Spirits in High Gear as Uganda Prepares for a New Constitution

Spirits in High Gear as Uganda Prepares for a New Constitution

                 Spirits in High Gear as Uganda
                 Prepares for a New Constitution
   By Miria R. K Matembe, from Arise, the Magazine of Ugandan
       Women's Organisation AFCODE, Kampala, Uganda

(This and the following article were reprinted from ARISE, the magazine of Ugandan women's organisation Action for Development AFCODE. To contact the authors please write to: AFCODE, AFCODE House, Bukoto, P.O. Box 6279, Kampala, Uganda; tel/fax:+256-41-532311)

Except for one American President Abraham Lincoln who defined democracy as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, the term democracy is difficult to define with precision.

However, the essence of democracy is the ability of the people to participate in their own governance not only by having opportunity to periodically elect their leaders but also having the same opportunity to be elected in positions of leadership at different levels of their government. Democracy should entail equitable distribution of resources that will enable people to have a meaningful standard of living.

Respect and tolerance of one another's views and ideas irrespective of whether or not such views are similar are necessary elements of democracy.

But, above all, a democratic system should guarantee, protect and promote the fundamental rights and freedoms of an individual so that all people live in dignity.

Unfortunately, all these attributes of democracy have been eluding most of the African States for a long time, Uganda being no exception. For over thirty years after independence in 1962, Ugandans have never experienced democracy. They have lived under a reign of anarchy, characterised by dictatorship, state-inspired violence, indiscriminate massacres and killings, insecurity of persons and property, looting, detention without trial, rape and other forms of brutality imaginable.

The National Resistance Movement Government came to power in 1986 after a people's protracted war and ushered in a fundamental change by establishing democratic institutions and re-instating the rule of law.

The position of women

In a situation were even the ,powerful" i.e. the men - have been suffering, the women have suffered more. Like their counterparts elsewhere in Africa, Ugandan women have been subjected to a long history of systematic oppression and discrimination from pre-colonial times up to date. The oppressive customary and cultural practices together with the discriminatory and inadequate Legal System introduced by the British have conspired to lower the status of women and ridicule them.

The negative societal attitudes and practices modelled through our cultural traditions have all been used to oppress women; they have prevented the utilisation of their full potential and ability to contribute and participate in the governance of their country. Their important roles of production and reproduction have for long been taken for granted and, as a result, women have neither been properly facilitated to adequately play these roles in society nor have they been appropriately remunerated for the contributions they have made.

However, the current NRM government has seriously put women's issues on its political and economic agenda. For the first time in the history of Uganda, a government has committed itself to the integration of women in the mainstream of the development process, as a result of which women issues have, for the first time, become a subject of public debate. This is evidenced by the statement made by His Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, the President of Uganda, on the International Women's Day (8th March 1986) when he remarked: "It is now acknowledged that the involvement of women in the development process is not just a matter of ethics but of good economics. The challenges of development enjoin us to pay more than just lip-service to the core issues of unequal relations in our society."

The Constitution-making

The people of Uganda, under the leadership of NRM, wanted the new Constitution to be made in a way that could reflect a fundamental change from the manner in which the previous constitutions were made. It was to be a popular constitution emanating from the people as a true reflection of their interests, intent and aspirations. Mindful of this wish, determined to consolidate democracy, re-instate the rule of law and committed to the principle of popular participation of the people in their own governance, NRM established by an Act of Parliament, the Uganda Constitutional Commission in 1989 and charged it with the responsibility of formulating and structuring a draft constitution that would form the basis for the new constitution.

The Commission was mandated to study and review all the past constitutions and constitutional instruments with a view of making proposals for the enactment of a new constitution that would, among other things, - establish a free democratic system of government that will guarantee the fundamental rights and freedom of the people of Uganda; - endeavour to develop a democratic free and fair electoral system that will ensure the people's representation in legislature and other levels.

The people's wish and the government's desire to make a popular constitution determined the methodology employed by the Commission, which involved the education of the people, collection of people's views, analysis of those views and the writing of both the constitutional report and the draft constitution.

Women's Participation

The Constitution-making exercise took place at a time when the women of Uganda had already been accorded an opportunity at both government and other political levels to participate in the affairs of the country. Because of this and more importantly because of their long history of oppression and discrimination, women were the most enthusiastic groups that embraced the exercise with interest and hope. They looked at it as their ,saviour". Almost all the women who participated in the exercise had no doubts in their minds that the new constitution was going to be a powerful weapon in their total emancipation and liberation. The rural women thought that their chances had finally come to have all their problems solved so that they could live as full human beings.

