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Religious Leaders Speak Out on Presidential Age Limit :: Uganda Radionetwork

Religious Leaders Speak Out on Presidential Age Limit

As the debate on the presidential age limit continues in the public domain, some religious leaders have voiced their opposition to any designs to amend Article 102b of the constitution. The article seals the age of the president at between 35 and 75 years beyond which an individual cannot stand for the highest office.

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As the debate on the presidential age limit continues in the public domain, some religious leaders have voiced their opposition to any designs to amend Article 102(b) of the constitution.

The article seals the age of the president at between 35 and 75 years beyond which an individual cannot stand for the highest office.

Parliament is currently considering an amendment to the constitution on land issues, after the tabling, a month ago, of the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2017 that seeks to give government powers to take over private land and then compensate owners later. However, the discussion of the new bill is as divisive as the debate on the age of the president, an issue yet to be formally brought to parliament.

But the tone within the ruling party shows that many are in favour of lifting the age limit to allow President Yoweri Museveni extend his rule beyond 2021 when he will be 77 years.

And now religious leaders have weighed in on the issue with many saying amending Article 102(b) could turn Uganda into a dictatorship while others argue that the matter should be decided through a referendum.

Among those opposed to amending the constitution include Bishop Reuben Kisembo of Ruwenzori Diocese, a Church of Uganda episcopal territory that covers the districts of Kabarole, Bundibugyo, Ntoroko, Kyenjojo and Kyegegwa.

Bishop Kisembo says that if the constitution is amended, Members of Parliament will have done a disservice to the people of Uganda. Bishop Kisembo also says that the Uganda has able people who can lead the country and should be given an opportunity.

"Why should a single leader rule this country for three decades? There are many people out there who can also be presidents. My prayer is that our beloved constitution should be respected," Kisembo said.

On Sunday, shortly after attending the installation of Reverend Dr. Alfred Olwa as third Bishop of Lango Diocese, Bishop Kisembo posted on his Facebook page a message with clear intentions.

“Today we have been at All Saints Cathedral Boro-Boro in Lira Town witnessing a peaceful handover of power from Bishop John Charles Odurkami relinquishing authority over the Diocese and handing it to the Rt. Rev. Dr. Alfred Olwa. This is a big lesson to us in offices that time should come and we see peaceful transition of power. However good we are, we should leave and others continue for the good of our offices and institutions. No need to change the constitution or age limit.”  

Last week, while speaking at Fort Portal Diocese headquarters in Virika, the Bishop Fort Portal Catholic Diocese, Dr Robert Muhirwa, expressed the same views.

Bishop Muhirwa warned legislators against amending the constitution, noting that such a move would breed dictatorship in the country. Speaking in Runyoro-Rutooro, Muhirwa also reminded the MPs that they swore an oath to protect the constitution, therefore it should be respected.

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The bishop warned that changing the constitution could plunge the country into turmoil leading to death of innocent people.

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Sheikh Habibu Mande, the Rwenzori Region Khadi, however, sounded cagey when URN sought his comment. He said that there is nothing wrong with amending the constitution as long as it benefits the country. On whether the presidential age limit should be lifted, Mande says that he will first seek permission from the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council before speaking to the media on the issue.

Rt. Rev. Giuseppe Filippi of Kotido Diocese says the matter requires a referendum, arguing that every country has a right to determine how it should be governed including changing the constitution.

He however notes that there must be big support from the public. “Uganda needs a referendum on this matter to get a clear view of the people. However, in some countries like Brazil and Venezuela where minority selfish people tempered with the constitution, people reacted in a bad way," Bishop Filippi noted.

His counterpart from Moroto Catholic Diocese, Bishop Damiano Guzzetti, highlights what he calls a lot of efforts for transformation in the last 30 years. "I came to Uganda in August the same year President Museveni took over power. I have seen so many government initiatives targeting community transformation but somehow not successful due to poor implementation. I can have a brand new car and hire a driver but it depends on the skills of the driver to deliver me to my destiny," Bishop Damiano said.

Both bishops, Filippi and Guzzetti are Missionary priests from Italy.

Some of the bishops say they need a higher authority to speak on the matter. Bishop Joseph Abura of the Anglican Diocese of Karamoja declined to speak openly saying the matter is delicate and requires consultation with the Province of Church of Uganda or the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda. He however underscored the achievements of ruling NRM government in the region as a key milestone to progress in the entire country.

Bishop Abura revealed that the issue of the presidential age limit was brought in the agenda of the last House of Bishops meeting in July but was differed since it had not been brought to parliament.

"We couldn't discuss it there because it is just being fronted by the media and activists. If government initiates the process through parliament we shall then talk about it. It's not good to speculate,” Bishop Abura notes.

Other religious leaders who say they need permission from a higher authority to speak include Kasana-Luweero Bishop Paul Ssemogerere. Known for being vocal on political issues, Bishop Ssemogerere this time asked for time to consult the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU).

However, Bishop James Nasak of Northern Karamoja Diocese voiced his opposition to any moves to amend the constitution saying it sets a dangerous precedent for the country.

The cleric notes that much as President Museveni could be a tolerant leader, rules must be observed by all parties for democracy to thrive. He adds that amending the constitution often is not solution for the country.

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Sheikh Auni Aramazan, the district Kadhi for Karamoja, however, says the presidential age limit should be removed. Citing Karamoja Sub-Region, the Kadhi notes that it's only through President Museveni that Karamoja is peaceful and accessible.

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In Masaka region, Bishop John Baptist Kaggwa of Masaka Diocese told URN he cannot talk about the age limit debate saying he doesn't understand it. "Please, don't ask me about two things; Age limit debate and the constitution amendment bill on land. I don't understand them. I need to first study them and clearly understand them," Bishop Kaggwa noted.

Sheikh Shaibu Ndugga and Sheikh Bulhan Bagunduuse both Masaka district Kadhis loyal to Kibuli and Uganda Muslim Supreme Council respectively, declined to speak share their views about the ongoing debate.

While Sheikh Ndugga explained that it is not yet time to talk about age limit, Sheikh Bagunduuse simply said he has nothing to say.

Last week IRCU issued a statement on land issues but remained silent on the age limit debate. Joshua Kitakule, the IRCU Secretary General, when reached last week on position of the council on age limit debate, he replied that they are yet to issue any statement because the matter is still in speculation.

"We always guide on issues or bills that have been gazetted or formalized and currently the age limit bill has not been gazetted, so we cannot base on speculation." 

President Museveni, who has been in power since January 1986, will be 75 in 2019. If the constitutional provision remains as it is, he will be ineligible to contest in 2021.  

Report by Emmanuel Kajubu, Edward Bindhe, Brian Luwaga and Edward Eninu

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