Justice James Ogoola has a knack for waxing poetic at the smallest opportunity. The Chairperson of the Judicial Service Commission and former principal judge got a grand opportunity when he was asked to speak on the Rule of Law in Uganda on the Rule of Law Day, on Oct.8, the eve of celebrations to mark 50 years of independence.
The controversial judge divided the country’s judicial life into five ages, namely; the age of reason, the age of tension, the age of chaos, anarchy, and tyranny; the calm before the storm; and the Twilight to the Jubilee Year. Every president, he said, swears an oath to uphold, protect and defend the nation’s constitution as by law established but the reality of that “oath has been less than horrifying.”
Rule of guile and intrigue
The founding non- executive President, Kabaka Sir Edward Mutesa II, declined to assent to certain parliamentary enactments affecting the results of the , constitutionally mandated post- independence referendum on the fate of Buyaga- Bugangaizi counties. This event, which straddled the history, geography , politics and economics of Bunyoro and Buganda, eventually led to the 1966 storming of the Kabaka’s royal palace, his London exile and the seizure of power by the then Executive Prime Minister, Milton Obote.
Ogoola says: “It is perhaps safe to say that this act, in combination with others closely associated with it, did set into motion the seismic political –cum-constitutional crisis that engulfed the young nation.”
Ogoola said Obote arrogated to himself the title of Executive President (with exaggerated executive powers) and effectively dissolved the then kingdoms and pseudo kingdoms. He said the second president will forever be remembered for many things good and bad alike in equal measure.
“But perhaps significantly among them all , his name will forever be engraved in the concrete of history as the pigeon- hole- president- a constitutional engineering feat that was anathema to and the very antithesis of the rule of law,” Ogoola said. He tagged Obote’s regime as the rule of guile and intrigue, less than the rule of law.
The rule of chaos and anarchy
Idi Amin Dada (RIP) never manifested even mere pretense for either constitutionalism, good governance or the rule of law. It was him who ‘callously butchered and dispatched’ the Chief Justice, Archbishop, Inspector General of Police, the Vice Chancellor of the then only university and his own minister of defence among the hundreds of thousands of others. In short, the presidency of 1971- 1979 knew not, cared not, and gave no damn at all about the rule of law. Ogoola tagged Amin’s regime as the rule of chaos and anarchy, less than the rule of law.
The rule of tension
Ogoola says the fourth, fifth and sixth presidents under the transitory regimes of Yusuf Lule, Godfrey Binaisa, the Commission of Edward Rugumayo and Paulo Muwanga and General Oyite Ojok were all ‘remarkable more for the raw, clandestine , undignified and Machiavellian ousters of their respective incumbents , than for their protection or defence of the rule of law’.
He presented Binaisa as one who would not be allowed to appoint, deploy or reshuffle his own cabinet ministers. “When he dared to do so,… he faced the rough end of the boot of his more superior ‘juniors’. Hence not the rule of law but the rule of puppet strings, not the age of reason but the one of tension.
The rule of kifuba
The seventh presidency brought back the apparition of the second president – who largely pursued the same policies as before- only this time with vengeance : Following the controversial general elections of 1980, a rag tag army of “ bandits” run to the bush , only to return to the capital a mere five years later wielding the victorious gun of war- with which they captured power from a duo of largely illiterate army generals, who had themselves grabbed that same power a few months before from the coup – prone presidency of Dr. Milton Obote. In all this, Justice Ogoola says, the lexicon of the day, the voculabulary of the age was military might, gun power and crude force. This, the ‘rule of Kifuba’, not the rule of law.
Rule of teargas
Justice Ogoola said the chronicles of Uganda’s history will record many momentous things done or left undone in the areas of economics, politics and peace. However, in the arena of the rule of law, he said the record will not fail to script the bitter spots on the large canvass of “Uganda’s nascent history”: the infamous double invasion of the High Court premises in December 2005 and 2007 by the elite agents of the army under their nome de guerre (battle name) of Black Mambas and ; the ugly bloody scenes of excessive bare –knuckles force by the People’s Police Service cleansing the country’s streets, highways, and byways of opposition pedestrians who choose to walk to work ; or even worse who dare to walk to freedom.
He said currently,” there is the danger that when all the gas in the cloud has settled, history will record this as the rule of Tear Gas rather than the rule of law”
“For an administration that has bequeathed to the country a stellar constitution : the best researched, the most debated , and the most liberal and efficacious constitution of all our former constitutions – the tear gas cloud coming, as it has ( especially on the very eve the jubilee celebrations of our country’s emancipation and liberty), would be a most regrettable legacy”.