By the time Uganda hosted its first and only Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference to-date in 1967, the country had been independent for only about five years. That opportunity also came during a year when Uganda had just been declared a republic following the proclamation of a new Constitution, and had just got its first executive president.
Fifty-two years have gone by since then without a similar opportunity to host legislators from all the former British colonies. But that will change later this month when Uganda lays out the red carpet for at least 1,000 Commonwealth MPs and their guests from around the world, who are slated to attend the 64th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference (CPC).
Uganda will host the one-week conference, which will take place from September 22 to 29 at the Commonwealth Resort Hotel in the upscale Kampala suburb of Munyonyo. The same venue also hosted the 2008 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm).
The vice chairperson of the organising committee for the 64th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference, Ms Jalia Bintu Lukumu, described the event during an interview as more than just a meeting of legislators.
She said the conference and the activities planned around it offer another opportunity for Uganda to show its Commonwealth counterparts and the rest of the world the progress it has made since 1967.
"People want to come and see how Uganda is. They have heard the good side of Uganda [and] they know Uganda is a peaceful country. They want to come and visit the national parks, to see the source of the Nile, the gorillas, the climbing lions, and they have been told Ugandans are very hospitable. So, our people will benefit economically," Ms Bintu said by telephone.
At the political level, the conference will offer the country another key leadership role on the global stage. This is because the Speaker of the Parliament, Ms Rebecca Kadaga, is set to take over as the president of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) for 2019-2020 during the event.
Usuk MP Peter Ogwang, who is also a member of the CPC organising committee in charge of transport, said the ascension by Ms Kadaga to the leadership of CPA will provide a platform for government to bring its most pressing issues that can be handled at Commonwealth level to the organisation's top organs.
"It will give the country an added advantage to have someone at the top who can advocate for its own agenda and plans at the Commonwealth Secretariat, and that is where the top organs sit and discuss issues that will be part and parcel of the issues to be discussed at the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit," Mr Ogwang, who is also a Parliament Commissioner, said. "So it is good not only for Uganda as a country, but Africa as a whole."
The CPA, which was founded in 1911, is an international community of some 180 Commonwealth parliaments and legislatures that work in tandem to deepen the Commonwealth's commitment to the highest standards of democratic governance.
It connects, develops, promotes and supports parliamentarians and their staff to identify benchmarks of good governance and implementation of the enduring values of the Commonwealth.
The theme for the Kampala conference is "adaptation, engagement, and evolution of parliaments in a rapidly changing Commonwealth."
Organisers say the event will offer its members an opportunity to examine, and find possible solutions to the major challenges that parliaments grapple with today.
According to Mr Jackson Oboth-Oboth, the MP for West Budama County South, the theme of the conference is a wakeup call to Uganda and other CPA members that their respective legislative bodies cannot continue to do business as usual in a rapidly changing world.
"When you are adapting, it means you are changing from your previous conduct or behaviour to another. Now, thanks to ICT, the interaction between us and the people we represent is seamless. We are engaging on social media and other interactive platforms so the dynamics are changing and we need to rethink, re-strategise and redefine the mission of Parliament in a fast-changing world," Mr Oboth-Oboth, who is in charge of protocol and ceremonies on the CPC organising committee, said.
Mr Oboth-Oboth also said the conference will offer an opportunity for Commonwealth parliaments to do a self-audit of their respective performances at a time of great change.
The organisers add that besides the main CPA conference, they have also scheduled five additional mini-conferences and meetings.
These include the 37th CPA Small Branches Conference, 6th triennial Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP) Conference, the 64th CPA General Assembly, meetings of the CPA Executive Committee, and the Society of Clerks at the Table (SOCATT) meetings.
The CPA will also hold elections for the chairperson of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP), the CPA Treasurer and the CPA Small Branches chairperson for new three-year terms.
However, the organising committee said they are unlikely to field candidates for those other positions, given that Speaker Kadaga is already assured of taking up the prized role of CPA president.
Additionally, besides the CPA presidency, the Ugandan Parliament stands to benefit from vehicles and equipment that the CPA Secretariat and government have purchased for the event.
