By Human Rights lawyer Isaac Ssemakadde
The purpose of an Attorney General (AG) is to be the chief representative of the State, especially in court-related legal matters. This is considered so important that sometimes the person holding the
post is also the Minister of Justice and
Constitutional Affairs. This is laughable because justice and constitutionalism are difficult things to achieve in the colonial contraption known as Uganda, and
especially while under the control of this National Resistance Movement (NRM) government which perpetually boasts of having captured state power
through terrorism, and arguably crimes against humanity, disguised as a popular insurrection led by the National Resistance Army (NRA).
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The claim by the state of Uganda to be a legal, legitimate and law-abiding entity is fraudulent. It was fraudulent from when the state was created by trickery, force and theft in 1894 as the Uganda Protectorate, and became fraudulent again after the death of the attempted hopes of the Independence Constitution in 1967. But that is one thing. The real issue here is the office of the AG because, in it, we see the state’s active claim to legitimacy and lawfulness.
It cannot be gainsaid that the office of the AG is immensely important. As the principal legal representative of the government, the AG is the head of the Bar and automatically becomes Senior Counsel. These titles are a little tedious, and relics of the late-feudal manners of the royal palace courts of England. But coming out of that, there is actually a need to examine if, indeed, we need such an office, banding together many types of power, as derived from its original euro-feudal origins. Why, for example, does the lawyer representing one side in a court case have to defer to the lawyer for
the other side because they are “senior counsel”? And why should the AG be seen also as head of the Bar? How then will other lawyers dispute with such a lawyer in court or at the bar association, when the lawyer heads the association to which all lawyers are answerable. Moreover, the “senior counsel” thing is already hanging over their heads?
The bottom line is that “everyone needs a lawyer”, to paraphrase the human rights guru Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi. Even governments, and the state. The question of “which is which” is what has
basically destroyed the standing of the AG’s office in Ugandan eyes. Is the AG a lawyer for the government of the day, or a lawyer for the state? If what the government is doing is not in the best
interests of the state, and the People who are supposed to be its owners, then where should the AG place their obligation? To help the government, or to protect the state? In 1966/7 two constitutions were written in quick succession and imposed on a cowed population: one overnight and then voted for by a parliament facing guns and Since then, this has really been a
bandit country. For example, the Local Governments Act was amended twice by the end of 1967 to undermine the powers of districts to elect their own chairpersons and transfer that power to the Minister. But to cover up this essentially structural crisis of democracy, Uganda has always had an AG, purporting to be the legal face of a legal state, and law-abiding government.
Dressing a naked state
All governments of Uganda (including the present junta) have had a constitution without constitutionalism. The effect of each of these constitutions has been to rebuild the whole state around the Presidency, just as the whole colonial state was built around the throne of the Imperial British Empire, represented locally by the Governor. Ugandan presidents have been
replacement governors ever since.
An Attorney General is an official appointed by such presidents and working under their
To be continued…