“The rule of law” can be meaningless, even dangerous, without the constraints or the requirements of justice, says Uganda opposition leader Kizza Besigye.
Besigye was over the weekend addressing Ugandans living in North America at a New York convention where he delivered a lecture on “Free and Fair Elections and the Rule of Law”.
“You can have oppressive laws and you can have undemocratic laws,” Besigye said, citing Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa.
“The rule of law alone, in itself, is not sufficient in a democratic society,” he noted, adding, “The rule of law, to be beneficial and enlightened, must be undergirded by justice. That is, the rule of law must be morally defensible.”
According to him, there cannot be rule of law without democracy and democracy means that the people are the masters–that a community of citizens and not a community of subjects.
Besigye said the will of the people can only be expressed through regularly scheduled free and fair elections.
“So democracy means, in brief, rule by the electorate through universal suffrage expressed through regularly scheduled free and fair elections. That is also the definition of citizenship: the people as the electorates.”
For elections are the instruments through which the people—not acting as a mob—exercise their power and will, he observed.
“Where there are no free and fair elections—the process by which the government is held accountable—there can be no citizenship, and there can be no democracy.”
Besigye said Uganda has not had genuinely free and fair elections since 1963 hence citizens cannot hold accountable.
He said the rule of law, on the other hand, must be based on rules made in a democratic society by citizens who exercise their rights of citizenship through governments that are elected through free and fair election based on universal suffrage.
“For without these freedoms—freedom of speech, of assembly, and religion—you cannot have free and fair elections or a free society. Without these freedoms you cannot have a government that is accountable to the electorate.”
He said the rule of law, therefore, must be firmly based on the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion—the pillars and foundations of a free, democratic society. They are also the foundations of citizenship.
“Without citizenship you cannot have the rule of law—understood as laws based on substantive justice.”
The problem of democracy in Africa
Besigye said the problem of democracy in Africa is the problem of elite politics divorced from the masses.
Effectively, in Africa, it often is the rule by minority—family, ethnic, racial, religious, or a criminal syndicate, that has monopoly of coercive forces.
“In Africa, the state has been the master, and the people have been the servants. Instead of citizens, we have subjects. Instead of accountability of government, we have a predatory and parasitic government.”
He continued: “The people of Africa have, for the most part, remained supplicants to their governments. The strong man owns the country. The resources of the country are his own. “My army”;” my oil.””
The struggle in Africa is the struggle to reclaim citizenship and, therefore, to develop and enshrine the rule of law, Besigye continued.
He said the colonial powers saw Africans merely as subjects and the African elites have continued that racist ideology of treating Africans as subjects and not citizens.
“Let there be no doubt that no one can credibly claim to be a pan-Africanist or a defender of the African people who does not defend the right of every African to citizenship. Please allow me to redefine pan-Africanism.”
Pan-Africanism is an ideology which insists that every African is a citizen with indefeasible rights, which must include the rights to free and free and fair elections through universal suffrage, and the freedom of speech, assembly and religion which make possible the rights to free and fair elections.
“Let no African dictator claim, therefore, to be a Pan-Africanist. Our struggle in Uganda has been singular. How to restore the citizenship of our people. That is my only commitment in politics: to finish the struggle for the African liberation. To allow every African to be a citizenship.”
Besigye said his campaign of defiance in Uganda—is to complete the vision of Kwame Nkrumah and Patrice Lumumba and Steve Biko.
He cited great heroes of the universal struggle for freedom; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr; Rosa Park; Vaclav Havel; Nelson Mandela; Wangari Maathai; Aung San Suu Kyi who all refused to remain silent.
He said totalitarianism and oppression succeed by enforcing silence.
“They want to silence the victims· They want to silence the people of conscience· They want to silence the witnesses. They want no testimony or evidence against their evils.”
“That is why totalitarian regimes and dictators rule by fear. They want to force the victims to police his or her conscience and remain silence.”
He said dictators oppose freedom of speech and freedom of assembly because they want silence, they muffle the press and the voices of freedom because oppression can only thrive where there is silence.
“They jail their opponents because they want silence. Therefore, I refuse to be silent. The path to serfdom is paved by silence. We must refuse to remain silent in the face of injustice and oppression.”
He cited the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Jomo Kenyatta, Julius Nyerere, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Leopold Senghor, etc who all refused to remain silent.