By Faruk Kirunda
Is there justice in Uganda or isn’t there? On which occasions do “cadre judges” work and on which occasions do they abdicate? These are some of the questions that filled the space when court in Kampala upheld the election of Joel Ssenyonyi (NUP spokesman) as the MP of Nakawa West. The petition that was dismissed is the one filed by Mukesh Shukra (Shumuk) one of the candidates who rivaled him.
Court’s ruling in favour of Ssenyonyi was both surprising and unsurprising. Surprising because the MP and his friends have always claimed that there is no justice in Uganda and that the judiciary is directly controlled by NRM and President Museveni. Why would NRM let Ssenyonyi through and not use its iron arm to squeeze him out of the way?
On the other hand, the ruling was not surprising because Ssenyonyi is not the first (and last) member of the opposition to win a court case or an election petition. Justice is not demanded; it is conditional-and worked for. Judicial decisions are reached at the discretion of the presiding bench on the basis of the strength of arguments or evidence adduced. Is it NRM that makes opposition lose cases in Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, etc?
Dr. Besigye (who is as opposition as anyone can get) has won a number of cases as has Lord Mayor, Erias Lukwago, and many others. But they choose to maintain cynicism and ingratitude against the justice system because it serves their political interests.
This also goes to those who claim that the trial of MPs Muhammad Ssegirinya (Kawempe North) and Allan Ssewanyana (Makindye West) is politically-motivated persecution just because they are members of NUP. Are they the only members of NUP, or are they more NUP than Bobi Wine or Rubongoya? How come it’s not the two in the dock?
But the real point I want to raise is that while Ssegirinya was being arraigned over the Masaka murders, he was scoring with court in Kampala dismissing a petition against his election that was filed by his rival, Sulaiman Kidandala. If it was political persecution, which better way to crack his political teeth than influencing court to kick him out of Parliament? Isn’t that a more direct political trick to use if politics was the force behind his legal woes?
Another way would be to simply rig them out and stop them from being elected. There are hundreds of opposition MPs and local council executives who could have been locked out of victory in order to sideline them from Ugandan affairs, but NRM doesn’t act that way. What is for certain is that the opposition functions in a state of denial, willingness to concede to the state of democracy and the reality in Uganda. Doing this would deflate them and heap credit on NRM.
This behavior is also a warning to the public; the current opposition is playing games on them. It rubs in absurd tales of oppression and deprivation while pointing an accusing finger in the direction of Rwakitura, yet shielding its own involvement, successes and enjoyment of life under Museveni.
Furthermore, the opposition continues to show despotic and suspicious traits that would make Bokassa and Amin look like angels. Ever demanding that only their views and preferences are favoured, with real power they would be bad news. The courts, Electoral Commission, civil service, security organs would be subjected to a level of interference that Africa has never seen before. I fear that possibility because we can’t contend with a “government- in- waiting” that proves most inept and retrogressive in the 21st century.
Last year, at the height of the electoral political season, former presidential candidate and then MP of Kyaddondo East, Robert Kyagulanyi Sentamu, very much shot down his chances of being elected to the seat he aimed for when, among other errors, he exerted pressure on the EC with the view to extract President Museveni’s academic records.
This was a gross act of interference in the operations of the EC by an interested party with a view to influence the electoral body to act in a particular way. Very immoral and underhand! Ugandans of goodwill were shocked at this level of arrogance by people who claimed to be change agents.
Kyagulanyi had also tried to push the EC to treat him preferentially by scrapping regulations that had been instituted to prevent the spread of COVID-19 through crowded meetings at a time the virus was hibernating within the communities. Because of that recklessness, we reaped the “benefits” this year when the disease surged and “ate” so many our people and plunged us back into lockdown.
At the time Kyagulanyi was threatening the EC, I wrote urging him to leave the electoral body alone to exercise its statutory roles without undue pressure. But because people don’t listen, they spent more time blaming the system than campaigning. The result was defeat!
Still, when Kyagulanyi petitioned the Supreme Court, he shifted pressure to the Court instead of concentrating on raising “substantial” evidence for a favourable ruling. In the end, the petition hit a dead end, but not without blackmailing the bench, that it was composed of cadre judges, etc.
So, when we have Ssenyonyi and Ssegirinya winning petitions, we are correct to wonder if the “cadre judges” are usually on holiday when opposition wins cases. If NRM presides over a system of selective justice, is Ssenyonyi now in NRM or the system is fair and just only when he is “eating”? If I were him, I would reject the ruling and sue for a nullification to spite the “cadreship” and maintain a principled position-that there is no justice in Uganda under NRM-at least for the sake of my personal integrity.
The author is the Deputy Presidential Press Secretary