Since Uganda’s independence, the rule of law began to suffocate, with the judiciary permanently experiencing the erosion of its independence. And thereafter 1986 the situation did not change for the better, to date the situation has deteriorated. Uganda celebrated its 59th independence on the 10th of October 2021, which translates to 59years of suffocated rule of law. However, the rule of law is one concept that is repeatedly sung by almost every Ugandan. One would wonder whether this is a concept that is meant to “only” be written and talked about than being put in practice. The rule of law is a core principle of any functioning democracy. It is closely associated with the doctrine of separation of powers.
The rule of law is not “a rule” in the sense that it binds anyone, rather, it is a collection of ideas and principles propagated in free societies or democracies to guide lawmakers, administrators, judges, and law enforcement agencies. It is a key feature of any democracy and a country’s legal system, and it is the principle that both the government and citizens know the law and are ruled by it. This means that the law applies to everyone, regardless of their position or status. Interestingly, as Ugandan rulers sing of the rule of law, they have again and again exhibited that they are above the law. Ugandan rulers have made most Ugandans believe that the laws apply to everyone but them “the rulers”. They have made it impossible for the ordinary Ugandans to know the law and their rights, to make the laws easy to be understood, findable and enforced.
Principles of the rule of law!
Under the rule of law, citizens cannot be found guilty of an offence that wasn’t law when the alleged “crime” was committed. It is also referred to as retrospective laws. For any Ugandan, at one point in time, a lazy/corrupt police officer has arrested you for breaking a law that was not law before you were arrested. Let us not mention being charged for making a U-turn when driving, and being charged or arrested for selling Nsenene on Uganda airways. Did anyone know there was a law that prohibited such?
Under the rule of law, everyone is innocent until proven guilty where the presumption of innocence is present in a fair and public trial. However, in Uganda’s criminal justice system, it is a norm where many people have ended up in prisons and in most instances dead without being tried in the courts of law. Most recently, suspected “terrorists” were shot dead on a mere presumption that they could have been terrorists by the same rulers who sing the rule of law.
Furthermore, under the rule of law, citizens cannot be punished, or their rights affected unless a court has decided a law has been broken. Interestingly, this is the opposite in Uganda where people’s rights are continuously taken away from them.
Under the rule of law, the government can be challenged about its actions by the media and citizens, and through the courts. This is the complete opposite in Uganda, where a media house or newspapers must report, air, or write about only what the regime has authorised. In the eyes of Uganda’s current rulers, writing this article is a crime, luckily we are able to write, and broadcast in countries where the rule of law is exercised.
Under the rule of law, all citizens are given natural justice. This is also referred to as procedural fairness, which simply means acting fairly in administrative decision making. The rule of law also involves other concepts, such as checks and balances on the use of government power, the independence of the judiciary, the presumption of innocence, access to justice, and the right to a fair trial. The fusion of powers, the interference and erosion has not only been orchestrated by the executive and legislative but also by individuals and other factors like the removal, remuneration of judges and other judicial officers, or interference in the judiciary’s independence by way of bribing judicial officers or judicial officers asking many things. This has created a corrupt atmosphere within the judicial system which endangers the concepts of the rule of law. In a country where for the past 40years, the same ruler has appointed all judges, some of whom are his former personal lawyers, appointed all police commanders, the concept of rule law is a mere beautiful facade.
An important part of the rule of law is reviewing, updating, and removing laws to make sure they are fair and reflect social values. If we are to list unfair laws in Uganda that are fair, the list would be longer than the years the current ruler has stayed in power, and not to mention Uganda’s very suppressing constitution.
For the rule of law to exist, the law should be the sovereign and overall authority. Law should be clear and certain in its content, accessible and predicted for the subject, and the law should be general in its application. There should be an independent judiciary without which the rule of law will be impossible, and finally, in order for the rule of law to be realized, the law must have procedural and ethical content. Unless this is realised, Uganda rulers will continue to sign the rule of law under a dictatorship.
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