Saturday, November 25, 2023

Providing Members of Parliament (MPs) with advise on being wise when picking a fight, will be construed an unwelcome interference, or as Speaker Anita Annet Among likes to say, ‘poking your noses’ in other peoples’ private affairs because you ‘think you know it all’. On 23 January 2023, 348 of 356 MPs present, resoundingly passed a bogus censure resolution against state minister Persis Namuganza over a matter that occurred outside parliament in the futile hope that President Yoweri Museveni would sack her, yet they haven’t learnt eating humble pies. 

When hothead Francis Zzake, MP Mityana Municipality was hauled to the disciplinary committee for allegedly demeaning Rakai woman MP Juliet Suubi Kinyamatama at a public rally in her constituency, many people see wastage of time and money to prove a frivolity. So far looking at the trends in the Abdu Katuntu (Bugweri) led committee, no apologies or retraction will be coming from Zzake, because they could be construed as signs of weakness. But whether silly or serious, name-calling is an established trend in vibrant democratic politics and those with soft egos and thin skin need not enter it. It’s for the brave. In a house where increasingly most MPs are young, first termers and out on mission for celebrity status or make money than legislate, you cannot avoid shenanigans pulling the plug and point guns at their soft-target colleagues. 

In today’s parliament and much of public discourse it is difficult to discern anymore what is serious and what is not compared to 1986-96 when I covered parliament or Constituent Assembly that debated and promulgated the Constitution. Parliament then, was full of adults often retired or grown-up men and women. I do not remember an MP below 35 years except those from the NRA shaped in the foundry of the five-year Luwero bush war. The other only case was Conrad Buzabo from Kyotera who won a seat on sympathy after his father, a Democratic Party MP Bernard Buzabo died in 1985. 

Mathias Mpuuga is leading NUP MPs in staging daily fights mostly for cheap publicity and political vanity, regardless of the outcome just to be seen by the gallery as fighting. Talking to MPs and staff, you get a sense of utter frustration among the few reasonable ones who are there on good purpose. The turnover at each election seems to produce worse replacements because recruiting quality candidates has become harder and more complicated due to the colossal money required, weak party institution and the youth bulge. Today more people seem to seek elective politics after becoming troublemakers to avoid the long arm of the law or become troublemakers to be noticed for elevation.

 Evidently, there is little leadership, vision, or spine as most of the sittings simply pass for a whimper. But where this parliament is at, if at all it passes that description, they, especially the ‘opposition, desperately need some lessons on how to choose a fight if they are still facing the NRM. NRM should work with the Speaker so that they spread to all seats, after all there is no requirement in law that for the validity of business in parliament the ‘opposition’ should be in attendance and participating. The numerous walkouts from the Constituent Assembly by the group of 59 christened “National Caucus for Democracy” (NCD) comprising then intransigent UPC, DP and allies led by Prof. Dani Wadada Nabudere and Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere including refusal to append their signatures to the 1995 constitution should be instructive. 

On her first week of chairing parliament upon return from a brief maternity leave, Nnalongo Anita Among, was stern, warning opposition MPs absconding plenary sittings to think twice otherwise they could lose their seats for being absent for extended period without the Speaker’s authority. Among’s frustration is understandable after the appeasement by Thomas Tayebwa couldn’t persuade the runaways to return. Predictably their response has been a swift no-holds-barrel tongue wagging in the media, and the awaits to see who blinks first. If she implements her threat to expel them, it would not be the end but the first stage of a protracted fight because they will surely petition the courts of law to stop her until matters are resolved in the Supreme Court. One wonders why Among is taking this treacherous route when the case of the foursome NRM ‘rebel’ MPs Theodore Ssekikubo, Barnabas Tinkasimire, Winfred Niwagaba, and Mohammad Nsereko provides lessons. Unless it’s a setup, clearly, Among is trying to chew more than she can swallow.

The option that Among has now directed withdrawing the privileges of committee attendance, foreign travels, conferences and the generous perks that accompany them are more feasible to implement and could force the absconders to capitulate faster. In Uganda’s public discourse, it is easier to identify problems than finding even the simplest of solutions, more so now, many people including MPs like to be celebrities while the hardworking remain almost obscure. Well, in real life you win and lose fights but unfortunately, most opposition MPs have the impudence of an entitled child.