Thursday January 23 2014

To our development partners: Leave matters of Parliament to the Speaker

By Beti Olive Kamya

My views on homosexuality notwithstanding, I find our development partners’ response to Parliament’s passing of the anti-Homosexuality Bill revealing and regrettable.

When it was first tabled in the 8th Parliament, President Museveni officially reported to Parliament that he had no problem with the Bill, but that the “Big Boys” of the world had called and threatened Uganda with aid cuts unless it was taken off the Parliamentary Order Paper.

The so-called “advanced democracies”, who preach to us that the principle of separation of powers and independence of the three arms of the State are key tenets of democracy, did not bother to call Speaker Edward Ssekandi, head of the Legislature, but called President Museveni, head of the Executive, another arm of government, because to them, Machiavelli was right, “the end justifies the means”!

For his part, instead of directing the “big boys” to Speaker Ssekandi, who I am sure would have indulged their whims, President Museveni joined their game of willfully undermining the independence of Parliament and took it upon himself to ensure Parliament complied with the “order from above”. Poor Ssekandi did not put up even half a fight!

Enter Speaker Rebecca Kadaga and the Bill is passed. The self-styled custodians of democracy are now bearing pressure on the President not to sign the Bill into law, and instead of ‘reminding’ them that the Parliament of Uganda is independent of the Executive, which he heads and that if they are unhappy with passing of the Bill they should talk to the Speaker, not him, the President is once again taking advantage of the situation to ‘prove’ to his accomplices-in-undermining-Parliament, that only he can be of use to them, by planning to manipulate the NRM caucus into reversing the position they took in Parliament.

I wonder whether NRM Chief Whip Justine Lumumba listens to herself, struggling to justify why the President must not sign the Bill into law, on grounds that the NRM caucus had not discussed it, as if Parliament has to wait for NRM caucus to get their act together.

Uganda’s development partners have poured a lot of money in strengthening Parliament through “capacity building” and “deepening democracy” programmes, all intended to proclaim the independence of Parliament. However, without any qualm, they sidestep the Speaker and discuss parliamentary matters with the President, with the intention of reversing what was passed in Parliament!

In any case, if it is Parliament which passed the Bill, when the Executive had tried to comply with their wishes, why not punish Parliament by cutting its budget and denying them visas, instead of punishing the whole country, including homosexuals and their sympathisers, by cutting aid? It is a clear message to Ugandans – “you will all pay for your anti-homosexuality views”.

The opposition often asked donors to tie aid to governance benchmarks, but they would not, arguing that it is the ordinary Ugandan, not the corrupt bureaucrats, who would suffer, so they kept the dollars flowing, in support of the (mis)governance. For homosexuality, they are threatening to turn off the dollar tap regardless of who will suffer.

Lessons to learn from this and past experiences with donors:-
(i) Our interests are always incidental and subordinate to theirs, we should, therefore, never peg our interests on their aid.

(ii) Meanings and definitions of development partners’ words change with their interests; therefore, we should not cram, parrot-like, everything they tell us.
(iii) Donors are inconsistent so it is at one’s peril to rely on them.
(iv) We must grow our own capacity for development by letting go their aid and accepting to suffer a little – if Cuba did it, Africa can.

Ms Kamya is the president – Uganda Federal Alliance.