I immediately seek your forgiveness because I have tried, but failed to begin this appeal to you, Mr. Bart Katureebe, with the deference and salutations that should ordinarily open any communication to the holder of the fourth highest office in the country and head of the judicial branch, if any still exists in this, our Republic—now a creeping family monarchy.
And for this egregious but deliberate omission of your titles, I beg your indulgence. Out of civility and with regard to the norms of common decency, I will simply refer to you as and hope that the ordinary “Mr.” will suffice.
So grave are the circumstances that compel me to disregard your titles (because their weight is no longer apparent) and urgently draw your attention to the vagary and misfortune that your two colleagues (Yoweri Museveni and Rebecca Kadaga) who unfortunately lead the other two arms of government have visited upon us Ugandans while you remain conspicuously silent, worryingly indifferent and seemingly aloof.
In any case, we have as a society deteriorated so badly that there isn’t much difference between a professor, witchdoctor, bishop, businessman, sex worker, sheikh, judge, boda boda cyclist, medical doctor, minister, casual labourer, parliamentarian, engineer, fraudster or lawyer—we have all been reduced into one powerless, directionless and meaningless lot.
It is impossible to purport or pretend that you are His Lordship the Honourable Chief Justice of Uganda in the present state-of-affairs I am going to elucidate below. Nothing, not even that glistening official five litre engine S-Class Mercedes, top-of-the-range VX Landcruiser or that noisy and menacing escort party of mean-looking counterterrorism police officers who push us off the road with wailing sirens and spinning lights as you’re speeding to work can confer the deference that is due to the office you hold; you’ve got to do more, assert yourself more and participate in efforts to rescue Ugandans from this monarchy, sua sponte or suo motu.
Let’s start with the man who for two years refused to appoint you as Chief Justice and did everything possible to have your predecessor Benjamin Odoki stay on beyond the constitutional limit. His name is Mr. Yoweri Museveni, a regional warlord and ageing despot.
The ethnic oligarchy he leads under the guise of a government has for long been a law unto themselves. As despicable and regrettable as his decades-long assault on institutions, laws and Ugandans has been, his conduct is in many ways expected. His track record has no trace of democratic ethos; it has been deceit, treachery and violence from day one.
Museveni has never honoured any agreement throughout his known political career—matter of fact, his own wife Janet narrates a childhood story in which a young Museveni was sent with a gourd of milk as condolences to deliver to a bereaved family but which was never delivered. He stopped midway the journey, drunk the milk, returned home and lied that he had delivered the milk. “Akati kainikwa kakiri kabisi,” we the Banyankore say. Directly translated to mean that the posture of a tree can only be altered when that tree is still a seedling, a young plant—an attempt to shape its growth after it has become a hardened tree will be futile, if not cause its breakage. The adage connotes the importance of inculcating life-lessons for children so that they grow up to be decent people as these lessons can never be taught later in life. We cannot make Museveni honest, respectful and/or tolerant at this stage in life. This fact we accept. Painfully.
On the other hand, under the duplicitous and spineless Rebecca Kadaga, the so-called Parliament has been the scene of several crimes against Ugandans and the Constitution—including but not limited to laws like the draconian Public Order Management Act, the insidious Computer Misuse Act, and the misogynist Anti Pornography Act. With incredulous alacrity and shameless aplomb, Rebecca Kadaga has exhibited a spirited commitment to guillotining the Constitution, thereby abetting the NRA’s armed robbery of our citizenship, reducing us into squatters in our own country. The most outstanding and current example of Kadaga’s place and role in this assault against Ugandans was exhibited last month when she run roughshod over all the legal and technical objections—some founded in elementary constitutional law principles— and offered Parliament to be the midwife for the Life Presidency.
