What you need to know:
- For the 20 years she spent in the top leadership of Parliament, former Speaker Rebecca Kadaga was accused by her critics of turning the Legislature into her own estate, but about a year after taking the mace, Derrick Kiyonga writes that Speaker Anita Among is facing similar accusations.
When Jacob Oulanyah ended Ms Rebecca Kadaga’s reign as Speaker in May 2021, Mr Chris Obore, the director of communications and public affairs at Parliament, all of a sudden showed up at the House.
Obore had been appointed to the position in 2015 after seeing off competition from other journalists, but in the intervening years, he fell out with Kadaga, who responded by locking his office.
In 2018, the standoff deteriorated and Ms Jane Kibirige, then Clerk of Parliament, served Obore with a letter informing him of the termination of his contract.
“I know that prior to the decision by the commission to terminate my service, I had never been accorded a right to defend myself before the Parliament Service Commission or any relevant body,” Obore said in a suit he filed at the High Court.
High Court’s Justice Henrietta Wolayo in 2018 intervened by issuing an order stopping Obore’s ouster, but that wasn’t enough to compel Kadaga to allow Parliament’s spokesperson back to office.
That was one of the examples used by Kadaga’s opponents in stifling her efforts to get a third term as a Speaker in 2021.
“Everyone is in fear. All the workers at Parliament fear her [Kadaga]. They fear losing their jobs if they do contrary to what she says,” Aringa South Member of Parliament (MP) Alioni Yorke Odria, who was campaigning for candidate Oulanyah (RIP), said.
After Oulanyah defeated Kadaga – a process that was done under the observant eye of President Museveni – Kira Municipality MP Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, who was among the contestants, made it clear that he wanted Kadaga out because she had “turned Parliament into a personal estate”.
“I wanted to be the Speaker and it hasn’t happened, but I also wanted Kadaga who has personalised it to be out. That has happened,” Ssemujju said, adding that the jury was still out on Oulanyah.
“I seek to meet Oulanyah to tell him that this Parliament can’t be personalised. You can’t institutionalise yourself as a Speaker and become Parliament. If he continues in the footsteps of Kadaga, I will continue to struggle. Parliament must work as an institution. Speakers must not turn themselves into kings or queens. If he conducts himself the same way Kadaga was fighting, he should expect a fight from me, from day one,” he said.
Oulanyah didn’t have time to stamp authority over Parliament since he passed on six months after clinching the position, giving way for Anita Among, his deputy, to take over.
In her defence, Kadaga, now the First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for East African Community (EAC) Affairs, said during her tenure she had been a unifying factor in Parliament, offering the chance to every MP, irrespective of their parties, to contribute.
“Sometimes I get issues with my party [NRM] because they want me to stifle the Opposition, but I tell them I am Speaker for all,” Kadaga said during the speakership campaigns in March 2021 at Speke Resort Munyonyo.
Later, in June this year, Kadaga said a lot of money was spent by people she didn’t name to foil her 2021 speakership bid.
“Because of my persistence and bold fight for Busoga, Shs48b was spent to fight me in the last (speakership) elections, but I managed to get 197 votes,” she said during a reunion with her supporters, campaign teams, coordinators and stakeholders in Kamuli District.
Among’s ambitions, even before Oulanyah passed on, was to become Speaker.
“I want to ask the women leaders not to be intimidated by those who want to bring them down. Please stand firm and I can assure you that I am here for 10 years as Deputy Speaker and 10 as Speaker. We know the people who are doing these things and we are not moved,” said Among, who is also the Bukedea Woman MP.
This was a trajectory that was set when Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi albeit served for five years as Deputy Speaker before becoming Speaker in 2001, replaced Francis Ayume, who later passed on in an accident in 2004.
For 10 years, Ssekandi was the Speaker, and Kadaga, the Kamuli Woman MP, was the Deputy Speaker.
When Ssekandi was appointed vice president in 2011, Kadaga had clinched the speakership which she held on for the next 10 years as Omoro County’s Oulanyah deputised her.
In 2016, Oulanyah wanted the Speaker position, but Kadaga accused him of being impatient, saying he needed to wait for her to serve a second term just as she waited for Ssekandi to serve 10 years before she replaced him as Speaker. This is a line Oulanyah was keen to hold in 2021 when they were battling for speakership with Kadaga before claiming it with 310 votes.
If Among’s plans were to become a Speaker in 2031, they were accelerated when Oulanyah passed on at a hospital in Seattle, the United States of America, in March 2022. When she was Deputy Speaker, Among earned praise from the political Opposition.
“I want to thank you, Madam Speaker, but I also would like to thank you, if you will allow me, for consistently keeping time. There was a time in this Parliament when we were made to wait for the presiding officer for two hours. I want to thank you for not making us wait,” Ssemujju said on the floor of the House in a veiled dig aimed at Kadaga.
One year after becoming the Speaker, Among is facing the same criticism for allegedly turning Parliament into a personal estate.
The subject of ire has been the Opposition MP’s move to stay away from Parliament for weeks, citing the State’s failure to explain the disappearance of Opposition supporters since 2019.
Without citing any laws, Among said MPs have to get formal clearance from her office before missing plenary.
