Blunt honesty is rare and risky in public life
Posted Thursday, October 31 2013 at 02:00
President John F. Kennedy published Profiles in Courage many years ago with a message that many times decisions were unpopular but required lots of courage to take them. Politicians are rarely in this category of courageous people. By job description, their success is measured by their ability to get elected and re-elected. This past week had a few examples of profiles in courage that should not go without mention.
First was the early week return of Hussein Kyanjo, the Makindye East MP, with an interview in The Observer putting renegade Gen David Sejusa’s recent activities in perspective. There are important aspects of this message, especially at this time. But Sejusa as an individual running for office is a bad choice.
The Sejusa train up to this point has had many willing passengers in the professional opposition. It is somehow supposed to be a “tipping point” to lay bare all the misdeeds of the government and save the country from an impending disaster. The general has done his part in foreign interviews and receiving a retinue of local politicians calling on him and consulting him.
He has also done his part, breathing fire where necessary but in other instances playing the classic Tinyefuza of old. In response to summons by Parliament’s committee on discipline, he initially sought to appear through counsel, and then quickly dispossessed himself of that notion, withdrawing instructions from a group of lawyers who had lined up to represent him. While he chose not to challenge the Speaker’s move to refer him to the committee on discipline, he appears to have acquiesced in its eventual outcome but he has not had the fortitude to resign on his own.
Of course, there are some new angles that have emerged. In response to questions by Parliament, the former CDF and now minister of Internal Affairs, Gen Aronda Nyakairima, has said that even though he was a serving army officer and MP, permission for leave for Sejusa could only be sought from the Speaker in the first instance and then the President. This reasoning seems to have been behind his successor’s position that Sejusa, until the Commander in Chief said otherwise, was in good standing in UPDF.
One wonders why we have a CDF in the first place if some serving soldiers are outside his chain of command, including one curiously representing fellow soldiers in Parliament.
The second politician who seems to have landed in hot water- Deogratias Kiyingi, the Bukomansimbi MP, has been thrown off the bus in his Buganda Caucus. Mr Kiyingi represents a closely contested constituency that switches between the ruling NRM and the Democratic Party. He is married to a former Mengo official and from this angle, could not have been speaking from a position of total ignorance when he resisted a fundraiser requiring MPs from Buganda to contribute to the monumental task of rebuilding the Kasubi Tombs.
In Kiyingi’s opinion, the task of rebuilding the tombs may be beyond the piecemeal efforts to fundraise from every corner in Buganda. For the first time, the public was treated to a figure of Shs20 billion to restore the site to a semblance of the historical site that was destroyed four years ago. This figure alone is equivalent to three times Buganda’s annual budget and represents nearly the entire cash settlement that Mengo negotiated with President Museveni.
Rebuilding Kasubi has other problems as well. The government, after a commission of inquiry headed by retired Justice of Appeal Stephen Engwau, went quiet. The commission’s report may be the first step in establishing liability for what went wrong.
The Kasubi fire was a global event that attracted universal condemnation and outrage and shock at the destruction of an important segment of Uganda’s recent history. Mr Kiyingi had another important point, offering that more qualified overseers like Unesco could bring unique resources to the table.
But from just the numbers, it is very difficult to see how the rebuilding of Kasubi would not benefit from going through “regular” order.
Regular order includes many of the traditional protections of a democratic society, which include openness, public debate and recourse to the public purse.
I don’t think the MP was being dishonest and untruthful when he mentioned fundraising fatigue which, next to bank loans, is responsible for the delicate financial affairs of many MPs. Given that these statements were in a fairly privileged forum (he spoke to no more than nine MPs out of a total caucus membership of 80), they were not meant to insult anyone. Firing him was high handed.
Kyanjo has been on the receiving end for saying many unpopular things and his current medical problems have had a chilling effect on “free speech” generally. By sticking to his promise to serve for only two elected terms, he has set a fairly high standard for those to follow him. Parliament and the nation will miss his voice.
Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and Advocate.