By Roy Rugumayo.
In the past few weeks, social media has been awash with photos of Ugandans, home and abroad dressed up in “Judge’s” attire ready to commence the “hearing” of a Presidential election petition.
Whereas this portrayal has been hugely debated and counter arguments made for and against it, I want to think it is a start of yet a bigger conversation regarding our judicature.
Recently, I was in the village back in the western district of Bunyangabu. In the neighborhood is a family who lost a father that died intestate sometime ago and they have since been embroiled in court procedures. One thing that always stands out for me whenever it is one of those endless adjourned days is how they all dress up in their Sunday best for court.
The apparent dread for the officers of court and the procedures that are coded in a language alien to them is known to all.
They literally say,
“Nitugarukayo kuhuurra abakuhuuha orujungu”
To mean, “we are going back to hear from those that blow English”.
Other than the language and the post-colonial dress code of the court, there is so much that makes it far away from the reality of the people.
The courts have before been accused of judicial sophistry, judicial obscurantism, judicial avoidance and judicial impertinence.
The lack of adherence to the judicial code of conduct that ensures justice is served and seen to be served continue to alienate the courts and their Officers.
Amidst all that, the courts remained above scrutiny at least to the common people, who even when clerks solicited for bribes so as their “lost files” would be “found”, they still considered the courts sacrosanct.
ENTER STELLA NYANZI
If Bobi wine’s act of withdrawing the presidential election petition is messianic, then it would be correct to call Stella Nyanzi a John the Baptist of the times.
Stella Nyanzi single handedly invited us to look at courts of law as entities we can and should hold accountable.
From calling out magistrates for going late to court, (many people are on months of remand in prison for the officers on their cases always being out of court ), castigating judges who delay judgements, systemic biases where justices are openly inclined towards the prosecution against the defense in criminal matters.
Nyanzi has gone a notch higher to even invite courts of law to treat sexual minority cases more liberally as opposed to their homophobic stand for instance in the case of Mohammed Mutumba and Swabullah Nabukeera of Kayunga. The magistrate in that case had clearly made the public impression that the two were guilty as charged.
Her activism within the court spaces ranging from calling officers of court out, naming and shaming, sitting on the judges’ seat in protest and the nude protest called upon us to touch the courts, to demand for more! She invited us to lose our fear, to touch the court.
It’s on that foundation of judicial activism that Kyagulanyi makes a bigger call to us to take back power and be the ultimate judges in the matter before us.
Nyanzi trained us for that moment and now, we can take on the responsibilities of the citizen and exercise our sovereignty.