What can you do for your country? So much, if…

Some Ideas are "R-evolutionary"!

Writing in his The Last Word column last week, Andrew Mwenda did touch an area that has been a subject of debate recently – whether citizens or government should be to blame for the apparent mess that this country is. From his Nightly news segment, “News Night,” to the Friday KFM hot seat programme Mwenda has found every opportunity to blame the citizenry and dismiss their (sometimes genuine) complaints as mere heckling and frustration. I disagree with the old man.

Firstly, the title of the article (“What can you do for your country?”), paraphrasing John F. Kennedy’s famous 1961 inaugural speech, could not have been any more inapt. The speech, delivered on a chilly January day, by a youthful president who had just won an election by the closest of margins, in a country at the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, was meant to both inspire and…

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Someone needs to listen to these unemployed youth: A conversation with Uwihanganye

It is Friday 21st and am excited as time for my 4pm  appointment with Mr. Awel Uwihanganye approaches.

Time check, 3:45pm and am still stuck in traffic jam around the Spear Motors junction in Nakawa. With this jam, i can tell that i might be late for the chat. I quickly jump out and get on a bike instructing the boda boda man to drop me at Drew and Jack’s café at Forest Mall in less than ten minutes if he wants to make some extra bucks.

Of course boda bodas do not disappoint. At 3:59pm, am already at Forest Mall and I get a sigh of relief for being there in time and the fact that I have arrived before him, gives me a sense of responsibility and seriousness.

I feel relaxed and begin making myself busy as I wait for Awel. As am about to pull out Eckhard Breitinger’s book Uganda: The Cultural Landscape out of my bag, I notice a familiar face walking into the café.

Suddenly, fireworks and signs of victory invade my mind for finally meeting one of the inspiring men in Uganda. Mr. Awel Uwihanganye, the social entrepreneur with a passion for championing positive change projects which include the Young Achievers Awards, the Concordia volunteer Abroad Program, currently the CEO of LeO Africa Forum and one of the unsung young heroes, was standing right there in front of me offering a handshake.

I quickly introduce myself to him and we sit down and begin engaging in an hour conversation which will later turn out to be one of my most life changing chats so far. It is from this that we talk about many things ranging from social media, politics, youth unemployment(including solutions) and governance.

******

Awel Uwihanganye (A.U): Hi man how are you and school? You actually look different in real life. I thought you are an old guy.

Ibrahim W.Batambuze (W.B): Am really fine and so excited to meet you which is indeed a great honor. Blame it on the Internet (social media) for my change in looks because actually people look different in real life than who they are in virtual life.

A.U: Am really quite shocked because from your tweets, I thought you were some big guy out there but here you are, young but intelligent. Am impressed.

W.B: Oh that’s good to hear from you. Most of my friends actually think am boring and too old for what I say and do. They think everything I say, is beyond my age bracket and I worry myself about politics and good governance.

A.U: Actually that is good. You see, these days online marketing is important because it is when you get noticed by someone who develops an interest by following and observing what you say online. You as a law student, engaging lawyers like David Mpanga can get you networked. I mean, the reason why am actually meeting you, is because I enjoy reading your tweets and ever since I followed you, I have no regrets. I met one brilliant boy called Edgar yesterday(Thursday) because of Twitter.

It is from this point that we go deep into our conversation and the chat officially kicks off.

W.B: Which Edgar? Are you talking about Mwine Edgar the chap who wrote An Open Letter to Mr. Simon Kaheru (herein referred to as SK) earlier this week?

A.U: Yes that is the boy! Am telling you when I read his blog post, I said I must meet this guy and discuss with him and I can assure you I was not disappointed. I found him to be intelligent and always using facts to back up his case.

W.B: I do actually like him too. He is one person who seems determined and knows what he is doing. I interact with him a lot and I would love to meet him too. My best from him was The real life of an Unemployed Graduate in Kampala. He seems to be a very great chap.

A.U: I think Edgar has a point. There is a very big problem happening now and it seems there is not much concern, a sense of urgency. Edgar is talking on behalf of these unemployed young people who feel they are not being helped and yet they deserve better. I think its unfair to bash them off and stereo-type them as attention seekers without first listening to their concerns.

