Scrap the Special Interest Groups [opinion]

I am at a risk of infuriating many of my political allies but I will take the chance for the good of our country.

In recent months, several Ugandans have come together at regional and national levels to deliberate the future of our country. Surprisingly, many national leaders shunned these meetings labelling them schemes of disgruntled opposition leaders and civil society activists.

NRM pundits ingenuously branded them ploys to undermine the political powers of President Yoweri Museveni. But from me, as an active participant, these empowering discussions were what our leaders needed to attend to come to terms with the current thinking of their people.

These discussions are what the Swahili would have called the baraza. Baraza means a deliberation held by a collective group of a people of wisdom. From the baraza, leaders got to know what their people were thinking, internalised it, and then reproduced it as their own ideas.

That is how they became great leaders. The ancient Romans and Greeks had the colloquium where scholars and other experts presented, analysed, and discussed specific topics affecting their society.

The baraza system is what endeared Ugandans to Museveni’s resistance councils (RCs) in the 1980s during his bush war. In the RCs, Ugandans would discuss security, community conflicts and even economic affairs. The system was, however, rendered useless by its creators when people began asking tough governance questions.

The RCs were then replaced with the hapless local councils (LCs) that attracted a new breed of Uganda’s opportunistic leaders.

Discussing Uganda’s future at the national conference with minimal reference to Museveni was indicative that Ugandans were politically mature to know that all of us are dispensable mortals. Some opportunistic NRM diehards cannot envisage a Uganda without Museveni but last month’s conference demonstrated that some national issues are beyond an individual.

Among issues discussed was the relevance of having special interest groups representing workers, women, youths, persons with disabilities and the army in our national politics. This political opportunism which was heralded in the 1980s as an innovation of representative leadership is now disparaged as manipulative and exclusive.

Many delegates boldly asserted that Uganda’s politicians represented at most their greed, stomachs and immediate families. When the delegates spoke, they actually represented me and several of my friends who literary do not know any of our elected leaders, despite having voted for them.

Here, I am risking being dismissed as an elite misfit not interested in issues of governance and without a constituency. But that is far from the truth. As part of the elite, if I do not know my elected representatives or have forgotten that they even exist, then these leaders are totally irrelevant. It is definite that even my less-fortunate brothers and sisters do not know or care about their leaders’existence.

The special interest groups in Parliament were translated as a special arsenal for the ruling NRM or, crudely put, for President Museveni. Many delegates cited incidents where Museveni had used these groups to fulfill his agenda of clinging onto power. They cited a case where Museveni defended the tired, sleeping and aging parliamentarians, saying he did “not care about their conduct so long as they woke up just in time to vote for the NRM position”.

Apart from youths and PWDs, who have marginal representation, the rest of the interest groups came under fire. The chairperson of the workers’ union, Wilson Owere, frantically tried to convince the delegates that having workers’ representatives in the national assembly was critical.

As for the army representatives, that was a done deal. No delegate was interested in having the national army in a partisan Parliament since the UPDF was considered a modern and disciplined force under President Museveni.

The third category was the women’s representatives, which I was expected to defend. But no, I concurred with the national delegates that the women as a special interest group should be scrapped out of Parliament and any elective positions. Instead, women should take up their rightful place as Ugandans.

According to the recent national population census, women are the majority and definitely this gives us an edge over men. I supported the stand that for all elective positions, we must have one man and one woman elected per district as the standard constituency.

With such a formula, Parliament and even local government councils would be reduced by almost half. Opportunistic leaders, too, will no longer hide behind the numbers and the archaic excuse of collective responsibility will not hold. It will also be very easy for us to know our leaders and to pluck out the non-performers, hence building a credible governance system for our country.

The author is a human rights activist and former member of EALA.

Source : The Observer

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