Why Museveni is most likely going to succeed in amending the constitution to remove the age limit
The Last Word | ANDREW M. MWENDA | Uganda is entering a major political battle that will show us the balance of political forces between President Yoweri Museveni and his opponents. A section of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) will push for the amendment of the constitution to remove the presidential age limit so that Museveni can run in 2021. Most of the leadership of the NRM are hostile to this proposed amendment but will acquiesce to it because the party has evolved in such a way that only those who do so survive politically.
Museveni’s opponents are already mobilising against the amendment. However, these efforts are currently and largely based in urban areas. And more specifically they are happening on social media. True social media has increasingly become a powerful weapon for mass mobilisation. But whether it has the same mass appeal in rural areas, where 80% of voters are, is yet to be seen. Thus, elites may pontificate on social media from their homes and offices but are unlikely go to the grassroots to mobilise in defence of their beliefs. And this is where Museveni beats them; he is already touring the country preparing for this amendment.
If anyone wants to defeat the constitutional amendment to remove age limits, they need to go mobilise at the grassroots, even as they shout themselves hoarse on social media. Yet it is very possible that our elites will spend time pontificating in self-righteousness tones on social and other media how the removal of age limits will undermine democracy and cause instability but none of them will go to the grassroots to rally people to their cause. Our elites will also spend a lot of time appealing to America and Europe to intervene instead of appealing to the people.
The problem with most debate on democracy in Africa is that it misses the basic principles of politics. In a democracy, people who hold an idea, a policy or a desire for a constitutional amendment should be free to mobilise citizens to their cause. If they get a majority, they win. The only prohibition is that the majority cannot take away the rights of minorities. I do not see how the amendment of the constitution to remove term or age limits takes away the rights of anyone. Therefore, from a purely democratic angle, term and age limits are undemocratic because they impose limits on the will of the people to decide.
The point in the debate on term and age limits is political not legal. Law is a function of politics. Constitutions can be written with the most idealistic provisions. However, whether any provision in such a constitution will be respected does not depend on the good intentions of individual leaders but almost entirely on the balance of political forces within the country. If there is a politically weighed majority in favour of age limits they will be respected. However, if the opposite holds, the constitutions would be amended. The claim that constitutionalism is a function of good leaders is misguided and has not worked anywhere.