W.B: But Awel, let us be objective here. I think we are missing a point. SK is being used as a scapegoat by Edgar and friends. The man is now being handled like he is the Minister of Unemployment Affairs. What he said was his opinion to which everyone is entitled to.

A.U: I think Simon Kaheru and Edgar got lost in translation first of all.They mis understood each other and am sure Simon is not insensitive to their situation. He (SK) was not rubbishing them off like most old people do thinking its a bunch of desperate rowdy boys. The problem now comes in when most old guys see youth belonging to Youth Leagues of different political parties fighting for  money, they presume all the youth are the same which is wrong. Edgar and friends are different, or i hope they are. These young people need solutions to their situations though their might not be easy answers.

W.B: By the way, I remember some other youth am not sure if all were also unemployed or not, polished their writing skills and begun writing very good pieces directly pointing at SK like Kevin  and Muhamya. Did you follow them up?

A.U: Yes I did. They were actually more than five. They all express their grievances rather well. Even with their anger,they have valid reasons as to why they are doing this but it needs to be challenged in the right direction. Because of their situation, they need acknowledgment that something is or will be done, basically hope.The situation seems to be very bad which is sadly we may all not are not aware to what extent. Edgar told me that in his class of 200 students which graduated two years ago, only four of them are employed. To make it worse,the person who topped their class with a first class degree, today in 2015, remains unemployed.

Someone needs to listen to them, attempt to address their concerns, and at the very least assure them that something is being done instead of dismissing them. More so, even where you can’t help them, do not paint a bleak future for them. After i read their blogs, I wrote an email to a senior government officer known to be concerned about young people, and attached all these blogs. Am sure it an issue he will raise with his colleagues in government.

****

It is at this point that my heart freezes and the espresso am taking suddenly turns sour and sugarless. Did I just hear Awel say that someone with a first class is still unemployed after two years? I quickly begin saying a silent prayer wishing the Law Reform Committee changes the Law degree from four years to seven years so as I keep on masquerading in law school to avoid the wrath of this unemployment cancer already spreading like wildfire. Am now lost of words but I have to pretend am not affected and am strong.

W.B: But my friend, feeding these unemployed youth on only hope will not get them jobs or change the status quo. Hope is one thing and getting them employed is another. You might actually be postponing the inevitable and might just turn against you.

A.U: But again you see, giving someone hope is important because sometimes a lot can happen just because someone was able to hang in there. Someone who is without hope is literally dead. You need to remind him or her that a better day will come, and there honest efforts at addressing their situation. That is the beginning of dialogue. Am thinking of organizing a meeting with all of them and invite some people who have been concerned about this like my friend Morrison Rwakakamba  and especially Simon Kaheru because his back and forth with Edgar has started an important conversation.

W.B: This issue of unemployment, you seem to be giving it a minute or rather an exaggerating view thinking Uganda is the only country going through this. No government in the world is Utopian to be believed that no youth unemployment is going on. Kenya’s Unemployment rate is over 40% and Nigeria as at 21st September 2014, had over 11.1 M unemployed youth. Uganda is not bad i presume.

A.U: True, but the situation of Uganda is unique. We are said to have the youngest population in the world and the fastest growing. Yes unemployment exists everywhere in the world, but it does not excuse the fact that if not addressed it can lead to societal conflict and even chaos. The government needs and the private sector also needs to be fully engaged on the issue and to see how it can be improved.

W.B: But Awel let us be realistic here. There is what they call political ideology and political reality. Sitting down with these boys is one thing and following up the resolutions made during the meeting is another. The 2016 elections are just around the corner and getting jobs for the unemployed youth is not going to find its way on the NRM government’s priority list in this election time— even if it is by mistake. Still if such arrangements were to happen, I can assure you that these youth will be played left, right and back to the center up to around 2017 when nothing has been done.

