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‘Term limits question delaying EA federation’

The East African Community’s (EAC) ultimate goal of political federation is being held back by differences over presidential term limits, term durations and age limits in partner states, a member of community’s parliament has said.

Tanzanian representative to the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), Abdullah Makame, told The Observer on Wednesday that the discrepancies have delayed certain protocols that would have led to faster political integration.

“At the EAC, much as we have protocols of common markets, customs union and others, we have overtime failed to conclude the protocol of good governance. Now, no one seems to care about it anymore,” Makame said on the sidelines of an Eastern Africa civic education conference organised by the Foundation for Human rights Initiative (FHRI) in Entebbe.

Tanzania representative to EALA Abdullah Makame (L) with President Museveni who now wants to have age limits removed

When the community first tried to adopt the protocol on good governance, Kenya, Burundi and Tanzania had term limits but Uganda and Rwanda didn’t. Partner countries, as a result, failed to agree on what procedure to adapt for political integration.

Rwanda eventually installed term limits, leaving Uganda as the only country without that essential check. President Museveni has constantly said that the reason he can’t leave power now is because of some things he hasn’t yet accomplished, including political integration of the EAC. Ironically, local politics in Uganda with him at the helm seem to be thwarting this particular wish of his.

In 2005, towards the end of his second and last term, Museveni controversially mobilised parliament using millions to scrap the two-term limit from the Ugandan constitution.

Now, as he is 73 years old and about to clock the 75 year mark beyond which one cannot stand for  president of Uganda, Museveni is at it again, pumping billions of shillings into a campaign to have the age limit also scrapped from the constitution.

Museveni now says that term and age limits are technical matters which cannot be left to stand in the way of development.

Shadow minister for regional and foreign affairs, Atkins Katusabe, yesterday agreed that Museveni is the main reason why the region has failed to politically integrate because he is a “regional political liability who makes statements full of deception.”

Katusabe told The Observer that the region cannot integrate well economically before it integrates politically and that Uganda risks being left behind.

“We are the only ones in the region without term limits now and as long as we continue like this, we are not moving ahead. East Africa cannot wait for Uganda. It is moving forward,” Katushabe said.

Makame also said that the length of presidential terms for the different partners states is another factor holding back the good governance protocol given that different countries are proposing different durations, Rwanda last year voted to give President Paul Kagame a seven year term and two more five year terms after that.

In Uganda, Museveni has said on record that the current five year term is too short because “just as you are starting to concentrate on your manifesto, then another election comes in.”

In Tanzania, a lawmaker is proposing presidential terms be extended to save money on elections, a move that may see President John Magufuli stay longer in office and echo steps in other East African nations. As critics fear a drop in appetite for democracy, there is talk of scrapping term limits in Burundi.

Uganda’s minister of East African Affairs, Kirunda Kivejinja, couldn’t be reached for a comment by press time. However, the minister for Information and National Guidance, Frank Tumwebaze, disagreed that term limits are hindering EAC political federation.

Tumwebaze said political federation depends on harmonisation of a good governance framework.

“The good governance protocol whether adopted or not can only make sense if EALA moves to adopt one constitution for all the member states because there are a number of disparities in our constitutions,” Tumwebaze told The Observer yesterday.

He added that because EAC countries are obliged to follow their constitutions first, the good governance protocol, if adopted, will not work in its current formulation.

“It is hard if we still have sovereign states with different constitutions that are backed by different history. Uganda scrapped term limits because of their own reasons,” Tumwebaze said.

Dr Livingstone Ssewanyana, the FHRI executive director, said that besides political efforts, civil society has a role in pushing for a complete union of the EAC basing on universal values of democracy, mutual respect for one another and human rights.

“Civil society has to push for the interests of the people. Look at the issue of the term limits, it is not fair for one country to have it while another doesn’t have it,” Ssewanyana said.


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