What is the Commonwealth?
The Commonwealth is one of the world’s oldest political association of states that were governed directly or indirectly by Britain. It comprises 53 independent countries from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Pacific.
These countries are regarded as equal and cooperate within a framework of common values and goals which include: the promotion of democracy, human rights, good governance, the rule of law, individual liberty, equality before the law, free trade, multilateralism, and world peace, which are promoted through multilateral projects and meetings, such as the Commonwealth Games, held once every four years.
Membership is based on free and equal voluntary co-operation and currently, membership is not limited to countries historically ruled by Britain. The last two countries to join the Commonwealth - Rwanda and Mozambique - have no historical ties to the British Empire.
How does it relate with parliamentary practice?
There is a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association or CPA, which is an international community of Commonwealth Parliaments and Legislatures working together to deepen the Commonwealth’s commitment to the highest standards of democratic governance.
The CPA links Parliamentarians and Parliamentary staff from over 180 national, state, provincial and territorial Parliaments and Legislatures across the Commonwealth through its network. It is one of the oldest Commonwealth organisations, having been founded with the mission of promoting the advancement of parliamentary democracy by enhancing knowledge and understanding of democratic governance, youth engagement in democracy, gender equality and equal representation. The CPA further helps to identify benchmarks of good governance and to implement the enduring values of the Commonwealth. A gathering of this called the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference or CPC is what Uganda Parliament is hosting.
So what exactly is the CPC?
The CPC or Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference is an annual meeting organised by the CPA since 1961. The conference is a platform for the discussion and analysis of global political issues and developments in the Parliamentary system through conference debates with leading parliamentarians representing Parliaments and Legislatures throughout the commonwealth.
During this same meeting, other branches of the CPA hold concurrent meetings to discuss issues common to them, including Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians, the General Assembly, Executive Committee and the Small Branches Members as well as a meeting of Parliamentary Clerks and Secretaries.
What milestones has Uganda reached in the Commonwealth?
As a country, one of the biggest milestone was perhaps hosting of the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2007, which saw high powered delegations of all 53 member countries gather in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, with the Head of the Commonwealth Queen Elizabeth II of England also in attendance. But besides CHOGM, Uganda has continued to participate and compete in the Commonwealth Games – an international multisport event or an Olympics of sorts for the Commonwealth of Nations, held every four years; a number of Ugandan athletes have won gold medals and picked up other accolades.
What are some of the practices that make Uganda part of this family?
Since gaining independence from Britain in 1962, Uganda has remained part of the Commonwealth family, using a similar democratic system.
Immediately after gaining independence in 1962 till 1966, and later between 1980 and 1985, Uganda adopted and practiced the conventional parliamentary democracy system, modelled against that of Britain.
Uganda also uses English as the official and main language of instruction in the school system and in the administration at both national and local government levels, as well as in public service structures. Again, this is modelled against the English and British system, and by extension a vast majority of the Commonwealth.
In the practice of law, Uganda has a fused legal system, but the English legal system and laws are predominant in the country, as it was a British Protectorate for 68 years. The fused legal system is mainly of English common law and African customary law – provided the latter does not conflict with statutory law. So the statutory law (made by Parliament), common law (made by judicial precedents) doctrines of equity, as well as customary law (derived from customs) are applicable in Ugandan legal system, as stipulated in the Judicature Act.
Evolution of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association
The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) is one of the oldest established organisations in the Commonwealth, founded in 1911.
The CPA is made up of over 180 Branches across nine regions: Africa, Asia, Australia, British Islands and Mediterranean, Canada, Caribbean, Americas and Atlantic, India, Pacific, and South-East Asia.
It brings together members, irrespective of gender, race, religion or culture, united by community of interest, respect for the rule of law and individual rights and freedoms, and by the pursuit of the positive ideals of parliamentary democracy.
The CPA has been the voice of parliamentary democracy across the Commonwealth for more than 10 decades, but since the turn of the millennium, it has also advocated for Parliaments to play a more active role in the development of their countries.
The Association’s 185 Parliaments and their 17,000 Members now want to play an active role in formulating development plans as opposed to simply approving and scrutinising them.
The CPA is recognised by the Commonwealth Heads of Government and intergovernmental agencies as an organisation which actually does strengthen good parliamentary governance and contributes tangibly to the development of all Commonwealth people.
Coming together in the CPA, Commonwealth Members of Parliament constitute an invaluable resource as they apply to the resolution of issues the expertise of every profession in society, the experiences of countries and stages of development and the diverse practices of national, state, provincial and territorial Parliaments.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Head of the Commonwealth, is the CPA patron, while President Yoweri Museveni is the Vice-Patron.
Rebecca Kadaga, who is also the Speaker and Kamuli Woman Member of Parliament in Uganda is the CPA President Designate (2018-2019).
When is the CPC happening in Uganda?
Uganda will host the 64th CPC in Kampala, from the September 22-29. The conference shall be hosted by the CPA Uganda Branch and the Parliament of Uganda. Speaker of Uganda Parliament Rebecca Kadaga, hosts the conference as the CPA President Designate (2018-2019). The conference, themed: “Adaption, Engagement and Evolution of Parliaments in a Rapidly Changing Commonwealth” will be held at Speke Resort Munyonyo.
This is the second time that Uganda is hosting the CPC, having last hosted one in 1967.
This story is sponsored by the Parliament of Uganda.