President Museveni’s claim that there is no proposal for amendment of the Constitution to do away with the upper presidential age limit has been exposed after several NRM groups came up in support of the proposal.
Asked to comment on manoeuvres to change article 102(b) of the constitution, Museveni told journalists at Speke Resort Munyonyo on Wednesday, that this was diversionary talk as there was no such proposal, adding that he was too busy to discuss it.
However, while Museveni was at pains to distance himself from the manoeuvring, hundreds of NRM activists were busy, in his name, raising their voices in support of the controversial bid.
On Tuesday, the president’s private secretary for political affairs, David Mafabi, addressed a group of NRM youth leaders at Kati Kati restaurant in Kampala and urged them to boldly popularize the age limit removal.
The youths passed a resolution urging President Museveni to allow wide consultations by NRM members on whether age should be used to lock out potential presidential candidates. The resolution was read by Phoebe Namulindwa, a youth leader from Luweero.
NRM youth under the Organisation For Action (OFA) show their support for the lifting of age limit yesterday at Seascallop restaurant
Asked about this meeting, President Museveni said NRM has been provoked by undisciplined groups opposed to the proposal, hence the reaction. The meeting was also attended by 11 MPs including Peter Ogwang (Usuk), Simeo Nsubuga (Kassanda South), Mwine Mpaka (Youth Western), Esther Anyakun (Nakapiripirit Woman), Andrew Kaluya (Kigulu South) and Col Fred Mwesigye (Nyabushozi).
Others were Nelson Lufafa (Butembe), Moses Angudulu (Terego West), Isaac Mulindwa Ssozi (Lugazi Municipality), Mourine Osoru (Arua Woman), Juliet Kinyamatama (Rakai Woman) plus the NRM flag bearer in the Kibanda North by-election, Taban Idi Amin.
At Seascallop restaurant in Kamwokya, Kampala, yesterday, a group of youths named Organising for Action (OFA) launched a campaign for the removal of the 75-year presidential age limit. They displayed a placard with the words, “Age limit is discrimination: Let people decide leaders of their choice.”
Earlier, at Kampala Central NRM offices on Mukwano mall, Kyaggwe road, the party’s publicity secretaries from Buganda region launched a similar campaign to popularize the removal of the presidential age limit to allow President Museveni to contest again in 2021 when he will have turned 76, and thus ineligible.
The constitution caps the upper presidential age at 75 years, standing in the way of Museveni or his supporters who wish to see him extend his rule beyond 2021 when his current term expires.
As groups within NRM fall over themselves to champion the cause, even as the official structures remain quiet, opposition groups and civil society organisations have begun to actively organise to defeat the move.
However, while NRM meetings go on unabated, Democratic Party president general Norbert Mao was yesterday arrested as he attempted to address people at the Constitution Square in Kampala about the proposed pieces of legislation on land and a presidential candidate’s age.
Mao, whose campaign against land and age limit changes is dubbed “K’ogikwatako” (Should you dare touch it), was arrested yesterday morning together with about 13 party members.
The group was attempting to access the Constitution Square to collect signatures from Ugandans in support of their cause. Mao said on his Facebook page: “Arrested for launching campaign against land and age limit amendments. Our spirits and resolve are strong. The police should not mishandle our people who are constitutionally mandated to exercise their rights. Ugandans, join us in the struggle.”
Meanwhile, MPs opposed to the move, including some ruling party legislators, have formed a forum to campaign against both constitutional changes. The forum, similar to the Parliamentary Advocacy Forum (PAFO), a grouping of young MPs that were outspoken against the 2005 lifting of presidential term limits, was formed after consultative meetings held at parliament and at a private office along Ssemawatwa road in Ntinda, a Kampala suburb.
Chaired by Butambala MP Muhammad Muwanga Kivumbi, the forum is scheduled to launch its countrywide campaign today, Friday, in Masaka. Named the Parliamentary Forum on Constitution and Human Rights, the forum’s members are working closely with some civil society groups (CSOs) as well as religious organizations.
At parliament, it is coordinated by Shadow Minister for Internal Affairs Muwanga Kivumbi and Shadow Attorney General Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East).
“We have agreed to work together as different forces and it is not surprising that NRM MPs have joined [us] because people in NRM have the biggest chunks of land and are likely to be more affected by the amendment,” one of the promoters told The Observer.
Last week, government tabled a bill to amend Article 26 of Constitution, aiming to enable government to take possession of private land for infrastructure projects where the landowner rejects the compensation offered by the government valuer. The bill has since drawn bi-partisan opposition in parliament.
“The amendment on land is going to fail like it did during the CA [Constituent Assembly] and during the 6th and 7th parliaments because no MP can come out and support such a law. It is going to terribly fail,” said Opposition Chief Whip Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda (Kira Municipality).
Interviewed yesterday, the minister of state for Housing Dr Chris Baryomunsi, admitted that some NRM MPs are opposed to the proposed amendment on land but added that nevertheless the government is doing everything to get it through.
“It [the amendment] is facing three challenges; it has been grossly misunderstood because they are tagging it to the amendment of the age limit, others are stubbornly misunderstanding it because of politics, while some believe that if it fails [to pass], the age limit bill will also fail,” Baryomunsi said.
Indeed lumping up of the two proposed changes is bound to cause problems for their promoters, especially with regard to NRM MPs who might be open to the age amendment idea but can’t dare face their people on the land question.
The forum’s campaign is to be launched during two public rallies in Bukoto East and Masaka municipality today (Friday) before it is rolled out across the country.
“When any bill is tabled on the floor of the House, we are duty-bound as MPs to go and consult the public,” Winnie Kiiza, the Leader of Opposition in Parliament, told journalists yesterday.
“Ugandans need to know that Museveni wants to own your land as he prepares to make himself president forever,” Kiiza said.
While Kiiza insisted that the campaign they are launching in Masaka is strictly about land, several other opposition MPs told The Observer that the push to remove the presidential age limit cannot be ignored. Commenting on Museveni’s remarks to the effect that there is no age limit proposal, Kiiza said the president can’t be trusted.
“Museveni is a liar, he has lied on so many occasions and shouldn’t be taken seriously,” she said.
According to our sources, on Saturday at State House Entebbe, President Museveni is expected to meet with some lawmakers promoting the removal of the age limit.
On the same day, local government leaders have a meeting at Namboole stadium during which lifting of the age limit is likely to come up, possibly as a petition to the ruling party organs.