On the 13th and 14th of January 2011, more than 200 Ugandans, came together to attend a National Convention on Democratic Governance. Held at the Main Hall of Makerere University, the Convention was aimed at critically reflecting on some of the most contentious issues affecting the state of governance and democratic development in contemporary Uganda. It covered five key themes: Citizenship and Culture; Institutions and Governance; Political Participation and Voice; Social Exclusion and Marginalization, and National Resources (Human, Environmental and Public). The Convention attracted cultural leaders, politicians, members of civil society and the women’s movement and representatives from academia, among others. The Convention represented an important symbol of hope and opportunity in looking beyond the looming election and asking the question: What issues of governance and democracy are of most critical importance in Uganda today?
Emerging National Issues
Ω The concept of citizenship remains elusive to most Ugandans as they feel that their constitutional rights are still beyond realization. This feeling has led many Ugandans to ask whether Uganda is really a nation, and indeed whether it is owned and controlled by the people in accordance with Article 1 of the Constitution, which confirms that “all power belongs to the people.” These feelings suggest that we are not yet Ugandans, but still belong to our different nationalities.
Ω State institutions in Uganda are still quite weak. In many respects, the institutions of State are viewed merely as extensions of the Executive. This weakness is compounded by sectarianism, nepotism, secrecy and unprecedented levels of corruption. These problems have largely hampered their effective functioning and legitimacy in the eyes of ordinary citizens.
Ω Recent times have witnessed the enactment of laws such as the Non-Governmental Registration (Amendment) Act and the introduction of bills such as the Public Order Management Bill, 2009, the Press and Journalists (Amendment) Bill, 2010 and the Traditional and Cultural Leaders Bill, 2010 that deter debate, impose censorship and undermine democratic participation. Public space for debating national issues is narrowing, as witnessed by the outright banning of all radio Bimeeza (live call-in talk shows). Where space for debate is available, it is under intense surveillance, thereby curtailing the right to political participation.
Ω In the meantime, the State has failed to fully appreciate and positively exploit the varied dimensions of culture and its crucial role in ensuring improved democratic governance in the country. The current stand-off between the State and some cultural institutions is unproductive and detrimental to national unity, peace and cohesion.
Ω Despite the existence of institutions and policies aimed at bringing about balanced and equitable development in the country, there is clear evidence that minority groups and vulnerable and socially disadvantaged citizens such as women, ethnic communities (such as the Batwa, the Benet and the Karamojong) as well as sexual minorities are increasingly marginalised. There are also an increasing manifestation of intolerance which is having a serious impact at various levels and in different locales including Buliisa, Kibale, Toro, the Karamoja region, Acholi and Buganda, to mention a few.
Ω There is a great deal of dissatisfaction over the lack of transparency and inclusion in the (mis)use of national resources, ranging from access to State House scholarships to the pending exploitation of oil reserves and the distribution of its proceeds. Public assets and resources have been deployed in order to gain political advantage and domination, and to undermine legitimate expressions of disagreement with or opposition to the established order.
Ω Civil society—that would have spearheaded the quest for accountability and reform—has failed to cultivate a national movement to propel improved governance and accountability in the country. Uganda’s younger generation feels let down and disenfranchised, confronted with the erosion of values such as tolerance, love for country above self and devotion to a national ethos.
In light of these concerns, the participants expressed the view that there was an urgent need to:
Re-confirm the rights of all citizens, irrespective of their station in life, ethnicity, place of origin or current residence and political opinion.
Re-orient our mindsets from looking at Uganda and its resources as a ‘national cake’ to be consumed and to instead ask ourselves what we can contribute to building the nation.
Nurture within the young generation a passion for Uganda as a country accommodative of all and proud of our many cultural values and diversity.
Be more self-critical and own up to the truth where violations of human rights have been prevalent such as in Northern Uganda and embrace reconciliation.
Honour our right to vote and actively use it to bring about the change we desire, and
Continue with the process of Regional Conventions held in different parts of the country to enable local stakeholders to debate issues affecting governance and the rights of citizens and eventually convene a Grand National Convention at which the national dialogue on issues of the State and its responsibilities to the citizens be debated
The National Convention urged the Government of Uganda to:
Desist from and halt the ongoing enactment—without adequate consultation and inclusion of the various stakeholders—of various laws, policies and plans of action that institutionalize intolerance and exclusionary tendencies and which stifle democratic and free expression.
Protect and promote the full rights of all Ugandan citizens. Citizenship should be understood in a wider perspective than is currently the case, in order to ensure that substantive rights and freedoms are accorded equally to all without discrimination based on sex, age, race, ethnicity, or social status.
Work towards the creation of a democratic and all-inclusive state system which is owned and accountable to the people.
Re-commit to the full professionalization of the security agencies as national institutions accountable to the people, rather than to individuals or to the governing regime of the time.
Promote acceptable moral, cultural, national and territorial values, including the development of all languages spoken by the people of Uganda, as a basis for their identity and sovereignty.
Signed by Human Rights Network-Uganda (HURINET-U), Human Rights & Peace Centre (HURIPEC), Faculty of Law, Makerere University, the Cross Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU), Uganda National Peoples’ Rights Association (UNAPERA) and Uganda National Association for Equal Development (UNAFED).
EASTERN AFRICA TRAINING SCHOOL ON LAW, HUMAN RIGHTS AND HIV/AIDS, 2nd to 13th,May, 2011
The Human Rights and Peace Centre (HURIPEC) of Makerere University, Uganda has for the past two years successfully conducted the Eastern Africa Training School on Law, Human Rights and HIV/AIDS (EASLHRA) in Kampala, Uganda. The school brings together a dynamic group of scholars and human rights activists in the East African region committed to bringing legal and human rights perspectives to bear in the important area of HIV/AIDS. HURIPEC is pleased to announce that it will conduct a Third School to run from May 2 to May 13, 2011 in Kampala, Uganda.
A TIME TO ACT ON NATIONAL PEACE AND DEVELOPMENT
On the 13th and 14th of January 2011, more than 200 Ugandans, came together to attend a National Convention on Democratic Governance. Held at the Main Hall of Makerere University, the Convention was aimed at critically reflecting on some of the most contentious issues affecting the state of governance and democratic development in contemporary Uganda. It covered five key themes: Citizenship and Culture; Institutions and Governance; Political Participation and Voice; Social Exclusion and Marginalization, and National Resources (Human, Environmental and Public).