The involvement of women, we could say, was threefold. Firstly, the inclusion of two highly qualified women lawyers on the Commission was a positive sign. This was because although they were appointed in their own right, it could not be ruled out that their deliberate appointment on the Commission was not only to cater for gender balance but also to ensure that the women's concerns would receive a sympathetic and sufficient attention by the Commission. Indeed, this was so because, as one of those privileged women on the Commission, I can recall how much soliciting and lobbying my colleagues and I had to do to ensure that the Commission gave due attention to the women's concerns.

It was indeed a very exhausting and taxing exercise which needed special concern and appreciation for the women's cause, coupled with gender sensitivity on the individuals that were pressing for consideration of those issues. It is gratifying to note that quite a number of our male colleagues on the Commission were positive and responsive to the issues of women and helped us to pursue the struggle to the end. Interestingly, by the end of the exercise almost all the male Commissioners had become gender sensitive!

Secondly, women participated in all the seminars and debates which were organised by the Commission throughout the country. The emphasis the NRM Government places on the emancipation of women, and the structure of the Resistance Councils and Committees throughout the country enabled women to clearly voice their concern in a concerted manner.

The third and very powerful way in which women participated in the exercise was through the Ministry of Women in Development, Culture and Youth. This is the Ministry which was established by the NRM government as a national women's machinery to work for the integration of women in the mainstream of development.

Having realised that many women would have failed to participate in the constitution-making exercise, the Ministry, with the assistance of DANIDA and in conjunction with some National Women's non-governmental organisations like Action for Development (ACFODE), Uganda Women Lawyers Association (FIDA), the University Women Association, embarked on a comprehensive educational exercise for women on the constitution-making process.

This exercise was done to complement the efforts of the Commission and indeed it achieved tremendous results. The Ministry, through a brainstorming workshop of women leaders drawn evenly from the whole country, cutting across all shades of opinion, was able to develop a simple manual that was used to educate the women. A course for training of trainers was conducted to produce a team of trainers which was used by the Ministry to educate the w

omen. The Ministry also produced other simplified pamphlets which were translated into different local languages and were distributed all over the country. To facilitate the publicity of the Minister's programme, with the assistance of Action for Development, a team of media personnel was identified and trained in the exercise. This team was used to publicise and highlight women's concerns in newspapers, radio and Uganda Television.

Survey conducted by ACFODE

Prior to the Ministry's exercise, with the funding from DANIDA, ACFODE conducted a preliminary survey whose findings enabled the Ministry to decide on the proper content of the education exercise and the proper methodology to employ for putting effectively the message across to the women, the biggest percentage of which is illiterate. The topics covered in these seminars were: - What is a Constitution and why does Uganda need one; - What are the major constitutional issues Uganda should focus their attention on when discussing the Constitution; - The status and position of women under the Constitution; and - Women's Legal Rights.

It is gratifying to note that all these seminars were a success and yielded quite a lot of interesting views and concerns that were later used by the Ministry to submit a comprehensive memorandum to the Commission as one voice from the women of Uganda.

It is important to note that while the Ministry went on with the exercise, the women NGOs were not idle either. Many of them organised seminars for their members and invited Commissioners to address them on constitutional issues. As a result, quite a number of women NGOs, notably ACFODE, FIDA, Muslim Women, and the women RC submitted memoranda containing their proposals to the Uganda Constitutional Commission.

In many of their submissions, women stated their great hope that the new Constitution would indeed be their liberation. As I have already said, many believed that the new Constitution could solve most of, if not all, their problems. The women issues received an overwhelming support of views from submissions at every level, and every major group and institution in Uganda.

Every memorandum that was submitted to the Commission contained proposals on the rights and concerns of women.


I wish to say that women participated in the Constitution-making exercise in Uganda to a satisfactory level. It is gratifying to note that the draft constitution contains specific articles for the protection and promotion of women's interests. I am also happy to say that by the virtue of the Constituent Assembly Act, quite a number of women will be in the Constituent Assembly to discuss and pass the Draft Constitution.

However, a lot remains to be done to ensure that these provisions are not only effectively defended so as to find their way in the final national Constitution but also to ensure that they are implemented. Women have to work hard to ensure that once the Constitution is passed, all discriminatory and inadequate laws are reformed in order to bring them into conformity with the provisions of the new Constitution. This is a very big challenge but I am confident the women of Uganda will meet it.

In the above article, Mrs. Matembe gives her assessment of women's participation prior to the Constituent Assembly elections. Now that elections are over the challenge remains to both male and female CA delegates to see that what has been achieved is not reversed She has also been elected delegate to the CA.

       Women trounce men in Constituent Assembly elections
By Sheila Kawamara, reprinted from ARISE, the magazine of AFCODE,
Women parliamentarians have been ridiculed by their colleagues that they were smuggled into the National Resistance Council by President Yoweri Museveni. This time they have competed on levelled ground and proved that they could still make it without favours.

