Huge outcry as Uganda arrests activists over Age-Limit Bill

By Prince Kurupati

President Museveni has been in power since 1986
President Museveni has been in power since 1986

Over the weekend, Ugandan security forces clamped down on demonstrations against the Age Limit Bill. Reports from various sources claim that over a dozen activists have since been arrested and the police nor the courts have issued statements as to the whereabouts of the activists.

The demonstrations came after the government indicated it had already covered most parts of the country in its ‘consultations’ drive to hear what the people have to say. Even though the statement released by the government stated that the consultation process in various regions was almost done, many Ugandans felt that they were sidelined and the consultations were a mere smokescreen by the government to make their actions legit. Many of these demonstrators said that the government was not going to take into consideration what the masses want.

The recent clampdown on protesters comes barely six months after another widely condemned clampdown on protesters about the same bill. In July, Ugandan police arrested at least 53 people including an opposition leader. The leader of the Democratic Party, Norbert Mao, together with his supporters were arrested after venting out their frustration at the planned constitutional amendment to increase the presidential limit.

In September, Ugandan police also arrested 14 activists believed to be from the Jobless Brotherhood over the same Bill. The 14 were arrested in Kampala after they were found distributing fliers calling upon fellow Ugandan to join them in a planned protest against the Age Limit Bill. The 14 were later released after a public outcry having spent a week in police cells. The police did not lay any charge on the 14.

The Assistant Inspector General for the Ugandan police, Assuman Mugenyi, issued a statement saying that the parliamentary portfolio tasked with moving the Age Limit Bill forward is currently doing nationwide consultations to hear the people’s opinions regarding the Bill. However, these consultations do not include illegal demonstrations, illegal processions, inciting violence, use of hate campaigns, and use of abusive language, use of hooliganism or any sorts of intimidation targeting people supporting the Age Limit Bill. He said anyone found violating any of these would be dealt with accordingly.

The debate over the Age Limit Bill is also taking centre stage in academic circles. Professor of Constitutional Law at Makerere University, Daniel Ruhweza said that amending the constitution to remove the age limit would be tantamount to disaster. He said that even though the Ugandan democracy is a young democracy, there is need to move to a mature democracy through legal paths already existing in the current constitution amendment.

However, the Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Livingstone Sewanyama, said the Age Limit Bill works for all Ugandans as it safeguards this fragile country.

Despite all the noise surrounding the Age Limit Bill in the past six months, the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni claimed ignorance over the Bill. He said he had no idea about the debate surrounding age limit asking, “Which proposal are you debating or talking about? Where is the proposal?”

After years of agitating for the Bill, the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) in collaboration with Independent MPs on September 12 passed a resolution to move a motion in Parliament paving the way for the introduction of the Age Limit Bill. The Bill seeks to alter article 102(b) removing the presidential age limit.

If passed, the Age Limit Bill will give a leeway to the incumbent to run for office for a sixth term in 2021. Under the current provisions, a person over 75 cannot run for President. Museveni is currently 73; by 2021, he will be 77 therefore not eligible to run again. Museveni has been in power since 1986.

It’s not yet clear when the Age Limit Bill will come before Parliament.

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