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EU Democracy Day event discusses the role of parliament in shaping representative democracy in Uganda

23/09/2019 - 15:11
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On Thursday 19th September 2019, the EU Delegation to Uganda in partnership with Makerere University held a public debate and plenary to mark International Day of Democracy 2019.

The event focussed on the role of Uganda's parliament in shaping representative democracy and involved over four hundred participants including students from Makerere University and universities in Gulu, Mukono and Mbarara. Participants also included the heads of diplomatic missions, young people from Kampala, civil society representatives and MPs representing the National Resistence Movement (NRM), the Forum for Democratic Chance (FDC) and the Democratic Party (DP).

The discussion was led by Patrick Kamara, who facilitated a conversation with four expert speakers, Emmanuel Wabwire of Faraja Africa Foundation; Marion Kirabo of the Makerere University Student Guild, Reagan Wamajji of Parliament Watch and Lydia Nambubiru and researcher and freelance journalist.

During a morning workshop involving one hundred people, the speakers and participants attempted to answer some key questions centred on the topics of representativeness, gender, access and media coverage. These included: Do MPs reflect the diversity of Ugandan society? Does parliament give adequate weight to addressing the marginalisation facing women in Uganda? How accessible is parliament to the average Ugandan? And is media coverage of parliament of sufficient quality?

The discussion brought in many competing perspectives and resulted in some concrete suggestions for reform being made. The following is a selection of some of the proposals for practical reforms that could be made to improve the functioning of Parliament. (Please note these suggestions do not reflect the official view of the European Union Delegation.):

  • Members of Parliament should be given a stronger initial orientation upon being elected to ensure they are fully aware of their role and of how parliament functions, so that they can make meaningful contributions during their term in office.
  • The electoral system could be changed to create a system with one male MP and one female MP directly elected per constituency. This would have create a 50% gender balance in parliament and also cut down on the number of MPs.
  • Access to parliament could be increased by holding parliamentary sessions outside of Kampala. Participants also suggested the development of a mobile app to improve how people receive information on what MPs are doing.
  • On media coverage, the sector should invest more in investigative journalism as one way of increasing the quality of reporting on parliamentary proceedings. Cooperation between all actors in the media sector, including the Uganda Journalists Association and the government, is also key.

Aside from these topics, participants agreed that more needs to be done to address the negative influence of money in politics; to boost the quality and quantity of civic education provided to citizens; and to ensure that there is greater accountability of MPs and the institution of Parliament as a whole.  

The afternoon session was opened by Ms. Anna Merrifield, Head of the Political Section at the EU Delegation, who challenged participants to reflect on the fact that "most parliaments were designed before the advent of modern communications technology and before our societies became diverse, complex and multicultural. Can we really say that they still meet the needs of our modern societies?"

The panel discussion and plenary debate which followed led to a lively discussion and a variety of opinions expressed from members of the audience. Some spoke about the need to improve wider democratic standards in Uganda in order for the Parliament to be truly representative; while others spoke strongly about the need for more women to stand for elected office.

Speaking after the plenary discussion, Makerere University Vice Chancellor Professor Barnabas Nawangwe welcomed the contributions from the floor, saying that such discussions on topics of national importance carried on the longstanding tradition of debate at the University.

Making his remarks at the end of the event, European Union Ambassador H.E. Attilio Pacifici said that he was "especially encouraged by the fact that participants today have not just pointed to the problems. Indeed, I have also been struck by the energy and innovation present in the new ideas put forward to make parliament work better."

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