presidential term to two five-year stints. The assembly based these decisions on Uganda’s political history and, indeed, on Africa’s recent political history. Term limits are intended to ensure that persons elected president are not tempted to become ‘president for life’, or that they must be removed from office by force of arms. Historically, such acts by incumbents have included eliminating their opponents, creating personal armies, and looting...

  7. (pp. 12-14)

    For most of the independence period in Africa, constitutionalism was not considered critical for governance. Across the continent, the constitutional frameworks within which countries gained independence proved not to be durable. As Oloka-Onyango (2001:338) observes:

    Whether or not a country had a constitution was irrelevant, more often than not the document was only respected in the breach. Under the single-party or military dictatorships that abounded around the continent, the word of the president was law, irrespective of whether or not the constitution empowered the action that had been ordered. Judiciaries and legislatures were cowed by systems that bore more resemblance...

  8. (pp. 15-18)

    The NRM has traversed an interesting trajectory in the process of consolidating power. It seized power in 1986 with the pledge of ‘fundamental change’. Ten years on, Museveni ran his presidential campaign with the slogan of ‘no change’. Today the call is ‘no term limits’.

    As Oloka-Onyango notes, third-term politics is informed by the practice that rather than using brute military force, two-term presidents are forced to manoeuvre for constitutional change to allow them serve extended terms in office (2001:238). The removal of term limits is, on the surface, suggestive of a life presidency. But underneath it points to the...

  9. (pp. 19-21)

    There are clear indications that Museveni wants another term. As the leader of the Forum for Democratic Change, Ruzindana Augustine, noted: ‘Whereas it’s true that in his last manifesto, it is mentioned several times that he was seeking a last term, since then whenever asked the question as to whether he wants to seek another term, the standard answer he has been giving is that he will abide by the constitution. Now we know that the constitution he wants to abide with is one without term limits’ (The Monitor, 14 May 2003).

    In support of this bid proponents of the...

  10. (pp. 21-29)

    One of the NRM’s major achievements was the institution of the 1995 constitution, which is acclaimed by both critics and proponents for its radical departure from all previous constitutions. In the context of Uganda’s traumatic experience since obtaining independence in 1962, the enactment of the 1995 constitution was a great achievement. Yet within a period of seven years it has been found necessary to review and amend several of its provisions. Why so soon? Which provisions need to be amended and how? What are the implications of these amendments?

    The proposal to open up political space in Uganda after a...

  11. (pp. 29-30)

    The question of the vision for Uganda has emerged in the current debate on political succession. The argument is that the mainstream opposition and the ‘Malwa Group’26 opposed to the removal of presidential term limits have not articulated any coherent alternative policies in the event that Ugandans give them the mandate to govern.

    Vision, however, is not a thing like a mango that you simply pick from a basket of goods. It involves deep thought processes and organisational ingenuity, in conjunction with practice and innovation. These practices can only be viable in an enabling environment. Over the past two decades...

  12. (pp. 30-31)

    The NRM leadership is determined to tinker with the constitution and secure a life presidency for Museveni. By playing the constitutional game, supporters of this effort seek to legitimise a clear case of usurpation of power. A number of measures have to be taken to stem the imposition of indefinite rule by the NRM and Museveni.

    First we need to understand the basis of NRM hegemony over Uganda’s political processes for the past 19 years. The most critical factor has been its political monopoly. Until recently, the only political organisation legally allowed to reach and mobilise the masses was the...

  13. (pp. 32-32)

    The objective of third-term politics is centred on amending the constitution and instituting a life presidency for Museveni. This conclusion is drawn from a critical examination of the origins and the manoeuvres to amend the constitution. Alongside the other proposed constitutional changes proposed by the ruling party, the removal of term limits constitutes a bid to change the constitution to sanction an executive dictatorship. The removal of term limits to allow for indefinite rule by the president implies a rejection of constitutionalism and democratic governance. The nature of proposed amendments relating to the presidency, parliament and the judiciary prove this...

  14. (pp. 33-34)
  15. (pp. 35-38)