1st May 23:19
Uganda term limits: STICK TO YOUR KNITTING, PRIEST
Though the column below is about Uganda, USTL received a lot of
positive response to it from Canadians, who, it seems, acutely feel
the lack of ministerial term limits. Paul Jacob's "Common Sense"
e-letter may well treat the issue of Canadian term limits in future.
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STICK TO YOUR KNITTING, PRIEST
by Paul Jacob
If a person wanted to be President For Life--like FDR, say--what's the
first institutional restraint he would want to get rid of?
For the first century and a half of our political history, America's
presidents more or less honored the tradition of presidential term
limits established by the first George W. The presidents respected the
principle that this country was not to be a banana republic: that its
government was to be limited to certain spelled-out functions, and
that the democratic institutions which underlay governance were to be
robust in reality, not merely in name.
The Founding Fathers believed that even if the man at the top were
popular enough to get reelected to office in perpetuity, he ought not
do so. They feared the prospect of too much power ac***ulating in the
hands of a single person.
The Founders should have enshrined term limits in the Constitution (as
Thomas Jefferson said at the time). Still, the voluntary tradition
inaugurated by George Washington was remarkably durable--until along
came a president who, in line with his whole program of hugging ever
more power to his bosom in the name of "saving capitalism," also
sundered the tradition of presidential term limits. Fortunately, the
breach was soon sealed via constitutional amendment, at least with
respect to the presidency--saving us, for one thing, from five terms
of Bill Clinton.
What was a century-and-a-half process of fraying at the edges in the
United States might take just a few years in Uganda, if wannabe
president-for-life Yoweri Museveni has his way. In this case, though,
we're not talking about voluntary term limits, but a curb that is
already a part of Uganda's current constitution.
Africa is not the continent where you want to be removing reasonable
restraints on political power.
After the British and the French left Africa in the 1960s, all hell
broke loose in their former colonies. It was hardly the case that the
evils of colonialism were rejected while the virtues of democracy and
freedom were embraced. Instead, the tyrants took over, with many of
the nominally liberated populaces even worse off than they had been
under Western domination. The cults of personality surrounding thugs
like Stalin, Hitler and Mao were now emulated in the cults of
personality surrounding thugs like Ghana's Nkruma, the Congo's
Lumumba, and Uganda's Obote and Amin. Idi Amin, who held sway from
1971 to 1979, slaughtered hundreds of thousands of "his own"
countrymen--basically anyone who looked at him cross-eyed, not
excluding a wife (whose body parts he scrupulously refrigerated).
Yoweri Museveni has ruled Uganda since 1986. He seems to have started
out as rebel, graduated to reformer, then segued to political
monopolist. He's no Idi Amin...but he's no George Washington, either.
In Museveni's Uganda, competing political parties are banned; all
citizens are regarded as belonging to a single party, the so-called
Movement. "I happen to be one of those people who do not believe in
multi-party democracy," as Museveni once put it. On the other hand, he
is also credited with market reforms that have been applauded in the
west. But even if we accede to the notion that Museveni is somehow an
"enlightened" despot, rather than a particularly nasty, cannibalistic
type of despot, that is no excuse for removing term limits on the
presidency as he is now trying to do.
If Africa is not the continent, Uganda is not the country within that
continent which should be making it easier for power-lusters to set up
shop permanently. Even if their present leader is a quasi-okay guy,
Ugandans can't expect Museveni to live for another 100 years. And what
if the next leader is more like Amin than Museveni? In any society
supposedly governed by the rule of law, the principles of governance
must apply without favor. The goal is to promote the common welfare,
not a single career politician's special convenience.
No such considerations burdened the rhetoric of Fox Odoi, the
president's lackey and hatchet man, when he recently attacked Emmanuel
Cardinal Wamala for venturing into the secular realm by voicing his
support of term limits. Odoi told reporters that he has "spent some
time now going through the pronouncements of the holy father--the
pope--and I have failed to get his stand on this subject [of term
limits], so where does the cardinal get his views?"
In other words: stick to your knitting, priest.
Cardinal Wamala has argued that dropping presidential term limits
would increase the risk of dictatorship. (Correct. This is Uganda.)
Odoi doesn't respond but merely belittles the cardinal for opening his
mouth at all. In an opinion piece for the Kampala
Monitor(http://allafrica.com/stories/200311060028.html), there's more
of this from Odoi: "[T]he Roman Catholic Church, in all its divine
teachings has no position on presidential term limits. It does not
even have a position on the papal term limits." Which also means that
it would be wrong for the cardinal to publicly say it looks like rain.
After all, the Farmer's Almanac has not yet been incorporated into
My American readers don't need to be told that politicians should not
be telling church leaders to stop "frolicking in the realm of
politics." But, alas, there is a parallel between Odoi's off-point
denigration of term limits and the off-point denigration of term
limits we get here in the U.S. For rarely, either, do the stateside
critics of term limits directly engage the substantive case for this
reform--i.e., the kind of case regularly presented in my Common Sense
e-letter(http://www.termlimits.org/Press/Common_Sense/), which is read
by all well-informed advocates of term limits in the U.S., Uganda, and
the world over.
Instead, the career politicians and their allies are always muttering,
mantra-like, that "we already have term limits, they're called
elections"--as if no evidence had ever been presented to show that
in***bents enjoy special advantages over challengers and, to boot, are
more likely to be seduced by the trappings of power the longer they're
But the United States isn't some kind of banana republic, where
childish fallacy can win the day. Is it?
Paul Jacob is Senior Fellow at U.S. Term Limits
(http://www.termlimits.org), a Townhall.com member group. This column
is reprinted from Townhall.com. To sign up for Paul Jacob's
thrice-weekly e-letter Common Sense, visit