Democracy: Is Uganda sliding back into the old politics of intolerance?
Posted Monday, January 28 2013 at 02:00
Norway is a country of only five million people and yet it is one of the 25 largest economies in the world.
In the summer of 2012, I visited Norway on a mission organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uganda as part of an exercise related to the review of Uganda’s foreign policy after 50 years of independence.
Norway had also reviewed its foreign policy in 2005 to mark its 100 years of independence from Sweden; and the Norwegian Foreign ministry was more than ready to accord our team all the necessary assistance we required.
In fact, we learnt much more than we had bargained for, delving into areas other than foreign policy. I was particularly impressed by the political decorum that prevailed in this civilised and wealthy country at the northern tip of Europe.
Norway is a country of only five million people and yet it is one of the 25 largest economies in the world. The country is a constitutional monarchy, so real power vests with the Prime Minister; appointed from the party or group of parties with the highest number of seats gained at election. There are now eight political parties in Parliament– four representing the governing side and the four, the opposition.
The ruling parties have a tiny majority among the 169 members of Parliament but this is inconsequential as most of the decisions are reached through consensus and where a vote is taken on major issues, a two –thirds majority is required. It is imperative thus that the governing side reaches out to the opposition and makes the necessary consentions to enable a Bill pass in the House.
Another interesting factor is that all political parties represented in Parliament are funded by the government, in proportion to the number of seats held in parliament. This funding is quite generous and many parties have their own buildings and are able to employ sufficient staff to enable them operate smoothly. If a Member of Parliament is appointed a minister, he/she automatically steps down from the parliamentary seat to which a caretaker MP is appointed for as long as the elected MP remains a minister.
In Norway as in many mature democracies, politics can be civil and civilised. It is not about shouting, confrontation and hatred of the opponents but about selling and marketing alternative programmes and ideas and letting people decide.
Being in opposition does not make one an enemy of government and vice- versa. It is not about tribal affiliations and allegiances. People also do not go into politics to enrich themselves and to pursue permanent careers. On the contrary, many politicians do their public duty for a limited time and quickly revert to other occupations where the pay is better.
The events that have taken place in Uganda in the past few months (and even some time before that) clearly demonstrate that the democratisation process has suffered a tragic setback. The political atmosphere is so charged that already there is talk (by politicians) of the army seizing power from the politicians!
There is acrimony between parties and within parties. There is talk of expunging rebels from the ruling NRM party and changing the Constitution so that they are also thrown out of Parliament simultaneously with party expulsion. There are attempts to ‘merge’ Parliament into the Executive thereby turning Parliament into a mere rubber stamp.
Not only is the ‘house burning’ within NRM, the Opposition parties are not doing any better either. The recent elections in the largest opposition party, the FDC left a lot of unfinished business and continues to cause acrimony within the party. Rigging, which was largely associated to NRM cropped up in the FDC party president election.
Unless Uganda departs from the unprincipled politics of greed, corruption and despotism, the gains made by NRM in early years of its accession to power will soon disappear as the political waters become irreversibly poisoned.
Talking of the army leaving the barracks to capture power in Uganda is actually taking us backwards. Why do politicians want to misuse our army which has so far been exemplary and kept itself out of politics? I highly respect Dr Crispus Kiyonga, the Minister of Defence, but his scare-mongering about the army taking over power is uncalled for.
Mr Naggaga is an economist, administrator and retired ambassador.