Uganda: Let Ugandans Debate Age Limit Removal Freely

Photo: Yahudu Kitunzi/Daily Monitor

Winfred Kiiza, the leader of the opposition in parliament, centre, struggles to control tears as she engages a police officer in Mbale after police officers fired teargas to disperse an age limit rally.


Last Friday, a group of angry men stormed the home of Jinja East Municipality Member of Parliament Nathan Igeme Nabeta and threatened to burn it.

They accused the MP of backing the controversial Bill that seeks to remove the presidential age limit from the Constitution without consulting them. By the time police dispersed them, the youth had started burning tyres at the legislator’s gate. This comes a week after suspected arsonists sneaked to the home of Arua Municipality MP Ibrahim Abiriga in Arua town, and attempted to set it ablaze.

These are the latest in a series of attacks and threats against MPs who have spoken out in support of the proposal to remove presidential age limit from the Constitution. Last week, this newspaper carried out a countrywide analysis of the growing hostility and violence since the age limit debate kicked off.

The investigation showed that voters in several districts have accosted lawmakers over the contentious Bill; some MPs have had to flee when confronted by hostile residents while many have developed cold feet to consult constituents on the matter.

The mood across the country is tense as MPs do not know what to expect from their constituencies.

Last week, a group calling itself Boda Boda 2010, a notorious quasi-militia outfit which is dreaded for its attacks on government critics, launched a campaign to confront people opposed to the removal of the presidential age limit. They claim the rallies by groups opposed to amending Article 102(b) of the Constitution are intended to topple the NRM government, an act they cannot tolerate.

President Museveni has also warned that he will not tolerate any violence in regard to the ongoing age limit debate and that the NRM party cannot be threatened. The animosity has already resulted in the killing of 23-year-old Edison Nasasira at a rally organised by Opposition activists to campaign against the lifting of age limit for presidential candidates.

It is regrettable that a difference of opinion has now turned into an ugly fight between those who back the Bill and those who oppose it.

The highly divisive age limit debate, in which religious leaders and distinguished citizens and elders have variously advised caution, should not plunge the country into chaos. Divergent views on our political path should not divide Ugandans.

Ugandans across the political divide should be allowed to consult the people and debate freely because this discussion is about the political future of our country.

The role of police in this is to ensure there is law and order and to protect citizens, not to harass them.