Parliament is hell-bent on dodging the much-awaited 2021 elections by awarding MPs a two-year extension, a move that has not gone down well with many Ugandans.
“In the national interest, we soldiers who face bullets are asking you, MPs, to sacrifice a bit as well and face the ballots; they do not kill, after all…”
That plea was made in 1993 by Maj Gen Gregory Mugisha Muntu to the National Resistance Council (NRC) which was the parliament of the time and to which Muntu was a member as army commander.
Uganda was then preparing the country’s new constitution and the question was on which body would undertake this historic mission.
Many NRC members felt they were best-placed for the task as opposed to Ugandans directly electing Constituent Assembly delegates. But the move was vehemently opposed by the public and the People’s Army, National Resistance Army. In a speech preserved in the NRA/UPDF magazine ‘Tarehe Sita’ of May 1993, this is what Gen Muntu told the House.
Mr Chairman, in geographical terms, I do not represent a constituency. I had no intention of speaking in the first place. We in the army had thought that a matter like this would be automatically supported by the House. To us it means life and death, because it is us who have die to settle affairs whenever those who legislate mess.
The establishment of democracy is a process. There cannot be stability without democracy. Even with apparent stability in an undemocratic situation, it is always temporary. Without democracy, there are always undercurrents of instability.
Once they gather enough momentum, they explode and instability results. To build democracy does not happen over-night; it is a process. Our people have struggled to be free to decide their own destiny. Not all struggles succeed, but they are always a step forward.
NRA GIVES GROUND
NRA had a successful people’s armed struggle which culminated into capture of state power. We have since ensured that people decide their own destiny and recover their dignity.
Paragraph 14 (b) of Legal Notice 1 of 1986 specified that the Army Council (NRAC) and the National Resistance Council (NRC) would act as the Constituent Assembly (CA). The Uganda Constitutional Commission only emerged after NRAC relinquished its role in CA.
And what was the basis for this crucial decision? I attended the Army Council and I know the strong sentiments expressed by officers in attendance. The basis was the trust and confidence we have developed in our people.
We assessed that over time our people could no longer be easily manipulated like in the past. We have created stability. Our people can stand their ground and decide on matters affecting their lives without fear or manipulation.
We decided that the people must take their destiny in their own hands. We wanted a constitution that would outlive governments; one that would provide for change but where protection of democracy would be a permanent and continuous process. That can only happen where the people directly, through universal suffrage, elect representatives to the Constituent Assembly.
NRA’s mission has always been peace-building. NRA shall follow whatever the people decide. We only ask for some representation in the Constituent Assembly to witness the most historic event that will be the highest achievement of our sacrifice.
We request that if any members were to support NRA involvement in this exercise, it should be in light of that, but not on the basis of fear that NRA would overthrow the constitution.
We now ask NRC to give the people power to elect a Constituent Assembly directly. Of course, NRC Members are free to stand. As NRA, we have fulfilled our mission by establishing order through direct sacrifice. Asking NRC to give people a chance to exercise their will is not asking for too much!
What example would NRC be giving, anyway, if it is seen to have stuck to power? I am touching on sensitive ground, Mr. Chairman, and I hope I will be forgiven, but we cannot erase history. The image of many of our politicians in Uganda is nothing to be proud of. The majority of our politicians are always vacillating, tending to serve their personal interests.
This struggle has pulled in politicians who were out crawling in the mud; it brought them up and presented them back to our people in a new form. Unfortunately, many retain a strong tendency to crawl back into the mud.
Ordinarily, if they do not want to be clean, they could be left alone to mess themselves up. Unfortunately, they can drag the whole society into the mud with them like has happened many times in the past. We should allow individuals who want to mess themselves up to do so, but not to take the whole society with them (applause).
There is an underestimation of our people’s ability to identify their interests and fight for them. Let them decide; the fear that they will make mistakes is misplaced and should not be an excuse to make shortcuts. That would be a fundamental error.
If we do not give way to a new Constituent Assembly, we will be planting seeds of violence and instability. It happened in the past and we have paid heavily to re-establish sanity.
BALLOT or BULLET?
And when the seeds of violence germinate and grow to fruition, who is going to pay again? Do we know what instability means anyway, or have we forgotten already?
No member here can name any place in Uganda where we soldiers did not bleed and die for mistakes made in this House or by earlier legislative organs. So, do you want us to keep dying for no fault of ours?
What examples are we being given if the motion to stick in here succeeds? What will you be telling NRA? It is ironic! I never anticipated a time when an army representative would be in parliament trying to convince MPs to relinquish power.
NRA pulled out of CA to let Ugandans directly exercise their rights; we did so voluntarily without pressure, because we are patriots and are interested in democracy and permanent stability. This is why we fought and bled.
The only payment for our sacrifice is for our people to directly decide for their lives. After all, we are part of this society and we will not die in the Army.
When we leave the Army we want to join a stable society. Now, MPs seem to be telling us that we soldiers took a stupid decision to pull out. For us we face bullets and you know bullets kill, but we are still ready to sacrifice for a national cause.
In the national interest, we soldiers are asking you, MPs, to sacrifice a bit as well and face the ballots; they do not kill, after all…”
As we get into 2018 and as we plan to hold off (rather than hold) elections in 2021, think deeply about Gen Muntu’s sermon.