A.U: Then the government will be just postponing the inevitable- stiff resistance (and to the extreme, conflict on the streets) from these young people in the long run. Your generation is blessed compared to our times. There are a lot of educated youth today. This simply means you can easily change Uganda because of this literacy boast. Edgar in fact told me that they are around 200 unemployed youth who engage in debates on issues of governance, policy and matters that affect them on Facebook and Twitter. This is something very serious and cannot be underestimated. You know how countries like Egypt have broken up because of issues such as what we are talking about.

W.B: An Arab Spring in Uganda? You have got to be kidding me! Trust me that can never happen. You see there is a very big difference between your generation and ours. Let me first begin from the start. If we are before history to judge us, it will say that the Obote, Musaazi and Ibingira’s generation led Uganda to her independence. Then came the generation of the young Museveni, Olara Otunnu, Dr. Opiyo Oloya and Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda which liberated Uganda from Idi Amin’s dictatorship. Enter now our generation (beginning from 1986) which is only interested in betting, watching European soccer/soaps and lack interest in governance. The question is does our generation have a role or duty to play? Am sure history will (or already has) judge us as the generation which betrayed their country. We seem not to be having a common voice and interest as far as making resolutions for our country is concerned.

A.U: And who tells you that it is your generation to blame? It is the old folks who should take the big share of the blame. Most leaders today, were active during their times at universities and today they have not mentored your generation to take up power when they have left. The Uganda National Students Association (UNSA), the National Youth Council and the Youth Leagues of the political parties are not playing the role they were established to do. Today, they do not groom young leaders in large numbers and most of the mentoring is isolated by few individuals. It is the reason why you see today’s youth leaders on TV fighting for money instead of fighting for ideas and you expect such youth to be thinking intellectually upright?

W.B: Well, on that point I agree entirely. I do believe that it is also the reason why we have MPs fighting for beds in Kyankwazi instead of fighting for thoughts, visions and dreams on how to change the status quo of this country.

A.U: The problem is in fact, not only on youth but us as a country. Like any government in the developing world, today the government is faced with a lot of challenges today in relation to effective service delivery. I mean look at the health sector today. In my village (Kanungu), i almost lost a relative who was in labour when she was taken to the village hospital late in the night and there was no doctor. She had to be taken to another hospital which is almost an hour and half journey to give birth and remember the roads are hilly. But thank God she survived. I did lose a nephew in a similar circumstance which still hurts me today.

So really, we need leaders that produce results which are concerned about the plight of everyday citizens. Those government officials who do not live up to the expectations of the people,should resign. We cannot allow or accept this as they are and think that’s how it should be. Something needs to be done early enough and well all have a role to play.

It is at this time that Mr. Awel remembers he had another appointment (and later an evening jog) and the time we had allocated for the chat, had passed long time. We quickly finish up our drinks and offers me a ride to Capital Shoppers in Ntinda as the conversation continues.  We continue talking about what went wrong with the movement system of governance which seemed promising and perhaps we should have given it an opportunity to work and why the size of the cabinet should be reduced to lessen public expenditure.

I reach my destination and say bye to my new mentor as he continues to his residence in Ntinda. We promise to keep ourselves in touch and continue discussing issues and matters affecting us and our country. It was a chat to remember!

Mr. Awel Uwihanganye (photo credit: Leoafricaforum.com)

Mr. Awel Uwihanganye
(photo credit: Leoafricaforum.com)

*Note: Please note that, words in the conversation with Mr. Awel Uwihanganye do not necessarily reflect the exact words he said during the chat. If you read any reply from him resulting from this writing, please do take his words as final and i will take responsibility if i happen to have misquoted him anywhere.

Follow him on twitter here: Uwihanganye_A

Is quorum that important in our parliament?

Parliament of Uganda in session. (image source: newvision.co.ug)

Parliament of Uganda in session
(image source: newvision.co.ug)

On August 1 2014, the Constitutional Court of Uganda ruled that the Anti-Homosexuality Act (commonly referred to as AHA) which had been branded as draconian and “abominable” by rights groups, was illegal saying it was wrongly passed by parliament. The ruling was received with mixed reactions from both anti-gay groups and gay rights advocates.

