Fisherman leadership: Where pragmatism besets elitism

Author, Augustine Bahemuka. PHOTO/FILE/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Even when we desire a society governed by independent efficient judicial structures, pragmatism seems to suit us better. 

Mid last year, President Museveni announced his new Cabinet. Evident about this edition of the Executive was the paradigm shift from elitism and “tested” competence and to loyalty as the selection criteria.

Indeed, he affirmed it on the occasion of reading the 2021-2022 national budget. The President likened himself to Jesus Christ who, among many other things, is presented as the greatest critic of the elite class of ancient Jewish society – Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes, etc.

The good book teaches that about eight members of Jesus’ cabinet, including Andrew, Peter, James and John, were fishermen. We may also know that fishing was one of the main economic occupations of the time. What could have drawn Jesus towards fishermen? Well, the main agenda on his manifesto was to recruit as many people into the kingdom of heaven as possible. 

It then became logical that fishermen had the required working experience, hence well suited for the job, which would chiefly entail ‘fishing’ people. This pre-occupation requires endurance, cooperation and people-centrism, which are some of the attributes that the President needed to lure Ugandans back into the NRM camp, given the evident loss of support in central and eastern Uganda. Given the erratic and dynamic nature of their work, fishermen also require a given degree of pragmatism and shrewdness in their work. 

Let’s problematise the media story of Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja’s intervention into the court case in which Gertrude Nalule – widow and mother of seven, who was rescued from jail for failure to honour a payment of Shs2.88m owed to a money lender. Like other sympathisers, Nabbanja was drawn to Gertrude’s ordeal through news broadcast. Being the fisherwoman she is, she flung into action with urgency: She chaired a special meeting at Mwanga II Magistrate’s Court in Mengo for the cause of the poor widow and even visited her in prison.

Ms Nabbanja cleared the debt and challenged court on how this case had been handled. The Good Book reveals categories of people who had favour in God’s eyes owing to their vulnerability to socio-cultural injustices: widows, poor, orphans and strangers.

Akin to the elite class of ancient Jewish society, this seemed to have rubbed the Judiciary the wrong way, owing to the Chief Justice’s reassurance to protect all judicial officers “both publicly and privately for whatever they rightly do in the dispensation of justice” and that they should not be “deterred by anybody or anything that is contrary to their judicial oath.”

Some interpreted Nabbanja’s actions as interference with another arm of government. In the ideal situation, the Prime Minister should have expressed her concerns to the Judiciary through the correct protocol. However, it is very likely that had this bureaucratic approach been applied, Nalule would have taken two or more weeks in the coolers.

What does this story reflect about our society? How best can we develop efficient structures to address the social injustices perpetuated against the less privileged people in our society, including the impoverished, untried prisoners, rural folk; elderly and people living with disabilities (PwDs).

Media reports reveal horrible tales of land grabbing and forceful evictions, acquisition of property through falsehood, trickery and deceit, which consequently suffocates the livelihoods of many families and chances of even mere dreaming of a bright future. Upon her visit to the prisons, it dawned on Nabbanja that there are about 647 related cases of women imprisoned for failure to clear debts. This raises the critical need for more sensitisation and literacy programmes to empower and protect vulnerable people to make better financial decisions while safeguarding against deceit and all forms of falsehoods. 

Regarding the CJ’s pledge to protect and defend all judicial officers, I find it quite difficult to reconcile this tone with other events that we have observed elsewhere, for instance, election petitions filed by the Opposition. Even when we desire a society governed by independent efficient judicial structures, pragmatism seems to suit us better; and no wonder fishermen have more impact on society.  

Mr Augustine Bahemuka is a commentator on issues of peace and society.
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