The Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Makerere University with support from Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) is holding a series of seminars that will culminate into a public capstone event later this year. Each seminar brings together a group of policy makers, politicians, academics, independent researchers, and representatives of NGOs in an informal intellectual environment to discuss a range of issues that have direct impact on Ugandans and national development. In addition to providing a setting for intellectual debate and sharing of ideas with non-academic groups working in politics, the seminars provide an opportunity to broaden the understanding of 'real world' politics.
During the second seminar held on 17th September, 2015 in the Upper Conference Hall of Senate Building, Makerere University, participants deliberated on a number of issues including intra-party democracy. This followed a presentation by Mrs Jacqueline Asiimwe-Mwesige titled; “Political Parties in Transition: Procedures, Pressures and New Leadership – Internal Democracy Revisited” in which she examined internal and external factors hindering intra-party democracy in Uganda. Ms Asiimwe is a lawyer and civil society activist.
Addressing participants, Ms Asiimwe said a number of parties were failing on democracy due to several factors including the negative historical experience with political parties and the resulting mistrust towards them; the hangover of the Movement System and the legacy of a long period without multiparty competition; the lack of freedom and fairness in elections; laws meant to muzzle political organizing like the Public Order Management Bill; lack of identifiable ideologies, financial constraints; commercialization and militarisation of politics; as well as lack of sanctions against undemocratic parties. She further attributed the failure to political parties that are more interested in power than leadership. “Parties want to be in power for power’s sake. They have not been keen to strengthen their internal electoral processes. Whoever is in charge of the party works the rules to their benefit; want to control the internal electoral process and outcome. And sometimes election rules are not clear and are changed often to benefit the incumbents,” she explained.
She also blamed the failure on manipulative politics where parties are largely formed and managed by ‘Big Men’ who rarely submit themselves to accountability. “They oversee the development of party rules that they rarely have the intention of abiding by except when the rules suit them. And the whole party structure soon mirrors what the leaders do. If the leaders are undemocratic, they will not submit to party rules and regulations and those down will take on the same culture,” she said.
Ms Asiimwe described political parties in Uganda as “personality cults” meant to serve the interests of the leaders. She argued that if intra-party democracy is to be achieved, political parties have to offer genuine avenues for effective membership participation in shaping content, character and output.
The paper was discussed by Prof. Joe Oloka Onyango from the School of Law, Makerere University who attributed the failure of intra-party democracy to lack of transparency, disrespect for organised structures and the “we sleep now (kati twebaka ku tulo) generation” that is not bothered about holding their leaders accountable. He was however optimistic that the emergency of social media that provides platform for discussion and verification of issues as well as the less militant but “ambitious cadres” and women movements would help foster democracy.
Commenting on the current trend of politics in Uganda, former Makerere University Vice Chancellor, Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba, doubted the capacity of opposition parties to defeat President Yoweri Museveni in the 2016 elections. He said most parties do not have national coverage, lack clear ideologies and create structures meant to serve personal interests. Prof. Baryamureeba is one of the presidential aspirants in the forthcoming general elections.
City Lawyer Fred Muwema concurred with the presenter that Ugandan parties are personality cults meant to serve the interests of their leaders.
Responding to Prof. Edward Kakonge’s submission on the need for women to spearhead political transition, Prof. Sylvia Tamale argued that it is not women, but feminist values that are crucial for transformation. Prof. Kakonge is a former bio-chemistry lecturer at Makerere University and National Chairman of the Uganda People’s Congress.
Dr Salie K. Simba from the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Makerere University emphasised that elections are not justifiable means of achieving democracy, saying they are only used by revolutionary leaders to legitimise themselves in power and to fend off external pressures.
The moderator, Dr Julius Kiiza, called for an alternative policy agenda and positive culture in managing politics in Uganda. Dr Julius Kiiza is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Makerere University.
Kampala Lord Mayor, Ssalongo Erias Lukwago, appreciated the Department of Political Science and Public Administration for providing politicians a platform to assess themselves.
The seminars are coordinated by the Head of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Dr Suzie Nansozi Muwanga. In her remarks, Dr Muwanga appreciated Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung for the support rendered to the Department in preparation for the seminars.
The first seminar held in March this year discussed party ideologies. Details at: http://chuss.mak.ac.ug/news/first-political-science-seminar-discusses-pa...
See Mrs Jacqueline Asiimwe-Mwesige's full presentation below