The emotions, cutthroat competition and resources that political parties invested in choosing Uganda’s representatives to the East African Legislative Assembly gave the impression that the regional parliament is a high stakes institution with real political clout.
On February 28, parliament chose Rose Akol, Matthias Kasamba, Paul Musamali, Denis Namara, George Stephen Ondongo, Mary Mugenyi, Fred Mukasa Mbidde, Susan Nakawuki and Chris Opoka to go to EALA, in a vote that reopened old wounds in some political parties.
The ruling National Resistance Movement managed to conduct a caucus meeting that stopped a repeat of February 7, when its members almost exchanged blows at State House; but there were still chaotic scenes at parliament that mostly targeted Ingrid Turinawe, a candidate from the Forum for Democratic Change.
But as Mr Mbidde, Ms Nakawuki and Mr Opoka, who are returning to Arusha for a second term, campaigned before parliamentarians on voting day, it quickly became clear that this was indeed a high-stakes game financially, as individuals stand to make over $14,000 in monthly benefits for a political job with no constituents to placate.
'Cordial, good leader'
While the majority of the 46 candidates had a semblance of a plan, Mr Mbidde, Ms Nakawuki and Mr Opoka, having been at EALA since 2012, just went through the motions of campaigning, happy that their supporters from the majority NRM were making enough of a racket that no one would pay attention to what was said.
Mr Opoka spent less than one of the allotted seven minutes to say that while at EALA, he had been found to be such a cordial and good leader that he had been voted to temporary lead the Assembly in impeaching Margaret Zziwa. A court has found that this move by EALA was illegal and in contravention of the East African Community Treaty. Mr Opoka also thanked parliament for sending him to EALA five years ago.
Asked about Uganda’s failure to harmonise, approximate or implement any law passed by EALA, Mr Opoka said it had nothing to do with the representatives sent to Arusha.
“The failure to implement EALA laws has to do with partner states’ lack of goodwill,” he said.
He said the EAC lacked enforcement institutions like the police and the courts, and instead had to rely on the goodwill of partner states.
On her part, Ms Nakawuki did not say much. She appeared secure in the knowledge that her pact with the NRM and her gender would get her a ticket back to Arusha.
Uganda has four female representatives in the EALA, whose tenure is to end on June 4. And with the NRM choosing two of its six female candidates, the Uganda Women’s Parliamentary Association realised rather late that more female candidates had to be backed to go to EALA. Ms Nakawuki benefited from this. While campaigning, she told the cheering MPs that she had done well in her tenure and there was no need to repeat her achievements.
Speaking after voting, Ruth Nankabirwa, the NRM’s chief whip told The EastAfrican that the members sent to EALA over the years have been successful in delivering Uganda’s goals for integration and that for this reason, her party had chosen the right group of nine to send for the coming term.
Asked what these goals were, Ms Nankabirwa listed the four pillars of integration namely, the Customs Union, the Common Market, the Monetary Union and political Federation.
The Customs Union and the Common Market have been put in place through protocols that are worked on by EAC ministries and signed by the heads of state. But Ms Nankabirwa said that Uganda’s EALA representatives have to negotiate and ensure that the region federates politically.