Kadaga, long the iconoclast of women emancipation and leadership, alongside beacons like Winnie Byanyima, Cecilia Ogwal, Miria Matembe, Lydia Mugambe-Ssali, Sylvia Tamale and Irene Ovonji-Odida, committed (political) suicide and cannot under any circumstances resurrect her political career after holding down the Constitution and abetting its violent gang rape by 317 rapists on the night of 20 December, 2017, along Parliamentary Avenue. I wonder what the thousands, if not millions of girls and young women who were inspired by her to study law (or related courses) and participate in elective politics over the decades think about her today.
What the foregoing paragraphs mean, Mr. Katureebe, is that the Executive as well as Parliament are captive and have long gone rogue because they are being led by individuals (Museveni and Kadaga respectively) who can no longer discharge the responsibilities that come with two of the highest offices in the land with requisite impartiality, judiciousness and sobriety.
Ugandans are on their own. Land is grabbed with impunity by armed bandits connected to the ruling Family. Our sisters are trafficked and sold into slavery in the Emirates and nobody cares. Elderly pensioners have to beg for what is due to them. Foreign (and domestic) employers mistreat Ugandans with the state’s acquiescence and tacit approval. Criminal multinationals are bleeding this economy white while the regulatory agencies (ERA, UCC and URA) are snugly in bed with those they are supposed to regulate and oversee. The examples are innumerable.
The judicial arm that you lead isn’t innocent either but it has enjoyed a modicum of the public’s confidence and retains some respectability—which is nonetheless fast waning. The multiple desecrations of Courts by state-sponsored militia which has lately been evident in the now routine re-arrests of suspects who have been granted bail (in broad daylight!) and the Kadaga-sponsored mob that surrounded a courthouse a few days ago, or the Kayihura-sponsored goons who besieged court in Makindye in 2016, the complicity of the Director of Public Prosecutions in proffering politically-motivated charges against those who hold alternative or dissenting views, the chronic under-funding and disdain that the Justice Law and Order Sector faces as exhibited in the recent industrial action by prosecutors which was largely ignored by government, to mention a few, are indicative of the depths our country has sank under your watch and leadership—or lack thereof.
You cannot purport or pretend to be a Chief Justice under these circumstances. At best, you are aiding and abetting this dictatorship.
There is nothing left to remove from our Constitution. The 1995 Consensus has aborted. The infamous repeal in 2005 of the presidential two-term limit from the Constitution can be compared to the removal of the hind-brakes of a bicycle. Now, the front-brakes (presidential age-limit) have also been removed and, as Bernard Tabaire rightly observed, we are being stampeded downhill, in a race to the bottom. Dance Macabre!
As such, you, Mr. Katureebe have two options: either you step down, close shop and let the full weight of Museveni’s family rule be visited on us or you rise to the occasion, step up and provide leadership and defend the judicial branch because ultimately, “we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately,” as famously noted by Benjamin Franklin centuries ago.
I have no illusions about how tough it must be to do your job in the prevailing state-of-affairs and so for your benefit, I will leave you with a poem by Claude McKay which I hope will put some wind into your sails, so that the wheels of justice can spin faster and arrest this impunity:
It is titled “If We Must Die”:
‘If we must die, let it not be like hogs, hunted and penned in an inglorious spot;
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs, making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die, so that our precious blood may not be shed in vain: then even the monsters we defy shall be constrained to honour us though dead!
O kinsmen! We must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave, and for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack, pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back.’
Finally, make no mistake, ‘Uncle’ Bart: your silence cannot save you from the brutality that was visited on a onetime occupant of that very office you are sitting in, Benedicto Kiwanuka. The people who committed those savage acts are still around. Do you remember the security incident at your residence when a man accosted you with an iron bar during the Amama Mbabazi petition? That was a warning from the same people who killed Chief Justice Kiwanuka.
Use your office and save whatever is left of the Constitution before it is too weak to rescue you.
The author is a human rights activist and lawyer reachable via firstname.lastname@example.org
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any staff or director of DIMENSIONS MEDIA LTD/theUgandan.