Since coming into force, national awards, a program of formal recognition of Ugandans whose contributions to the community reflect its best and most deserving attempts at nationalism and patriotism, has conferred 14,884 awards.
Now the Ugandan parliament led by its charismatic two-time Speaker Hon. Rebecca Kadaga intends to give the standard heroes award to all MPs that served the country since its founding in 1962. That is all together nine parliaments excluding the current 10th parliament. That figure is 1113 individual awards bringing the total given by the awards committee to an astronomical 15,997. The new awards, probably the largest single bestowment in Africa (until corrected) will happen in 10 days time (on the 26th of September), going by parliamentary sources.
There is some meaning to these numbers.
Uganda’s political class is already hefty. The elected class (top to bottom and across all offices according to the country’s elections commission lists) is well 1.7 million. That is over four times the size of the civil service and larger than contributors to the National Social Security Fund, the provident fund monopoly in the country. That said the Uganda parliament is also the port of civic political renewal. Every election since 2006 nearly half of all sitting MPs lost their seats, more in the last two elections including the one held in February.
This means on the one hand that voters do exercise real power over this office. It also stands in contrast to the presidential election, which has not seen any change since 1986 and has had a single office bearer.
The behaviour of these political freshers has been to take off their gloves when dealing with the Executive. In 2011/12 they forced him into a corner over secrecy of oil agreements a great service to the country. Currently they are piling on State House with bills for this perk or the other including payment for luxurious cars, travel and even funerals for MPs. This trend of legislative confidence however is driven mostly by corruption and commercialization of politics – where the large salaries of MPs have the job of being a member of parliament the most coveted employment in the country. In fact it is a false confidence because it is fuelled by cynicism, desperation and indebtedness.
It is in this context that the awards themselves should be seen.
“Give enough medals and you will win any war” as Gen Napoleon Bonaparte may have said to Gen. Museveni is the political pragmatism here.
One of the political hurdles that MPs smell that the President (or his supporters) would like to get out of the way along with term limits is age limits in the constitution.
According to sources in the House, the Parliamentary Commission, which is chaired by Speaker Kadaga, decided to increase their monetary demands for car benefits – because “ the president needs us”. This week Ms Kadaga, feeling more confident of support in her colleagues, launched a brazen attack on the national media for reporting “negatively” on this transactional relationship (where parliament wants to be compromised and the Executive is happy to compromise it). For constitutional experts, donors and non-state international partners, this is a nightmare situation – with real threats to any idea of checks and balances. However for the government sector the cooperation of the House – for an extra 1113 shiny ribbons, will pave the way to get legislation that runs the system easier.
But what is it? That would be the real value in this political theatre.