Members of Parliament turn to social media for attention

Tuesday February 4 2020


By Nicholas Sengoba

Last week, two Members of Parliament; Aruu County’s Odonga Otto (42) and Kilak North County’s Akol Anthony (46) settled an argument with blows in the lobby of Parliament.

This is not the first time MPs have gone native because of a disagreement. It will also not be the last. The political developments over the last three decades have diminished the space and importance of Parliament and of an MP in the public mind.

First, nearly all components of the basic traditional social safety net, which is mainly stayed on schools and hospitals, have all but been eroded under the watch of the NRM. The MP then became the go-to person for the multitudes of the needy for school fees, hospital bills, the quest for justice when they lost their land to grabbers, etc.

The MP positioned himself to get as much money as possible from Parliament and politics legally and otherwise so as to manage this role effectively. They also needed to keep some for their own survival and enrichment. They borrowed, took bribes, sold property and eventually some went broke.

Now many have come to realise that it is a tall order to replace government and now stay far away from their constituencies to avoid being begged to the bone. Then in Parliament, where in a proper setting of their proper work begins and ends, there are more than 400 MPs. And it is extremely difficult to find space to become a ‘star debater’ and appear in the news and the Hansard as such.

Opposition MPs are in an even worse position because they are outnumbered. It is almost impossible to oppose a government proposal or to sponsor their own and succeed. On the other hand, an MP of the ruling NRM party is bound by ‘collective responsibility,’ which actually reads like the will of the President and the Executive.


Any deviation will consign them to the notorious group of ‘rebel MPs,’ who more often than not, the party will fight out of Parliament in the next election.
We are now faced with a Parliament which is extremely dour and predictable in as far as the direction it takes on the Bills brought before it. Even in the oversight roles, it is rare that there will be any action despite all the earth shaking findings and revelations.

MPs are now left to their own devices in as far as being seen to be relevant is concerned. In this modern age, an MP who has not spoken on the floor of Parliament, can still prove his worth by finding alternate space on social media.

All one needs to do is to engage in drama, which may be some boxing, and shoving or say something outrageous in the precincts of Parliament where one is protected. A certain MP of the East African Legislative Assembly from Uganda has had mileage here using complicated terms when describing simple things.

These sort of things one experiences in the provinces local bars where those seated around pots of local brew are mesmerised and awed by people who spew words crammed from parts of the dictionary and praised as being ‘wise’ and ‘educated.’

Traditional media, which would ordinarilyy never have granted space to such an MP who is playing to the gallery, will then pick him up as a newsmaker in a trending story that has gone viral on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and WhatsApp. Our newsmaker will then take the stand and make all sorts of outrageous remarks that will be shared on social media with his image and sound bites.

Because of the proliferation of the smart phone, the politician’s tribulations and opinion will reach many and gain him some sympathy. In the case of MP Otto, he is now the MP in the minds of the people, who was nearly killed with a slap that consigned him to a hospital bed complete with a drip. His crime was fighting for the land rights of his helpless people in the village.
A medical doctor and former MP Lulume Bayiga commented on radio that Otto would not have needed a drip even if he had been the recipient of two ‘strong’ slaps. He attributed Otto’s situation to the low-cost quest for sympathy on social media.

As 2021 election year approaches, we are most likely to have many more of these dramatic scenes from people vying for elective office. They will strive to be arrested and have their photos on social media behind bars.

Recently, a group from the People Power pressure group appeared, all smiles on social media smartly dressed in their suits, red berets and waving their smart phones alleging they were in prison.

The standard in Uganda jails is to humiliate prisoners by forcing them to remove ties, headgear, shoes, belts and have them seated on the bare dirty floor.

The ‘attempt’ on MP Otto’s life that came in the form of a slap, is just a mere curtain raiser.

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues.