Why Gov­ern­ment should set term lim­its on af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion in Par­lia­ment

By: SHAMI­RAH MA­TOVU

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.