In April, in the heat of walk to work protests that were led by opposition groups, President Museveni suggested he would bring proposals to parliament to change the constitution. He said he would seek to remove constitutional bail for “rioters, economic saboteurs, rapists and murders.” At time many thought the president was merely speaking out of anger as the Uganda was in international headlines everyday thanks to the high-handedness the security forces used against the protesters who simply wanted to walk to work to highlight the need for concrete interventions in rising food and fuel prices.
To shock of many and those who think still has the vision for this country, Museveni has insisted that that detention without trial for months for anyone under the group he has mentioned is really needed. The proposal is a clear move by Museveni to get to arrest and detain his political opponents or those who question his policies. He just threw in categories like rape and murder to play emotions of Ugandans. He knows even within his own party, many don’t agree with his move to remove a constitutional right and breaching of the law that recognises that one is innocent until proven guilty.
The Uganda Constitution provides that a person arrested in respect of a criminal offence is entitled to apply to the court to be released on bail and the court may grant the same on such conditions as the court considers reasonable.
To bypass those opposed to this change even in his own party, President Museveni has called for a referendum which he is sure he can manipulate to get his desired outcome just like many elections we have had since he came to power.
Daily Monitor quoted Livingstone Ssewanyana, a human rights activist saying such A change would be contested in court but also said.
“The referendum would be a good idea” as it would “let Ugandans decide if they want to be enslaved by such an unconstitutional move”.
In the past,President Museveni has used trumped up rape charges against his opponents. As a person who has worked with survivors of sexual violence in war affected areas in Uganda (some of it carried out by government forces), I don’t think Museveni’s inclusion of rape in this category is an attempt to address the issue. Denial of bail cannot stop the rape or provide the much needed services for those who have been rape victims and can’t easily access justice.
To entertain an idea of holding such a referendum at a time when the economy is not doing well, when many are unemployed shows how out of touch the president is. We will watch and see if the president will achieve his mission and this might not be impossible if you know how the constitution was changed to deal away with presidential term limits.