Army invasion of parliament against constitutional separation of powers

Sunday October 01 2017

Students of Makerere University protest against the official procedure to scrap a presidential age limit from the Constitution in Kampala on September 21. PHOTO | AFP


As Uganda's Parliament attempts to pick itself up and forge ahead with its business, the unsightly invasion of its chambers last week by members of the elite presidential guard has, according to analysists, seared its sacredness, robbed it of its independence and punctured the constitutional order of separation of powers.
Sources told The EastAfrican the Age Limit Bill has been gazetted and will likely be tabled for its First Reading this week.

In the days ahead as the controversial Bill goes through the parliamentary paces, more clashes both inside and outside Parliament can be expected. 

The opposition appears determined to make up for what they lack in parliamentary numbers by amplifying their voices and stirring public resistance towards the Bill.

After the First Reading, the Bill will be forwarded to the Parliamentary Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs where the finer details will be hammered out.

In the Amendment Bill that removed presidential term limits in 2005, the committee and its chair had significant say in the content and structure of the Bill.

If this is still the case, the Age Limit Bill will then be tabled to the Committee of the Whole House for final passage.


Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanya had publicly boasted about removing the term limits while he chaired the committee in the 7th Parliament.

According to Democratic Party leader Nobert Mao, the invasion of parliament this past week by members of the elite presidential guard went against the Constitution.

“Our Constitution envisages three co-equal pillars of the state: Legislature, Judiciary and Executive. These pillars are supposed to be independent so that the principle of separation of powers and checks and balances may reign. What we have seen today is the final nail in the coffin of parliamentary democracy,” he said in a statement on September 27.

“Ugandans expected the Speaker [Rebecca  Kadaga] to have the backbone to demand that the Executive complies with her ruling that a constitutional amendment is not a casual affair to be initiated by every Tom, Dick and Magyezi [Raphael, the ruling party MP sponsoring the age Bill].

“Constitutional amendments, especially one as contentious and controversial as the lifting of the presidential age limit, should be done in a consultative and inclusive manner. It is not enough to merely impose the will of the parliamentary majority on the country ... The Speaker unreasonably turned a deaf ear to all reason, succumbing to pressure from the executive.”

Special Forces Command

On Wednesday, operatives from the Special Forces Command (SFC) stormed the Chambers of Parliament, some through an entrance that links to the Office of the President.

They roughed up and dragged some 30 mostly opposition members out of the chambers to waiting police vans “as if they were grasshoppers,” said MP Robert Sentamu aka Bobi Wine.

Ms Kadaga had suspended 25 MPs over alleged involvement in a brawl over the same Bill the previous day.

On Wednesday, hardly had the Sergeant-at-Arms, whom she had instructed to evict them, set about his work than suited men proceeded to seize and bundle out nearly everyone on the side of the opposition, regardless of whether or not they included those who had been suspended the day before.

The legislators were protesting State Minister Ronald Kibuule’s entry into the plenary, allegedly with a gun, for which the Speaker duly suspended him.

They were also disturbed by what they viewed as Ms Kadaga’s blatant disregard of her previous rulings on private members’ Bills, which she said must await comprehensive amendment proposals by the government.

The motion to establish a Constitutional Review Commission, which had been brought to the Speaker’s attention on September 18, ought to have been heard before the one in favour of the removal of age limits, which was eventually presented when the kerfuffle had ended.

During the debate, prominent opposition politicians like Kampala mayor Erias Lukwago and Kizza Besigye had been detained in their homes. Security personnel patrolled the city arresting anyone who protested against the removal of age limits.

Constitutionally guaranteed rights

A statement by 18 Ugandan and foreign non-profits said the arrests and detentions infringe on constitutionally guaranteed rights.

“We condemn the growing lawlessness, intolerance and impunity that have got Uganda to this point of shame. The events of yesterday are all but a sign of a sad journey of a country being misled,” said the NGO statement that was issued on Wednesday when the invasion of parliament happened.

The Democratic Party is mobilising petitions through its campaign to affirm public resistance to the deletion of the age caps, beyond the hashtags and tweets that the campaign has so far generated.

The party’s efforts have been reinforced by civil society organisations that resolved to “support and rally behind all progressive leaders working to defend the sanctity of our constitution and further strengthen it for posterity”.

According to their September 27 statement, they also determined to intensify “citizen mobilisation all over the country geared towards achieving a meaningful political consensus that will entrench a progressive constitutional order and governance regime for our country.”