In Uganda, political parties are not insulated against the 'Big man syndrome' because they are institutionally and functionally weak. Under such circumstances, the 'big man' of the party is not encumbered by organisational bureaucracy. He remains the supreme leader and sole owner of the party. His personal decisions become the official position of the party. Whoever comes up within the party leadership to oppose these dictatorial tendencies is either suspended, expelled and/or denied the 'goodies' the big man is able to dole out to party executives or members.
There are two schools of thought about what constitutes democracy: The first believes that democracy is a form of government that enables the people to govern themselves - meeting to discuss issues, voting in elections, e.t.c.
The second sees democracy in the substance of government policies, in freedom of religion and provision of human needs. The procedural approach focuses on how decisions are made while the substantive approach is concerned with what government does.
For purposes of this article, we will concentrate on whether procedural democracy has penetrated the internal administration of political parties in Uganda. But first, we need to know what exactly the organisation called a political party is. The most celebrated definition of a political party in modern English political science is traced to Edmund Burke, English political philosopher, who defined it as "a body of men united, for promulgating by joint endeavour the national interest, upon some particular principle in which they all agreed."
A Ugandan political commentator, Prof. Aaron Mukwaya, defines a political party as an institution of a group of people that is organised on a national basis purposed at capturing state power at all levels through genuine election contests..."
Article 71(1)(c ) of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda provides that the internal organisation of a political party shall conform to the democratic principles enshrined in it. The provision of the Constitution is reinforced by Section 10 of the Political Parties and Organisations Act, 2005 that prescribes the internal organisation of parties.
Internal party democracy can be attributed to the respect for the party constitution, which ordinarily provides for the internal administration of the party. The party constitution which has been issued by duly constituted organs of the party, lays down the rules and guidelines on how a party should be governed.
Internal party democracy can also be evidenced from the levels of interaction, participation and consultation between the various structures and leadership in the decision-making of the party. Does the big man/woman of the party impose his personal decisions on the party? Does the party big man/woman personally select individuals to elective positions?
Several political parties are presided over by 'Big men' who think their personal decisions are official party positions. They usually do not want to be associated with the collective decision-making of their party executives, but would rather impose their personal views on the party executives to implement without question.
Lack of respect for the party constitution can also be attributed to the failure by the so-called 'Big men' to attend party national executive committee meetings where collective decision-making is undertaken. The big men instead prefer to issue directives which may be against the collective decision-making of duly constituted organs of the party.
All registered political parties in Uganda have party constitutions that are registered with the Electoral Commission. These constitutions have democratic principles enshrined in them. These democratic principles provide for procedures, decision-making, membership, rights, responsibilities and accountability. Do the parties in their day-to-day administration apply these democratic principles? They probably don't.
The way forward for internal party democracy to thrive is for the legal framework that governs political parties and organisations to be amended to provide for a minimum level of education for one to hold a position on the party's National Executive Committee of a political party. This will enhance the quality of leadership in the parties, which as a consequence, checks the 'Big man syndrome' in Ugandan parties.
Another solution to the 'Big man syndrome' is for the political parties legislation to make it statutory for national executive committees of parties to meet regularly and discuss party policies and general administrative issues. Such meetings have to be supported by functional party secretariats.
A mechanism should be instituted to ensure that all registered political parties have a party office and functional party secretariat. Only when we have well-functioning and institutionalised political parties, will democratic governance be enhanced and cultivated.
Otherwise, Uganda may end as pseudo democratic state with many weak and dysfunctional political parties that do not contribute to the growth of good governance.
Mr Musumba is the secretary general of the Conservative Party