Why it is imperative to expedite the translation of the Constitution

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On the 8th of October 1995, Uganda adopted the current Constitution as the supreme law of the land (which is enshrined in Article 2(1) thereof) after the Constituent Assembly took some reasonable time to formulate it. It has been 21 years since, and the Constitution is one of the most brilliant in the world today with elaborate chapters on issues concerning the citizens.

The National Objective and Directive Principles of State Policy of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda under Objective XXIX is to the effect that the exercise and enjoyment of rights and freedoms is inseparable from the performance of duties and obligations. Accordingly, it shall be the duty of every citizen, among others, to acquaint himself or herself with the provisions of the Constitution and to uphold and defend the Constitution and the law.

In light of the above, citizens ought to be in the know of what they are defending as accentuated by Article 3 of the Constitution. Article 3 (4) of the Constitution bestows upon citizens the right and duty at all times, to defend the Constitution, and, in particular, to resist any person or group of persons seeking to overthrow the established constitutional order. ; and to do all in their power to restore this Constitution after it has been suspended, overthrown, abrogated or amended contrary to its provisions. Unfortunately, not many Ugandans can read and comprehend the language of the law in which the constitution is written and cannot therefore defend the said document. In fact, the language of the law needs to be broken down further to be understood even for those who can read. Statistics indicate that Uganda’s literacy level is 78.4% of the total population of persons 15 years and over, as reported by the CIA World Factbook 2016.

The prudence exhibited by the framers of the 1995 Constitution when they included a duty upon the government to translate the constitution to Ugandan languages is slow to materialise or unyielding. Article 4 of the Constitution mandates Government to translate and also to provide constitutional education in all educational institutions, armed forces training institutions and regularly transmit and publishing programs through the media generally. The seemingly simple tasks such as publishing of the provisions of the constitution are yet to be manifested, as government seems to be busy in other things.

There are hardly any educational institutions in Uganda whose curriculum teach the contents of the constitution to citizens except for those that undertake some legal training. In fact, the first interface with the constitution for most Ugandans who have had the benefit of holding one is from law school or at university. The other lot who have had the chance are individuals who have been in the armed forces training at the gazetted training institutions.

As for the rest of the citizens who may not have had the benefit of experiencing the classroom environment, the presumption is that the spirit of Article 4 of the constitution was meant to provide an alternative, so as to enable them be in the know of their rights and obligations to the state.

The body whose responsibility it is, to translate the Constitution into the several languages is the Uganda Law reform Commission. The said Commission is a Constitutional creature under Article 248, the functions of which are prescribed by Parliament under the Uganda Law Reform Commission Act, and include printing of laws of Uganda, review thereof, and the said translation, among others. The Attorney General is mandated to supervise the Commission, which, notwithstanding, not fully constituted.

On the 23rd of August 2016, the Commission whose members have been recently appointed (now headed by a one Ms. Vastina Rukimirana Nsanze) observed before the Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, (the committee mandated to oversee the Commission on behalf of Parliament) that there were structural challenges that the commission was facing. For instance, out of 81 positions provided in the structure of the secretariat, only 61 are currently filled.

Such issues, coupled with underfunding to the commission have greatly undermined the efforts to have the laws of Uganda translated to the several languages. Over the last three financial years, the commission has suffered financial constraints that hindered its performance. In the financial year 2016/17, the commission received a total of UGX 10,355,535,000/- despite its huge mandate.

Despite these huddles, the commission is reported to have translated the Domestic Violence Act into 8 Ugandan languages including Lusoga, Luganda, Ateso, Alur, Acholi, and Lukhonzo. According to the Commission, these are the areas that face the highest degree of domestic violence in the country, and the translation thereof would help fight the vice I those respective areas.

Deliberate effort has to be undertaken to have the Commission function to its fullest capacity, so as to realise the intended outcome thereof. The translation of the Constitution and other laws to other Ugandan languages, as provided for by the Constitution, would greatly foster the inculcation of patriotism in the citizens. The benefactors thereof would thereafter learn of their obligations to the states, and also their rights that they can enjoy accordingly. In turn, this would facilitate the development of democracy and accountability to the citizens by those in leadership. It is almost enthralling to assert that the keeping of citizens in the dark is a deliberate attempt yet keeping constitutional details from a population that cannot read and write keeps them in the dark and makes them gullible to deceit from the ill-motived politicians.

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