How MPs became ‘fathers of the House’

Legislators in the August House during a plenary session. File photo

Kampala- Charles Pelham Villiers sat in the House of Commons for 63 years. He remains one of the renowned longest-serving legislators in the world. He was elected in 1835 to represent Wolverhampton and remained an MP for more than six decades until his death at the age 96.
Between 1835 and1885, Villiers was MP for Wolverhampton Constituency and then from 1885 until his death in 1898 represented Wolverhampton South (Bilston). He was known as the ‘Father of the House of Commons’ from 1890 until his death.

Currently, the “Father of the House”, a well-regarded title that is by tradition bestowed on a senior legislator with the longest unbroken service in the House, is held by Sir Peter Tapsell.

He represents Louth and Horncastle in Lincolnshire. At 83, he is also the longest-serving MP in the mother of all parliaments, having been in the Commons since 1966 and served from 1959 to 1964.

The “Father of the House” also denotes to the opposite title, ‘Baby of the House’- held by the youngest MP.
In Uganda and perhaps in Africa, the reknown “Baby of the House” is the 19-year-old Ms Proscovia Alengot Oromait (NRM, Usuk). She won the seat last year after the death of her father, Michael Oromait, who died in office.

While in Uganda’s legislative hierarchy, “Father of the House” is rarely invoked in recognition of the work of the longest-serving politicians in the House.

However, the “crown” of the existing longest-serving MPs is shared between Bukonzo West MP Crispus Kiyonga (Defence Minister) and Mawogola representative Sam Kutesa (Foreign Affairs).
The two served in the 4th Parliament (1980-85) and have since stayed put and ready to contest again in 2016 polls.

Mr Kutesa, a Democratic Party candidate in the disputed 1980 elections defeated President Museveni, who was the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) candidate then, to take the Mbarara North MP seat.
When the then National Resistance Army took power in 1986, Mr Kutesa, Jim Muhwezi, Kahinda Otafiire, Amama Mbabazi and Mzee Henry Kajura, among others served in the National Resistance Council (NRC) — the 5th Parliament established following the end of the 1981-1985 guerrilla war that brought the current regime into power.
On why he has managed to master the art of elective politics, sweeping every election in Mawokota County to the extent that he has shaped himself into a “political king” of Ssembabule District, Mr Kutesa says: “Ssembabule is part of Buganda Kingdom and we have one king. I only win by keeping close to the people and dealing with their real problems.”

Kutesa and other longest-serving legislators deny claims by civil society activists like Ms Cissy Kagaba, the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda, who told the Daily Monitor that most longest-serving legislators have “mastered the art of rigging elections” and have regrettably “walked away with it” because of impunity.

“Some are populists like Ken Lukyamuzi. They know what appeals to the masses. Others are in touch with their constituents and mastered the art of rigging,” Ms Kagaba says.

She says some opposition legislators, who have been consistent, the value is seen unlike the majority of the longest-serving NRM legislators “who have continued to dance to the tune of the NRM party politics” thus becoming a liability to the taxpayer.

Other MPs who have not lost an election since the 6th Parliament include Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, Syda Bbumba, Peter Lokeris, Emmanuel Dombo, Sam Lyomoki, Elly Tumwine, Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi, Ruth Nankabirwa, among others.

To understand why more than 30 legislators mainly from the NRM party have uninterruptedly made it to Parliament since 6th parliament, Mr Nicholas Opiyo, the secretary general of Uganda Law Society, says the attrition rate for MPs is very high, adding that voter demands are so varied and insatiable that many MPs make promises to win election only to fail to deliver when faced with the brutal realities of the limited role of an MP.
Mr Opiyo says: “rigging has become a part of our electoral processes. The belief that it is only the NRM that rigs is false.”

He also says all parties to an election have been involved in rigging of some sorts and therefore understand the intricacies of vote rigging.

“What is, however, a little complicated is the grand rigging carried out at a system as opposed to poll day rigging process. Macro rigging is much more complicated and only those in the system/electoral system know about well,” he adds.

Prof Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a political historian at Makerere University, concurs with Mr Opio on rigging and on the high turnover in Parliament.
He says 60 per cent of MPs in the 8th Parliament were voted out on account of high expectations from voters some of whom are displaced. He says it is not the duty of an MP to deliver roads, schools, water, medicine, among others services.

“The problem is that there is a perception among the voters that an MP is a development officer,” Prof Ndebesa says.

