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Uganda gets youngest Parliament

By Vision Reporter

Added 7th May 2011 03:00 AM

FROM May 16, Parliament will be a hive of activity as the swearing-in for lawmakers for the Ninth Parliament
begins in earnest. One after another, the MPs will take oath to carry out their duties as required by the law.

FROM May 16, Parliament will be a hive of activity as the swearing-in for lawmakers for the Ninth Parliament
begins in earnest. One after another, the MPs will take oath to carry out their duties as required by the law. John Masaba examines the new Parliament.

Unlike in the 8th Parliament, nearly half of the women and men taking oath will be new faces, many of them having been helped into the House by the winds of change that swept through the country in the February polls.

The causality list reads 120, among them 18 ministers.

An analysis done by Saturday Vision shows that the in-coming Parliament will have some of the youngest legislators in the world.

The average age of an MP in the in-coming Parliament is 43 years. This is a decline from 45 in the 8th Parliament.

Compared with countries like Canada with average age of 53, UK with 51 and Kenya with 58, the Ugandan Parliament will be more youthful.

According to National Conference of State Legislature, a website, which documents details of legislators in Senate (US’ equivalent our Parliament), over 47% of America’s state legislators are between 50 and 64 years of age, 23.6% of legislators are 65 years of age or older, 24.6% of legislators are between 35 and 49 years of age.

In India, the average is 57 years, while in Hungary, the average is 50.

The changing trend in Uganda is perhaps due to the power shift in which much older legislators in the previous Parliament were replaced with much younger MPs.

For example, the internal affairs minister, Kirunda Kivejinja, 76, gave way to Abdu Katuntu, 45, while education minister, Namirembe Bitamazire, 70, was replaced by the much younger Mariam Nalubega, 30.

Others are agriculture minister, Hope Mwesigye, 55, who was defeated by 33-year-old Rita Ninsiima; the minster for presidency, Beatrice Wabudeya, 50, exited to give way for Nandala Mafabi , 44 among others.

What a young Parliament means

Dr. Golooba-Mutebi, a political scientist, and Senior Research Fellow at the Makerere Institute of Social Research says the younger an MP the less fit they are for Parliament. Golooba, like Booker, observes that most young MPs lack experience and cannot handle Parliament matters. This means they cannot be trusted with making decisions on issues of national interest.

“With few exceptions, most are fresh graduates out to find a job and are not competent enough to handle weighty matters of national interest,” he says, adding that such people are the ones most likely to tow to whims or individuals at the expense of national interest and the people who voted for them.

He says Parliament is becoming hot destination for young people because they are more pre-occupied with self-glorification and making a quick buck.

Serious people “with honour attached to their names”, he says, are disenchanted and are not interested in the business of Parliament anymore because the House has lost its independence.

Tanga Odoi, a professor of history at Makerere University, says while they can bring vibrancy and new ideas —an important ingredient to the business in the House— young people are prone to manipulation.

This he says is because many of them are driven by short-term gains. As a result, he says, this leaves those who cast their votes for them as the real losers.
Yusuf Nsibambi, the deputy President for Forum for Democratic Change (Central Uganda), says as long one has his country at heart, the age cannot be big issue for one to get to Parliament.

However, he thinks Parliament is getting younger because there are young people joining politics to find employment.
“Politics is a calling, not a job,” he says. “In the long run, the Government spends colossal sums of money training the inexperienced legislators on matters of policy formulation.”

The youth numbers
The fact that 65% of Ugandans are youth, necessitates a young Parliament, which is touch with their needs.

No wonder the President decided to put youth at the heart of his re-election campaign trail.

Unlike their older counterparts who have achieved nearly everything they wish for in life, for younger people, life is just beginning.

Many are keen to make the right decisions that affect their children’s future. So rather than be content with the little they have, more younger people want more and better, and participating in making important decisions is what drives many into politics.

So getting a younger Parliament can help set the right policies that will be helpful in addressing the problems of the majority, among them unemployment.

Last year, it is no surprise that it is the youth that were in the thick of a petition to have the retirement age changed from the current 60 years to 55.

During the International youth day celebrations, the youth requested the President to consider reducing the retirement age, arguing that the measure would create about 15,000 jobs annually for them in the Public service.

They also argued that it would allow the senior citizens to engage in private business.

Whatever the reasons to explain the outlook of the 9th Parliament, one thing is certain: The voting patterns in some parts of the country are slowly changing.
More people are now choosing to entrust young people to the House to decide the destiny of their constituencies. Is this a vote of no confidence in the ‘old guard’?

Where the voters preferred younger blood

  • Kirunda Kivejinja lost to Abdu Katunntu in Bugweri

  • Namirembe Bitamazire was defeated by Mariam Nalubega in Butambala

  • Hope Mwesigye (above) was shown the exit by Ninsiima in Kabale

  • Age versus politics
    In the Western countries, politics is often at the tail end of the career development for many people. It is believed politics is preserve of the ‘senior citizens’, who have amassed a pile of experience, wading through the intricate affairs of public affairs. The argument is that the level of competence goes up with the number of years spent in the public service.

    Simeon Booker, a US political commentator, in the book The New Generation argues that although some of these young people might make it through with ease, they are not ready for political office.

    “Potential national leaders and politicians, like wine,” he says, “need time and age to ripen.”

    He says the young people who make it in “one sprint” are those who are able to “coin flashy phrases and rally hundreds of people who are their kind”.

    “But they are not the ‘cats’ who know how to draft legislation or hustle a vote in a subcommittee. Nor are they people who know anything about GNP (Gross Net Product) or OMB (office of management budget),” he says.

    It is often said that politics is a dirty game and you would expect many young people to keep away, but that is not case in Uganda. Instead, it is increasingly becoming evident that more young people in Uganda are finding the temptation to join politics too strong to resist.

    When asked if he was not afraid that taking on people his father’s age in the 9th Parliament, 29-year-old Gerald Karuhanga, the MP-elect for Youth (Western), said in one of the interviews with Saturday Vision recently: “If the size of the beard was a sign of wisdom, the he-goat would be a genius.”

    Uganda gets youngest Parliament

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