Feature Interview- PWDs in Politics-Luyombo Abbas

Published By UNNGOF |  June 24, 2024

Can you briefly introduce yourself and share your background, particularly your involvement in political or civic activities?

    I am Luyombo Abbas, a lawyer and a person living with visual impairment. I serve as a young justice leader with the Pathfinders for peaceful, just and inclusive societies hosted by the NYU Centre on international cooperation, a member of the Youth Advisory Council of the Mastercard Foundation Uganda, and a Clinical Instructor at public interest law clinic Makerere University, School of law.

    My activity in governance and civic engagement dates back in my days as a student leader at Makerere University as the Guild Prime Minister participating in campaigns aimed at regulating campaign financing, activism in defence of academic freedoms including pursuing court petitions on the same and advocacy on access to affordable and quality education.

    I also worked as a researcher on the state of freedom of expression during the 2021 elections under NETPIL where we submitted various reports on the same. I am currently engaged in research on the legality and prevention of internet shutdowns as we prepare for the next elections.

    How would you assess the current state of Uganda’s rule of law and constitutional framework?

    The current state of rule of law is a total failure and a lost dream. The frequent changes in the constitution have destroyed all the safety valves for democracy and hence we are simply building an autocracy.

    The securitization of all activities is equally worrying. This is manifested through the militarisation of all state entities, restrictions on fundamental civic rights like on assembly expression and association and the unregulated campaign financing is pushing many persons out of national politics. The state of the rule of law and democracy can only be described as comprehensive brokenness.

    In your view, how does the existing constitutional framework and political environment impact the participation of youth, women, and Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in electoral processes? Can you share any personal experiences or observations from your involvement?

    I shall specifically speak about Persons with Disabilities. While the current framework ensures their representation at all levels of leadership, their participation is very minimal at the top. The format used to elect parliamentarians for persons with disabilities disenfranchises many while creating large electoral areas. It looks like the entire country is a constituency and the college system is further limiting to persons with disabilities and hence a need to revise it. Additionally, the means of communication during the campaigns are very segregative. For instance, persons with hearing impairment are never taken care of. It would be great if sign language is recognised and fully used in civic activities by the government entities as a starting point.

    The absence of a law on campaign financing is also pushing the poor youths out of politics. Campaigns are so expensive, unregulated and leaving young people with talent but no money out of leadership. It would be important that such levels of finances are regulated to create a levelled playing ground.

    As a youth leader, and PWD, what specific challenges have you encountered or identified that hinder the participation of youth, women, and PWDs in electoral processes?

    Unregulated campaign financing has led to high levels of commercialisation of politics, leaving out the poor youths and women.

    Digital authoritarianism is yet another challenge. At the time when the online citizens are increasing, it means these spaces must be made freer for expression since they are inclusive for all in terms of activism, organising and expression. However, the threats of internet shutdowns in critical moments and restrictive laws are making such online spaces unsafe and inaccessible for young people and minority groups that need them most.

    If you had the opportunity to serve as the President of Uganda for a month, what key constitutional and legal reforms would you prioritize to improve the country’s electoral democracy?

    Passing laws on campaign financing, restoration of term limits, change in the process of appointing members of the Electoral Commission which include allowing participation of all political parties represented in parliament in their appointment.

    Streamlining the role of security organs in the management of the electoral cycle to stop them from being politically minded, setting up laws and mechanisms that ensure the independence of the judiciary from the point of the appointment of judges because a strong judiciary can safeguard all others rights yet as of now the judiciary is more executive minded.

    Looking ahead to the period after the 2026 elections, what is your vision for Uganda? What changes or developments do you hope to see in the country?

    I do not expect any positive changes. Change is a process that has to be worked for. As of now there is much politicking, no organising or movement building by political parties or even civil societies and the momentum demanding for electoral reforms is very minimal yet such reforms are key in the entire process of change.

    I therefore only expect a larger parliament, bigger cabinet, more subjugation of citizens and self-censorship by the different actors.

    What message would you like to convey to your Area Member of Parliament regarding electoral and constitutional reforms?

    My MP for Nansana Municipality should rise to the occasion and amplify the demand for electoral reforms within and outside parliament, to speak as much as possible about electoral and constitutional reforms for the momentum is very low.

     b) What advice or call to action would you give to your fellow youth, women, and PWDs to encourage their active participation in the political process?

    I would like to remind all such groups that lost rights are not regained by appeals to the conscience of the usurpers but by relentless struggle. They should use all means within their reach to defend their rights, advocate for electoral reforms in their small spaces and use all forms of activism including music, art, online spaces to call for accountability and inclusion in national discourses.

    All of us should remember that we have a generational mandate to execute and so let’s do the little we can for the change we desire in all spheres of life.