“Those who have are close to “Mr above” lobby the government and deliver these services to the voters. MPs stay for long not because of their capacity to deliver the goods to the masses but because of the situation that surrounds them.”

According to Prof Ndebesa, some senior legislators understand the political terrain and at times ride on voters’ ignorance to have their way.

“They hoodwink voters by telling them that they are the only ones with a vision. There is also party influence, especially when the NRM party feels that a particular individual should go to Parliament,” the academician says.

In this case, Prof Ndebesa says party finances campaign for that legislator to the detriment of the opponents.”
Asked whether “longevity” is good for democracy, Prof Ndebesa says, competition breeds perfection and that “perpetuity” stifles democracy and fair competition, the key ingredients for political development.

“In a political situation like ours, the more an MP stays in Parliament whether they are delivering services like roads, boreholes, schools or not, he or she can abuse that power to get false support. This is not good for democracy, he says.
Under the current legal regime, an MP by default is entitled to stay in the house for as long as he or she can be elected back.
But are long serving leaders, who have to be knifed to be retired, or even long serving MPs in the best interests of the electorate?

Aswa MP Reagan Okumu, who has been among the MPs who have been in the House since the 6th Parliament, attributes his political feat to what he calls “bitter truth”. “I attribute my stay longer to my ability to offer leadership to the people of Acholi. Our people were the most humiliated, most abused by the government, including my colleagues in Parliament, he says.

However, one of the longest-serving MPs, who preferred anonymity, for fear of offending his colleagues, says majority of the MPs are “immature know-it-all graduates with particular acumen and zero experience of the real word and hence vastly overpaid for whatever it is they actually do, “means that taxpayers get the worst in Parliament”.

According to political analysts, contrary to popular belief that voters are not stupid, they keep a list of demands and make even more outrageous ones.

“An MP’s role is misunderstood by both the voters and the MPs (aspirants as well) ,” Mr Opiyo says.
“This makes the work of an MP nearly unachievable. The MPs who have survived have either built themselves a cult stature because of their own personalities, parties or family background.”


1. Sam Kahamba Kutesa (NRM)
2. Crispus Kiyonga (NRM)
3. Kahinda Orafiire (NRM)
4.Henry Kajura Muganwa (NRM)
5. Amama Mbabazi(NRM)
6. Adolf Mwesige (NRM)
7.John Nasasira (NRM,
8.Elly Tumwine (NRM)
9. Gilbert Bukenya (NRM)
10.Edward K Ssekandi (NRM)
11. Rebecca Kadaga (NRM)
12. Syda Bbumba (NRM)
13. Daudi Migereko (NRM)
14. Jim Muhwezi (NRM)
15.Ruth Nankabirwa (NRM)
16. Khiddu Makubuya (NRM)
17. Emmanuel Dombo (NRM)
18.Reagan Okum (FDC)
19.Alex Onzima (Indpt)
20.Bakka Bulindi (NRM)
21. Hood Katuramu (NRM)
22. Felix Okot-Ogong (NRM)
23. Margaret Babadiri (NRM)
24. Michael Werikhe (NRM)
25. Peter Lokeris (NRM)
26. Sam Lyomoki (NRM)
27. Phinehas K Manoni (NRM)
28. Katumba Wamala (NRM)
29. Rose Namayanja (NRM)
30. Vincent Nyanzi (NRM)
31. Alex Ndezi (NRM)
32. Kabakumba Masiko (NRM)
33.Geoffrey Ekanya (FDC)
34. Cecilia Ogwal (FDC)

Activists demand term limits for lawmakers

On lawmakers’ political career, Mr Crispy Kaheru, the coordinator of the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda, says MPs do not hold executive power, “therefore, are not eligible for executive term limits as we would say for the Presidency”.

However, based on the democratic principle of ‘rotation of power’, Mr Kaheru says it is important that Uganda considers creating a provision in the Constitution that would limit MPs from holding office for more than four terms. At least 120 MPs lost their seats in the previous parliamentary elections but the “masters” of the game still survived what a senior female legislator calls the “double-edged political knife”.

“I am lucky that I did not have many debts but I know colleagues who mortgaged their houses to raise campaign money and lost the election. Voters cannot be trusted, at times they disappoint you, even when you deliver development but life goes on,” one of the senior members who lost his seat in 2011, says.

According to Mr Opiyo, elections are seldom issue based. “A beautiful manifesto will not win you elections in the current political atmosphere, rather other machinations including telling white lies, vote buying have replaced manifestoes.”