Were they just an ignorant lot or was there a deliberate plan to stifle the debate and probable passing of Marriage and Divorce Bill by Members of Parliament?
Why were they asked to carry out sham communities when consultations had already been done?
What about the promised 5 million shillings for the consultations?
Why did MPs persistently spread misinformation and lies about the Bill?
Why would almost all women members of parliament agree with the Bill?
Why did Museveni call them radical feminists when we all know that our female MPs are far away from the word feminist?
I believe there’s more than meets the eye! I believe the misinformation campaign that was sanctioned and backed up with money had nothing to do with seeking views of ordinary men and women. What I don’t know yet is how most of the Ugandan media fell for these lies, purveyed them unfiltered? Something is terribly amiss. My feeling is the fear of the Bill’s contents is emanating from the top therefore the need to use the people at the bottom, lie to them and make sure the they protest the bill for you.
Whoever felted so terribly threatened by a bill, which if well implemented could address the problems of most vulnerable women in our society, are the same people that have denied Uganda a better democratic path for the last 27 years!
Uganda has not reformed much its marriage laws for many decades, so we are basically behind and our leaders don’t seem to be bothered.
This Marriage and Divorce Bill
“intended to reform and consolidate the laws relating to civil, Christian, Hindu, Bahai and customary marriages. It seeks to provide for the types of recognized marriages, marital rights and duties. The bill proposes to recognise cohabitation in relation to property rights; separation and divorce, and the consequences of separation and divorce; and for related matters.”
Of the 190+ clauses in the bill, the misinformation campaign selected the property rights and cohabitation, denying Ugandans the right to know what the rest of the proposed law said.
There were pertinent issues like which public worship areas to solemnize marriages, consent to marriage, age of marriage, widow inheritance, marriage gifts (bride price) were not to be an essential requirement, bigamy, marital rape, grounds for divorce etc.
One of reporters at Observer Patience Akumu did a more elaborate report on issues that MPs were refusing to talk about as they obsessed about property rights and cohabitation.
Women like Amuge Dinnah whom I met in Tororo are the real losers when lawmakers ignore their plight. Amuge has endured an abusive marriage since 1999 because her family cannot repay the bride price to her husband with whom they have five children. They have been separated on many occasions but she keeps coming back because she cannot easily move on to start another life. Her parents to whom the bride price was paid died. She told me that one time she had gone back to her brother’s home but her husband came there and threatened to kill the family that they were holding his wife. She went back with him.
While the rest of the country is stuck with old marriage law, Tororo District in 2010 outlawed the bride price law. Tororo District Bridal Gift Ordinance made brideprice a non-refundable gift. It is from this experience that campaigners sought to include similar language in the current marriage and divorce bill. The Tororo law was supported by councilors and while I was there; the women I met supported the law that governs bride wealth.
But still implementation challenges like most laws means Amuge can’t easily bring her husband before the law. She opened a case but the police always ask her money to go to find her husband.
When I saw the first reactions to the bill, I didn’t believe this was based on true contents of a proposed bill. A friend was one of those who had labored to hold a workshop for male MPs to understand the bill but most of them were bringing up issues not included in the bill or only attended half the session.
I joked that I didn’t except much from the lot that benefit from the status quo. Probably they are the same people who have more than one ‘hidden’ wife who cannot afford to speak or any other rights. I told her that if the law was too tough then men, right from the high offices of this land would of course feel threatened. Since women don’t have the majority of the numbers in parliament and the majority are from NRM party where decisions are always made from above, there was little chance of getting this much needed law in place.
After that followed a letter by President Museveni who seemed personally interested in the matter although he was hiding behind religion and culture.
Just three days ago a Daily Monitor headline screamed “Museveni: I won’t allow anti-people marriage legislation.”
And everyone is ready to believe that Museveni anti-people rhetoric! The truth be told, the bill that might give rights to the trampled upon people in the society is the same that threatens the rich and powerful families in this country. And no one is connecting the dots! No one is questioning why the deliberate misinformation? Why would a former Attorney General hold a consultation in Toro and just tell people he simply opposes the bill because it erodes men’s integrity.
Okay, may be the bill has issues here and there and there are few controversial clauses that need to be discussed and reviewed, but does this mean we should just kill it as this funded campaign seems to suggest? Where does this leave victims of this violence under marriage?
This rhetoric is the opposite of some of the surveys that have been done via radio stations. For instance polls done on three radio stations in North and Western Uganda by TRAC FM showed variations in views of Ugandans on Bride price to be enforced by law. In Kasese more people wished Bride price to be optional. In the north the figures weren’t as negative as your politicians are portraying. This shows that Museveni’s rhetoric that the bill is drafted by out of touch radical feminists is at the least ridiculous and the worst manipulative. Some of the provisions int he laws are similar to laws already implemented in neighbouring countries.
Should we accept to remain (in words of Miria Matembe) “a cultural museum?”
On twitter there wasn’t much discussion because just like the MPs most people hadn’t accessed a copy of the bill. Many simply held arguments based on the misinformation they were fed. Some of the interesting feedback.
@ pmagelah, an advocate tweeted “saddest part of #Marriagebill debate is very ignorant MPs addressing ignorant communities covered by ignorant media. #UGANDA
From Facebook I found an interesting take
“If a bill or law is for the interest of the powers that be and to scavenge public resources, it is discussed exclusively by the NRM caucus but if a bill is not for that purpose, MPs are paid to go and consult the public” Charles Rwomushana
Peace responded: “Consult on whether or not the state has the duty to ensure de facto and de jure right to equality and non-discrimination for women…from right holders who do not know the content of their rights or how to claim these rights.”
Another person commented on the threat: “We still have some oil bills lying in parliament, during all the bills discussions we never saw any MP consulting on anything but for M&D Bill they are everywhere. Not only the government (NRM) is to blame even the MPs who cannot demand for what is due for the people they represent.”
The question should have been, do you support the bill like it is on paper or the one in the heads of our mostly male MPs? And what’s their motive?
However long it takes, the struggle for social justice will see a fruitful day. You may fool non-reading Ugandans for now but you can’t deny that it tells a lot about the country when 30 years down the road we are still stuck with a colonial marriage law! And if Museveni wants a pro-people law, it will have to threaten those in privileged positions whom the current law favours. Believe you me the changes required are not a threat ordinary people suffering violence resulting from unresolved marital issues. It is not enough for those victims for MPs to say they are against the law. It is not enough to oppose! We need to hear you on what you think Uganda deserves!