She said the equipment will be offered to the Ugandan Parliament after the conference.
In early June, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Mr Akbar Khan, travelled to Uganda to assess the preparations ahead of the conference.
During a meeting with members and staff of Parliament on June 7, Mr Khan said with a little over three months to the event, he was impressed by the facilities in place and readiness of Uganda to host the conference.
"The planning looks very positive and all we need is to move to the venues and allocate meeting areas appropriately so that people with disabilities are well taken care of," he told his Ugandan hosts. "We need to make sure we set the bar for the next meeting."
Ms Bintu, who is the Uganda Branch representative for CPA Africa region, said the Ugandan government had already committed - and released - significant amount of funds for the preparations.
The 64th CPC, which is being jointly hosted by the CPA Uganda Branch and Parliament, will cost the East African country about Shs20b.
However, according to Ms Kadaga, the money is an investment whose dividends the country will reap in short and long term.
"There is going to be money [coming into] the economy in the short run but in the long run, we shall be marketing our country for tourism and investment," she said at the launch of Uganda's preparations for the event.
Ms Kadaga said during the conference, accredited Ugandan businesses will have the opportunity to exhibit, market and sell their different products to foreign delegates.
Addressing media editors on July 12, to highlight potential benefits of the conference to the country, Ms Kadaga said the conference offers an opportunity for the economy to reap big.
"We expect revenue from participants of the conference because all of them will pay for their accommodation. The will [also go sight seeing], dance to our music and eat our food. All this will boost our economy," she said.
Last week, Ms Bintu added that she expects the financial ripple effects from the conference to reach hoteliers who provide accommodation, tour companies that will provide services to the delegates, supermarkets and shopping malls, farmers whose food will be consumed, and crafts makers whose items will be purchased by delegates as souvenirs to return home with.
High profile guest list
The Queen of the United Kingdom, Elizabeth II, is the patron of CPA and would ordinarily have been expected to attend the event.
However, because she has significantly cut down on her foreign travel, the Queen is expected to be represented by President Museveni, who early this year was installed as the deputy patron of the CPA.
Ms Bintu said the CPA expects Queen Elizabeth to send one member of the royal family for the event while the United Kingdom is expected to send a high-powered House of Commons delegation led by its Speaker, John Bercow, who is also a former president of the CPA.
Speaker Bercow is expected to be joined by most of the speakers of the respective legislative bodies of all 53 member-countries of the Commonwealth, right from India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Malaysia, to the 19 members from Africa.
Among the high profile guests is the current chairperson of CPA, Ms Emilia Monjowa Lifaka, who is the deputy speaker of the National Assembly of Cameroon.
In March, Ms Lifaka was in Uganda to invite President Museveni to serve as the deputy patron of CPA, a role that is reserved for the president of the CPC host country.
MP Ogwang said his transport team has made plans to ensure that all the high profile guests have adequate transport facilities to ferry them from-and-back-to the airport, as well as ensure that their movement around Kampala and other places they choose to visit is seamless.
The head of the media and publicity committee for the CPC, Mr Paul Amoru, said because of the high-profile nature of the conference, attendance of any of its activities is by invitation only. However, he added, the organisers want to ensure that the entire spectrum of Ugandan society will be represented.
"All invited groups are coming as observers," he said, adding that among the special interest groups that will be represented are youth, student leaders, women, persons with disabilities, and business community, as well as key government agencies and departments such as Uganda Investment Authority and Uganda Tourism Board.
For other Ugandans, Mr Amoru said the organisers have developed a comprehensive communications strategy to ensure that they get to follow all the activities at the conference that are open to the public.
For instance, both the opening and closing ceremonies will be aired live on all major local televisions stations.
"Almost every media house that we have engaged has agreed not just to live stream the proceedings on their legacy media outlets, but also to stream them on online media and social media platforms," the Dokolo County North MP said.
"We are also going to live stream activities on the conference website and the Parliament websites as well as the website of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association," he said.