"As NRM cleans plate in west, Engineer Byanyima shocked Ntimba, and `flees' wild fans Lira deserted as UPC' s Mrs Ogwal scores." Those were the glaring headlines on a Kampala biweekly, The Monitor Newspaper; which came out following March 28, Constituent Assembly elections. Bravo to the women who bore the ridicule of criticism to the effect that they had been smuggled into the National Resistance Council (NRC) by President Yoweri Museveni in 1989. When the CA elections came up, the majority of women felt that enough is enough. "We have to show the men that we can compete with them on levelled ground and beat them in the game of politics which they have monopolised for so long", one of the women candidates had said when declaring her intentions to stand.

Sure, the women were to give the men the black nose they deserved. This was clearly evident in the press reports that came out after the men had accepted that at last they cannot afford to ignore women.

For the first time almost in Uganda's history women made news on the front pages of virtually all Uganda's newspapers. Engineer Winnie Byanyima who was standing against six men and one woman in Mbarara Municipality emerged winner of the race. She is said to have set Mbarara town in South Western Uganda ablaze "with excitement by claiming overwhelming victory in the hotly contested Mbarara Municipality eight person race".

Byanyima's supporters went wild with joy, drumming singing, ululating and hooting. But she is of the women who had got the toughest time during the campaigns. Not only was her personality attacked, but she was also questioned as to why she had taken so long to get married. Had it been these days when women lacked empowerment, Winnie as she is fondly called by her supporters would have shied out of the CA race. However she stood on her ground and told her opponents who were behind such talk that in any African culture, women have never had the right to propose marriage to men. The trick worked and Winnie gained more votes out of her opponents' harassment.

The Uganda People's Congress (UPC) strong woman, Mrs. Cecilia Ogwal who contested in Lira Municipality, did not have an easier time either. The press was all over her. Her name had to be tarnished and to make matters worse. Ogwal had all along been critical of government. She therefore had two odds against her. By nature she was a woman and then according to society' s norms she was a government critic. But thanks to the gods safeguarding women's interests, she also emerged the best.

Ogwal or Maama Cecilia as she is called by her party supporters was contesting against five men. In the press it was reported that while the people in Lira enjoyed the money given by her opponents, the electorate ,chose their person in a contest that swept UPC troublesome and combative woman Cissy into the CA''.

When it comes to describing combative women, it was not only Cecilia and Winnie. There were 29 others who equally gave men sleepless nights throughout the CA campaigns. Out of the 31, nine women miserably beat up their male opponents, compared to the two women in the 1989 parliamentary elections.

Among the women two Ministers were elected again, now not to sit in Uganda's legislature but to debate and promulgate the new national constitution.

The Minister of Women in Development, Culture and Youth, Dr. Specioza Kazibwe Wandira, who stood and won the women's NRC seat in Kampala in 1989 went back to her roots and challenged the men in Kigulu South, Iganga District.

Her colleague in cabinet, Mrs Victoria Sekitoleko, Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, trounced five men in Butembe county in Jinja District. She was directly elected to the NRC in 1989.

Both women had been attacked for having married men outside their own tribes. But sure enough they knew how to go over such hurdles. The trick that played the game was to be honest and not to lose their tempers. Other women who emerged triumphant were a newcomer on the scene in Uganda's politics, Dr. Sophie Musana, Buikwe North, Mukono District, a senior official at the National Resistance Movement (NRM) secretariat, Hajat Janet Mukwaya, Mukono South, a member of the NRC directly elected in the 1989 election, Mrs Rhoda Kalema Nsibirwa, for Kiboga county, Kiboga District, and Dr. Maria Veronica Nakyanzi, Ntenjeru south, Mukono District.

The remaining 23 women who were not favoured this time took the defeat honourably. They participated in the race, saw the tactics used and they will be more organised for the general elections scheduled next year.

As one Ugandan writer described the CA campaigns, it was ,a political game of numbers''. She went on to say that ,to stand against six men, even if they are intellectually and politically inferior, a woman will have to be ten times more politically shrewd, if she is to break the vicious cycle." In this case, women delegates to the CA, were not only shrewd but also brilliant to have mastered the tactics of their male counterparts so as to outwit them in their long monopolised game. It has taken Ugandan women only eight years to assume their rightful place in the country's politics.

This article comes from HRNet.  For more information, please write to
Debra Guzman at 
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## date       : 07.11.94

Message-Id: <>
Date:  Thu, 10 Nov 1994 15:34:08 -0800
From: "Arthur R. McGee" 
Subject: Spirits in High Gear as Uganda Prepares for a New Constitution

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar
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