As President Yoweri Museveni traverses the country educating citizens on the proposed Land Amendment Bill, 2017, eight national civil society organizations including Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), Centre for Constitutional Governance (CCG) and five others have urged President Yoweri Museveni to stop what they say is “intimidating citizens and the media, saying it is undemocratic.”

The CSOs, including World Voices Uganda (WVU), South Western Institute for Policy and Advocacy (SOWIPA), Guild Presidents’ Forum on Oil Governance (GPFOG), Kanungu Youth Initiative for Environment (KYIE) and the Oil Refinery Residents Association (ORRA) were meeting in Buliisa district where they discussed what they called President Yoweri Museveni’s threats and directives to radio station owners and managers to deny airtime to those opposed to government’s efforts to amend Article 26.

Through the Land Amendment Bill, 1 2017, the government wants to amend the Constitution to avoid the legal requirement for prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation to land owners prior to possession or acquisition in all cases of compulsory land acquisition.

During the radio talk show on Voice of Kigezi on September 4, 2017, the president is alleged to have asked radio station owners to stop giving airtime to those opposed to the amendment. Following the alleged directive, former presidential candidate, Dr. Kiiza Besigye was barred by Mr. Darius Nandinda, the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) of Kabale district from appearing on Voice of Kigezi for a talk show that Dr. Besigye had already paid.

“The President has issued the same threats to all radio talk shows across the country. During their civil society meeting on September 11, 2017, with grave concern, the participants discussed the social, economic and political implications of the President’s undemocratic and unconstitutional actions,” the CSOs say.

The Participants noted that while Ugandans should appreciate the president’s efforts to traverse the country to educate them on land, they should remind him that as the “Fountain of Honour”, he can do better by leaving small talk shows to his ministers, RDCs and other government officials so that he can concentrate on the bigger challenges facing the country.

Furthermore, participants at the meeting noted with disappointment at the huge sums of money the President spends to appear on local radios. They alleged that Museveni has a budget of an estimated Shs700 million for this exercise they say can be done by other junior government officials at a very small cost.

The participants noted that the president is wasting tax payers’ money on unnecessary radio talk shows yet is the same person who put in place a Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters headed by Justice Catherine Bamugemereire to investigate and make recommendations to enable government address land challenges in the country.

“This commission is spending billions of tax payers’ money yet even before the commission completes and makes recommendations for government’s action, the president is already working with his ministers to amend the Constitution,” they said, arguing that government should not gain more powers over private property. They accused Museveni for alleged failure to build strong institutions of governance.

The CSO leaders at the meeting noted that the President is talking about land tribunals to solve land compensation cases when he knows that his own government destroyed the same institutions that were established under the Land Act 1998 as amended. They further pointed out that as a Head of State with more than 100 advisers and 80 Ministers, the president should know very well that you don’t need to amend the Constitution to create a tribunal.

Section 20 of the Land Acquisition Act 1965 already gives government and parliament powers to make a law on the assessment and payment of compensation that can include establishment of land tribunals from the district level to the village level, the leaders noted adding that there is no need to amend the Constitution.

Participants at the meeting also noted that it a shame that in a democratic country like Uganda, government is threatening media houses and opposition to stop talking about land issues.

They noted that it was ironic that the President who has utilised over 25 radio and two TV stations to popularize his land campaign was stopping other Ugandans from using the same mediums! Why does the president want to debate alone, does he own this country? They questioned?

The participants pointed out that if President Museveni is genuine about solving land issues, he should allow diverse debate so that the citizens are able to make their own conclusions.

Furthermore, the groups at the meeting expressed disappointment at how President Museveni is spending a lot of time running all over local radio stations at a time when the country is facing the hardest challenges including people in Bududa being buried by mudslides, killing of over 20 women in Wakiso district.

The CSO leaders also noted that President Museveni is talking about environment conservation yet since 2014, his government has failed to put in place the new National Environmental Act, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations as well as Strategic Environmental Impact (SEA) Regulations. They noted that oil and other developments that highly degrade the environmental are being developed without these laws in place to ensure the environment and communities’ livelihoods are protected.

Lastly, they noted with grave concern at how President Museveni has time to move around local radios threatening the citizens yet for over 30 years, his government has failed to help at least 50 per cent of the citizens get land titles for their land. The participants at the meeting questioned How the president and his government expect this country to attain middle income status when over 80 per cent of the available land is still based on customary practices that emphasise subsistence farming over commercial farming.