We need to tame the monster called Executive power

This is Christmas time for the press. Election coverage is good for newspapers. Uganda’s ballot paper is everything.
When we wrote term limits into the Constitution, we forgot to tame the monster that is called Executive power. At the time the British cam, we already had kings and chiefs so it was easy to accept the concept of a foreign monarch sovereign and supreme over the local chiefs. The Christian missionaries did very well selling the king of kings to ease this transition.

At independence, that foreign monarch departed. Power was now shared between one post reserved for kings- the presidency and the political theatre of Westminster would be run by the prime minister. The crisis is that the prime minister soon realised he had more powers than the president whose community had landed him in the big chair.
In 1966, he decided to formalise his status quo at the expense of these other power centres. One of the illusions naively written into our constitutions is that either the president or the prime minister of these foreign countries rules alone the way our President does. In England, which has the most centralised political system, 16 privy councillors aise the prime minister on many issues and the prime minister himself meets the queen once a week, chairs cabinet once a week and answers to the rest of the country through prime minister’s questions once a week.

Each of these practices is a few hundred years old with conventions attached to it. Our Parliament has prime minister’s questions but everyone knows these are jokes. As the political levers were being pulled on Amama Mbabazi, for example, he could not use PMQs to shield himself from the rain outside or tear gas that awaited his candidature.
The French have a prime minister, who actually runs government with the exception of defence and foreign policy. De Gaulle, the founder of the modern French Republic, didn’t mind this as long as he stayed in power.

The French eventually trimmed the presidency to two five-year terms a result of the political system becoming corrupt. Politicians spent too long waiting to become president. If you have run as many times as Dr Kizza Besigye, then you have an Abdoulaye Wade problem. Wade became president after so many tries but left office in disgrace and his son is in jail due to corruption. Nigeria’s Mohammed Buhari is being accused of appointing his tribesmen to positions of responsibility and sidestepping the legislature altogether. Months on, he has not even appointed a cabinet.

Third world politics does encourage such fragmentation. As Buhari said in a few words of wisdom, his inner team stuck through him against bribes, intimidation and harassment for years. It was their turn to eat. As for cabinet, because it comes with so many checks, he could afford to have less of them, just 19 out of 42.
Everyone looking at 2016 or 2021 for that matter, has not been to Harare, Zimbabwe. Save for one serious challenge in 2008 when President Robert Mugabe lost an election, he has been very stable. The math favours him in the real electoral college.

The President’s numbers are no longer sky-high as they once were. And people have been accusing him of all sorts of things such as stealing elections. But the ones accusing him were with him when he wrote a constitutional order that is short on competition and strong on force. Besigye wrote Amendment No. 1 to Legal Notice No. 1 and sat in CA Committee No. 2 that wrote Article 99 and Amama just became part of the household furniture until the owners needed new furniture.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law
and an Aocate. kssemoge@gmail.com

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