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Ugandans Never Asked For Age Limit – Committee Report

MPs on the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee will Monday, December 18th present on the parliament floor their report on Constitutional Amendment Bill Number 2 of 2017, which among others proposes elimination of the age limit on presidential candidates.

In a period of two and a half months, the Legal Affairs Committee chaired by MP Jacob Oboth Oboth took up the task of examining the Raphael Magyezi bill and held a series of consultative interfaces with different individuals, agencies and groups of people.

The committee in its recommendations on Clause 2 of the Bill, suggested removal of the upper cap of the presidential age Limit (75 years) and trimming the lower cap from 35 years to 18.

On the Presidential Age Limit amendment, the committee gathered the views of 3 ministers including Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, 2 MPs, 4 government agencies, 4 political parties, 16 distinguished individuals and 18 other groups.

They concluded that Uganda needed to follow the lead of other countries, developed and undeveloped, including her own neighbors, to remove as much restrictions as possible political leadership positions including the presidency.

These gave dozens of justifications for the change of the constitution, among them the fact that the citizens of Uganda have never backed age restrictions on the presidency, particularly the upper age Limit.

The MPs argued that the country’s first constitution of 1966 never provided age limitations for the President, while the one of 1967 provided only the lower cap of 35 years under its Article 25 (b).

Neither one of the two constitutions, the MPs argue, was formulated after consultations with the general public.

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The age limit position in the 1967 constitution remained applicable until the promulgation of the 1995 constitution.

The 1995 constitution was largely based on the Uganda Constitution Commission chaired by Justice Benjamin Odoki of 1989.

The Odoki Commission for the first time, set out to collect the views of Ugandans from which a new constitution would be promulgated.

The commission conducted seminars in all 870 sub counties of Uganda and collected more than 25,000 submissions.

In the commission report which was put before parliament, it was recommended that a presidential candidate should be at least 40 years old. No maximum age was recommended.

Parliament however, after debating the report in plenary, elected to lower this age limit to 35 years, but also proceeded to impose an upper limit of 75 years.

The Legal Affairs committee in its report says that the imposition of these age restrictions “did not arise from the views of the people.”

“Indeed the first time the age restrictions were imposed, they did so under the 1967 constitution, whose promulgation was not preceded by any consultative process and was imposed overnight by the then  Government of the day,” the MPs argued.

“When the matter of qualification was brought to the people, the people views, as collected by the Odoki Commission prescribed a lower age limit of 40 years without an upper age restriction.

“The upper age restriction of 75 years was imposed on the floor of Parliament and did not arise from views collected from the people of Uganda. One can only speculate that the people of Uganda wanted to retain the unfettered right to choose who leads them, in line with the spirit of Article I of the Constitution.”

This argument by the Legal Affairs Committee however flies in the face of a report released days ago which found that up to 85% of Ugandans do not support the constitutional amendment to remove the presidential age limit.

The study by the Citizens Coalition on Electoral Democracy (CEEDU) and Uganda Governance Monitoring Platform (UGMP) sampled over 50,000 Ugandans in different parts of the country, a huge majority of who favored the status quo.

Other countries

Members concurred with the argument that has been floated by the bill proponents that Article 102(b) discriminates against Ugandan youths and people of older age.

These recommended for the country to follow the “international best practice” which favors inclusive candidacy laws.

The MPs went on to cite a number of International instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the African Youth Charter and the Charter on Elections Democracy and government.

They also listed several counties in the report, including Uganda’s neighbors, which either have no age limit for their presidents, or have just the minimum age cap.

Some of the countries cited include Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, USA, UK, South Africa, Canada and France.

A total of 8 committee members dissented from the findings and recommendations of the rest of the committee and wrote a minority report.

These are NRM’s Monica Amoding, FDC’s Abdul Katuntu, Ibrahim Semujju Nganda, Independents Muhammad Nsereko, Wilfred Niwagaba and Anna Adeke Ebaju, as well as DP’s Mathias Mpuuga and Medard Lubega Sseggona.

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