Oppose title, cohabitation, marital rape and bride price clauses among others
Ask almost any MP if their constituents support the controversial Marriage and Divorce Bill, and odds are they will say no.
That response was the most striking finding of a snap survey of a section of MPs who have so far consulted with their constituents on the controversial draft legislation.
A survey of lawmakers done by The Observer, shows that the thorny bill, which has split the men and women in Parliament, is facing immense resistance, especially among men, and could be shelved for the umpteenth time.
Bugweri MP Abdu Katuntu, who comes from a hugely Muslim-dominated constituency, is expected to present to fellow MPs, video-footage of one of the meetings he held with his voters, where they roundly rejected the bill.
The lawmakers were sent on a pre-Easter recess by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga to consult with voters about the bill, but like our survey indicates, many have met a hot and fire-spitting electorate, with some constituents asking them to explain why they titled the draft legislation the "Marriage and Divorce Bill."
"In one of the meetings I have had with my people, they have told me that the title is bad enough and they don't want it because for them as Catholics, marriage and divorce don't mix," said Vincent Bamulangaki Ssempijja, the Kalungu East MP.
The Observer's survey sampled lawmakers from the regions of West Nile, North, Eastern, Central and Western - who consulted with constituents.
"My people want us [MPs] to change the title of the bill or bin it. Their argument is that once you go into marriage that is it - no turning back. You only divorce when someone has died. Other than that, the bill has received mixed feelings so far among my people," Ssempijja added.
According to MPs, the bill has caused ripples in the country because it touches one of the most sensitive areas - the family. It has also reignited a historical rivalry between men and women.
Butambala Woman MP Mariam Nalubega told The Observer that her people "don't support the bill" because of what they view as "unpalatable" clauses that deal with cohabitation, marital rape and the refund of bride price. In addition they think the bill's timing is off.
"The law against marriage is not called for because it is not among the pressing issues in the country right now," Nalubega says.
In West Nile, the situation is not any different. Adjumani woman MP Jesca Ababiku says her voters are opposed to the bill because they view it as a "confusing law" meant to distort culture.
"They have refused to understand the bill yet there is a need to make people understand it. We are receiving resistance on the ground," she said.
"There is a likelihood that the law will not pass. The issue of property and cohabitation is real, but the people also say that cultural issues are also real. They don't want the bill at all," Ababiku continued.
"But I have told them that their children are likely to suffer if the law is not passed."
The bill advocates for the sharing of property in case of divorce. But in West Nile, according to Nebbi woman MP, Christine Acayo Cwinya-Ai, the people are asking an embarrassing question: "What property is there to share when we are sleeping on mats?"
"They have even told me that they don't agree with the refund of dowry if the couple has children. And they vehemently argue that dowry should stay, and that gifts should be different from dowry," she said.
Acayo told The Observer that her people strongly believed that lawmakers had no business legalizing cohabitation because "it is a sin" which "is punishable by a fine of a cow for each child you produce during this elopement period."
In the eastern region, the protests are similarly dire, especially on issues to do with cohabitation and marital rape. The bill proposes to make marital rape punishable if proven in court.
Bunyole East MP Emmanuel Lumala Dombo told The Observer that his people "don't support cohabitation" and that they squarely disagree with the bill partly because the media has "misrepresented the facts on some clauses."
Yet according to Amuria woman MP Suzan Ameru, her people have deemed the proposed law as the foundation for the total shake - up of the moral and cultural fibre of society.
"The people say that the bill encourages prostitution, and that it is breaking away from the cultural norms and institutional dogma - say church teachings on marriage," Ameru said.
The bill provides for the legalization of cohabitation which is contrary to the church doctrine on marriage. In the northern region, according to Youth MP Evelyn Anite, young people described the bill as "useless," pushed by "property-hungry women who want to use it to grab their things".
"They also protest the title of the bill suggesting that instead of preaching reconciliation, the authors want divorce. The youth also argue that marital rape is a bedroom issue that courts can't solve because they believe that there is no woman worth her salt who can accuse her husband of marital rape. They say that doing so will be a family scandal not only to the parents but to the children also," she said.
Agago woman MP, Judith Franca, on her part, says that her constituents believe cohabitation, marital rape the refund of bride price should not be legal affairs.
In Karamoja region, the bill has been dismissed as "misplaced" and "dangerous" to their societal values.
"They are against the bill and they have told me that if they hear that I am pro that bill, that will be the end of my political career," said Rose Lilly Akello, the Kaabong woman MP.
"In Karamoja, marriage is not a personal issue. It is a clan issue because all members of the clan contribute to the process of marriage. They cannot accept this bill," she added.
Achia Terence Naco, the Bokora MP, said the people in Karamoja argue that "there are local and cultural mechanisms of solving problems of marriage and that there is no reason for that bill."
Bukooli Central MP Wafula Oguttu posted on his Facebook page that "I have so far spent four days traversing my constituency getting people's views on the controversial Marriage and Divorce Bill (I wonder why divorce). I have covered four sub-counties out of six. I have held on average four barazas of women and men in each sub-county.
At all those barazas of detailed interactions, nowhere has the bill been supported. Everywhere I have been told to return to Parliament and oppose the bill instead of "wasting their time with useless and dangerous bazungu (whites) ideas of rich educated women in Kampala".
In the western region, the lawmakers are expected to begin their consultations this week. Some, like lawmakers from Bushenyi district, are going to do the consultations in groups - jointly visiting every sub-county.
Ethics and Integrity Minister Fr Simon Lokondo at the weekend urged MPs to consult widely with their constituents.
"I have [consulted] already and I am still cautioning all MPs who are prepared not to go back to their constituencies to consult people yet they got facilitation. I will not accept it," he said, adding: "This is unethical. Whoever will not go back to his/her area will be brought to book and I am ready to rise against them, which might cause their recall from parliament," Lukodo told The Observer on Friday.
"MPs are supposed to get a Shs 5m consultation facilitation fee," a source at Parliament told The Observer but Fr Lukodo said: "I don't know how much the MPs were given but I am sure there is facilitation for that work and there were negotiations as far as I know."
However, Kabula MP James Kakooza said: "I don't think I need to go back to consult the people about this bill because I did consult during the eighth Parliament but it's very crucial for the new members."
Additional reporting by Deo Walusimbi
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