8 November 2012

Uganda: Historic Icons Graced Parliamentary Week


There was some uncertainty, even within Parliament itself, about the success of the Parliamentary Week, which was held to commemorate Uganda's Golden Jubilee. Parliament organized its own activities during the Parliamentary Week held September 24 - 28, 2012, ahead of the official national celebrations.

Under the guidance of the Speaker, the Clerk and deputy clerks, a small working group came up with a host of activities which included: a charity walk during which funds were raised to save the crested crane; a blood donation drive; a public lecture; netball and football matches between Parliament teams playing retired/veteran netball and football national players.

To crown it all was the Awards Dinner held at the Commonwealth Speke Resort, Munyonyo, on September 28, 2012. At this dinner, former Members of Parliament, speakers and deputy speakers, clerks to parliament, leaders of government business and the opposition and other distinguished personalities in the legislative field over the last 50 years were recognised.

The dinner was graced by the president, who, as former chairman of the NRC, was one of the recipients of the evening's awards. Several personalities who made a mark on Uganda's legislative and democratic process turned up for the event, surprising many, including the organizers. Among them was the Speaker of the 1st Parliament of Uganda, Rt Hon Narendra Patel.

Patel replaced Sir John Griffin (who was represented by his great grandnephew) as Speaker in 1963 until 1971. During this parliament, the Independence Constitution was amended to provide for a ceremonial president, a position filled by Sir Edward Mutesa II, with the Kyabazinga of Busoga becoming the vice president.

Present at the same event was Rt Hon Francis Butagira, Speaker during the multiparty parliament in 1980 1985 and Rt Hon Prof Edward Rugumayo, who was Speaker during the 3rd Parliament - the National Consultative Council (NCC), put in place to perform the legislative functions of government following the fall of Idi Amin in 1979. These two served in difficult times.

The NCC came in after years without a parliament and comprised members 'elected' from outside Uganda. The 4th Parliament followed disputed elections in which the UPC formed government, while the DP, UPM and CP were in opposition. Parts of the country were experiencing war and a coup occurred as the term of parliament was coming to an end.

Rt Hon Butagira was later to serve in various positions in both government and the diplomatic service, while Rt Hon Rugumayo also served as a diplomat and later as minister of Internal Affairs and then Tourism, Trade and Industry.

Baganchwera Barungi was the first Ugandan Clerk to Parliament. He was followed by Edward Ochwo who served through the troubled 1970s and early 1980s until 1989 when the long serving A. M. Tandekwire (1989 - 2011) took over. These were all present.

Dr Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere, former President General of DP, minister in government, Leader of Opposition, was also there. He has been involved in the country's politics since the 1960s.

Hon Florence Lubega, Hon Joyce Mpanga, Hon Sarah Ntiro and Hon Rhoda Kalema - distinguished ladies in Uganda's political and education fields over the years, also attended and were awarded for their illustrious service.

Members of the 1st Parliament or their representatives also attended, all of whom were pleased to see one another after a very long time. The current Speaker, Hon Rebecca Kadaga (also deputy Speaker 2001-2011), Clerk, Mrs Jane Kibirige and members of the current Parliament were also in attendance.

This was a true reunion, with politicians and civil servants of different generations coming together, sharing experiences and reminiscing about their roles in pre and post-independence Uganda.

As Parliament, we were delighted that we could, and indeed brought, together all these distinguished people, who were part of our history. Hopefully, in the next 50 years, some of this history, much of which has been left unwritten or misrepresented, will be documented.

Putting together these activities of the Parliamentary Week was not an easy job. While working on the souvenir August House magazine (which was also well received), we encountered difficulties in finding facts, written or recorded information.

We only realised the magnitude of our predicament when Edward Ochwo informed us that they were actually ordered to burn all government/parliament documents, including pictures, in 1971 on the orders of President Idi Amin.

Ochwo said this was done under the watchful eye of Amin's soldiers in the parliamentary gardens. We hope this will not happen again and that indeed all recorded information will be available for future generations.

The author is Senior Information Officer, Parliament of Uganda.

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