During the ruling NRM’s National Executive Council meeting at State House Entebbe on Friday, President Museveni suggested that a five-year presidential term is too short for a head of state to deliver.
In his nearly five-hour speech, which started shortly before 4pm, Museveni said five years is too short a time for him to concentrate on presidential duties.
“After an election, you spend about one year settling in and before you know it, another electioneering period sets in,” a source quoted Museveni as having said.
With his last term under the current constitutional provisions running out in 2021, Museveni did not suggest how long a presidential term should be. But within the NRM parliamentary caucus, there is talk of stretching it to seven years.
The idea was first floated in 2014 by Nakifuma MP Robert Kafeero Ssekitooleko when he hawked a term extension bill, which was later shot down (See: Why is govt ‘disowning’ its term extension bill, The Observer, March 19, 2014).
Unlike Article 102(b), which is the main focus of the ongoing constitutional amendment process to scrap the age limit for presidential contenders, amending Article 105(1), which sets out the number of years per term, is not that easy.
It is an entrenched provision listed among those laid out in Article 260 that can only be amended through a referendum, not through parliament.
Sub-clause 2 of the article was last controversially amended in 2005 when presidential term limits were scrapped, allowing Museveni to run for a third five-year elective term. In that year, ruling party MPs received Shs 5 million each as they scrapped term limits.
“The age and term limits are artificial impositions in the constitution, they limit the scope of choice of leaders; these are not universally accepted principles of democracy. What matters are regular free and fair elections, free press and the active participation of the people,” Museveni told NEC members.
The NRM NEC is comprised of party leaders such as parliamentary representatives, LC-V chairpersons and municipal mayoral flag bearers.
MPs were, however, excluded from Friday’s meeting since they have already had interactions with Museveni on the subject.
The buses that delivered the NRM leaders to State House left the party headquarters at 11am and upon arrival at the palatial presidential residence, they were served lunch and handed Shs 500,000 each, which left many grumbling.
The grumbling was so pronounced that when Museveni finally walked into the conference hall, it was the first thing he spoke about.
“I have been told that you are not happy, and the source of unhappiness is money,” Museveni said amid wild cheers.
“But you see; there are some things we need to talk about whether we are happy or unhappy. These include the African continent and our country,” Museveni continued, before lecturing them on Uganda’s political history as has become characteristic of him.
He then told them how the age limit removal bill, tabled by Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi, came to be, explaining why he did not involve the party’s structures in the preliminary stages.
“Anna Maria Nankabirwa[Kyankwanzi Woman MP] was the first to tell me about this [bill in March 2016] but I told her that since we had just come out of an election, the new term was just starting; it was too early,” Museveni said.
“I thought we still had time but Magyezi and his group came and told me about its urgency given the directives of the Supreme court [in the Amama Mbabazi presidential election petition 2016],” he said.
The promoters of the bill are hinging their arguments for the amendment on the Supreme court ruling, which directed government to table amendments for electoral reform within two years. But tinkering with the 35 and 75 presidential age caps was not included in the court’s ruling.
During the NRM caucus meeting of September 14, Defence and Veterans Affairs minister Adolf Mwesige said they have up to March 31, 2018 to have the amendment passed. Based on that, Museveni said, he gave the Magyezi group a go-ahead.
“Ugandans spend a lot of time discussing useless things like European football and I said, instead of discussing those useless things, why don’t we discuss this [age bill] and get it out of the way,” the NRM chairman said.
“You are already touching, touching (sic) very many other things, why not this one?” Museveni asked. The president was understood to be making reference to the term K’ogikwatako (Should you dare touch it), which has become the anthem of people opposed to the amendment.
He then asked the NEC to support the Magyezi bill.
“Let us see how to assist [the MPs] to achieve a good objective for our party. Where we are going as a party, we should be looking at transformation, development and African integration. That should be the guiding principle in answering these small issues,” Museveni said.
Museveni also addressed the wide criticism he is getting, especially from Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine and Daily Monitor’s Daniel Kalinaki who are some of the many people who have written articles about the proposed amendment.
“Bobi Wine, Kalinaki and their opposition youth groups are only focussed on Uganda instead of the bigger picture of African integration. Kalinaki wrote an article in the newspapers saying that for them they are cosmopolitan; they look at the whole world,” Museveni said.
The president reportedly said he has kept Kalinaki’s article, and is also happy that the Kyadondo East MP is open to debate and promised to engage him further.
“I am preparing to write to these young men and tell them that however cosmopolitan they may be, no one will give you respect without having a strong base, in this case, Africa where you come from,” Museveni said.
Through his writings and during a public dialogue at Makerere University to commemorate the Nelson Mandela day, Bobi Wine has said Uganda needs a generational shift in leadership so as to overcome current challenges.
Museveni hit back during the Friday meeting.
“It is not about having young men in power, it is about having parties and people with the right ideology that develops the nation…
“You should avoid politics of identity but focus on politics of development. I was able to study because the Baganda used to buy my father’s cows; the Banyankore never helped me to study,” he said.
As Museveni spoke, Richard Todwong (deputy party secretary general) joined hands with presidential aides David Mafabi and Moses Byaruhanga to get the meeting hurriedly pass a resolution supporting the Magyezi bill.
However, their plan backfired as a disenchanted audience booed them. Jane Muhindo Asiimwe, who unsuccessfully challenged FDC’s Winfred Kiiza for the Kasese Woman MP seat, had proposed that the meeting adopts the resolution of the Central Executive Committee (CEC) to support the Magyezi bill.
Government chief whip Ruth Nankabirwa was shouted down when she was called to brief the meeting on the process a bill goes through to get passed in parliament. At the time, Museveni had excused himself.
“Most people walked out and went to have tea because they didn’t want to listen to her. There was a sense of resentment given that the MPs have been given Shs 29 million while all that the NEC members got was Shs 500, 000,” a source said.
Before they left for Entebbe, a group of the party’s flag bearers in the 2016 parliamentary elections led by Denis Ssekabira (Nakaseke South) had planned to tell Museveni to drop the Magyezi scheme.
“We the flag bearers outside parliament will not support that amendment; we are saying that Article 102(b) should remain intact. We appreciate President Museveni’s good leadership, the developments, peace and stability but we have to look at the future of the country. We don’t need to destroy the gains we have made over the past 30 years,” Ssekabira, the national coordinator of the 2016 NRM parliamentary flag bearers, told The Observer.
However, a press release from the NRM communications officer Rogers Mulindwa says NEC resolved to support the bill and to actively share their decision with the structures and the membership of NRM and all Ugandans.
“The resolutions were taken after the members noted the historical, extraordinary and numerous achievements of the NRM across all sectors and walks of life,” Mulindwa said.