By K. David Mafabi
Those who would be “friends or partners” of Uganda, would do well to remember that our vital affairs shall be decided upon by, first and foremost, by the people of Uganda. Over the very short term, a “friend” could advise, could give their opinion over some matter - and even influence the direction our vital affairs take. But, that would not take ultimate decision-making power away from the people of Uganda, and give it to this “friend or partner”.
The last few days have seen a lot of social media activity amongst our “friends” - with quite a few of their officials busy tweeting away about “human rights” in Uganda. This has hit a crescendo over the arrest of lawyer Nicholas Opiyo. United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy, called for the “immediate release” of Mr. Opiyo, and warned of “consequences for those who are continuing to undermine democracy just three weeks before Uganda’s election”!
U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Natalie Brown has tweeted at least twice in a period of 48 hours - about Mr. Opiyo’s arrest, “Civil Society” Organizations, etc. Mr. Jake Sullivan, widely expected to be National Security Advisor in the incoming Biden Administration, has also weighed in. And it goes on.
I am very sure that my Compatriot Nicholas Opiyo is well. His lawyers, led by my friend the highly respected Daudi Mpanga, have had access to him. I am also very sure that due processes of law are underway regarding his arrest and the charges he is faced with. The “friends” of Uganda from across the Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea who have been particularly concerned about Mr. Opiyo, must wait for the due process to run its full course - along with the rest of us.
That said, Mr. Taby’s comment (it’s very casual delivery on Twitter aside) is perplexing - linking the arrest and charging of Mr. Opiyo with “undermining of democracy” and our elections! Assistant Secretary Taby and the others must explain to us this otherwise tenuous or flimsy linking! Why are they particularly irked by the Uganda Police investigation of the $340,000 grant received by Mr. Opiyo’s Chapter Four from the American Jewish World Service (AJWS)? If the charge is fundamentally flawed, it will be inevitably dropped. If it is faulty, it will be amended…
Is the flurry of condemnation around the arrest of Mr. Opiyo also linked to the earlier flurry of condemnation of Uganda over the last month on Capitol Hill in Washington? How can we avoid making the connection when, for example, the LGBTQ question features (directly or indirectly) in both flurries of activity?
A flashback on the LGBTQ angle becomes necessary. On 9th August 2016 Robert Banks, President and CEO of AJWS condemned the Government of Uganda and the Uganda Police Force - because the Police had on 4th August 2016 broken up an LGBTQ parade at a nightclub in Kampala. Mr. Banks declared in his 9th August 2016 statement, “We join with Chapter Four, which called on the Ugandan government ‘to immediately and publicly condemn this raid and call on the government to take swift disciplinary action against those responsible for these gross violations of rights and freedoms,’”
“And we echo the words of Nicholas Opiyo, a human rights lawyer and Executive Director of Chapter Four Uganda, who said, “We strongly condemn these violations of Ugandans’ rights to peaceful association and assembly…These brutal actions by police are unacceptable and must face the full force of Ugandan law.’”
What is clear at this point is that: AJWS is an important funder of the activities of Mr. Opiyo’s Chapter Four; AJWS and Chapter Four have worked together for some years; AJWS and Chapter Four agree on a number of areas - including the protection of LGBTQ people; AJWS is also a very important and influential lobby group in Washington …
To return to Mr. Taby, and the others. They owe us a clear explanation - without which they're singling out of Mr. Opiyo becomes suspect. In the meantime, the Uganda Police will continue its investigations.
While our “friends” are sorting out themselves, they must also take time off to watch a video message recorded on the 22nd December 2020 by the 45th President of the United States of America, Donald John Trump. President Trump is unequivocal in his conclusion: “We won this election by a magnificent landslide, and the people of the United States know it. All over they're demonstrating, they're angry, they're fearful. We cannot allow a completely fraudulent election to stand”.
We have attached a 4-minute video excerpt from President Trump’s video message for ease of reference. After Assistant Secretary Taby and the others decide whether they agree or disagree with their President on the quality of the recent US election, we shall return to the discussion on democracy and elections in Uganda.
Beyond the arrest of Mr. Opio, our pseudo-liberalist political class and intelligentsia and their liberalist mentors outside Africa, have clear and serious philosophical challenges to deal with regarding “human rights”.
First, while most of the schools on “human rights” appear to agree on the concept of indivisibility of rights, there are clear differences on the emphasis of particular rights, or groups of rights. The rights are normally split into civil and political rights on the one hand, and economic, social and cultural rights on the other.
The tendency outside Africa (especially in the advanced capitalist countries) has been to give prominence to civil and political rights - at the expense of economic and social rights such as the right to work, to education, health and housing. Transformational leaders in then emergent and fragile polities like Singapore and Malaysia, disagreed with this approach. Former Prime Ministers Lee Kuan Yew, and Mahathir bin Mohamad argued in the 1990s that Asian values included a strong sense of loyalty and the foregoing of personal freedoms for the sake of social stability and prosperity.
Second, the “generation approach” of Karel Vasak is worth noting in this conversation. The postulation is that there are three generations of human rights: “first-generation civil and political rights (right to life and political participation), second-generation economic, social and cultural rights (right to subsistence) and third-generation solidarity rights (right to peace, right to clean environment)”.
The generation approach would appear to be at odds with the indivisibility of rights approach. It implies that some rights can exist without others. Many human rights experts agree that prioritization of rights is a necessity.
Third, we also have the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHR). It is extremely important. It is an international human rights instrument intended to promote and protect human rights and basic freedoms in the African continent. It emerged under the decision and resolution of the Organisation of African Unity (today the African Union), at its 1979 Assembly of Heads of State and Government and came into effect on 21st October 1986.
Apart from recognizing individual rights, the ACHR emphasizes collective or group rights, or peoples' rights and third-generation human rights. The Charter recognizes group rights to a degree not matched by human rights instruments outside Africa. It awards “the family protection by the state (Article 18), while ‘peoples’ have the right to equality (Article 19), the right to self-determination (Article 20), to freely dispose of their wealth and natural resources (Article 21), the right to development (Article 22), the right to peace and security (Article 23) and "a generally satisfactory environment’ (Article 24)”.
In another fundamental departure from most international human rights instruments, the ACHR conforms to the general dictum that for every right, there is a corresponding duty. There are no rights without duties. Examples of such duties are contained in Article 29 of the ACHR. The duty to preserve the harmonious development of the family; To serve the national community by placing both physical and intellectual abilities at its service; Not to compromise the security of the State; To preserve and strengthen social and national solidarity; To preserve and strengthen national independence and the territorial integrity of one's country and to contribute to its defence; Etc …
Fourth, is the universalism versus relativism of human rights, debate. We shall flag only the question of “non-derogable human rights”. These are, according to international conventions: the right to life; the right to be free from slavery; the right to be free from torture; the right to be free from retroactive application of penal laws.
The UN recognizes that human rights, can be limited or even pushed aside during times of national emergency - except for the non-derogable rights. The qualification is that “the emergency must be actual, affect the whole population and the threat must be to the very existence of the nation. The declaration of emergency must also be a last resort and a temporary measure”.
We invite our “friends” to take a more responsible, wider and deeper view of “human rights”. In the case of Uganda, apart from subsidiary law, they must take a closer look at our Constitution - including the National Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy.
K. David Mafabi,
Senior Presidential Advisor/Special Duties,