By Lillian Kansiime
One of the key tenets of the NRM revolution was the struggle for the restoration of democracy which had for over two decades of post-independence Uganda remained a façade.
From 1986, Uganda experienced a second liberation that opened up new prospects for democratic development.
Not only did electoral democracy take root but also liberal democracy was entrenched. The rule of law has over the years been upheld by different arms of government under the separation of powers principle. The Dividends of all this democratic dispensation ushered in by the NRM are enormous.Frank Tumwebaze (R)
There is political and legal equality for all, the media is enjoying unheralded freedoms, falling over themselves to report, comment and expose wrong-doing, Minority groups can practice their culture, their faith, and their beliefs unhindered without fear of victimization.
Executive power is constrained and checked by other arms like parliament among others.
Property rights are protected by law and by the courts. All these and more form part of the universally accepted benchmarks of a well- built democratic culture. What is however crucial for any country is how it sustains these and lives by them to form part of its national ethos and culture. Sustenance of the same will be the real milestones in the struggle for democracy building and consolidation.
In our current situation however, the threat to democracy is not the absence of the above enablers. The real threat (and not imaginary one), is the irresponsible behaviour and indiscipline of some of the political contenders.
And because many of those asked to play a watchdog role like the media and the civil society are not doing enough to adequately expose this, it is now passing off for acceptable behaviour or virtue of good politics.
Bad and irresponsible politicking is one of the threats and limitations to democracy building. It is as fatal as having an entrenched dictatorship.
While it’s okay for citizens to castigate the government and demand for the protection and guaranteeing of their liberties, it is equally necessary to fight and abhor selfish political behaviour that is a kin to anarchy. I tell you why?
On Saturday 25/7/2015, I was travelling to Mbarara and as I entered Kinoni Trading Centre after Masaka, an unusually heavily jammed highway ushered us into the middle of Kinoni town.
Here all cars came to a complete stop, waiting for the struggling traffic police to clear the highway.
And what was the problem? It wasn’t an accident, thank God. It wasn’t the natural car traffic jam running through the town of Kinoni and neither was it a weigh bridge or any other security operation mounted on the road by police or customs as some times it warrants.
The road was just blocked by supporters of none other than Dr Kizza Besigye who was just standing by the road side just right in the middle of Kinoni trading centre addressing his supporters. Most shops could be sighted closed.
Closure of shops did not necessarily mean that most of those shop attendants and owners did close voluntarily to go for the Besigye rally. Not at all. Many normally close themselves inside the shops for fear of being robbed by the mob likely to emerge from the rally staged at their door steps.
They know this has happened before and left many with empty shop Stalls. Anyone who passed through Kinoni trading centre on that Saturday between 11am and 1pm can surely appreciate what I am talking about.
The question then becomes; why stage a rally, in the middle of an operational business centre and on a busy-border destined highway? Couldn’t a suitable side venue, a school or church field/ compound, be identified to host that rally? Why behave so selfishly and irresponsibly? First, such behaviour is selfish because it only seeks to give political dividends (in form of free captive audience that already exist in the trading centre) only to the political contender.
Second, it is irresponsible because it distorts the social order of the other citizens going by their day to day livelihood activities.
And it’s always the kind of such political self-seeking behaviour of the promoters that automatically solicits for an altercation with the police. That is why restraining such insensitive behaviour becomes a noble duty of any government committed to the nurturing of the rule of law. Anarchy and lawlessness have never been necessary conditions for democracy building.
If we are to understand the prospects for democratic development in Uganda therefore, we must have a clear conceptual framework for measuring the real necessary conditions that we need to grow so as to maintain the steady progress.Amama Mbabazi
And we may also want to examine the relationship between the extent of the democracy we have built and the likelihood of its consolidation.
What works and what doesn’t. Anarchy and lawlessness definitely can never be alternatives. It is certainly plausible to argue that while liberal democratic regimes—(those which are more politically inclusive, accountable, and respectful of civil liberties)—are more likely to become broadly valued and legitimate. Consolidation on their part gets constrained if the act of balancing between rights and responsibilities of citizens is not adhered to principally.
