29 Mar Civic Education Promotes Better Governance, Leadership
As we welcome the 10th Parliament, the elections have taught us a number of lessons concerning the nature of our democracy and the need for civic education. We witnessed Opposition MPs such as Kassiano Wadri, Alice Alaso and Wafula Oguttu lose their seats yet they were some of the most effective parliamentarians. It goes without saying that their defeat could be attributed to a number of factors. However, would it be fair to state that these parliamentarians did not perform according to the expectations of their constituencies? If the general presumption is that votes are cast on the basis of competence, was there ever a question of competence for either of these members?
Uganda’s system of government is based on the Westminster model which presupposes that different arms of government perform distinct roles. The Ugandan Parliament has three cardinal roles to play: to make laws, maintain an oversight over the policy of government and ensure accountability in the use of state resources. These are executed through the standing and ad hoc committees that usually address the different aspects of policy and legislation. These roles sum up the expectations of the public of the statesmen that have the privilege to walk in the halls of Parliament.
The obscurity of our citizens on the roles of a Member of Parliament have reduced the ratings of most of them to how often they make headlines or appear on the news in the evening. It is sad to note that most of the honourable members that did not make it back to the 10th Parliament were actively involved in policy analysis and always put the government at task to account for its short comings. The thought of the absence of Wafula Oguttu the Leader of the Opposition in the 9th Parliament will cast a loud silence and echoes of his articulation will be vividly missed.
According to Mr Chris Obore, the director of communications at Parliament, “It is no longer strange to hear people ask their MPs to build hospitals and roads.” This is the ilk of expectation from the majority of the masses in Uganda. Are the masses to blame? Parliamentarians are fond of promising the electorate fallacies outside their constitutional mandate. This Machiavellian tendency of the end justifying the means has ended up placing the “wrong” people in Parliament at the expense of clear-minded people.
The rhetoric often extends towards tarmacking roads, building schools, hospitals and reducing the tax rates. While one acknowledges the lobbying and advocacy that a parliamentarian can use, these promises are far from scope of the powers of Parliament. The pettiness of our politics is bred by the egotisms of “nfunira mu wa? ” Loosely translated to mean, “where do I benefit from?” This is the yardstick of persuasion for one to win an election. This sort of shabbiness in our elections is devoid of any maturity of thought on technical matters that could contribute to the progress of our nation. Yet, our expectations in our leaders have a direct impact on the kind of governance we shall be subject to for the next five years. The truth, however, is that policy implementation is vested primarily in the Executive and the local government because of the decentralised system of governance established under our Constitution. This is not known to most of the electorate who blindly cast their votes on the basis of anything but logical considerations.
The apparent divide between the expectations from the majority of the masses has created the problem. This ludicrous branding by Members of Parliament as policy implementers has derailed the evolution and progress of democracy in its real sense. The sobriety and delivery expected of a Member of Parliament cannot be performed by a person whose path to Parliament was based on false hopes.This contradiction in our hybrid democracy is a consequence of the lack of civic education. Most Ugandans are predominantly unaware of the system of governance in place. They therefore, cannot be expected to demand an efficient performance from their representatives. What remains glaring is the need to educate the masses on governance. Civic Education promotes better governance; leaders can be fairly assessed on their performance as opposed to how much money they contributed in campaigns or how many burials they attended in their constituencies.
This extends to the averment, that the role of civic education cannot be limited to the eve of elections.
Just like the process of elections, we as Ugandans ought to be empowered with knowledge on governance and leadership. This role cannot be left to civil societies. The government should play an active role in civic education if the people of Uganda are to make informed choices on who may lead them towards the dawn of a better society.
This article was published in the Daily Monitor on 28.03.2016