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13.11.2011 Feature Article

Opposition parties in Uganda are ineffective: we should have lessparties in the country

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I wish to say that the responsibility for promoting and defending the democratic rights of the Ugandans rests more heavily on the political parties than any other sector of the society. However, before the emergency of Dr.Besigye and Reform Agenda in 2001 which later transformed itself into FDC in 2004, Uganda had been a country without serious opposition politics since 1986. FDC have worked under very difficult conditions but I can honestly say that they are not yet an effective opposition or a 'finished product'. Otherwise, Museveni would not still be in power today considering the mounting problems in the country.

The role played by the political opposition is vital to the health of any democratic political system and particularly within local government. Minority groups not only have the task of challenging, criticizing and holding the administration to account, but also articulating and pursuing community interests and opinions, as well as offering the electorate an alternative set of policies and personalities.

There are basically two types of opposition: the constitutional opposition and people or political opposition. The constitutional opposition consists of all those institutions provided for by the constitution to serve as a check on the Executive in the exercise of the enormous powers at its disposal. These institutions would include the Judiciary, the Legislature, the political parties, electoral commissions, e.t.c. On the other hand, the political opposition consists largely of civil society organizations such as organized labour, the press, employees' organizations, religious organizations, student's associations, and such other interest and lobby groups

Uganda presently operates a presidential system of government and the Constitution is accordingly tailored along the broad principles of the separation of powers. The constitution clearly defines the powers of the three branches of the government. It is obvious from the provisions of the 1995 Constitution that the legislature is the most potent arm of government to guard against any act of executive recklessness. But the legislators we have got today are in the hands of president Museveni. Whatever Museveni wants to be passed through that parliament, he gets it. He even boosted of this on the front pages of the Monitor in 2008 in regard to the controversial land bill that was a pain in the ass for Mengo and the Kabakaof Buganda. Surely, he is acting like that because he knows his conduct can never be reviewed by any other person or authority in the country. There is a handful of parliamentarians within the Opposition and NRM that usually give Museveni problems but he has still got the majority in parliament, and the cunning ways of getting the NRM 'rebels' on his side.

In Uganda, there is little separation of powers between the three branches of government and therefore, we have lost the surest guarantee and the most effective instrument against abuse of power in a democracy. The MPs have got powers over all executive and administrative departments of the government but I can bet that some MPs are not even aware of what is in that constitution. They just come into that house, sit for hours, shout Museveni wants this and that, and at the end of the month, they demand for their salaries.

So let us agree that the constitutional institutions are weak to check the excesses of the executive in Uganda and this means there is no constitutional opposition in Uganda. It is no surprise that president Museveni has gone overboard in his wanton abuse of power.

Just like most dictators, he is not satisfied with powers vested in him by the constitution. He goes about acquiring more. In the process he is destroying all the mechanisms the framers of our constitution put in place to safeguard the principles of checks and balances. That's why you always hear him saying ''I'm gonna sort out the judiciary now that the police and parliament have been put in order''.

By the way, who can today argue in Uganda that the judiciary has not been sorted out by Museveni with the way new judges are nominated by the office of the president? Yes, there are a few cases where the judiciary has shown its independence, especially high profile cases, but, overall, anything through courts of law is more of a 'lotto' than anything else.

The judiciary has been put on pressure to become a victim in the serial abuse of power by the executive through acts of bribery and intimidation. It is today completely subdued and now does the biding of the Executive. A majority of the Judges uncritically and invariably hand out major verdicts favorable to the government in any dispute. For example, the two cases filed by Dr. Kiiza besigye immediately after the 2001 and 2006 elections required strong minded judges to order for the repeat of those elections because there were not free and fair. But their judgment came out indicating that one side were thieves but did not steal enough to be prosecuted. It was a bad example set to young people like us who really loved NRM and Museveni from childhood. The few courageous decisions of the courts which are unfavorable to the government are simply ignored by the Executive. For instance, why would the police keep intimidating the opposition because of their rallies or protests (dubbed 'Walk to work') yet this is their Constitutional right?

In the NRMO itself, president Museveni has made sure that those that oppose him are thrown out of the party immediately. He is being helped to implement this by the likes of Ofwono Pondo(NRM party Spokesperson), Robert Kabushenga( Newvision boss), Amama Mbabazi( PM) and others. For instance, he organized the removal of some members of the NEC of the party opposed to the removal of presidential term limits and replaced them with his loyalists, an act which I believe contradicts with the party constitution which vests that right only in the National Convention of the party. With his support, his cronies organized the successful removal of Bidandi ssali and others from the NRMO executive when they opposed the 3rd term and now everyone in the NRMO is singing 'Museven Yekka'.

Living conditions have been worse especially in rural areas as far as I can remember but I'm yet to know why president Museveni wins in rural areas. The economy is not that good as opposed to the figures presented by Investment authorities and Bank of Uganda. Unemployment is growing by the day and infrastructure is fast collapsing. Even the CHOGM roads and newly constructed northern bypass are already in tatters, while the security of life and property is deteriorating on a daily basis. One just has to read the regular murders and theft running in and around Kampala in newspapers to understand what I'm talking about.

Most of the money is being siphoned overseas while the rest is being wasted on foreign junketing and satisfying the desires of thieving officials. For instance, why would anybody spend a lot of money to finance the NRMO Bonanzas in USA annually when people in Kangulumira town (Bugerere) have got only two petrol stations to give them jobs? How can one explain why a Ugandan diplomat was caught some few years ago with a lot of money on the Airport on his way to London?

President Museveni's administration is a failure in most respects. Even the much displayed so-called war on corruption is half-hearted and selective. The IGG office is always comprised by big people in the government, and the president keeps interfering in its work. Things are so bad that most Ugandans with the country at heart are asking; is this democracy we fought for in Luwero bushes? Does democracy mean increasing poverty and marginalization? Does democracy mean having a parliament that is weak or having safe houses for torturing Ugandans? Does democracy mean being beaten up on streets when one is demanding for their rights, or getting 'black mambas' out to patrol roads and arrest those that disagree with the government?

By far the greatest case of abuse of power by the Executive has been the misuse of the state apparatus – the Police and the Army. The police boss, General Kayihura has had his contract extended to three more years, but Ugandans have suffered under him than any other police boss before, but there is no branch of government to stop his excesses or to keep him checked.

Consequently, president Museveni does not appear to need the approval of the Legislature to spend public funds. Instead he spends money at will. Such unilateral decisions include: the order to bail out businessmen like Basajjabalaba and others; donating money to Rwanda and Tanzania yet Ugandans are still in a bad shape; reportedly using state funds for his presidential and party campaigns, e.t.c.

Generally, apart from FDC, the rest of the opposition have been mostly confined in their offices. That's why I still think we should have less political parties in the country as it is in USA, as a big number means more unnecessary divisions in the country. According to the Electoral Commission website, Uganda has got over 20 registered poltical parties which i think is unnecessary.Some of the opposition politicians are as selfish as the word goes; for instance, I was shocked and bemused when I heard that several opposition leaders, including Beti Kamya, supported the buying of 2 cars for MPs some years ago. It was a sign that the opposition had given up and they didn't care as long as they benefited from the corrupt system themselves. As an opposition they are supposed to criticize and reject issues that destroy the country, and that failing to do so was a betrayal of trust.

Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba
United Kingdom

Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba
Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba, © 2011

The author has 194 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: AbbeyKibirigeSemuwemba

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