The temptation to pander to liberal populism by those running the state is always apparent. This only creates symbolic democracy. Many political scholars have written much more instructively on this phenomenon- hence the call for regulatory frameworks.
The raging debate over the times has always been on; whether enforcement of citizen responsibilities by those in authority is a violation of their rights or in fact a legitimate instrument to check individual excesses that if left unhindered can potentially compromise the rights of the wider public.
And it’s the likelihood dangers of the latter as opposed to the former that justified the enactment and existence of the Public Order Management Act (POMA), many political commentators continue to misread.
That law is simply and exactly about Public Order Management. At the heart of any free and democratic society is the ability to co-exist in peace. Society only thrives when it is governed by law and regulated by order. The duty to do all that lies with government. Public Order Management therefore is not anti-democracy but rather an essential prerequisite for building a democratic culture.
Prevention and detection of crime is a duty given to the police by the Constitution of Uganda under article 212 (c) and its part and parcel of public order management. It cannot be achieved successfully without regulating public order and ensuring safety for the benefit of all.
The right of Ugandans to demonstrate “peacefully and unarmed” is not affected at all by this law.
A Ugandan who wishes to demonstrate “peacefully and unarmed” does not require the permission of anyone. However, he must inform the police in advance to ensure public order management.
And he cannot demonstrate in every place. You cannot for example hold a political rally inside the Parliamentary Chambers. In the recent past we have seen attempts to demonstrate inside the courts or even at the Mulago Heart Institute. Surely there are places which should be out of bounds for the so called demonstrations?
Why do we have in world capitals gazetted squares and grounds for such assemblies? And why would Uganda be an exception to the general principle? One cannot simply wake up and decide to demonstrate at the Jinja road traffic lights and block the road there without having the Police co-ordinate the traffic.
In enjoying your rights why should you interfere with the rights of others? Public Order law simply allows the Police to regulate the conduct of public meetings in public places. The Police, under this law have no power to refuse you to meet, but they will inform you that the venue in which you intend to meet is not available or appropriate. The law empowers them to this extent.
And I honestly believe that the police at Kinoni on Saturday should have advised better Kizza Besigye on the choice of his venue. The middle centre of Kinoni trading town and on the shoulders of the Masaka- Mbarara highway couldn’t have been whatsoever any convenient venue for a mass rally.
The police should have done something to protect the wider public no matter the criticism and condemnation it would have got from Dr Besigye and his supporters.
Live and let live
The law therefore was never about stopping organized groups from organizing. It is about ensuring that we all live and let live. The business man interested in selling his goods at Kinoni trading centre and passenger on his/her onward journey along the high way should both not be stopped by the Politician interested in pursuing power through targeting easy captive audiences gathered in common places for different interests.
Demonstrate freely and without hindrance but do so in a manner that does not stop someone else from trying to earn a living. This is what the concept of enforcement of citizen responsibilities is all about. It is not in any way an act of repression as some of our political actors try to spin it all the time they speak.
Regulation does not limit rights. We all have a right to vote. However, we exercise this right on specific dates at specific times designated by the electoral commission. It’s not at a time of our own choosing. Justice Nyanzi in his ruling last week in the case of Odongo Otto was instructive on the issue of citizens observing deadlines set by the Electoral Commission for citizen participation in the various activities of the electoral process.
Is Uganda an exception?
Uganda is not alone in regulating public order. The United Kingdom does for example have a Public Order Act of 1986. S.11 of that Act requires written notice to be given to the Police before a procession can be held. The Police must be informed where the procession will start and end. When it will be held. Their law is that detailed and strict.
The route that is proposed to be taken must be specified in the notice. If a Senior Police officer is convinced that this assembly is likely to result in public disorder or damage to property then that Police Officer gives directions to avoid such a breach of peace. So why don’t we talk about this moreover a country like Britain that is part of the common wealth like Uganda is? Our law is similar in every respect.
Political discipline is therefore key. The people of Kampala, Kinoni , Mbarara, Arua or Mbale and especially many of those whose bread and butter is earned from their daily sales cannot continue to suffer at the hands of selfish politicians who are never confident of their political numbers outside populous common places like markets, high streets and road junctions.
Government has no other option but only duty bound to protect them in defence of the common public good.