According to the court’s ruling, the law had been passed in December 2013 without the necessary quorum required by the Constitution and parliamentary rules of procedure. Article 88(1) of the Constitution, states that the quoram when voting in Parliament, shall be one-third of the members entitled to vote.

The Speaker of Parliament (The Chairperson), Rt. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga paid little heed to Constitutional requirements for voting on bills in parliament and ignored warnings from the Prime Minister that there was not a quorum at the time of the vote.

When the Bill was accented to by the president (thereby becoming a law), to those who knew how the law operates, expected an avalanche of constitutional petitions by legal and rights activists but to those who had gone into early celebrations thanking the president for “the Christmas gift”, got the shocker of their lives way too earlier than preparations for the following year’s Christmas carols .

To the individuals who see homosexuality as a threat to family and society in general, the court’s overturn of the law, provoked anger and as of January 2015, there had been a renewed campaign by anti-gay Members of Parliament (MPs) to get the law passed again, this time in line with the rules governing the functioning of the parliament.

Any person who follows activities going on in our parliament, would tell you that this was not the first time a bill went through it without the minimum number of legislators required and later signed into law.  Anti-Pornography Act (2014), Press and Journalist Regulations (2014), Non-Governmental Organization Registration (Amendment) Bill (2013)  and The Public Order Management Act (2013) are some of the laws which have gone through the same.

Missing parliamentary sessions is also something not new to Uganda’s MPs. It is common to find more than 60% of the MPs skipping sessions when debating Bills in parliament because they are busy engaged with personal business outside the August House. It is also common on the other hand, to find the house full when it is only time for voting which in itself, has consequences.

Low attendance is a chronic problem for the National Parliament of Uganda. For example, data from the Uganda Parliamentary Scorecard Project  developed by the African Leadership Institute (AfLI) and Columbia University, shows that for the 8th  Parliament of Uganda (2006-2011), attendance rates averaged less than 44%. The current 9th Parliament is almost also not different.

This raises the issue of whether quorum is that important anyway. Responding to critics in Sunday Vision of August 17 2014, Rt. Hon. Kadaga stated that quorum is not an issue and went ahead to question if she should do nothing because a few members are not in the house yet she has a duty to this country.  According to her, the court should also have thrown away the UNESCO Law, Finance Law, VAT Law and the Income Tax Law– perhaps everything should have been thrown out if quorum was(is) that  important implying that the question of quorum has been a very big issue in parliament.

Lets look at the issue of quorum elsewhere. The quorum in the British House of Commons in the event of a division (i.e. voting) is 40 MPs, out of a total of 650 MPs.  It appears that a quorum is not required during debates, although it is not clear whether such interpretation is consistent with the Standing Orders or simply a gentlemen’s agreement. In Canada’s House of Commons, it is 20 MPs for a meeting of the House (out of a total of 308), which number has remained unchanged since 1867 and in Australia’s Lower House, it is one-fifth of the total number of MPs and was reduced from one-third of the total number of MPs in 1989.

However, the  significance of quorum is simple. Under common parliamentary law, you always have to have a quorum. After all, it is the minimum number of members who must be present at a meeting to carry on parliamentary business. While there might be some exceptions, no motion or votes should occur unless there is quorum. As a result, if quorum is lost during the plenary without a statute or rule to the contrary, business in the house must stop.

Therefore, passing laws without the required quorum has adverse consequences both legal and financial of which, its the tax payers who pay the prize. Such a law as stated above, can never escape a constitutional challenge  and secondly, when the law bounces back, it means more debates and facilitation of the MPs whose annual budget which is over UGX 10 Billion shillings. Already, it is hard to sustain such a big number of MPs in this poor economic climate of Uganda and thus that means no work done leading to wastage of resources and time.

More so, questions still arise asking why quite a big number of MPs would decide to be absent the day a bill is due to be passed in the parliament. The role of MPs under article 79 of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda is to make laws for the good governance of our country. It is them who have the only mandate to draft and legislate laws which places them in an important position than the rest in the country.

