Has affirmative action executed its mandate in changing the world? Should it be a permanent solution to lifting members of groups that are have previously suffered from discrimination? We should concede that affirmative action has greatly lifted the previously marginalized groups by gender or other reasons like women, persons with disabilities, and others. However like Suzan Estrich said, “Affirmative action was never meant to be permanent and now is truly the time to move on to some other approach.” I assent to this thought.
Affirmative action is a policy of favoring individuals belonging to groups known to have been discriminated against previously. Affirmative action is also known as reservation in India and Nepal, positive discrimination/ action in the United Kingdom and employment equity in Canada and South Africa. This term was first used in the United States in Executive Order No. 10925, signed by President John F Kennedy on 6th March 1961. This policy was then used to prevent employers from discriminating against members of disadvantaged groups basing on their race, origin or color.
In Uganda, affirmative action was established when the National Resistance Movement (NRM) assumed power in 1986. This policy is provided for in Article 32 of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda in favor of the marginalized groups basing on gender or other reasons created by history to ensure rectification of imbalances standing against them. Currently, the Parliament of Uganda holds 122 Members of Parliament elected on affirmative action positions. These include 122 District Women Representatives, 5 Youth Representatives and 5 Representatives of Persons with disabilities.
Evidently, with the current numbers of female Members of Parliament (MP) in Uganda, the policy has yielded some fruits. However, the policy is currently stagnant and thus calls for a new approach or modification to accelerate its relevancy. Since the establishment of affirmative action in Uganda in 1986, the Parliament of Uganda has never held more than 30 women on direct seats (constituency representatives). In the 10th Parliament, there is no MP with a disability holding a position on a direct seat. Hon. Baba Diri, Koboko Woman MP is the only Member with a disability who shifted from representing persons with disabilities to being woman representative which is also an affirmative action seat.
Having held a seat for over 10 years, one would think a member is emancipated enough to compete on direct seats. Unfortunately, there are legislators like Hon. Cecilia Ogwal who is currently serving her 5th term in the 10th Parliament amounting to 25 years of legislation in Parliament still standing on affirmative seats. Rt. Hon. Speaker Rebecca Alitwaala Kadaga is currently one of the most powerful women who at some occasions members of the House tried to persuade into standing for presidency is also still standing on affirmative action. Hon. Alex Ndeezi has served in the Parliament of Uganda from 1996 to date leaning against affirmative action.
Considering progress in the empowerment of marginalized groups, the Government of Uganda should consider setting term limits on affirmative action. Any member who is elected for two terms on affirmative action is emancipated enough to stand for a general seat. After two terms which are 10 years, a member should be banned from standing on any affirmative action seat to enable empowerment of other members of the marginalized groups and also to instill confidence and esteem in the previously discriminated persons.
From discussions with some members on affirmative action seats, a majority say they avoid general or direct seats because of patriarchy, societal, religious and cultural beliefs. Most societies despise women, youth and persons with disabilities, they hold intensive bias on these groups of people to the extent of denying them chances to express their capabilities. However, the best strategy to break this patriarchy, societal, religious and cultural beliefs is to go for the general seats.
Eventually, when women, youth and persons with disabilities persist on standing for general seats, the society shall accept them on any other seat available. However, if they keep shying away, the society will never welcome them and affirmative action will remain a stunted policy in Uganda without any more fruits to drop.