My journalist friend, Baker Batte Lule, loves to say that if by any chance, Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda became speaker of the eleventh parliament, the first item on the floor of parliament would be voting to impeach the newly-elected speaker.
Batte’s proposition is meant to underscore the otherwise obvious fact that with the level of sycophancy and political merchandising in Uganda’s parliament, voting the opposition’s most eloquent legislator as speaker is simply daydreaming.
While I agree that voting Ssemujju as speaker in an NRM-bloated parliament is unthinkable, I want to disagree with Baker Batte on the aftermath of a Ssemujju speakership victory.
If Ssemujju actually ended as speaker on that afternoon, it would not be by some spooky fortune, nor coincidence. But, rather, a major phase in Uganda’s politics. It would mark the arrival of independent mindedness on the part of the NRM legislators. Thus, while impeaching him may not be necessarily impossible, it would be difficult and convoluted.
But is it possible to imagine this phase — of independent mindedness bordering on rebelliousness — among NRM’s legislators with Museveni as their party chairman and president? Unthinkable. And perhaps this is the farthest we can go in wishing Semujju Nganda luck. This is not his parliament. It is NRM’s.
Dear reader, I have not changed my position: Uganda under Museveni needs no parliament. I would be happy with an authority-laden Museveni as long as he worked for the people - even if this were just his people [Bahima, Basiita clanmates and political surrogates] and their grandchildren. In pursuit of political longevity — just longevity —Museveni has so unwittingly benefitted multinationals (banks, telecoms, constructors) and our former colonisers (Indian coffee monopolies, oil and gold miners etc.) as the wananchi only eat at their skins.
I have never stopped wishing African leaders never signed up to democracy, but simply worked to benefit their compatriots. But I digress.
Parliament: if it were not for the oppressive requirements of multiparty politics — through which former colonial masters actually keep us divided as they steal our gold, marine resources and farmlands — there is no need for all those boring dramas we see staged in parliament every day. Doesn’t Museveni get his will all the time?
Why not simply let the man reign? Why pay for noise and theatrics? To be clear, this position of mine goes beyond Museveni: all formerly colonised places, with a small elite and human resource, need no multiparty politics and attendant parliaments. It is simply ‘divide and rule.’
But for being conscripted to a colonial and exploitative international regime of power and control—mostly championed by the IMF and World Bank —we remain trapped and divided in a futile quest for inexistent ideas dubbed democracy, which is itself a practice of pillage.
Democracy remains one of the biggest dupes to ever happen to Africans, as pillage is simply sustained. [See my extended discussion of this convo in an essay, “Democracy as divide and rule” or “Democracy as Imperialism” published in Raope.net, and The Elephant, respectively].
But we have a parliament anyway, and the ongoing conversation in the country concerns the position of speaker. Unlike other readers with major expectations from Uganda’s parliament, mine are really minimal, almost ignorable.
I have no dreams of parliament impeaching big thieves [stealing on official letterheads], or forcing Bank of Uganda to reopen local banks they closed without minutes. I have no expectations of parliament enacting laws that would bring an end to the blatant land grabs in the country, or ending police brutality.
Whether it is Semujju, Oulanyah or Kadaga as speaker, the Ugandan parliament will remain that simple costly mess – of merchants, thieves, and clownish dramatists—where Museveni’s dreams are boringly dramatized before being rubberstamped. So, while thinking about the next speaker, the question for me is this: who works well in that mess?
I do not mean to root for Rebecca Kadaga. But that she has learned to use parliament just the same way Museveni uses the state apparatuses for patronage and dealerships. At least, we know, there is an alternative centre of power — very small.
I know, Kampala’s just-noisy elite is bitter with her on many dubious accounts such as the Covid-19 funds to MPs; assault of the MPs during the Togikwatako campaigns, et cetera. Kadaga’s crimes are many. But that she is herself implicated, or is complicit in the thuggery in Uganda, should not be a concern for anyone. Everyone with a high office in Uganda has been turned into a criminal by the system. Democracies thrive on lies and crime.
But what this woman has done, to the chagrin of super big thieves in her party, is commendable. Kadaga has turned parliament into a space of activism — connecting with the wretched of the earth. Yes, she hasn’t performed to our satisfaction. But these small, incidentally, many moments score her highly in this messy system.
Just a few examples: On the abductions and kidnaps, while Minister Jeje Odongo dilly-dallied, Kadaga asked MPs to compile names of abductees and bring them to the floor.
When NRM so-called “rebel MPs” were dismissed from their party, which meant dismissal from parliament, Kadaga stood with them.
We saw her call out tribally-inspired unequal development, with roads planned for southwestern Uganda being fully-funded (of course on borrowed money) while those elsewhere marked for private-public partnerships (which means, might take centuries to build).
These are small moments of progressive politics but it is the little you can get from our mess—and Kadaga has learned how to create these small moments.
The author is a political theorist based at Makerere University.