Of tragicomedy and LoP Mpuuga

Author, Phillip Matogo. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • The Opposition should not primarily focus on who gets what in terms of campaign financing. 

On June 17, 1871, while attempting to prove the innocence of a client who had been accused of murder, the lawyer Clement Vallandigham grabbed a firearm he thought was unloaded and ended up accidentally shooting himself with the gun.

Before shooting himself dead in defence of his client, Vallandigham was a successful and well-known lawyer in the area of Dayton, Ohio, USA.

He was an independent thinker who had a long history of disagreeing with the government and was even exiled to Canada at one point in his career because he chose conflict over conciliation when it came to contracting any business with the government.

When he returned to Ohio from exile, it’s true, he resumed his business as usual and went on quarrelling with the government like no man’s business.

It was soon after his return that he took on a client accused of murder. His client was accused of shooting someone dead.

However, Vallandigham insisted that the victim had accidentally shot himself in the stomach.
The judge was unconvinced, but Vallandigham insisted that is what happened.
He thus decided to demonstrate how this happened by showing the judge visually how the victim could have shot himself in the stomach.

He thus picked up the gun, thinking it was unloaded, and accidentally shot himself in the stomach!
After this fatal demonstration, Vallandigham was rushed to hospital but unfortunately died of his gunshot wound. Mercifully, he did not die for nothing as the court was forced to find his client not guilty. 

The moral of this story is that sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot, in Vallandigham’s case the stomach, when we are overly zealous in terms of what we seek to achieve. 

This week, for example, the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Mathias Mpuuga, advised MPs from Trinidad and Tobago, a Caribbean nation, to be cautious when writing laws on campaign financing.

“The reliance on a partisan appointed electoral commission to be the administrator of the political parties and organisations’ public funding [in Uganda] failed the neutrality test,” Mpuuga said.
He then expressly criticised the 2008 amendments to Uganda’s Political Parties and Organisations Act, 2005, especially sections 9 and 12. These, he said, were intended to limit the funding of Opposition parties from private and foreign sources.

“It came as a halfhearted justification for the State to clamp down on foreign donations,” he said.
Mpuuga seemed to imply that foreign donations are in and of themselves a good thing and thus must not be ‘clamped down’ by the State. Yet foreign donations come with foreign interests attached to them and these interests are often inimical instead of identical to our own. 

Again, Mpuuga fails to mention another key factor of political campaigns as being platforms upon which issues are discussed. The purpose of discussing issues being to influence who holds office and what policies they pursue in the public interest. 

As such, incumbent spending during any campaign should be a concern to all, especially when challenger spending is continuously unequal to the costs of an election. 

However, the Opposition should not primarily focus on who gets what in terms of campaign financing, but instead focus on how this financing relates to the Opposition’s name and issues recognition amongst the population. 

To this day, many Ugandans have no clue what the Opposition stands for beyond it making a case for change. If this is not clarified to the people, the Opposition will become like a Shakespearean reality: all sound and fury, signifying nothing. 

Then, like Vallandigham, it shall win its case at the expense of its own existence.

Mr Matogo is a professional copywriter  
[email protected]

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