By Odongo Lango
Last October 2019, my friend, Andrew Omara, the Personal Assistant to UPC President, Jimmy Akena, invited me to the annual Milton Obote Memorial Lecture.
The keynote speaker was Prof. Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, Kisumu County Governor, and former President of Makerere University Students’ Guild.
UPC has habitually invited notable Kenyan public intellectuals to headline this annual event. In 2018, Prof PLO Lumbumba made a stirring speech and brought the house down with his praise of Milton Obote.
The keynote speaker last year, Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o, has written a book titled: “Presidential or Parliamentary Democracy in Kenya? Choices to be made”. In his address, he attacked the Presidential system. He castigated Milton Obote for his dictatorial tendencies, which included invoking the emergency and detention without trial act, and the banning of other political parties, which made Uganda a de facto one-party state in 1969.
In his book, Prof. Anyang’ Nyong’o makes persuasive arguments for the Westminster Parliamentary System. He cites coalition building, in instances when no party wins outright majority, as one of the strong selling points for the parliamentary system.
Uganda’s own experience illustrates this point. On the eve of independence in 1962, no party won an outright majority in that election. Milton Obote, however, struck a coalition deal between his Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), and Kabaka Mutesa’s Kabaka Yekka (KY), to form a government and take the country to independence from Britain, with Buganda in it. This demonstrated the versatility of the Westminster model.
A more recent experience in practicing parliamentary democracy is the state of Israel. During their last re-elections, both the ruling Likud party and the opposition Labour party failed to win enough seats to form a government on their own. This has opened the way for a possible alliance with Arab parties in the Knesset, something that has been, until now, unthinkable for either Labour or Likud.
This underscores the assertion that parliamentary democracy provides the space to reach out across political and ideological divides, and reach accommodations and compromises among political rivals. This is anathema to the first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all, adversarial presidential system.
parliamentary system is also suited for diverse nations like Uganda, to act as
a counterbalance against the risk of populous nationality groups
dominating the political space because of sheer numbers. Furthermore, the
Westminster model might be a solution to our, sometimes, personalized and
highly polarized presidential competition.
We might also benefit as a country, because politicians will be more responsive to the constituents’ needs.
The writer is an NRM party activist from Minakulu sub-county, in Oyam District