Speaker Anita Among yields to public pressure, plans live audio discussion

Parliament Speaker Anita Among. PHOTO/HANDOUT 

What you need to know:

  • Ms Among and the 11th Parliament have faced scrutiny for nearly five months following revelations by online activists like University Don Jimmy Spire Ssentongo and journalist-lawyer Ms. Agather Atuhaire. Their Uganda Parliament Exhibition in February alleged corruption, mismanagement, opulence, nepotism, among others.

In an apparent yield to sustained pressure to offer accountability for multiple allegations of maladministration, Speaker of Parliament, Ms Anita Among is expected to engage netizens on the social media platform X.

“There are so many things said about me that my staff have shared with me, which are totally unfounded. I have consistently said feedback from citizens who by right should hold leaders to account is what will ultimately strengthen our democracy.” Ms Among posted on July 9.

She added: “On that note, I have instructed my staff to organise a conversation here soon so we can all have an open conversation to listen to citizens and get feedback on what needs to be done better.”

Sources pointed to the possibility of the X space taking place today [Thursday] but the team at Parliament remained non-committal saying the engagements would be organised as and when they are ready.

“…my team suggested that once in a while we could organise some online chats between her and the citizens moderated by my team. It is an idea she said she would consider if we plan well,” Mr Chris Obore, Director Communications and Public Affairs at Parliament said.
 
Ms Among and the 11th Parliament have faced scrutiny for nearly five months following revelations by online activists like University Don Jimmy Spire Ssentongo and journalist-lawyer Ms. Agather Atuhaire. Their Uganda Parliament Exhibition in February alleged corruption, mismanagement, opulence, nepotism, among others.

Initially resistant, Ms Among often redirected discussions by invoking anti-homosexuality stances. Her stance softened after sanctions from the UK and US and criticism for the arrest of Ms. Fatuma Nansubuga, detained for protesting outside Parliament, demanding Among's resignation. Nansubuga was granted bail on July 9.

Ms Among, denying any involvement in Nansubuga's arrest, expressed readiness to engage. "…Peaceful demonstration is a constitutional right, and I look forward to listening to her concerns.  I am a firm believer in the right of citizens to hold leaders accountable, just like Ms Nansubuga was doing. I have a duty to, in due course, engage and listen to her concerns,” she affirmed.

Ms Nansubuga is not the only individual that has spent days behind bars on charges relating to Ms Among. Former Rubaga Deputy Resident City Commissioner, Herbert Anderson Burora remains on remand in Luzira Prison on accusations of spreading malicious information and hate speech against the speaker, contrary to the Computer Misuse Act.

Her critics, including Dr Ssentongo, insist on actions over words. “If this is a change of heart from her earlier dismissal of those who attempted to raise the matter on the floor of Parliament, then let us see her allowing the debate now and availing herself to scrutiny. Otherwise, for now, that statement can’t be believed as an utterance she means,” he said.
 
Asked if he would participate in the live engagement with the Speaker, he said: “Sure, the dangers notwithstanding.”

Ms Atuhaire, another key figure in the exhibition, views this as a sign that leaders can't ignore public sentiment forever. “We hope that instead of attempting to muzzle and shutting everyone who raises accountability issues down, going forward she will account and offer Ugandans explanations when questioned. I will however only believe her if she follows through and appear on one of the spaces to account and offer Ugandans an explanation for all the allegations of corruption we have raised but also the harassment of some of the people that have criticised her.”

“There are more people demanding for accountability now than there were three, four years ago…The ultimate goal is the reform this country and we haven’t achieved it. That’s why I think those who have found online activism ineffective should try something else. If some people can be online and others on the streets, others in courts, etc, well and good,” she added.
 
Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Joel Ssenyonyi, welcomed Among's pledge. “I'm glad to hear you assert that peaceful demonstration is a Constitutional right, and that you also believe leaders should be held accountable…ow that you say you are a firm believer in the rights of citizens to hold leaders accountable, maybe we need to fast-track this accountability issue,” he said.

A hashtag #AnitaMustResign, alongside plans by a section of social media users to march to Parliament on July 23 had generated a little over 1,000 posts on X, by press time.