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ANALYSIS: From Kavuma to Owiny-Dollo

Worrying trend

The general view among the legal fraternity about Museveni’s appointment of more cadre judges to the apex of the judiciary has, however, been less robust than expected. Many say it is no longer surprising. Many have come to expect the President to make appointments which they say are to serve his political interests.

“These appointments are deliberate,” says the lawyer that preferred anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. “Museveni wants Judges that will drive his agenda. Owiny-Dollo for example is one of the people that introduced NRM in Northern Uganda and you know he has also served in his government as a minister. He does whatever pleases Museveni. He might even be worse than Kavuma.”

He added, “Most of us in the legal circles already knew he was Museveni’s preferred choice.

He says Engonda-Ntende was one of the people recommended by the JSC but Museveni placed political loyalty above competence.

“Now you can hardly get any credible judges on the entire bench,” he says, “If you did a thorough analysis of the Judiciary you would realise that more than 90% of our Judges are cadre Judges.”

Another prominent Lawyer, Nicholas Opiyo says those are the things that we should expect from Museveni’s overstay in power.

“That’s the effect of a long serving leader on the judiciary,” he says. “The entire judiciary now is built around Museveni’s appointments. Its character and image reflect Museveni’s political interests.”

He adds, “There are no people you can call career judicial officers on the bench now.”

Instead what you have, Opio says are people who have served in Museveni’s government as Ministers and party loyalists. He says Museveni prefers cadre judicial offices and this has created a perception in the public that these cadre Judges tend to side with the ruling party because they are more political in their judgments than legal.

But Opio is quick to add that appointing cadre judges is not the problem. He says there are cadre judges; like former Supreme Court Judge George Kanyeihamba, who were excellent Judges and remained impartial in their judgments.

The problem, Opiyo says, is picking the worst among the cadre judges. This trend, the legal experts are worried is killing the judiciary. Makerere University Law Professor Joe Oloka Onyango says appointment based on political considerations rather than merit is detrimental to the Judiciary.

He says it has already taken its toll onthe judiciary and can be witnessed in the caliber of judgments and the Jurisprudence. “Our jurisprudence is dying and there is an evident deterioration in our Judiciary that we need to address,” says Oloka-Onyango.

To resolve this, he says, there is a need for a discussion as a legal community on whether the position of a judge is administrative or intellectual. “The judges should be the most intellectual in the profession but unfortunately it is not intellectualism that always carries the day.”

The legal professionals are nostalgic to the early days of Museveni when he put merit above everything. In those days, the judiciary was filled with competent judges from across the political spectrum.

Some prominent Judges that left a mark on the Judiciary like Joseph Mulenga, Justice Oder, and Justice Wilson Tsekoko were from the Democratic Party and Uganda People’s congress respectively.

But why did Museveni care about an efficient judiciary then and not now?

Analysts attribute it to Museveni’s overstay in power and the growing need for patronage. They say the downward trend started after the 2005 amendment of the constitution.

“You see the constitutional framework within which Museveni was operating was different,” says Oloka-Onyango, “The 1995 constitution was built on a two-term Presidency.”

This, Oloka says, meant that the President could only appoint judicial officers once during his term and would not have a chance to appoint again. He says the removal of term limits rendered that constitutional framework illegitimate which he says leads to illegitimate results.

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