President Yoweri Museveni in his speech during the NRM Liberation Day on January 26 said people should leave their religious beliefs at home and not carry them to office.
I am not sure what motivated him to take this stance, but in my case, I am motivated by the fact that the morality whip that is mainly wielded by religious leaders and members of their congregation, has proven to be untenable.
Those that have been the protectors of the moral fabric of society have also many times found themselves falling victim to this moral policing.
A policy is a course or principle of action adopted by government or the Executive to guide decisions and achieve rational outcome. And policy-making is the act or process of setting and directing the course of action to be pursued by government.
The policy making process entails various phases, including stakeholder consultations aimed at building consensus around the policy proposals and developing solutions which will work and gain acceptance in practice.
Among the stakeholders engaged in the policy development process are religious groups, who continue to be given a bigger and better platform for the consultative processes.
Their views on any given policy is given priority and in some cases, the views have been seen to derail or stay discussions about development of policies and laws pertaining to critical issues, including social, health and even human rights.
A case in point is the National Sexuality Education framework, whose implementation and operationalisation has been delayed since its launch in 2018, the SRHR policy guidelines and service standards, including those for addressing maternal mortality due to unsafe abortion (2015) that were recalled and disowned by government and the continuous failure of the Marriage and Divorce Bill to move beyond the floor of Parliament.
Over the years the fate of Ugandans especially women and young people have been left to be decided by religious groups even in cases where decisions that could impact health and life are concerned.
However, the recent happenings in the church, including where they have been rocked by scandals, calls for a review of whether religious leaders’ views really ought to count in matters of health and people’s well-being. The 1995 Constitution recognises Uganda as a secular State.
Besides, the fact that Uganda is described as a State, the desired approach of managing public affairs, should prompt us to question this unfettered authority that religious leaders and other moral groups enjoy in public policy processes.
In my view, the reason why religious groups have enjoyed unchecked reign over the different aspects of people’s lives is because these groups and the institutions have been protected by the dogma of infallibility.
There is a belief that they cannot do wrong, including on moral grounds.
There are also other issues that have consolidated their hold and importance of their opinions on all aspects of life.
These include aspects such as owning majority of private schools and healthcare facilities in the country in comparison to any other group in the country. Noteworthy is also the history of this country where there has been a strong interconnection between the Church and the State.
It is this moral authority that they wield and use as a bargaining chip and in some cases even emotional blackmail in discussions where there are technical people and data that indicates a contrary approach should be adopted.
The impact of these stayed policies, laws and interventions are not an end in themselves as they have far-reaching effects on the lives of citizens.
For instance, owing to moral objections on young people’s exercise of their agency regarding their sexual reproductive health and rights via an enabling policy, legal and service environment, young people continue to grapple with challenges regarding their sexual and reproductive health because they are unable to receive information on the same.
Ms Annah Kukundakwe is an advocate for sexual, reproductive health and rights and programme officer at Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development