|A Complete Guide to Uganda's Fourth Constitution - History, Politics and the Law (Fountain Publishers, 1995, 118 p.)|
Despite a few controversial and unresolved issues, Uganda's 1995 Constitution has no parallel with the past constitution making processes. It was based on a draft which was a product of the widest consultation possible. It has been debated by popularly elected delegates and it has benefited from the shortcomings of the previous constitutions. It has also been conditioned by Uganda's post colonial experience.
The popular participation in the new Uganda constitution augurs well for peace, stability and unity. Given the popular base of the new constitution, it is hoped that all the political actors especially the politicians and the soldiers will respect the new constitution. But the durability of the constitution will depend on the vigilance of the people to ensure mat the supreme law of the land is not violated with impunity.
The new constitution recognises the sovereignty of the people. Article 1 provides that "all power belongs to the people who shall exercise their sovereignty in accordance with the Constitution". Furthermore, "all authority in the state emanates from the people of Uganda; and the people shall be governed through their will and consent". Emphasising the people's power, the article further provides that "all power and authority of Government and its organs derive from this constitution which in turn, derives its authority from the people who consent to be governed in accordance with this Constitution". It also confirms that "the people shall express their will and consent on who shall govern them and how they shall be governed through regular, free and fair elections of their representatives or referenda".
The 1995 constitution consolidates and guarantees the people's right to participate in their own governance. The people of Uganda started active involvement in decision making at various levels of society with the advent of the NRM in 1986. The peoples' participation in their own governance was facilitated through the establishment of RC structures, which also enabled them to contribute to the constitution making process.
However, critics of participatory democracy have claimed that the RC system is designed to entrench the NRM in power and to undermine multiparty politics. It remains to be seen whether the RC system will remain inclusive under the new constitution as it has been since 1986.
The making of the 1995 Constitution has been a product of the history, geography, socio-economic conditions and ethnic composition of Uganda. This is particularly true of the post-independence period. Since independence, Uganda has gone through several constitutional and political unheavals ridiculing the essence of independence. That is why, thirty-three years after independence, Uganda has found it necessary to write and promulgate the Fourth Constitution. The previous Constitutions of the 1962, 1966 and 1967 were either abrogated or rendered useless and irrelevant by a succession of dictatorial regimes.
The Independence Constitution was abrogated by Obote in 1966 without consulting the people. The Interim Constitution was imposed on Ugandans through the display of force and intimidation. It was more of a decree than a constitution and as such it had no legitimacy. The 1967 Constitution was enacted and promulgated by an assembly whose electoral mandate had already expired. Although the 1967 constitution remained in force until October 1995 its legitimacy had been damaged beyond repair by the political unheavals of the 1970s and 1980s.
It is evident that successive post-independence governments failed to respect the previous constitutions. The use of force for political survival perpetuated misrule, political violence, dictatorship, economic decay and social disintegration in Uganda.
With the new constitution in place, Uganda has entered a new era of constitutional governance. The NRM committed itself to the making of the new constitution in order to restore the rule of law and to guarantee democracy. In this regard, its intention was to make the 1995 Constitution an integral part of the national reconstruction programme whose aim is to create a modem democratic nation with an integrated and self-sustaining economy.
In making the new constitution, Ugandans have drawn lessons from the short comings of the past constitutions. One of these lessons is that popular participation in the making of a constitution is essential in order to ensure its legitimacy. This is why the constitution making process entailed the widest possible consultation from the beginning to the end. Thousands of Ugandans submitted their views about the 1995 constitution in various fora. Throughout the CA debate, the delegates regularly consulted their constituents. Therefore, this new constitution is far more legitimate than those of 1962 and 1967.
Although the legitimacy of the 1995 is widely acknowledged, there have been some dissenting voices. This is not unique to Uganda as a constitution is a compromise that cannot satisfy the aspirations of the entire population of a country. The dissatisfaction with the new constitution has revolved around the question of federalism, multipartyism and extension of the movement system for another five years under the transitional provisions. The Baganda federalists have insisted that the new constitution has not accommodated Buganda's interests and aspirations. For the multipartyists, the continued ban on political activities and the entrenchment of the movement is not only a violation of the freedom of association but also a consolidation of the NRM dictatorship. A number of concessions were given by the majority in the house to address the fears of the minority. Dissenting voices however maintain that their views were not accommodated. These remain a threat to the new constitution.
Rebel activities are also a potential threat to the 1995 Constitution. Even before the completion of the constitution making process, armed groups sprang up in some parts of the country purporting to be fighting for various constitutional causes. For example, Robert Kikomeko "Itongwa", a former Major in the NRA, declared a guerilla war against the government, demanding a federal form of government The Buseruka rebel group in Hoima wanted to establish an Islamic state. Other rebel groups like the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) of Joseph Kony and Juma Oris' West Nile Bank Front (WNBF) have recently stepped up military operations in northern Uganda. Although at the moment these rebel activities appear to pose no threat, they could eventually erode the legitimacy of the new constitution.
Fortunately, memories of violence and armed conflict are still fresh in the minds of most Ugandans. This will certainly encourage them to opt for conflict resolution through peaceful constitutional means. Hopefully, they have learnt that the ballot box rather than the gun is the only civilised way to power.
Apart from political dissent, the survival of the new constitution will depend on the performance of the government which will be elected in 1996. The new government must respect the spirit and letter of the constitution, which is the supreme law of the land. The next government must also score successes in other areas of national life especially the economy and the public service in order to sustain and enhance the legitimacy of the constitution.
The government must also recognise and encourage the minorities (like discontented multipartyists and federalists) to participate in decision-making so that they do not feel alienated from the political system. With compromise, moderation, accommodation and commitment to peaceful conflict resolution, the new constitution will be the foundation for the future prosperity and stability of Uganda.