The environment is charged up with political tensions as we get close to the general elections and unfortunately, there is a lot of intolerance being exhibited. I have watched on many occasions different individuals and groups harassing those that they differ in opinion and yet they call themselves democrats. In a democracy, whichever way you may want to call it, all players in the political arena must be fair, allow room for intellectual debate and most importantly respect divergent/dissenting views.
The right to associate and belong to one political movement or party does not take away the right of one not belonging to the same group and that is the same for their views/opinions. Article 29 of the Constitution guarantees the freedom of opinion, expression, assembly and association and that a dissenting view or opinion is also protected by our Constitution. It is therefore acceptable for one to hold a dissenting view or opinion from the rest and that the test of democracy hinges on the ability of the majority to respect the minority voices. Further, Article 27 (8) of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance (ACDEG) to which Uganda is signatory to; protects this freedom and enjoins all state and non state actors and individuals to respect, promote and protect it.
I have observed a trend in the political arena of our country where the right to dissent has been violated by actors especially those opposed to ideas, aspirations or views of the majority in political parties, government, churches, clans, mosques among others. Many voices have been silenced, harassed and bullied for holding a different opinion about a certain political candidate, their aspirations, views and vision. Unfortunately, this trend has been common within political parties where the rights of individuals holding different opinions have been suffocated. How can we promote debate and intellectualism if we cannot disagree respectfully? If a political party can let its subscribers malign, insult and silent dissenting opinions how then can we trust that when they get to power, they will allow us express our freedoms by voicing out our opinions however unpopular they may be.
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 where Presidential Hopefuls have not been allowed to conduct consultations from the would be voters and yet they still expect them to participate in what they call a free and fair election. We continue to see attacks against those who write their opinions (if this very one may be attacked-that is how low we have allowed our country to sink) and yet the more noble thing to do is to also write in response with due respect to the things you don’t agree with the writer-this is what maturity in intellectual debate means and of which every Political actor must surely exhibit at this point. The political actors must show us that they can respect dissenting views even within their parties and circles for us to be able to trust them with power hoping that they will respect our opinions too when they finally sit at the thrown!
Every Political party must be able to transcend on their supporters or members for wrong doings especially intolerant behavior against their perceived opponents and that mechanisms should be in place to discipline such characters- for a political party is a serious mother garden meant to breed leaders of character and not simply just a “cool place” to belong.
To those who feel 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, especially as we in an election environment, all views must be respected because in a democracy all views matter!. 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 and opinions about processes such as the electoral road map and it is important that these too are respected and considered. It is also our duty as citizens to shun, call out and challenge any forms of intolerance meted on us by any group of persons or those still in power for the power belongs to us and we should exercise it unabated.
Coordinator: African Governance Architecture-Uganda
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