So such instances leave tax payers and analysts wondering if the absent members of parliament deliberately staying away to ensure that such laws do not pass, or they are away for other reasons. It is very possible that some due to the sensitivity of the bill being debated,  seek  to avoid the wrath of their constituents by not being seen to block  any such a law or my default and implication being seen to support what members of the public consider to be immorality or not relevant to them.

consequently, in ignoring the common-sense objections of those who see risks in passing a law without quorum, the Rt. Hon. Speakers must  be guided by past practice and comforted by accumulated experience. If past illegalities could not stand, the current cannot also stand and thus reasoning of the law should be applied rather than public perception of the masses who are not aware of how parliamentary business is conducted.

There is little reason  for any Member to be absent from Parliamentary proceedings. Unless where he or she has been excused on medical grounds or is attending to urgent matters of the state, members have both the moral and procedural responsibility to make sure that they are present in the August House when plenary debates are happening.

Nevertheless, the people want, and expect, every Member whom they elected to represent them in Parliament, to participate in debates even though the outcomes of divisions are foregone conclusions.  Every Member has been elected to be a Member of Parliament first and foremost. It is now them to win the confidence of the electorate through showing their competence in parliament other than doing the contrary.

Parliament of Uganda when it is almost full (image source: theinsider.ug)

Parliament of Uganda when it is almost full
(image source: theinsider.ug)

Africa out of the ICC? Please don’t waste my time, just add me more tea leaves.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta appears before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on Oct. 8, 2014. Prosecutors at the ICC said Dec. 5 that they are withdrawing charges against Kenyatta

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta appears before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on Oct. 8, 2014. Prosecutors at the ICC said on Dec. 5 last year that they are withdrawing charges against Kenyatta

For the Heads of State and all Africans who claim that the ICC is being unfair to Africa, i have a few questions for you;

  1. Are the crimes being handled by the ICC against Africans true or false?
  2. If you claim that ICC is being unfair to Africans, what alternative(s) are you looking at?
  3. Is the ICC to blame for the impunity in Africa?
  4. Is this a question of a court of discrimination or leaders escaping justice?

Late last month, the old folks running African states gathered in Addis Ababa as the rituals of diplomacy and continental relations dictate, to discuss issues affecting Africa and possibly find solutions to the problems. As usual, the men dressed in Italian suits and making resolutions from a Chinese building while preaching about African Nationalism, still blame imperialism for Africa’s contemporary problems even after fifty years ever since the white man left.

The African Union (AU) Chairperson- Elect President Robert Mugabe, the white man’s public enemy number one, vowed to mobilize his fellow heads of state to pull out of the International Criminal Court (ICC) by the end of his one year term as chairperson citing the court as a tool of western imperialism and a court biased about Africa.

This is however not the first time the AU is threatening to pull out of the ICC. On October 11 and 12 2013, the AU held an extraordinary summit to discuss its relationship with the ICC. Although the court’s supporters were able to defeat a proposal to withdraw en masse from the ICC, member states voted unanimously to declare that heads of state should not be tried while in office, a clear blow to accountability for international crimes on the continent.

Since the summit, the ICC and the UN Security Council have made important decisions that will continue to affect the court’s standing in Africa and particularly in Kenya. African countries remain central to the success of the court, with 34 having ratified the Rome Statute. But after several tumultuous weeks, the ICC’s future in Africa is quite uncertain.

At first glance, the claims of African leaders that the ICC is “hunting Africans” appear well-founded. Firstly, since the court’s creation in 2002, all its cases have been from African countries, and it has only convicted one man, an African warlord from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Secondly, everyone currently wanted by the ICC is an African, including two sitting heads of state, President Kenyatta(charges we dropped mid December last year) and President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, who has been a fugitive from the court since 2009 over alleged war crimes in Darfur. Some African leaders argue that the ICC is discriminatory as it has failed to file charges against the leaders of Western nations or Western allies while prosecuting only African suspects so far. Mr Kenyatta has recently accused the court of being ‘the toy of declining imperial powers’ and argued that to prosecute leaders while in office could damage state governance.