So far, according to Mr Amoru, a total of 240 journalists have registered for the conference, although the organisers expect even more to receive accreditation by the end of the registration period.
They include local and regional media practitioners, as well as journalists from leading global media outlets such as BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera.
"The media and publicity committee has created a state-of-the-art media bureau which will be well-equipped to enable local and international journalists to freely operate and be able to generate content for publication and for broadcast," he said.
Mr Amoru said the media and publicity committee has worked round the clock to drum up public awareness for the conference because of the opportunities that it offers.
He said Parliament wants Ugandan businesses and individuals to seize all the opportunities available before, during and after a conference making a once-in-a-generation return to Uganda after a little more than half a century.
"We want people to understand that this is significant for Uganda," he said, adding: "We think we stand to gain a lot through the opportunities this conference offers and one clear route towards effectively sharing those opportunities with every Ugandan is through the media."
Confirming MPs Bintu and Amoru's assertions about the direct involvement of the private sector, the chief executive officer of the Uganda Hotel Owners Association, Ms Jean Byamugisha, said proprietors of the designated host hotels in Kampala have been sending representative to work with Parliament as part of its CPC National Organising Committee. These include Munyonyo, Serena Kampala Hotel, Lake Victoria Resort Golf Hotel, Sheraton Hotel Kampala, Skyz Hotel, Golf Course Hotel, Hotel Africana, Protea Hotel, Kabira Country Club and Imperial Royale Hotel.
Ms Byamugisha added that the hotel industry will eventually benefit from the ripple effects of the global publicity that the CPC will gain, since the choice of Uganda to host the event will be seen as a vote of confidence in Uganda's ability to manage similar events.
"Hosting an international conference is a sign of very many things; it is a vote of confidence in a country, its security, its facilities and its economic standing, and usually one of the biggest beneficiaries are the hotels because everything happens within hotels, from accommodation, meals, meetings, relaxation to entertainment," she said.
Ms Byamugisha said when Parliament hosts the CPC successfully, it will help to provide an additional boost to Uganda's strategy to market itself to the rest of the world as an African conference hub.
According to her, this is being implemented by focusing on attracting global organisers of meetings, conferences and events that can bring thousands of guests into the country at one-go.
Traditions, history of Commonwealth parliamentary conference
The CPA was founded on July 18, 1911 as the Empire Parliamentary Association during a meeting in the United Kingdom.
The organisation's name was eventually changed in 1948 to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA). It took until 1924 for the first conference to be held outside London, when representative spent two months in Southern Africa.
Subsequent conferences were held in Australia and Canada, but London remained a favoured host location for the event. Before 1959, the CPC was held every two years, but that changed in 1961 when a decision was reached to hold it annually. Also, the Commonwealth had not been officially born at the government level until 1949.Another change that took place in 1961, according to a summary document from the history of CPC from the CPA, was that the conference added discussions on parliamentary and electoral processes to the usual agenda of political - especially foreign policy - issues.
"Seminars, such as the Westminster Seminar on Parliamentary Practice and Procedure which began in the early 1950s, meetings of Presiding Officers and Clerks and study groups on parliamentary subjects also began at this time," says the document.
From 1981, according to the document, the CPA has held small branches conferences for members from more than 30 jurisdictions with populations of up to a current ceiling of 500,000 people.
The CPA small branches conferences are usually held on the margins of the CPC, with members sitting down to discuss political problems and the operation of democratic systems in some of the world's smallest jurisdictions. However, it was not until 2016 that the first CPA Small Branches chairperson was elected.
"The Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP) was founded as an informal group in 1989 to increase the number of female elected representatives in Parliaments and Legislatures across the Commonwealth and to ensure that women's issues are brought to the fore in parliamentary debate and legislation," adds the document.
It states that the CWP was only formally recognised by the CPA in 1996 while the maiden CWP Chairperson was first elected in 2004. Mr Oboth-Oboth says the CPC has since become a significant organisation for its members that CPA requires all its branches to study the resolutions reached at the conference and follow up on what needs to be done then report the successes and challenges faced.