Article 20 of the 1995 constitution says that our rights are inherent, and not granted by the state.
It means that the law applies to everyone. No one is above the law. And the law must be applied the same way regardless of race, gender, status or any other consideration.
The reality, however, is that the military and the police at times get the kid’s glove version of the law. As Ugandans, we believe that the supreme law is binding on all citizens but it has been seen all over Uganda that some people are more equal than others.
Hypothetically, when a civilian commits a traffic offence, he or she should stay calm and let the law take its course. But when a member of the military or the police allegedly commits a crime, the favoured instrument of trial is all too often their respective disciplinary code.
Of course, this way of prosecuting miscreants means the misdeeds are kept within the family. It spares the offender from a criminal record and the stigma attached to having one.
The consequence for police officers found guilty is generally a slap on the wrist. A possible case in point is the recent incident between Maj Gen Matayo Kyaligonza, his bodyguards, and the traffic officer Esther Namaganda. Kyaligonza and his guards assaulted Namaganda simply because she could not allow them break a traffic offense.
These men in uniforms are abusing their power at the expense of civilians. This impunity must end now. I hope there is some sort of accountability because I think officers, just like any other citizen, should be held accountable when they commit a crime.
We need unity in our diversity
I have observed with sadness the degeneration of our society based on tribal and ethnic lines. This has been perpetuated through various forms, especially in the entertainment industry, where now for every comedian to succeed, they think they have to make tribal and sectarian ‘jokes.’
Why must every ‘cool’ comedy have to be about tribes and their characterization? We are busy promoting sectarianism in the name of comedy!
What we are forgetting is that these so-called jokes sink right in the minds of our children and as such, are killing our next generation.
Secondly, I have seen some tribes calling themselves more special than others, which consequently affects their relations with the rest. Further, this vice has continued to thrive in our churches, offices, mosques and businesses under the watch of those we hold it in high esteem.
If we must develop as a country, we must develop together. We must take pride in our diversity. We must celebrate our differences and use them for the good. Uganda is for all regardless of their tribe, background, race status, among others.
It is important to assess impact of oil projects on environment
The developments in Uganda’s oil and gas sector have transitioned from the exploration and appraisal phase to development phase with production expected to start in 2021 at the earliest.
Already, the government of Uganda and oil companies have signed production licenses and are in negotiations for the Final Investment Decisions (FID) for different oil projects.
While this progress is being made, there are growing concerns over the threats posed by the oil industry on conservation, which has made it necessary for planning authorities including National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU) to count on Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) to make sound decisions regarding the possible environmental consequences of oil activities on the environment.
An ESIA is a tool that is used to systematically identify and evaluate the possible impacts of a proposed project or plan on the environment.
According to Uganda’s environmental laws and international best practices that Uganda is party to, all projects that have significant impacts on the environment are mandated to undergo an ESIA process to determine the likely impacts and potential mitigation measures for the projects which NEMA and Petroleum Authority of Uganda are counting on to guide decisions.
In November 2018, in fulfillment of this requirement, NEMA disclosed an ESIA for Tilenga project and organised public hearings for oil activities in Buliisa and Nwoya district. In addition to Tilenga ESIA, in January 2018, NEMA received the ESIA for the East African Crude Oil Pipeline and Kingfisher oil projects which are currently under review by NEMA.
It should be noted that the oil projects under development are in some of the most sensitive ecosystems in the country, which are of national and international importance such as River Nile, L. Albert, Murchison Falls national park, Bugungu and Karuma game reserves and Budongo and Bugoma forest reserves.
The area also includes Ramsar sites, sacred natural and cultural sites and many others which support communities engaged in agriculture, fishing and tourism. This requires that an ESIA is effectively implemented.
It should be noted that the effectiveness of an ESIA in contributing to the conservation of environment amidst oil activities depends on how the ESIA will be implemented and mitigation measures complied with by the developer.
Compliance to mitigation measures is very important. Therefore, both the developer, NEMA and local communities must play a key role in monitoring for compliance during the implementation of mitigation measures mostly contained in the Environmental Management Plan.
East Africa should pursue dialogue
As a region, East Africa has witnessed many atrocities in the past and continues to struggle with containing tensions between ethnic groups within and between states.
It is important for the sake of enhancing peace, that each state in the region considers investment in long-term inclusive national dialogue frameworks as peacebuilding mechanisms.
Several scholars observe that many post-colonial states in Africa are not nations but, rather, groups of diverse nations forced to live together under the modern state structure within which they compete to control resources, including through violence.
Institutionalized continuous dialogue would serve as an avenue for nation-building between competing groups as states pursue critical economic and social development priorities with the limited resources available. Dialogue would continually absorb these tensions and lower ethnic-based mistrust and the risk and costs of violent conflict, thereby freeing up more resources for development.
Rwanda is one country in the region, which has institutionalized a comprehensive national dialogue framework from which other neighbours could learn and adapt to their unique contexts.
The framework has both horizontal and vertical levels for dialogue. At the horizontal level, dialogue and nation-building activities occur between communities. One such activity is umuganda, which is a form of unpaid community work introduced in 1998 as a way to rebuild the country after the 1994 genocide.
While the main organising principle under umuganda is communal labour, it also offers a platform for citizens to discuss issues arising within their communities.
At the vertical level, the Rwandan constitution established a National Umushyikirano Council, which once a year brings together the president of Rwanda, citizens’ representatives and civil society to debate national issues and to promote national unity.
The debate is broadcast live on television and radio, allowing citizens to participate with questions and comments by telephone on a toll-free number. The Umushyikirano results in resolutions that are referred to responsible ministries for follow-up and may eventually become law.
The implementation of this framework is by no means perfect and may, indeed, invite a host of criticisms surrounding exclusion and free speech, among other issues.
However, it is important not to obscure its significance for proactive nation-building and Rwandans’ agency over their own peace-building processes.
While the other countries in the region have national mechanisms to advance peace, these are mostly reactive in their operations. Uganda is currently holding consultations for a national dialogue to address several historically-rooted national fault lines.
However, it remains unknown whether this will be an isolated event or the Ugandan government will institutionalize it to ensure continuity.
Dr. Sylvie Namwase,