AGE LIMIT DE­BATE

JOACHIM BUWEMBO

The East African - - OPINION -

An Oc­to­ge­nar­ian pres­i­dent is ridicu­lous, so is an 18-year-old.

Uganda’s move to re­move the pres­i­den­tial age limit from its Con­sti­tu­tion is a dou­ble-edged sword. For while it seeks to lift the up­per cap of 75 years be­yond which a per­son is no longer el­i­gi­ble to seek elec­tion to the high­est of­fice in the land, it also seeks to re­duce the lower limit from 35 to 18 years old. The movers of the mo­tion would have looked du­bi­ous to ar­gue that an oc­to­ge­nar­ian is fit enough to lead but a 34-year-old isn’t.

The un­der-35s have taken the pro­posed amend­ment very se­ri­ously as they start smelling blood, so to say. Af­ter all, they have the num­bers. No won­der, the most pro­longed clashes over the amend­ment bill were be­tween se­cu­rity forces and the stu­dents of Mak­erere Univer­sity, stretch­ing into two days.

Ours is not a very nu­mer­ate so­ci­ety, so the num­bers don’t seem to add up neatly. The proa­mend­ment peo­ple say, in case a pres­i­dent dies in of­fice, those in the line of suc­ces­sion like the vice pres­i­dent and Speaker of par­lia­ment might ac­cede to of­fice when they are over 75 years old. But this ar­gu­ment is faulty as the 75 year-limit is on con­test­ing, not be­ing pres­i­dent, oth­er­wise the con­test­ing age would have been 70 so that one can­not at­tain 75 years while serv­ing their 5-year term.

But num­bers are not our strong­est point. It has even been re­peat­edly al­leged that the 75 year-limit was fixed in the 1995 Con­sti­tu­tion for the sake of one man, the twice-de­posed first post-in­de­pen­dence pr­sei­dent of Uganda Mil­ton Obote, who was a “youth­ful” 70-year-old then and it was feared he might con­test in the 1996 elec­tion. Since Obote has been dead a decade now, there is no need to keep the 75 year-limit.

But now the pro­posed amend­ment also al­lows 18-year-olds to stand for pres­i­dent as long as they are cit­i­zens with an ed­u­ca­tion qual­i­fi­ca­tion of A level or its equiv­a­lent. With the next pres­i­den­tial elec­tion sched­uled for Fe­bru­ary 2021, any 14 and a half-year-old Ugan­dan can start warm­ing up to run­ning for pres­i­dent. And the threat of such a can­di­date is not just the­o­ret­i­cal. With to­day’s fast paced dig­i­tal in­for­ma­tion con­nec­tions thanks to tech­nol­ogy, such a per­son can mount an ef­fec­tive cam­paign if they have enough am­bi­tion, a smart­phone and about $10 for In­ter­net data per month.

Then they can reach mil­lions of vot­ers daily over the next three and a half years. Co­me­dian Anne Kan­si­ime sold her­self over the In­ter­net. The next Kan­si­ime could be a po­lit­i­cal one. With a dot­ing par­ent will­ing to put a few thou­sand dol­lars into the dig­i­tal cam­paign would be an added ad­van­tage.

For the 2021 elec­tion, a strong pres­i­den­tial con­tender may not need printed posters, or to travel thou­sands of kilo­me­tres to hold ral­lies across the coun­try.

If the 35-75 years age limit in 1995 man­aged to lock out Obote, its re­moval in 2017 could also land us with a petu­lant 18-year-old pres­i­dent still un­der the thumb of their par­ents.

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