Andrew Mwenda: Why Age Limit Should Be Removed

I want to ask all these bellicose MPs and opposition activists opposing the amendment of the constitution to remove age limits: what is wrong with a person of 75 years and above running for president? Do you really believe Amama Mbabazi or Ruhakana Rugunda should be blocked from running for president in 2025, or Kizza Besigye in 2031?

It seems to me that your argument is the amendment is being pushed to help President Yoweri Museveni run again. I agree. So your opposition is not to the principle (allowing citizens aged 75 years and above to run for president) but to the individual (Museveni) who is going to be the first beneficiary of it. If this is the case, why expend your energies in a constitutional fight over an individual if you don’t disagree with the principle?

Museveni is mortal. Whatever his machinations and tricks, there is one inexorable huddle he won’t overcome – nature. Museveni is going to die – and soon. But Uganda and the constitution will remain for many years to come. If the issue is getting rid of Museveni, we don’t need to block other Ugandans aged 75 years and above (like me the old man of the clan who turns 105 years this October 3rd) from seeking the presidency. Museveni can be defeated in elections in 2021.

Opposition politicians and activists are shortsighted fools. It is not even in their interest to oppose this amendment. There is widespread Museveni fatigue in the country, even in remote areas of Kisoro, Kabarole and Isingiro where he used to get 90% of the vote. So while it is easy for Museveni to bribe 350 MPs to amend the constitution (hence making little sense expending energy fighting him on this) it is going to be extremely difficult for him to bribe 20m Ugandans to vote for him in 2021.

The challenge facing the opposition is how to organize themselves and mobilize the masses of Ugandans to turn out in large numbers and vote in 2021. Museveni has been winning, especially in 2011 and 2016, because of low voter turnout at 58% and 68% respectively. The opposition does not ask themselves why 42% of voters didn’t vote in 2011. Last year when voter turnout increased by 10%, all the benefit went to Besigye.

The biggest loser in this misguided opposition to removing age limits is Besigye, but he cannot see it. Museveni will remove age limits. Therefore Besigye is undermining his credibility now when he seeks to run for president in 2031. He will face the fact that he has campaigned vigorously against lifting age limits. Then he will claim it was because he wanted to stop Museveni. Why place an individual above a principle in a major constitutional struggle?

It is hard to educate people who are emotional about issues and never see beyond a few years ahead. This was the whole problem with the constitution making process in the 1990s.

Museveni and his confederates did not put age limits in the constitution out of principle. Rather they did so to block Milton Obote from returning and running for president. They did not foresee that it would actually turn out to block Museveni.

Besigye’s supporters may not realize that they are making a similar mistake. I actually think this amendment is very good for Besigye because he can wait Museveni out until he dies. Then he can make his grab at power as well. Did Besigye in 2000 imagine that he would still be running for president in 2016? Well, think again: 2031 or even 2035 is not very far.

Andrew Mwenda is a Kampala-based Journalist