The National Resistance Council

The National Resistance Council

Since independence Uganda's governments have been ambivalent about the principle of parliamentary supremacy. Subscribing at first to the British model of government, the 1962 constitution made the prime minister and the cabinet collectively responsible to the parliament. The 1967 constitution provided for a far more powerful executive president while continuing to pay lip service to the principle of parliamentary supremacy. Following Idi Amin's graphic demonstration of the dangers of a chief executive who ignores the rule of law, the Moshi Declaration, which created the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) government in 1979 to replace Amin, put supreme power in its parliament. The 1967 constitution was restored by the UPC when it returned to power in December 1980. In its 1986 proclamation, the NRM government once again placed the supreme authority of government in the NRC, the parliament it had created during the war. But despite its formal importance, the NRC met rarely for the first year of NRM rule and played an insignificant role in directing the government. For example, it did not even debate the budget of May 1986 (although it did debate the August 1986 revision).

At the time the NRM government seized power, the thirty-eight leading cadres in the NRA and the NRM formed the membership of the NRC by virtue of service, not elections. For the first year, they continued to be the only members of the NRC. Meanwhile, applying the principle of broad-based government meant that most senior ministers were appointed from outside the ranks of the NRM. Governance became particularly awkward for two reasons. First, the cabinet, rather than the NRC, was taking most policy initiatives. Second, cabinet members were excluded from the supreme authority of government. The situation was rectified by expanding the NRC in April 1987 to include all ministers and their deputies, enlarging the NRC to more than seventy members. Then as the ranks of ministerial appointments grew in response to negotiations with more opponents of the government, the NRC automatically expanded as well. After that, the NRC met more frequently but often failed to achieve a quorum because so many of its members had official obligations elsewhere. Frustrated by low attendance over the following year, Haji Moses Kigongo, vice chair of the NRM and chair at most of the NRC meetings, warned in May 1988 that he would suspend members who missed three consecutive meetings. The next day only fifteen members showed up, and that session, too, was canceled for lack of a quorum. On occasion the NRC managed to hold meetings with lively debates and passed legislation in many areas, but few Ugandans would have described it as the nerve center of the government.

In February 1989, new legislation recognized the appointments of the original thirty-eight members of the NRC and provided for the enlargement of the NRC through the election and appointment of additional members. Each county and each district would elect one representative (only women could be candidates for district representative). In addition, one or more of the representatives would be elected by municipalities, depending upon the size of their populations. Provision also was made for five representatives elected by a youth organization and three elected by a workers organization. (But the act did not make clear whether the organizations whose members would comprise the electorate would be existing youth and worker organizations or new ones.) The legislation providing for the elections also created thirty new appointed representatives to the NRC, twenty appointed by the president and ten by the NRAC from the ranks of NRA officers.

Thus, in response to widespread criticism that the 1967 constitution had given too much power to the president, the NRM put supreme power entirely in the hands of the new parliament but limited its membership at first to its own trusted followers. The original parliamentary representatives were legitimized by their participation in the guerrilla struggle, not by elections. Though political figures who had not been part of the NRM or NRA during the war were later appointed to the NRC and in 1989 elected to it, the original NRC members continued to occupy a privileged position. They did not have to stand for election to the NRC. In addition, their special status was formalized in February 1989 with the creation of the National Executive Committee (NEC), a standing committee of the NRC, to contain these original members plus one elected member from each district and ten members appointed by the chair of the NRC from among its members. Because the purposes of the NEC were to "determine the policies and political direction" of the NRM and "monitor and oversee the general performance of the Government," it acquired both a formal vanguard role within the NRC and a powerful position to set the political agenda. But in 1990, it remained unclear whether the NEC would exercise this power to press for the implementation of the Ten-Point Program.

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