At the beginning of last week, Erias Lukwago lost his seat as the Lord Mayor of Kampala following his impeachment by the city council.
This was the culmination of two and a half years of uneasy peace at city hall during which time Lukwago protested the ceremonial role allowed him according to a new law, which created the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA). Under the new law the everyday running of the city was turned over to the KCCA executive director. Jennifer Musisi is the KCCA boss.
The drama inside and outside the council hall will probably be the highlight of the day’s proceedings but what was lost on many people is that the institutions of democracy and governance – the courts, the police, the council, were once again tested. Whether they passed the test only time will tell, the benefits are that whatever happened, happened and will inform processes going into the future.
We may have wondered at minster of the presidency Frank Tumwebaze’s timing of the impeachment process. Our jaws hit the floor at the kamikaze jump of councillor Alan Sewanyana over his colleagues to get to the centre of the hall in the heat of proceedings. We were left aghast at how Lukwago’s lawyer Abdallah Kiwanuka was stripped to within an inch of his underwear and bundled unceremoniously onto a police pick up. We may have been silenced by the near unanimous decision to eject Lukwago 29-to3 with two abstentions and the question of the interim injunction by the high court stopping the impeachment vote lingers.
Lukwago has 21 days from Monday to appeal the decision in the high court.
The government’s critics lament the high handedness of its agents, the perceived sneakiness of the impeachment process and are quick to prophesy doom for this nation in the future as long as the NRM stays in power.
The Government’s supporters on the other hand may go around with smug smiles, engage in congratulatory back slapping and toast to the apparent vanquishing of one of the opposition’s leading lights.
In the zero sum game that is politics, these reactions are unsurprising.
For the rest of us mere mortals it is within our rights to take one side or the other, however if we are to take a step back and look dispassionately at the events that led up to Monday’s circus, we may see a silver lining on this dark cloud.
Democracy cannot be written or copy-and-pasted or imposed on one people or another. The basic freedoms that form the principles of democracy may remain constant but the institutions that underpin the observance of these develop according to the context in which they are situated. So whereas the US and Canada, bordering states, are democracies they are not identical. Similarly France and Germany. Or Sweden and Denmark.
The differences come from their own unique evolutionary political paths, driven by the interaction between various political forces, at varying times and with varying ferocity.
Seen against this light, the events leading up to and surrounding Monday’s events are but a single step in the long march to democracy.
The process can be helped along by Lukwago and his team appealing the process and laying his fate at the feet of the high court and by the government participating in the process, allowing its actions to be examined.
Like it or not a process was set in motion at independence, the turbulent 70s and 80s while not the best of times, have served to colour our view of the democracy we want. So too do events unfolding before our eyes.
Human nature is such that all progress only comes from resolution of disagreements or contradictions. Politicians who are in the business of acquiring power and holding on to it, never relinquish their advantage out of the goodness of their hearts but often through compulsion.
There will be more muscle flexing in future and that is as it should be. We may see movement towards or away from greater democracy but in the greater scheme of things, if it is any consolation to the battered bodies and bruised egos of the contesting politicians, it’s all for the greater good.