In late January 2017, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, of the Republic of Uganda, appointed ambassadors, and heads of diplomatic missions, and forwarded the appointees’ names to Parliament for approval, in accordance with Article 122(1) of the Constitution.
Appointee No. 35 was His Highness Gabula William, appointed Ambassador, in charge of Special Duties, in the Office of the President. His Highness Gabula is a traditional leader in Uganda, serving as the King of Busoga Kingdom. His official title, among the Basoga, is Kyabazinga. His appointment was controversial, with some people supporting, and others opposing it. Those against seem to have been the majority or most vocal; because I am reliably informed that he later rejected the appointment.
The reasons, and merits or demerits of the Kyabazinga’s appointment as ambassador, are not my concern, and point of discussion here. Those are largely speculative, and I wouldn’t like to engage in speculation. Rather, my points of interest are legal matters that came up in the debate.
The first, and most important, was a quasi-legal issue on the appointment’s social implication on the status of the Kyabazinga, and pride of Busoga kingdom in general. As required by Article 122(1) of the Constitution, such appointments must be approved by Parliament, which is headed by a Speaker. There is a specific committee of Parliament that vets and approves (or disapproves) presidential appointments. It is called the Appointments Committee, and according to the Rules of Procedure of Parliament, it is chaired by the Speaker of Parliament. In Uganda’s case today, the Speaker is a Musoga lady, Right Honorable Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga. She is a no nonsense, and very independent minded legislator. As far as Busoga society, and kingdom affairs are concerned, culturally speaking, Rt. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga, is a subject of the Kyabazinga, and therefore subordinate to him. Those opposed to the appointment partly based their objection on this, saying that the King cannot appear before his subject, to justify himself, for whatever reason. They even issued threats of a constitutional petition challenging the appointment in courts of law.
Yet Rt. Hon. Kadaga, as Speaker of the Parliament of the Republic of Uganda, is a national leader who therefore, necessarily is superior to cultural leaders, because Uganda is a republic, not a monarchy. Therefore, national leaders take precedence over traditional or cultural leaders. Indeed, Article 98(2) of our Constitution states that, ‘The President shall take precedence over all persons in Uganda, and in descending order, the Vice President, the Speaker and the Chief Justice shall take precedence over all other persons in Uganda.’ Please note that the Constitution says ALL PERSONS, which means that there are no exceptions envisaged here. Therefore, Speaker Kadaga takes precedence over, and is therefore, superior to her traditional leader, His Highness Gabula William. If the Kyabazinga does anything (like accepting a presidential appointment) that requires him to appear before his otherwise cultural subject, he must comply. One cannot eat his cake, and also have it. The law must be followed.
The second issue was on the legality of the appointment. The argument was that according to Article 246(3)(f) of the Constitution, traditional or cultural leaders, like the Kyabazinga, are prohibited from having or exercising ‘… any administrative, legislative or executive powers of Government or local government.’ This argument is correct, because being an ambassador, necessarily entails having or exercising administrative powers of government. I contend that those without any administrative, legislative or executive powers are lower than, and subordinate to, those with them.