Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Museveni Rejects Referendum Ruling

Seeing as I've just been speaking about nations whose rulers refuse to abide by restraints that are taken for granted in civilized nations, what a coincidence it is that Uganda's Museveni has just provided an excellent example of the very sort of behavior I'm talking about. Then again, seeing as this is Africa we're talking about, perhaps it isn't such a coincidence after all ...

President Yoweri Museveni last night rejected the Constitutional Court ruling that nullified the 2000 Referendum, saying the government will not accept the contents of the ruling.

"The Government will not allow any authority including the courts to usurp people's power in anyway. We shall not accept this. It will not happen. This is absurd and unacceptable," the President said in a Radio and TV address to the nation.

The five judges of Constitutional Court on Friday annulled the Referendum (Political System) Act 2000 and the June 29, 2000 referendum because Parliament did not follow the Constitutional procedure when enacting the Act.

Court also ruled that no other mandatory referendum can be held, because article 271 of the Constitution that provided for the referendum was not complied with and had expired, rendering article 74 that should have been activated for the purpose of changing into another political system redundant.

General Museveni said a closer look at the ruling reveals an absurdity and shocks the general moral of common sense.

The President said under the 2000 Referendum, Ugandans exercised their right to choose a political system. He said these rights are not given to the people by the judges.

"The work of the judges is to interprete the Constitution or the laws but not to enact the laws," he said. "The power of the people to choose how they should be governed lies with the people themselves. We chased Idi Amin and Obote because they wanted to grab this power and this is re-affirmed by our revolutionary struggle against those foolish people who thought they could usurp that power," Museveni said.

He said judges had no power to change this arrangement, saying that they were even less qualified than the people.

[............]

The President said he couldn't believe the fact that the court that derives its authority from the people could turn around and usurp their power.

He cited article 126(1) on administration of justice, which provides that "Judicial power is derived from the people and shall be exercised by the courts in the name of the people in conformity with the norms and aspirations of the people." He said this was a decision the judiciary must respect.

The President assured Ugandans that there was no cause for alarm, saying the world of anarchy ended and the Movement restored constitutionalism and the rule of law. He said this was the reason why judges could even make decisions against the government.

He said if these judges made such a ruling during the past regimes, they would not live to see the next day. "This government has changed all this and we don't want to get back to those days. There is total adherence to the rule of law and constitutionalism under the Movement," he said.
One can accept that it is "The People" on whose behalf Museveni really is speaking only if one interprets "The People" to mean "Yoweri Museveni", while his barely veiled threat on the lives of Uganda's justices surely merits the man an award for combining menace and self-promotion so artfully: since when has it been a mark of exemplary statesmanship to show more respect for human life than Idi Amin and Milton Obote?

It's this sort of brazen nonsense that makes it hard for the rest of the world to take the pronouncements of most African leaders on affairs beyond their borders seriously, and the sad thing about Museveni is that in spite of his shameless drive to appoint himself ruler for life, he's actually one of the better rulers on the continent. If there's anything positive that can be said about African strongmen like Museveni, Kerekou, Obiang, Mugabe, Nujoma, etc, etc, it's that they at least aren't in the business of exporting terrorism to the rest of the world under the cover of religion or political ideology; I doubt their subjects will fund much in the way of consolation from this insight, however.