Wild man Zaake & parliament of contradictions

Member of Parliament (MP) Francis Zaake is back in the news – not for his cherubic cheeks and twinkling eyes.

Rather, for being the wild man of parliament, again. Zaake buzzes with youthful swagger. A restless energy afflicts him. For a while, state-sponsored harassment was Zaake’s potion, the requisite baptism for any firebrand opposition member.

His political party, the National Unity Platform (NUP), is an excellent choice for this baptism. NUP has attracted the heavy hand of the regime – its supporters abducted, disappeared, incarcerated, tortured, maimed, slightly dead – for the grave sin of dissent.

In May 2020, the then minister of Internal Affairs, Obiga Kania, told parliament that Zaake’s torture wounds were self-inflicted. Vindication for Zaake came swiftly when he successfully sued the government over the torture meted out to him in state custody. The High court in August 2021 ordered the government to compensate Zaake with Shs 75 million.

On February 9, the Speaker of Parliament Anita Among, while presiding over parliament, seemingly made light of Zaake’s torture ordeal when she joked about the youthful MP being able to win a gold medal in parliamentary games despite his torture-induced injuries.

Perhaps the speaker made these light comments in the spirit of presumptuous camaraderie. Employing his brash youth, Zaake took to Twitter, expressing his vehement distaste over Among’s remarks. And that’s how we discovered the word, bunkum.

He dismissed the speaker as lacking the intelligence to lead. His abrasive tweet reaped a blistering attack from his fellow MPs who paid no mind to the speaker’s comments but arose in righteous indignation, accusing Zaake of insulting the speaker.

The MPs moved a motion against Zaake that culminated in his ejection from the prestigious Parliamentary Commission in March. In our beloved country, our leaders are brittle, delicate flowers who must not suffer the indignity of harsh criticism.

Our fragile leaders prefer if you must criticize them, do so on your knees, in a calm praise song. The MPs who voted against Zaake accused him of bringing the reputation of the speaker and parliament into disrepute. One would imagine that parliament has thus far excelled in bringing itself into disrepute- without the zealous help of wild man Zaake.

An August 2022 Afrobarometer policy paper on the public’s perception of parliament found that 42 per cent of Ugandans surveyed believed the president often ignored parliament, thus hindering the oversight role of MPs. Forty-four per cent perceived “most or all” MPs as corrupt.

On November 29, the wild man disturbed the pristine process of parliament’s order paper by raising a national matter incorrectly. Zaake, against the counsel of Deputy Speaker MP Thomas Tayebwa, protested the grave national matter of the abduction and torture of opposition supporters.

Subsequently, in a scathing rebuke, Tayebwa reiterated our parliament is a highly organized organism that will not suffer the viral theatrics of Zaake. Zaake is now set to appear before the parliamentary disciplinary committee- his third time, according to the Nile Post.

Unfortunately for Tayebwa’s civilized intent, parliament is bursting with internal contradictions. On December 9, Internal Affairs Minister MP Kahinda Otafiire, during his remarks to commission the new police housing blocks, suggested the obese size of our parliament renders it ineffective.

Otafiire, who makes no apologies for his coarse bluntness, explained why as an MP he does not attend parliament sessions.

“Our parliament is the size of the Parliament of Britain! Britain’s economy is 200 times the size of Uganda’s economy… ..I don’t come to Parliament because I used to talk for 15 minutes; now I have to compete for three – because MPs are so many… what do you say in three minutes?”

Lately, Parliament has an optics problem. The MPs’ protective adoration of the neatly contoured speaker and her harem of glossy vehicles blurs the lines between national importance and the cult of personality. When the speaker gifted her husband a luxurious vehicle, the flower girls and pageboys who escorted the car were parliamentarians.

Recently, social media buzzed with yet another luxurious car allegedly belonging to the speaker. The pictures showed several MPs on the steps of parliament gazing in rapt admiration at the majestic machine. In that moment, parliament, which Tayebwa casts as an airtight theatre of dutiful decorum, became a gilded exhibition of unabashed privilege.

The MPs gazing on at the car – the praise singers fanning on the cult of personality. How can we expect such MPs to hold their leaders accountable should that day ever dawn?

Therefore, Zaake criticized for his impetuous youthfulness and failure to kowtow is an anomaly in this cultish House. While Deputy Speaker Tayebwa is toeing the correct line by coming down hard on Zaake for disregarding order, the messy contradictions reveal our hypocrisy.

Torture is not prim and proper yet the leadership of the House demands civility when citizens outside the comforts of parliament where sleek rides are ogled, are mangled and tortured. The order we desire ought to expose the foundations of our hypocrisy- are we ready?


The writer is a tayaad muzzukulu

Source: The Observer

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