The right to dissent is by and large an extension of the freedom of conscience, expression, movement, religion, assembly and association enshrined under Article 29 of the Constitution of Uganda, 1995.
Uganda too signed the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance (ACDEG) in December 2008, which espouses the right to dissent and holding opinion important for any democracy. The charter further under Chapter 4 enjoins states to protect such freedoms and under article 27(8), States are enjoined to protect and promote the freedom of expression, opinion and the press and media.
Now that Uganda has committed to promote and protect these freedoms, why is the right to dissent in this country becoming increasingly an offence?
Recently, a group of students in Makerere university were opposed to the arbitral increment of tuition to which they took to the “streets” of the University for a peaceful demonstration exercising the right to peaceful demonstration and opinion under Article 29 of the Constitution of Uganda and 27(8) of the ACDEG and to surprise (especially if you live in Uganda), they were pounced on, harassed, assaulted to police cars and arrested.
Over 30 students were arrested and bundled to Wandegeya police station, denied access to lawyers and even food! What crime did they commit-having a different opinion? Be that as it may, we also learned later that the arrested and assaulted students were suspended while they were in the cells. This is the worst joke of democracy I have ever witnessed.
How do you arrest a student for speaking out on the arbitral increment of tuition? What happened to the great Makerere University where we promote intellectual debates? What happened to the right to fair hearing under Article 28 of our Constitution? Is the Makerere University administration and the State murdering our own Constitution once again?
We need to stop pretending. If we are indeed a free democratic state as we call it, then the practice of the same should be seen! Dissenting views must be respected all the time because that is what democracy is and as long as we don’t respect them, and then we are a pretending democracy.
It has further become increasingly difficult to hold a different view than those in power and it seems that only government and those in power are the only monopoly of opinion.
We have had series of events such of which is amending of the Constitution to remove the age limit for the President, which is famously known as the “togikwatako” period where all those that were opposed to lifting of the age limit were pounced upon, beaten, detained including our own MPs. Several rallies were reigned on and stopped because they were opposed to the lifting of the age limit and on wonders why then there was public consultation in the first place only to be suffocated by the state militia.
We have recently had a journalist assaulted, arrested and detained for his beautiful writings to which some thought it was not nice reading to their eyes! Ina democracy you don’t arrest, intimidate and detain “brains,” you rather engage in an intellectual contest-you write back and honorably disagree. No amount of tear gas or heavy deployment of militia can change a mind, at least not mine—so it is fetching water in a basket when the state deploys such means of harassment, assault on dissenting views…they do not take away our opinions or mind.
To those who fill we should not have dissenting views, where should those with dissenting views go? How should we live without debate? How should we live with only one opinion?
As a country, we need to think critically about these issues because as a citizenry, we shall always speak out our minds, like I am doing in this article and it is always our right to do so and whoever feels disturbed by our opinions, before they procure tear gas or order brutal arrests, they should invest in reading and writing intellectual rebuttals to our opinions-this is what they call democracy.
Moving forward, our leaders must respect our views whether in agreement or in dissent because they are our views and they matter too. Secondly, public participation in all affairs of the state is a right guaranteed under Article 38 and for that reason, there will always be different views pinions different policies and decisions and it is still our right as citizens to challenge any undemocratic and arbitral policies that do not reflect our will and power for the leaders are our servants and must at all times respect our views!
As we move towards elections (which are supposedly the means of change of government for a democratic state), we need to respect all views and if the right to dissent is abused further, I think elections will be meaningless for Uganda!
Michael Aboneka | Project Coordinator – AGA | Uganda
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