Parliament insists on majoring in minors and it shows

Author, Benjamin Rukwengye. PHOTO/FILE. 

What you need to know:

  • Parliament of Uganda, the organ responsible for voicing the concerns and worries of you and I, was preoccupied with passing the anti-homosexuality law.The issue might be important for some but it certainly shouldn’t be a priority. 

Thank you, Mister Speaker, the Secretary, Proposers, Opposers, and the House at large.” Ring a bell? The push and shove to pass Primary Leaving Examinations might have taken the verve out of “proper” learning but older folks might remember debate as part of the school calendar.
From obnoxious motions musing over whether “Water is better than Fire”, “Mother is better than Father”, or if “Village life is better than town life.” It was never really about the substance but mostly about the form. It didn’t always matter what was said but the fact that this was another opportunity to hone one’s public speaking and expression abilities, confidence, and some coherence of thought.

You also mostly performed for the gallery, which gave an advantage to those who were comical. It is also hard to say with certainty if any of it had much impact considering the manner in which it was conducted. Yet, watching clips of Uganda’s parliamentary debate is a reminder of those days – except that this is real life. Real adults. Debating real issues. With real lasting impact. On real people’s lives. It is hard to argue that your average poorly educated pupil in any given primary school would have done any worse with this week’s motion on the anti-homosexuality bill. The law will probably not hold – and it shouldn’t – but the quality of the debate around it makes it clear how bad things are for us. It will also likely fail due to the same inability to distill substance out of chaff, which is synonymous with Primary school debate.

Debate and discourse, even and especially on emotive and divisive issues such as homosexuality needs to soar above the standard of infantile exchanges or Kimeeza. But, like on many other issues, it didn’t. Hardly unsurprising because the kind of politics and democracy that we practice can only deliver the quality of leaders that we have.
Here is a real-life scenario. This week, the political opposition in Kenya took to the streets to ostensibly protest the high cost of living and the electoral rigging in the recently concluded presidential election. This column will focus on the former because the latter is something Ugandans are accustomed to. Kenya is our biggest trading partner on whom we are overly reliant. Any fevers, signs, and symptoms across the border must raise antennas here. 

Instead, in the same week, the Parliament of Uganda, the organ responsible for voicing the concerns and worries of you and I, was preoccupied with passing the anti-homosexuality law. The issue might be important for some but it certainly shouldn’t be a priority. Kenya is. Morality isn’t. The economy is. Morality isn’t. Poverty is. Morality isn’t. Crime is. Morality isn’t. Access to opportunity is. Morality isn’t. Equity is. Morality isn’t. Efficiency is. Morality isn’t. A functional public service is. Morality isn’t. Accountability is. Morality isn’t. Education. Health. Incomes. Everything.
Consider the Ministry of Finance’s Poverty Status Report, released last month. According to the report, “The Northern Region remains the epicentre of poverty in the country.” In Acholi it is highest at 67 percent. In Karamoja – 65 percent (increased from 60 percent). In Bukedi – 34.7percent, in Busoga – 29percent. The national poverty rate decreased from 21.4 per cent in 2016/17 to 20.3 per cent in 2019/20 because there were improvements in some regions such as Central, East and Elgon.

The report goes on to say, “However, 22 percent of those who were non-poor in 2015/16 fell into poverty in 2018/19.” Also, 70.2 percent of Ugandans are susceptible to poverty – basically, almost everyone reading this is likely to land in poverty.
I asked ChatGPT to define poverty so that an average person can understand it, and this is what it came up with, “A situation in which a person or a community lacks the necessary resources to meet their basic needs, including food, water, shelter, and clothing. It means not having access to adequate healthcare, education, and employment opportunities, which can lead to a diminished quality of life. Essentially, poverty means living with insufficient resources to meet one’s basic needs, and this can have significant impacts on a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being.”Basically, whoever is in parliament represents more people living in poverty than not. More people are likely to sink into poverty than get out of it. But you wouldn’t tell because the debate is not so dissimilar from what you would find in a primary school.

Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds. @Rukwengye



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