Back in the day when we were in the early years of primary school, there seemed to be a connection between physical strength and knowledge. Consequently, one’s ability to win an argument depended on the ability to win a fight.
Therefore, whenever you publicly embarrassed a physically strong person by showing that they lacked knowledge, you would get an instant beating.
If the two parties seemed to possess the same physique, an arrangement would be made for the two people to have an after-school fight in the dormitory (for those in the boarding section) or in a lonely bush (for those who were in day school).
The session would be attended by several well-wishers and a referee. When you lost in that fight, it followed that you owed a certain degree of respect to the winner, or else, you would be calling for a re-match.
In several communities, there are still crude, yet socially-conventional mechanisms for cutting arguments short. While others use money to bet, others agree to co-operate in being caned a certain number of strokes if they are proved to be wrong. I must add a caveat that all the social conventions of argumentation described above apply to mostly males.
However, one would hope that the conventions of debating described above apply to children and some less-educated people who have had less exposure to any form of debating or argumentation skills, conventions and etiquette.
At the level of a legislator, one would hope that the rule of clarity, the goal of truth and the principle of clarity should prevail over raising one’s voice over others, standing up when one should be sitting, physically expanding oneself, like a peacock, to look physically bigger and threatening fellow legislators with an “extended debate” (physical aggression) in the corridors of parliament.
What is even nauseating about the recent, ugly and unfortunate physical encounter between legislators Odonga Otto and Anthony Akol is that in a parliament comprised of mostly silent legislators, Otto and Akol happen to be arguably some of the most vocal and experienced debaters.
Additionally, considering that they come from the same nation and supposedly belong to the same political party, one would hope that if pursuit of the truth and the interest of their people are shared interests, the two legislators have several platforms and avenues through which they can always meet and amicably resolve any misunderstandings and miscommunications.
Incidentally, Otto and Akol’s incident is not an isolated one as there have been several others, such as Gen Kahinda Otafiire, General Elly Tumwine and Francis Zaake, among others who have exhibited verbal or physical violence in and around parliament
Apparently, at all leadership levels, the adversarial and aggressive type of proving a point seems to be the preferred approach, whenever money and other benefits are expected, such that the winner of the argument takes it all. In such situations, the motive of debating changes from the pursuit of truth, to pursuit of personal interests.
Unfortunately, the kind of adversarial argumentation - where the opponent is treated as though they are responsible for the deaths of all the ancestors of the other - deprives the nation of several good ideas from the more-calm legislators, especially women, who would prefer a relatively calmer and a relational approach. The result is that those who are represented end up losing since violence rarely leads to any binding and fruitful resolutions.
If the debating culture doesn’t change, it will soon become a partial requirement, for all legislators to have a background in martial arts, especially taekwondo, and other forms of specialized self-defense skills to aid in the extended and off-camera debates that take place in the corridors of parliament.
Nevertheless, all hope is not lost. We have politicians like Prof Ogenga Latigo, General Mugisha Muntu, Norbert Mao, Ofwono Opondo, Ssemujju Nganda and Joel Ssenyonyi who have demonstrated that it is possible to debate while seated next to your opponent, without the opponent fearing the possibility of regaining consciousness while in an intensive care facility.
It is still possible to re-think and change the way we debate. The shift in debate will also need to be taught to schoolchildren in order to change their perceptions about what constitutes ‘opposers’ and ‘proposers.’ Considering that children tend to imitate what adults do, there is need for argumentation modeling and the house of parliament is a great place to start.
The author is a social worker in Alberta-Canada