Yesterday, Thursday 23rd August, the military General Court Martial (GCM) dropped weapons charges previously leveled against the new “third force” in Uganda’s politics, Honourable Robert Kyagulanyi’s alias Bobi Wine. In a twist of events, Lt Gen. Andrew Guti, the chairman of the GCM informed those present that he had received instructions, to set the MP free without revealing the source of the order. However, the visibly frail legislator’s freedom was short-lived after he was quickly re-arrested outside the GCM premises on new and much more serious charges of treason which carry a death penalty in Uganda. After a rather conventional re-arrest, the youthful legislator was whisked away to the chief magistrates court in Gulu, Northern Uganda, where these charges of treason were read, originating from an earlier incident where the State alleges that Bobi Wine and others pelted President Yoweri Museveni’s passing motorcade with stones. In a rather rare show of courtesy, the magistrate judge, after plea from Bobi Wine’s defense team allowed for the legislator to receive medical attention from a private hospital due to the physical state of his injuries. Bobi Wine is set to come back to the same court on 30th August 2018 for mention of his case together with his alleged conspirators who include Honourable Kasiano Wadri, Honourable Gerald Karuhanga, Honourable Paul Mwiru, Honourable Mike Mabiike and 29 others.
The proceedings surrounding the sudden removal of the weapons charges by the GCM and the subsequent new charges against the legislator has many in the public sphere questioning about the rule of law in the country. Earlier in the GCM, there was a contest between the prosecutor and defense counsel with the latter arguing that since all charges had been dropped by the GCM, the legislator was free to go since no other charges known to the GCM were before the same court. The prosecutor had requested the GCM to hold on to the legislator due to pending cases in another court. However,defense argued that the GCM should not be used as an arresting institution and that if the legislator had other charges, it was the duty of the police to offer fresh sermons. Many concerns have been raised by various quarters including civil society, citizens, political parties and other commentators about the shocking trend of charging civilians, mainly political opponents under the GCM. Following what seems to be a constitutional lacuna, a city public interest lawyer, Male Mabirizi who earlier this year sued government over the age limit constitutional amendment, which paved way for persons above 75 years to stand for president, has also filed a petition in the civil division of the High Court challenging the trial of Bobi Wine in the GCM. The obstinate counsel argues that making non-members of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) to be subject to the disciplinary and criminal code of members of UPDF is unconstitutional and also violates the independence of the judiciary.Mr. Mabirizi also argues that civilians, like Bobi Wine who contest for political space with President Museveni who is also commander-in-chief of the UPDF and ultimately selects GCM Membersare increasingly in danger of being subjected to military law.
As the violent protests that engulfed the country since 15th August begin to subside, public debate is rife with the state of constitutionalism and rule of law in Uganda, the alleged influence of the executive in judicial matters, unending election violence, the vicious attacks on the media and civil society among others. On the other hand, the new “third force” under the People Power movement led by Bobi Wine, who can be described as a non-traditional politician is challenging the longstanding power centers in the country, namely the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) and the country’s largest opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC). This new political dynamic has seen the ruling NRM and the FDC lose various parliamentary and regional bi-elections with majority of the seats being won by independent candidates aligned to the People Power movement. As the People Power movement gathers pace, discomfort is visible within the NRM and FDC and; in fact both parties have recently encountered in-fighting with top party officials on both sides accusing their existing Members of indiscipline as they seek to ally with Bobi Wine. Newly elected parliamentarians like Honourable Kasiano Wadri, Honourable Asuman Basalirwa, Honourable Paul Mwiru and a host of numerous regional leaders broke away from established party ranks to contest as independent candidates and owe their victories to the People Power wave.
After thirteen years of multi-party politics in Uganda, the populace, particularly young people are beginning to question if multipartism and political parties are still viable in addressing the various interests of the citizens such as the escalating unemployment, corruption, lack of basic service delivery, democratic deficits among others. It is therefore important at this stage for political parties to engage both internally and externally while also reaching out to new formations such as the People Power movement with the recognition that the political tectonic plates in Uganda are shifting to a younger generation, time is on their side. As the country waits for the outcome of what is likely to be a protracted court case, the handling of this rather sad episode by the government is pivotal in maintaining peace in a rather charged political environment.
Kasirye Samuel is a Programme Manager at the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung – East African Regional Office.
People Power is a political statement popularised by Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi a.k.a Bobi Wine during his campaign as an independent candidate to parliament. The slogan has evolved into a mass movement people from all walks of life who agree that to defeat the current political establishment, it will take more than one political party, more than one tribe, more than one religion and, more than one generation.