Courts Need Support From the Citizens [editorial]

If a politically keen foreign tourist had arrived in Uganda on Friday evening and caught wind of the big news of the day, heshe would have been impressed.

The tourist would have heard that there had been an ongoing row between the country’s presidency and the city’s elected lord mayor. That the Presidency minister had presided over a controversial council sitting that threw out the lord mayor, despite the presence of a court injunction against the said sitting.

The tourist would have learnt that, on Friday, High court judge Lydia Mugambe had stopped the Electoral Commission from organising a by-election to replace the lord mayor – as desired by the presidency. Even more, the Supreme court had only recently stopped the Electoral Commission from organizing by-elections to replace four outspoken MPs expelled from the ruling party.

Democracy, our visitor would say, is alive and well in the Pearl of Africa. But we live in a country of contradictions and the visitor would not have heard that the police had only recently been roughing up a retired bishop as he joined a team calling for reforms to give Ugandans free and fair elections.

To their credit, the courts have played their part in trying to uphold the rule of law. The courts must be commended for holding their ground despite pressure from the political elite. Many ordinary Ugandans would even be less bothered about who rules them than about the process by which rulers are chosen. And that is the way it should be.

It matters less whether it is Lukwago or Luyiga who is the lord mayor what matters is that the office holder is elected and governs according to the dictates of the rule of law. The courts are the arbiters in a typical contest between short-cut expediency that defines autocratic political systems, and inconveniencing ideals that embody the democratic aspirations of the Ugandan populace.

But despite often upholding the latter, the courts alone may not be enough as guarantors of our aspirations. All Ugandans need to speak out more for the kind of country they want to see. Without all of us honouring our civic responsibilities, principled judges and courageous prelates will be isolated voices under pressure from powerful interests.

Source : The Observer

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