MAO: On presidential age limits, it Ugandans versus NRM

Saturday October 14 2017

Uganda's Democratic Party leader Norbert Mao. PHOTO | NMG

Uganda's Democratic Party leader Norbert Mao. PHOTO | NMG 

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The Democratic Party leader Norbert Mao spoke to The EastAfrican's Gaaki Kigambo about his hyped ‘K’Ogikwatako’ slogan.


You launched the Democratic Party slogan in July, against the removal of age caps on the presidency. Why K’Ogikwatako [If you dare touch it] of all words?

In my mind it wasn’t like the word was K’Ogikwatako immediately. I was thinking more of okukwatako (to touch). I was working with the idea of touching. Luganda is a widely spoken language and many companies use it in marketing campaigns. In fact, one of the people who vigorously supported the slogan when we presented it to the party National Executive Committee hardly speaks Luganda.

But what the public has taken up is togikwatako [don’t touch it], which the DP top leadership almost proposed over your preferred K’Ogikwatako. Does that surprise you?

Not at all. The DP and I as the leader are pleased about how Ugandans have responded. Togikwatako is a variation of K’Ogikwatako and is easier on most tongues. We are happy with all other variations.

This is now a mass protest. It has grown bigger than me or even DP. And that’s the way it should be. If anything, all Ugandans must rise to its size because it is a big dream based on hope for a peaceful change.

Surely, you don’t believe your campaign can stop the MPs from removing the presidential age limits?

MPs have their political antennae. If an MP is facing open hostility not against the person of President Yoweri Museveni but against the tinkering of the Constitution, they will have to think twice about their decision.

Museveni must also study the situation and find the courage within him to speak out like Tanzania’s former president Julius Nyerere. He refused to stand again despite the pressure to do so. Or Namibia’s Sam Nujoma who was told, ‘We still want you, amend the constitution.’ He said no and he let [Lucas] Pohamba take over.

Leadership transition without bloodshed is a gift Ugandans expect. And people know that if Article 102(b) is amended and the age limit is lifted that will be a green light to undemocratic forces.

President Museveni is known for defeating every challenge that stands in his way. What makes you think he will tackle this any differently?

The ball is in his court. Our job is merely to sensitise Ugandans. Sometimes leaders have to be pressured. Museveni is in a privileged position to pray for wisdom to craft Uganda after his departure.

There is no way you can have a Constitution if it is at the mercy of a two-thirds majority who can easily amend it just because they have the capacity.

Our campaign is counting on Ugandans and so far they have not disappointed. For once people are actually interested in the Constitution. The campaign has created a new consciousness about the importance of the Constitution. Even those in the ruling National Resistance Movement have begun to realise that actually you need these provisions to defend you in future.

Today you might be the majority but tomorrow you could be the minority. You keep telling people it is numbers that matter. What will happen the day you don’t have them?

Many MPs have realised that if you are against the lifting of age limits you are on the right side of history. In 2021 the question will be on which side of the debate were you, just like in 2006 when the question was on which side of the term limits were you?

What is your responsibility now that the campaign has gone viral?

We are not particularly bothered about controlling it. We only have to emphasise that it is not for any individual seeking office. DP is offering strategic direction and leadership but we need to co-own it as Ugandans, as political party leaders.

The campaign should create the momentum for building a coalition that can craft a post-Museveni Uganda without anyone individual owning it.

Our idea as DP is to collect signatures district by district and send a petition to each MP telling them if you vote to amend the Constitution to remove age limits you’ll have staked your very political fortunes. This is about you. Only a fool would underestimate the power of the tide we are facing.

The campaign is not just the movement of water on the surface, which is what a wave is.

This one is deep and it will raise the levels of water very high. Does Museveni want to be drowned by this tide? Do the MPs want to be drowned? Many of them are very young, some in their 20s. They are going to be here for at least 60 years, long after Museveni and some of us have gone. I don’t want to think they would want to dare and behave like this.

Parliament’s chambers were invaded in an evident show of force. Now what?

If the government believes that the Constitution needs surgery it should be done through a consultative process. Amending the Constitution is a grave matter. Since the Attorney-General was given directives by the Supreme Court to bring a rack of amendments we still insist he should do as he was instructed.

At the same time the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs announced he was due to appoint a constitutional review commission. So all Ugandans are ready for a consultative process not just a tyranny of the majority.

It is not a question of whether Museveni is shameless or Parliament is dominated by NRM. It is whether Ugandans are resolved to defend the Constitution.

It is Ugandans versus the NRM majority. I think those in the citizenry are more only that the opposition have always donated victory to Museveni by our own disorganisation and failure to unite. Otherwise if we were to unite the numbers in the population would be reflected in Parliament.



  • Age: 50

  • Background: Norbert Mao has been leader of Uganda’s oldest political party, the Democratic Party since 2010.

    He was Member of Parliament for Gulu District in Northern Uganda for 10 years. He resigned in 2006 and was elected chairman of the Gulu local government
    In 2011, he ran for president, emerging third in a field of eight candidates.

  • Profession: Mr Mao is a lawyer who advocates for democracy and human rights.