Uganda gets its first female speaker of parliament; is it worth a celebration?

Ms Rebbeca Alitwala Kadaga was today sworn in as the Speaker for the 9th parliament in Uganda. Most of the parliamentarians are familiar faces and the National Resistance Movement (NRM), President Museveni’s party, has enough members to pass any laws they want.

In a world that cherishes women’s rights and empowerment (or pretends to), this should be seen as a historic moment and many will see it as that. However I don’t see much to celebrate about Kadaga’s election. Kadaga is not a fresh face in this parliament, she has been there, served as Deputy Speaker. She has seen it all.

She holds a Masters in Women’s Law from the University of Zimbabwe but this specialization in women’s rights law has not seen the NRM filled parliament show concern to issues affecting women.

Uganda’s health system is ailing, maternal mortality is high yet we have seen the NRM government which Kagada has served exonerate ministers who swindle health care monies.  I was discussing Kadaga’s election with some people in the women movement and one lady told me, “I am not interested in pushing to have a female speaker just because she wears a dress.” Then she told me it’s almost impossible for her to see Kadaga above the NRM male dominated politics of intrigue. Many questioned what exactly Kadaga had done to advance the women’s rights in the country.

And these questions could be answered once the Marriage and Divorce Bill comes to her parliament in a few days. The bill among others recognizes marital rape and also provides that women are entitled to a share of property upon divorce.

Kadaga participated in the infamous amendment of Uganda’s constitution to allow the lifting of presidential term limits and thanks to that move we have a possible life presidency. She comes at a time when the chair of her party President Museveni is calling the media ‘enemies of the state’.  The very day she became speaker, somewhere on the outskirts of Kampala, the leader of opposition Dr. Kizza Besigye was under house arrest. Kadaga will most likely preside over the NRM parliament that will pass laws to deny Ugandans bail for 6 months for being suspected protesters.

Kadaga  is one of the MPs that took the Shs. 20 million shillings bribe from the government shortly before the February 2011 elections. When asked by some women she said she had used the money to construct some boreholes in her constituency but has refused to go on record and in the media to declare that. The campaign by civil society organizations is still on to try and get back that money.

The region she comes from -Busoga is one of the poorest regions in Uganda. It has suffered most because of the death of industries that once flourished in Jinja before the current government took over. Of course wealth distribution is not her role but she has held different ministerial positions in this government before and therefore she could answer some of the questions.

To me Kadaga will be just another speaker doing anything at the whims of President Museveni. I wait for her to shock me, to stand up to that small group of corrupt men that are draining this country’s resources.  I see her becoming another statistic of how African countries are doing well with women political empowerment. She will be the talk in those various governance and women’s conferences. Am sure she will have millions of invites at her table to tell the story of how she made it.

But I will wait for you Madam Speaker to prove me wrong! That you will not only be known as the first female Speaker but as a woman who put her country above her party. I say this knowing that the party you serve has become too intolerant to anyone that questions their mismanagement of this country.

Time is on your side. You have got five years to do that.

11 thoughts on “Uganda gets its first female speaker of parliament; is it worth a celebration?

  1. I think we should be level headed about this:

    1) That she is the first female speaker is historic. Period. The most powerful person in parliament is a woman. Amazing. The New Vision was spot on in declaring that she will increase the visibility of women in the House. Asset. Will she perform … time will tell.

    2) We do not elect neutral parliamentary speakers. They are in the House and elected to that position because they openly stood on a party ticket (NRM). We already know which way they lean and so our expectations of neutrality are undermined from the start.

    3) Kadaga was a key force behind the anti-FGM Bill and the human trafficking bill and has been a strong advocate for women’s issues outside the House.

    4) While I am not an NRM apologist, it is not true that the death of Jinja as an industrial hub was the result of NRM actions. The death of industry in Uganda started with Idi Amin’s take over. Its fate was sealed 30 years ago. Perhaps the only fault of the NRM in this is failing to resurrect it.

    Me, I am not celebrating, but I am placated. The women’s movement has come a long way from the days in which female MPs were only in the news for their dress sense and filling the quota. I guess I have just chosen to be an optimist in this regard.

  2. Great points you note there on the death of the industries. But all the laws you are mentioning were a collective job of several women MPs. And because they didnt in any way pose a threat to NRM they cd be passed easily. anyone in NRM wd pass them. I am talking about Kadaga being able to have an influence in that NRM party which has what it takes to pass any crazy law for this country. Just like Sekandi she will continue to serve the interests of NRM only the difference is that we are in a harsher political environment.

  3. Rosebell ,U raised pertinent $ legitiment concerns. I can,t agree with u more.
    However its so unfortunate that p’ple like Twijuke can afford to be blind to such glarering facts. To hold Kadaga’s election to speakership as “a women benefit” would be the most misleading perception one could come up with. I mean, how many women have held senior positions in this gov’t,but whose appointments have helped the women cause??Come on Twiju, give us some credit,Kadaga’s been dep.speaker for lst 5 years, what notable female cause could be written against her name? And may be i need more education about this,but i guess when one is elected Speaker,its gets incumbent oupon them to shade their partiarity as much aspossible so as do their duties soberly. they can”t even vote on issues. CLAIRE.

  4. If you are able to recall , the Rt. Hon. speaker now, Kadaga spear headed the law to stop the female muturation(circumcision of females) in Uganda. She spent sleepless nights in the hills of Kapuchorwa, Buko, part of Kenya , while educating the people on the problems of the female muturation practice on the general health of a mother especially at the time of child birth. As we talk this law is going to be considered by international communities and used to stop that same practice in the rest of the world.
    And also she spear headed the boycott of approving any lone of government , unless when the worked on maternal health in hospitals by increasing the budget.
    I hope given time many things are expected especially on the side of women.

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