However, if we look deeper into the workings of the ICC, the accusations of discrimination from African leaders ring a little hollow. Of the eight official investigations currently underway in the ICC, all of which are from African countries, four of them originate from referrals by the states themselves. And while all current investigations have been in African countries, there are examinations by the court across the world, including in Afghanistan, Colombia, South Korea and soon Israel (if Palestine’s request goes through). Furthermore, the chief prosecutor in the court since June 2012 has been an African woman, Fatou Bensouda, from The Gambia.

Despite the fact that all the ICC’s current cases are in Africa, accusations of racism or discrimination are far-fetched. Genuine violations of human rights have taken place in all the countries in which investigations are on-going which cannot be ignored. President Kenyatta and other Kenyan politicians successfully manipulated the ICC cases to bolster their recent election campaigns by fuelling negative sentiments towards the court. Leaders, whether African or not, can’t be allowed to use these sentiments and the unfortunate coincidence of the ICC cases all being African at this moment, to escape justice.

Further more, contrary to the rhetoric of anti-ICC governments in Africa, the court is not a Western entity that targets Africans. In fact it was founded with the strong support of Africans. The ICC is a permanent tribunal meant to try international crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes of aggression. Moreover, it is a court of last resort, designed to step in only when domestic courts cannot or will not prosecute a case relating to these international crimes. When the ICC was created in July 2002, Benin, Botswana, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, the Gambia, Ghana, Lesotho, Mali, Mauritius, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Uganda had already signed on to the Rome Statute, making them some of the earliest supporters of the ICC. In all, 34 African countries have ratified the document.

Source: kenya Express

Source: Kenya Express

In practice on the other hand, the AU’s position seems likely to weaken the order, stability, and integrity of African nations. It would leave individuals accused of massive human rights violations in office without any clear judgment as to their guilt or innocence, damaging their legitimacy and encouraging impunity for lower-level crimes (and the last time i checked, most African states have no Presidential Terms limit). Victims would be denied justice, and citizens in general would be less able to hold their leaders accountable for alleged abuses.

Not only have most of the gravest conflicts taken place in Africa but the countries that were not investigated are not party to the Rome Statute. This eliminates Algeria, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Palestine, Russia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Thailand, Togo, Turkey, Yemen and Zimbabwe. Others such as Liberia, and the Philippines only signed up after their conflict had ended. Others such as Columbia, Georgia and Mexico can be eliminated due to Complementarity (where the states are willing to investigate themselves).

At the most fundamental level, many of the world’s atrocities of recent times have occurred in Africa, where weak government and mass war are rampant. Taken per head of population Africa has the most conflicts of any continent and unlike Asia its most brutal conflicts have occurred in the last couple of decades. As such, it is not surprising that a focus has existed in Africa from the ICC.

That the ICC has not been as strong in other continents is not evidence of bias against Africa, rather that they have work to do in other areas. But the victims of atrocities in Africa deserve their perpetrators to be brought to justice. As such, Africa is not a ‘victim’ of the ICC, but the greatest beneficiary. Africa had the greatest desire and push for international assistance in obtaining justice, and are now receiving that. This simply shows that Africa is forging a path that other regions should follow in terms of its acceptance of international criminal law.

The ICC must stand firm for two crucial reasons. Firstly, granting the heads of state immunity from ICC jurisdiction would only lead to leaders becoming even more desperate in holding onto power, creating the potential for further human rights abuses in the future. More importantly, the court must not set the precedent that people can escape justice by being in office, not only could this allow leaders to commit atrocities while in office safe in the knowledge they could escape justice indefinitely, but for the simple reason that justice deferred, is justice denied.

In conclusion, The African Union should be working hard to ensure that there is no impunity in Africa. If Kenyatta and Ruto (or any other African leaders) are innocent, they should not be afraid to get their day in court. Any discussion at the AU about mass withdrawal from the ICC could be tantamount to self-delegitimization and a road to self destruction.

Therefore, Africa pulling out of the ICC? Please don’t waste my time, just buy me a rolex and add me more tea leaves because am still hungry.

Source: Twitter

Source: Twitter