Henry Barlow’s poem, Building the Nation, narrates an encounter involving two public servants – a driver, and his senior colleague, a permanent secretary.
While they drove home after a function of attending to ‘matters of state,’ both were yawning. While the yawns of the PS were caused by a sumptuous meal of ‘cold Bell beer’, ‘fried chicken,’ ice-cream and coffee – the menus of all important functions – the yawns of his driver were caused by hunger.
As their conversation focused on the sacrifices both were making, it was clear that – despite their different ways — both had become afflicted by an ugly yawning disease, which was dangerous to their health. Barlow satirises that both men had ulcers – although the PS actually had dyspepsia.
Barlow’s hard-boiled cynicism in this poem succinctly captures the absurd relationship Ugandans share with their, ironically, democratically elected members of parliament.
Whilst the wananchi toil under the weight of taxes to build their nation, the members of Parliament suffer to spend the proceeds for their personal gain.
Of course, this is one of Mr Museveni’s major crimes – and his collaborators. But every time we focus on the president, we tend to downgrade the agency of those acting in lower positions of authority – especially those masquerading as the opposition.
At Parliament avenue, behind those high sandy-looking walls, are a bunch of shady smartly dressed wonks cobbling an existence by cutting deals and gambling the country away.
It is a market square of sorts where the forces of demand and supply define their work. How much? What is in it for me? They ask. And with good advertising and branding, the wananchi cannot see through the horrors of these dullards.
They call their space the “august House”—after Augustus Caesar, the first emperor of the Roman Empire, and themselves, “honourables.” What nonsense!
During the amendment of the age-limit clause in the constitution, it became explicitly clear that even those who opposed the amendment—specifically through debating and voting against the amendment—actually served the interests of the amendment.
Look, they had the better option of walking out, which would have enabled an ugly 100 percent pro-amendment vote.
This uncontested victory is akin to running and winning an own race, and delegitimizes the entire thing. But they didn’t choose it. They then insulted our and their integrity further by pursuing a court process, which only underscores Museveni’s democratic credentials.
In truth, while the wananchi mourn the amendment for its ugliness, the (opposition) MPs are also doing the same, but out of dyspepsia.
We are witnessing the limits of the anti-colonialist longing of building nations through electoral and parliamentary democracies.
These models have failed. Among other weaknesses of the modern state and electoral democracies in agrarian societies is that more organisation (of peasants and illiterates such as parliament) translates into easier manipulation and control.
My sense is that there is need to redefine parliament to realise its true functioning. My proposition is that there is need to take parliament away from Parliament avenue to the streets of Kampala and other major towns. Peasants are stronger and more coherent un-organised.
The genius of Bobi Wine [also Kizza Besigye] and recently-elected MP Asuman Basalirwa has never been their ability to deliberate on matters of state from inside the so-called august House, but on the streets of Kampala, in the courtrooms, radios and television.
Music, street campaigns have been a cause for restraint to the excesses of the merchants in government. Sadly, on the other hand, parliament – often with high drama and fanfare – has often simply endorsed these excesses.
See, this country vividly recalls how single-handedly and unorganisedly Asuman Basalirwa challenged the kingdom of Busoga over a job offer to their king from the president.
Bobi Wine’s rebel music has mobilised the country on matters such as HIV/AIDS, dictatorship, cronyism and several other excesses.
As we continue to appreciate the already-established activists joining parliament, we have to fall in love with their unorganising credentials.
The opposition might destroy each other but the ongoing unorganisation in the opposition is good for the country as it denies the executive the ability to control and manipulate it. Building the nation in different ways.
The author is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research.