By Michael Aboneka
Of recent, it has been almost a criminal offence to differ in opinion or oppose a majority line of thought. There has been protracted attacks against individuals simply because they opine differently or have rejected the majority dogma. Uganda is supposedly a democratic State and therefore expected to uphold the freedom of expression while promoting safe and enabling environment for everyone to exercise their rights. The right to dissent which has been lately under attack is by and large an extension of the freedom of conscience, expression, movement, religion, assembly, and association enshrined under Article 29 of the Constitution of Uganda, 1995 and Article 27(8) of the African Charter on democracy, elections and good governance (ACDEG) of which Uganda is a signatory. These legal frameworks enjoins Uganda to protect and promote the freedom of expression, opinion and the press and media.
Often, we have had episodes where those who hold a divergent view from the majority have been demonized, threatened, and called all sorts of names just because of their different opinions about a matter. We cannot, as individuals hold the same view and that for one to dictate that one opinion will forever be right is futile to our democracy. We must not promote a monopoly of views by a certain class of society over others. In a free and democratic state, it is important that all voices are respected regardless of which side they fall; for this is what democracy demands, to respect every opinion and this is what measures the level of growth as a country.
There should never at any one point be a situation where only certain individuals have the monopoly of opinion and that the rest should only follow suit, this is bad for democracy. We should promote the culture of intellectual discourse in this country by allowing dissenting views too; they should not be harassed and victimized for opining differently rather this should generate intellectual debate. If one is raged by my opinion, they too should pen down their opinion in response, that way, we are able to develop the intellectual discourse and democracy of our society.
Article 38 of the Constitutions allows citizens to participate and influence the affairs of government. This does not mean that at every opportunity citizens will only be in agreement with a state policy or practice all the time. For instance, we have asked for street lights on the Kampala Entebbe Expressway and the Northern bypass and other roads butt all in vain.
When citizens do not get feedback from Government for which they sustain through their taxes the painfully pay, then what do the leaders expect them to do? Do we take it that the citizens’ voices are not heard or that they are irrelevant in the spectrum of governance. Those in power should not expect only praises all the time, this does not happen anywhere; for they too must listen to different and dissenting voices too because they matter too. We as a country have had numerous debates such as the increasing commodity prices and the seemingly lack of action by the leaders.
Unfortunately, those who are paid by taxpayers must have been too arrogant and dismissive of any citizens’ voice challenging their inaction or proposing measures to salvage the situation. The dismissive approach by our so-called leaders cannot promote a culture of intellectual discourse in Uganda; we cannot always expect voices in our praise all the time!
Holding a different view in this country has increasingly become difficult and yet it is impractically impossible that all the 48 million Ugandans will always agree on every matter. We need to stop pretending. If we are indeed a free democratic state as we call it, then the practice of the same should be seen! Dissenting views must be respected all the time because that is what democracy is and as long as we don’t respect them, then we are a pretending democracy.
To those who feel we should not have dissenting views, where should those with dissenting views go? How should we live without debate? How should we live with only one opinion? As a country, we need to think critically about these issues because as a citizenry, we shall always speak out our minds, like I am doing in this article and it is always our right to do so and whoever feels disturbed b our opinions, before they procure tear gas or order brutal arrests, they should invest in reading and writing intellectual rebuttals to our opinions-this is
what they call democracy.
Moving forward, each one of us regardless of the power and position they hold must respect our views whether in agreement or in dissent because they are our views and they matter too. Secondly, public participation in all affairs of the state is a right guaranteed under Article 38 and for that reason, there will always be different views pinions different policies and decisions and it is still our right as citizens to challenge any undemocratic and arbitral policies that do not reflect our will and power for the leaders are our servants and must at all times respect our views! We must respect all views everywhere.
Michael Aboneka is a lawyer and partner at Thomas & Michael Advocates| Director: Envirogreen Trust Ltd| Member: International Society of Public Law & World Youth Alliance| Chair Working Group (Regional Integration for Economic Development)-Young African Activists Network (YAAN)
Twitter: @MichaelAboneka |Facebook: Michael Aboneka | LinkedIn: Michael Aboneka |Skype: m.aboneka| Mobile:+256779201692