Monday, January 28, 2013

UGANDA HEADING DOWN A SLIPPERY SLOPE WITH COUP TALK


Last week Defence minister Dr Crispus Kiyonga sounded a warning to the NRM legislators at their retreat in Kyankwanzi.

Kiyonga warned that MPs should guard against actions that undermine the public’s confidence in parliament as such actions can make the army intervene and take over the government.

“Even soldiers, just like all Ugandans, are watching. We should not take their discipline for granted. If the military feels the country is in the hands of wrong politicians, some officers might be forced to intervene in the name of refocusing the country’s future,” Kiyonga said.

Kiyonga’s comments seems were said in the specific context of events at the end of last year in parliament when MPs shouted down the speaker and caused an adjournment during debate on the oil bill.

Days later commenting on the defence minister’s comments the General Aronda Nyakairima, the chief of defence forces while agreeing with his bosses was reported to have said,

“Stand advised that should you not change course, other things will take place.”

The remarks by the gentlemen were startling in themselves but what was even more remarkable was the deafening silence from the public.

Maybe we were befuddled, “How can they overthrow themselves?” For the vast majority of us the line between the NRM and the UPDF is only on paper.

Once we had got over that initial confusion, we probably then asked, “Are these people allowed to say such things?” a hangover from an era when for contemplating let alone voicing such mental meanderings, one would be slapped with a charge of treason. Clearly things have changed or have they?

And then we went on and wondered, “But would it be so wrong if they took over and set this whole place straight?”, these thought of course informed by the log jams we see created by our political processes contrasted with how things can work once we have sidelined the politicians – read the recent improvements in Kampala city.

Politicians should be under no illusions. As citizens and consumers of the government services we really don’t care who is in charge as long as service delivery is effective. We hold no allegiance to any one person or group of people for any other reason than they can properly answer the question “What have you done for me lately?”

Truth be told we do not hold our MPs in high esteem, we think they are overpaid, self-aggrandizing, hecklers only good for milking during the campaign period and always eager to increase their already heavy paychecks.

An Afrobarometer survey of almost a decade ago put MPs at the bottom of a list of our leaders ranked in terms of respectability. Our honourable members have done little since then to improve our perception of them.

See how the public did not bat an eyelid when the President called them fools and idiots.

That being said, parliament – warts and all, is an important institution of the democracy we want to build. If it is not working well the solution is not to abolish it but to find a way to make it work better.

As it is now the house with nearly 300 members is too unwieldly to do much good.

A house a third that size will not only be significantly cheaper but also easier to manage. But to reduce the house number would require a vote by the same house and it is unrealistic to expect the monkeys to vote objectively on the fate of the forest.

The next best thing is for the house whips to be more forceful in keeping party members in line. A lot of the chaos in the house is largely because of uncoordinated troop movements with in parties and particularly the ruling NRM, slowing down progress and the bogging down proceedings.

The many corruption scandals within the civil service do not endear the government to the people.

Bottom line is the government and all its arms has to work for the benefit of the tax payer or its relevance will be in doubt.

That the defence minister and then the army commander can voice such opinion in public should be worrying, never mind how unlikely it seems. Giving the army ideas is rarely a good idea.

Frustration at the way our political class is conducting its affairs is palpable. With our representatives complicit in the mismanaging of the country’s affairs how ironic it is that it is the army that has come to voice our disgust.

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