Uganda has adopted three constitutions since independence. The first was promulgated in 1962 and attempted a quasi-federal arrangement, granting various degrees of autonomy to different local governments established during the protectorate. Of the four kingdoms it recognized, only Buganda received significant federal powers allowing it to raise its own tax revenues, pass laws on specified subjects, enjoy entrenched protection for land tenure and its local courts, and even control through its local legislature the election of the kingdom's representatives to the national parliament. The other three kingdoms--Ankole, Toro, and Bunyoro--and the district of Busoga became "federal states" with fewer powers. The remaining districts, with the exception of Karamoja, retained sufficient autonomy to elect their own councils and pass laws on specified topics but were otherwise governed directly by the national authorities. Because it was the least developed part of the country, Karamoja became a "special district" under central government control.
Nonfederal districts were permitted to elect constitutional heads, who occupied a position equivalent to that of the kings in Buganda, Bunyoro, Toro, and Ankole. The central government held no power to alter the constitutions or form of government in Buganda or the federal states. This complex distribution of powers increased local competition among districts and thus strengthened the bases of power of local leaders. After four years of independence, a struggle for power among local leaders seriously weakened the position of then Prime Minister Milton Obote. He responded by suspending the 1962 constitution in April 1966.
At the same time and with a show of military force, Obote ordered members of parliament (MPs) to pass the 1966 constitution without debate. Though understood to be merely an interim constitution, it made sweeping changes that removed all federal provisions in favor of a centralized government. Buganda, the three federal states, and the non-federal districts lost their autonomy; Buganda lost its right to elect its MPs indirectly; and the king of Buganda (the kabaka) lost his privileged status. At the national level, the prime minister became an executive president, in place of the preceding ceremonial president. These arrangements strengthened Obote's precarious hold on government while appearing to respect the rule of law. Obote became president in place of the king of Buganda, who had been elected to the position under the 1962 constitution.
A year later, a draft version of the 1967 constitution was introduced in parliament and debated at length. When it was passed three months later, it completed the process of centralization begun the previous year. The 1967 constitution confirmed the president's position as the chief executive. It also continued to sanction multiparty political competition. Each political party had the right to nominate a candidate for president from among its candidates for parliament. Each parliamentary candidate had to declare which candidate for president he or she supported. The elected members of parliament then elected the president. The constitution defined parliament to include members of the National Assembly and the president and made it impossible for MPs to pass a law without the concurrence of the president. The president could also dismiss the National Assembly and legislate by decree in its absence. The 1967 constitution also took the fateful step of abolishing the kings, the kingdoms, and the constitutional heads of the districts. In the case of Buganda, Obote went even further by dividing it into four districts, thus removing official recognition of its cultural unity. Parliament received the authority to change the form of district councils and to allow council members to be appointed rather than elected. The 1967 constitution also empowered the government to employ preventive detention during states of emergency, or as the government deemed necessary.
The 1967 constitution provided for citizenship on the basis of birth in Uganda to a parent (or grandparent) who was a citizen or birth outside Uganda to a father who was a citizen. It also recognized citizenship acquired prior to this constitution, and it gave the right to register for citizenship to women married to Ugandan citizens. According to the 1967 constitution, Ugandan nationals holding dual citizenship who failed to renounce their other citizenship would lose their Ugandan citizenship. The most important purpose of these provisions was to deprive Indians whose applications for Ugandan citizenship had not been approved by 1967, and those who had dual citizenship, of any claim to be Ugandan nationals, and thus it allowed the government to treat them as non-nationals. Citizenship was also the basic criterion for the right to vote, although a voter also had to be twenty-one and a resident in Uganda for six months.
Upon coming to power in January 1986, the NRM government issued a proclamation accepting the authority of the 1967 constitution but suspending portions that granted executive and legislative powers to the president and parliament. Citizenship, most fundamental rights, and government procedures continued on the basis of the 1967 document. With regard to executive and legislative powers, however, the NRM government declared that the National Resistance Council (NRC) "shall have supreme authority of the Government," including the power to pass laws and to choose the national president. Members of the NRC included the chair, representatives of the NRM, and representatives of the NRA. However, the 1986 proclamation noted that the NRC would be increased "from time to time" by adding members from other "political forces" and districts. In addition, the NRC was enjoined "to seek the views of the National Resistance Army Council (NRAC) "on all matters the National Resistance Council considers important." Finally, the proclamation declared the NRM regime an "interim government" to "hold office for a period not exceeding four years."
For the first time in Uganda's history, the national army acquired constitutional standing in the legislative process by virtue of the requirement in the 1986 proclamation that the NRC had to consult the NRAC on any matter the NRC thought important. In 1989 amendments to the original proclamation expanded this principle by declaring that both the NRC and the NRAC "shall participate in the discussion, adoption, and promulgation of the Constitution." These amendments also gave the NRC and NRAC the power to "assemble together and jointly elect or remove the President from office," or "approve a declaration of a state of emergency or insurgency." The effect of the changes in the 1967 constitution created by the 1986 proclamation, and reinforced by the 1989 amendments, was to give the NRM--although only for a four-year period--a monopoly of constitutional authority, even while it brought members of other political forces into the government.
In October 1989, the NRC extended the interim period for five more years until January 1995 in order to allow time to draft, debate, and adopt a permanent constitution, and to complete the political, economic, and rehabilitation programs that had been interrupted by the civil wars in the north and east. Thus, by the end of 1989, the membership of the NRC had been greatly expanded beyond the trusted followers of the NRM and NRA. The government retained the authority to legislate its own program over the objections of any other political forces and extended that authority for an additional five years.
The NRM government had also declared its intention to introduce a new constitution democratically. In November 1988, the NRC passed the Constitutional Commission Act of 1988, which established a body to hear public testimony and draft a new constitution. The government also set guidelines, or minimum requirements, for the commission that included guarantees of fundamental individual rights; separation of the three powers of government, with checks and balances among them; an independent judiciary; a democratic, free, and fair electoral system; and popular accountability. These guidelines conformed to conventional constitutional virtues, though the separation of powers and the imposition of checks and balances represented a change from the notion of parliamentary supremacy in the British Westminster tradition as well as in the original NRM proclamation of 1986.
The guidelines for the constitutional commission did not suggest the creation of a vanguard organization made up of NRM figures who had waged the guerrilla struggle, nor the continuation of a political role for the army. They were also silent on the question of a single or multiparty system. Many Ugandans believed the old political parties would be likely to regain power in a multiparty system. Consequently, they suspected the NRM would need the shelter of a single party, or a ban on all parties, to remain the government after elections were held. Furthermore, the guidelines did not suggest how members of the constitutional commission would eliminate sectarian politics or ensure the achievement of the strategy for an independent self- sustaining economy proposed in the Ten-Point Program. In May 1989, the newly appointed head of the commission announced that it would be two years before the draft was ready to be debated by the Constituent Assembly. The process of hearing public testimony began a few months later.
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