By Innocent Anguyo and Ann Amito
KAMPALA - Academics have an onus to advise the government on the course Uganda ought to take regarding democracy, Uganda’s justice minister has said.
Directing his message to academics, Kahinda Otafire said: “You should tell those in charge of the country what you want, and not what we [government] want.”
“It is only through debate that we get a total sum of ideas that build the country. Let everybody speak. Let the wise and the foolish talk alike, for as long as in the process of exercising their democratic right they don’t infringe on the rights of others,” he said.
“If I was not afraid of fighting for democracy with the gun, why should I be afraid of fighting for democracy with ideas?”
The minister made these comments at Makerere University while presiding over the launch of a book titled “Our greatest fear is the transition of power: an open letter to the president” authored by a Makerere University professor, Godfrey Sseruwagi.
Otafire went on to say that when the Ugandan society eventually gets to be dominated by intellectuals, then the struggle for democratic governance will be easy since there will be a seamless exchange of ideas between the led and leaders.
Accordingly, he mentioned that the greatest constraint to democracy in Uganda is that “a big number of people who manage other people’s affairs are actually part-time thinkers”.
“Such people manage their personal businesses and other people’s businesses, and their personal interests eventually supersede the national interests.
“There are very few people who are willing to put their personal interests at the service of the nation,” he emphasized.
Makerere University Chancellor, Prof Mondo Kagonyera, implored the government to always turn to the university if it seeks unbiased counsel on national matters, saying “Makerere has powerful people” who are a dependable fountain of knowledge.
Commenting on Sseruwagi’s work, Otafire said there wouldn’t be fear for transition of power in Uganda if there was fear for the constitution, as it (the constitution) lays down the procedure of transfer of power.
“In the constitution, power belongs to the people and they determine how power is transferred from one person to another. Nobody can take your power without your approval.”
The minister underlined that the greatest fear of the author should be “mal-observation of the constitution”, not transition of power.
He further called on the opposition and government to work together to trudge Uganda forward along the path of democracy, saying “those in charge of the country should respect dissent and understand that opposition is not subversion”.
“Government looks at itself as managers of society on behalf of the people. And, the opposition looks at itself as alternative managers of society, said Otafire, adding: “Opposition should not be subversive and government should see them as enemies.”
He noted that Uganda should not be compared to developed democracies that have taken ages to reach relatively higher echelons of efficiency.
EC ‘not a commandment of God’
Democracy is a process that requires building of institutions, culture and norms of democratic governance, he argued.
Allaying fears of the populace that the current Electoral Commission is not independent enough to deliver fair and transparent elections, the minister said the election body can be changed if it is not serving its purpose.
“Is the Electoral Commission a commandment from God? It is a construction of man – meaning, if there is a necessity to change the Commission then it will be changed.” said Otafire.
Government, Otafire said, is set to table a new election law which will ensure that all stakeholders are satisfied with the way elections are handled in the country.
Meanwhile, Sseruwagi, in his book, implores President Yoweri Museveni to prepare the country, when he is ready to retire, for a peaceful transition of power, which he believes will set precedence for future leaders.
The author, an information technology (IT) consultant and national general secretary of the NRM entrepreneurs’ league, similarly implored Parliament to declare Museveni “Father of the Nation”.
He also wants Parliament to pass laws that will guide transition of power.
Democratic Party president Norbert Mao was critical of the writer’s thoughts. He said Museveni does not deserve the honor of “Father of the Nation” just yet, on grounds that he has built and destroyed Uganda in equal measure.
The DP leader asked Museveni not to run for presidency in 2016, step down from power and preside over peaceful transition of power.