As if that wasn’t enough, Among also ordered that every MP who stays away from plenary will be blocked from attending committees. This sparked accusations of Among taking the Kadaga route.
“Parliament works by resolutions and not directives. The Speaker can only refer members to the disciplinary for investigations if he or she feels serious breaches have occurred,” Ssemujju said.
If Ssemujju wasn’t blunt, John Baptist Nambeshe, the Opposition Chief Whip, was clear.
“Parliament isn’t like someone’s private estate. That one even has the power to deny members their legitimate entitlements. This only happens in Uganda, the banana republic, where a custodian of the rules offends it,” Nambeshe, who is also the Manjiya County MP, said.
Kadaga, during her first stint as Speaker, ran into trouble with courts of law when she suspended then The Observer journalists Sulaiman Kakaire and David Tash Lumu from covering the House over what the Speaker deemed as “inaccurate articles”.
On January 28, 2013, Parliament wrote a letter to The Observer suspending Kakaire and Lumu, citing inaccurate stories that were damaging to the offices and persons of Speaker Kadaga and her Deputy Oulanyah.
The two journalists decided to take the issue to the High Court, saying, among other things, they had been suspended from Parliament without being given the opportunity to be heard, nor had there been any input by the relevant disciplinary committee over the matter.
In response, Kibirige said Parliament was empowered by law to allow or refuse any stranger onto its precincts, a power vested in the Speaker.
She also asserted that the decision to suspend the two journalists did not in any way curtail or impair their constitutional rights since special access to public places is not one of the constitutional guarantees accruing to the press.
Finally, on the right to a fair hearing, Kibirige said the journalists had been given a fair hearing prior to their suspension having been duly notified of their eminent suspension if they did not retract their “false statements”.
In the ground-breaking judgment, Justice Nyanzi agreed with the journalists and rebuked Parliament.
“The Speaker through the Clerk acted illegally without the input of the disciplinary committee. The Press and Journalism Act Cap provides procedure for any aggrieved person and supersedes guidelines from media coverage of Parliament and the Speaker,” Justice Nyanzi, who has since retired, ruled, adding that that there is no offence under the law for publishing false news and it is a limitation to media freedom.
“…the Clerk and Speaker did not give any rationale for their decision under any law/custody hence making the decision null and void,” the justice ruled.
For Among, her legal troubles started when she was still Deputy Speaker when she presided over a parliamentary session in which Francis Zaake, the Mityana Municipality legislator who belongs to Opposition’s leading political party National Unity Platform (NUP), was censured for firing a tweet she deemed to be offensive.
It all started when Zaake criticised Among on social media for her comments during a plenary session honouring legislators and parliamentary staff who had participated in the East African Legislative Assembly games in Tanzania.
During the plenary, Among said notwithstanding a broken leg sustained following torture by State operatives, the Mityana Municipality legislator had won a gold medal for Parliament in the 100-meter race.
Among’s comments came at a time when Opposition legislators were complaining about the increasing cases of torture perpetrated by security operatives. Among directed the committee to investigate Zaake following a motion by the Bardege-Layibi Division MP, Martin Ojara Mapenduzi, over allegations of abusing Among using his social media handle.
Following a petition lodged by Zaake, the Constitutional Court this year invalidated a parliamentary resolution that dismissed the legislator from his position as a parliamentary commissioner.
In a majority 4-1 decision, the court ruled that Among, who presided over the matter, violated the principles of natural justice by not recusing herself as the complainant.
“The Deputy Speaker [Among] ought to have resolved the question of her interest in the matter as soon as possible in the public interest as it is required by the code of conduct of Members of Parliament in the rules. When she did not do so, she acted in conflict of interest and reflected that she was biased,” Justice Irene Mulyagonja, wrote in the lead judgement.
The court poured salt into the wound when it ruled that Among moved ahead to censure Zaake when there was no quorum and that the resolution had been irregularly added to the order paper.
“The question then remains whether waiting for the Speaker, who was at the time indisposed, to return would have caused the Deputy Speaker of Parliament any prejudice. Definitely not, because the matter had already been investigated by the committee on privileges. Implementation of the recommendations as well as debate on the motion ought to have been postponed until a person who had no personal interest in the matter was available to preside,” said the justices.
Also, under Among’s watchful eye, minister of State for Housing Persis Namuganza was censured after the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Discipline found that she had specifically insulted the leadership of Parliament for instituting an ad hoc committee to investigate her over the Naguru-Nakawa land allocation.
Though the Naguru-Nakawa land scandal was the official reason for her censure, Namuganza, the Bukono County MP, said on the floor of Parliament that the real reason she was facing a censure had everything to do with the marriage between Among and Moses Magogo, the Budiope East MP.
Museveni, who has the authority to replace Namuganza, has since ignored the entire standoff.
When contacted for comment on this story, Parliament’s spokesperson Obore said: “The Speaker has not and will not personalise Parliament, but she has a job to do and decisions to make as a leader which, unfortunately, sometimes doesn’t please everyone.”
“The Opposition issue was about the missing persons and they wanted answers from the Executive, but some of them turned it into a personal crusade against the Speaker which is unfortunate,” he added.