Uganda, with a population of about thirty-two million in 2011, is a complex country of more than fifty main ethnic groups, divided on regional, religious, economic, and ethnic lines. Uganda became independent from British rule in 1962 under a compromise constitution negotiated between the British and key elite leaders; a mix of federal, semifederal, and unitary constitutional features contributed to constitutional crises and conflict. New constitutions were imposed in 1966 and 1967, with the leaders of major groups excluded and no popular participation. After Idi Amin’s military coup in 1971, fourteen years of internal conflict resulted in several hundred thousand deaths.
After a four-year insurgency, a new government come to power in 1986 and established a Ministry of Constitutional Affairs to develop a participatory constitution-making process. In 1988 a law established the twenty-one-member Uganda Constitutional Commission, with a mandate to develop a new draft constitution. The UCC was to “involve the people of Uganda” in deciding on the constitution, work toward a “national consensus” on constitutional issues, “seek the views of the general public,” and “stimulate public discussion and awareness of constitutional issues.”
The UCC did its work in five main stages. First, in 1989 it developed an agenda of constitutional issues by consulting widely, holding or attending about 140 seminars all over the country attended by almost seventy thousand people. This process identified twenty-nine main constitutional topics and many lesser issues. Second, in 1990, it developed educational materials on the agenda of issues, including publishing copies of past constitutions, preparing a 111-page book called Guidelines on Constitutional Issues, a pamphlet containing 253 “guiding questions,” a pamphlet on how to make written submissions, and educational posters. Commissioners divided into teams to present the educational materials at seminars held in all of Uganda’s 890 subcounties. Third, in 1991, it focused on receiving the views of the people in the form of written submissions and oral presentations, with commissioners again holding public meetings across the country to receive views (to assure the people that their views would not be tampered with after being submitted). Fourth, from late 1991 to early 1992, the commission analyzed all views received, translating submissions presented in local languages and summarizing what all submissions had to say on each of the twenty-nine agenda issues. In the process, it became clear there was consensus on most issues. A few remained contentious, and statistical analysis of the views was used to help the commission reach its decisions on these. Fifth, in the latter part of 1992, the commission’s final report and a draft constitution were prepared, presented to the government, and edited and published in 1993.
The Uganda Constitutional Commission also prepared an interim report in 1991 on adoption of the new constitution, analysis of the people’s views showing opposition to giving the national legislature those tasks, and favoring a constituent assembly. The government accepted that advice, and in March 1994 elections for a constituent assembly were held. It comprised 214 directly elected constituency members, 39 indirectly elected women’s representatives, and 31 interest-group representatives. Meeting from May 1994, it undertook its work in four main stages.
First, there were two months of general debates, where all members spoke. Second, select committees examined particular parts of the draft constitution. Third, select committee recommendations for amendments were debated. The procedural rules required decisions by consensus, unless a motion supported by more than fifty members required a division. A proposal to amend the draft constitution required the support of at least two-thirds of the members voting on the matter. However, an amendment supported by a majority but not receiving two-thirds of the votes was classified as “contentious,” and if after a recess for public consultation with voters a second vote resulted in the matter still being contentious, a referendum was required to decide the issue. No referendum was needed. Fourth, there were several weeks of consideration of the whole draft to remove inconsistencies and to improve the precision of the language on many issues. On September 22, 1995, the constituent assembly enacted the amended draft constitution. Before promulgation of the enacted draft by the president, he was empowered to call a referendum on any issue in that draft. No such referendum was called for, and the constitution was promulgated on October 8, 1995.