What Uganda needs to do to achieve political stability

Uganda is at a crossroads saddled with many challenges that are tearing the country apart and could lead to civil war. Those in power are blaming the opposition for causing trouble. Those in the opposition argue that government excesses are the root cause. There are two ways of sorting out the problem: fight until one group defeats the other or compromise and every Ugandan has a share in the fruits of independence. The history of England may give us a hint on the way forward.

During the middle ages, European monarchy and nobility engaged in a bitter struggle for power that resulted in absolute monarchy in France and constitutional government in England. In France the monarchy ruined the nobility through war. In England the king and the nobility agreed to share political power. They settled their disputes through compromise rather than head for total victory. King John for a time maintained his authority by using cruel methods with support of mercenaries. However, this method would not survive a serious crisis that erupted in 1214 as a result of financial crisis due to war. Because of the king’s despotism, the barons refused to help him out. In January 1215, taking advantage of his vulnerability, the barons presented the king with a series of demands for reform and end of despotism. With no support from his subjects the king signed the document in June 1215. The petition was written in Latin under the name of Magna Carta. The petition was translated into English and issued as the Great Charter. What were the landmarks in the Charter that could be emulated?

The Great Charter represented a commitment to correct specific abuses of power. The king was required to strictly observe his feudal obligations and the standing laws of the land. The king like his subjects was subject to the law. In short the king’s power was limited. The Great Charter which survived became the symbol of political liberty in England, building the foundation of modern constitutional government. Limitation of the king to levy taxes gave birth to the notion of no taxation without representation. The king was also stopped from using mercenaries.

The Stuart kings tried to reintroduce absolute monarchy and divine right of kings, leading to a civil war and formation of a republic under Cromwell. The republican experiment was unpopular. For the sake of national unity parliament agreed to restore the monarchy. However, before becoming king, Charles II issued a statement promising to observe English liberties. Although there were some power struggles between the king and parliament, the king was allowed to retain his throne until he died rather than engage in another civil war. However, parliament was uneasy when James II became king. Parliament compromised to have him as king even when he had converted to Catholicism which was seen as sell out to the pope and Catholic kings on the continent. It was hoped that his successor would be a Protestant. But when his second wife who was Catholic gave birth to a son, a Catholic succession seemed likely. Parliament was united to challenge the Stuart dynasty.

In 1688 some parliamentary leaders petitioned William of Orange, ruler of Netherlands, and his wife May, James’s Protestant daughter by his first wife to lead a popular revolt in England in the name of traditional liberties. James was abandoned by many in his army and abdicated the throne. This uprising is known as the Glorious Revolution because it was bloodless. The revolution confirmed superiority of parliament (the people) to king. It was understood that parliament that gave the crown to William and Mary, could also take it away from them. From this moment on the king could not reign without the consent of the people. To become joint monarch, William and May accepted the Declaration of Rights (the Bill of Rights 1689) which for the first time codified English liberties. The Bill of Rights became an integral part of the English constitution.

There are four lessons from the English experience that Uganda should take seriously. First, resolving conflicts through compromise rather than war. Second, unity of members of parliament when confronted with a national crisis. Third, superiority of parliament to monarch. Fourth, adherence to the terms of contract.

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