By Ofwono Opondo
In the run up to the forthcoming 64th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) Conference slated for September 22 to 29, 2019, in Kampala, Uganda, reflections are abound on the significance, influence and benefits of such large meetings in Uganda, especially when we look back at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held here in 2007, and the controversies that surrounded it afterwards.
Nonetheless, even with some of the disappointments registered then, it is important that Ugandans support and welcome the forthcoming CPA conference as one of critical building blocks to promote and consolidate the gains Uganda has made over the last thirty years coming from political abyss. Ugandans are hopeful that Uganda parliamentarians and their staff will not later be found embroiled in financial, procurement and accountability issues.
With an expected one thousand high profile visitors from 54 Commonwealth countries representing nine regions of Africa, Asia, Australia, British Islands and Mediterranean, Canada, Caribbean, Americas and Atlantic, India, Pacific, and South East Asia, and each participant paying for themselves, the immediate gains cannot be over emphasized. Every Ugandan, especially the business community should already be brushing their shoes.
The participants who will include Speakers of Parliaments, MPs, Parliament Clerks, and their spouses, and other accompanying persons like aides and global media, is indeed an opportunity for Ugandans to showcase and demonstrate available potential and investment opportunities. And while Uganda MPs are mostly loud talkers, it is prudent that we give them credit for lobbying for this conference to be hosted here for the multiple benefits it is likely to generate if we position Uganda well now in the immediate and long-term. The Speaker, Rebecca Kadaga, who has walked the soles of her shoes thin around the world to build Uganda’s parliament profile, perhaps, deserves the biggest singular credit on this one, and definitely of course, President Yoweri Museveni, the towering giant.
This should be one of those occasions when we put aside, whatever disagreements one may have with the current political dispensation, and make Uganda shine. The one week-long engagements that visitors will be here should provide a strong basis for many of them to return either as tourists or investors seeking opportunities. Those that may not return should have reasons to recommend their associates among the global community to come to Uganda. Therefore, there will be some returns on investment for Uganda in terms of consolidating democratic governance, expanding physical infrastructure, trade and investments, tourism inflows, and improved internal capacity to host major events which all contribute to the growth of Uganda’s economy.
The CPC provides an opportunity for its membership to engage one another on parliamentary, and governance best practices to shape policy and enhance the socio-economic aspirations of their peoples.
From the thematic areas provided for discussions including at the smaller side meetings it is evident that the CPA maintains focus on the citizens who give legislators their mandate as representatives. The topics will revolve around finding solutions to problems affecting ordinary people including youth unemployment, health, education, social service delivery, women emancipation and empowerment, sustainable development goals, and climate change.
Looking at many pitfalls in the Commonwealth fraternity, including archaic traditions that continue to shackle its members sixty years after the end of colonialism for many of them, it is one hoped that there will be candid discourse to unlock the latent potential of many, especially in Africa. This conference will hopefully foster diplomatic relations between and among member states by providing networks for consolidating partnerships. The various meetings and seminars should avail delegates the opportunity to reach out to each other across the political, religious and ideological aisles to mend broken fences for lasting relationships.
Aware of the fact that the Commonwealth is a voluntary community of former British colonies, it often goes without question that archaic English traditions have been imbibed and dangerously permeate state structures, procedures and behaviour. Uganda’s legislature is a victim of the Westminster ‘virus’ and therefore not responding adequately to the challenges of a backward society in search of flexible options to trigger socio-economic transformation. And sadly, the Westminster model often perpetuates adversarial, confrontational and irreconcilable political discourse unhealthy for multi-ethnic, tribal and cultural societies, the reason perhaps nearly all former colonies are embroiled in disruptive politics.
The Commonwealth, formed in 1949 with eight members today has fifty three members which by implication is broadened in the diversity, should harness resources and strengthen to deal with emerging challenges of globalization. Unfortunately, this diversity appear to be engendering unhealthy rivalry, and policy inconsistencies that continue to perpetuate development imbalance, inequality, exploitation, unstable economic growth, and unemployment all of which should the focus of the CPA conference.
The Commonwealth therefore is a worthwhile multifaceted forum through which ideas and assistance can be sought to access resources, build institutions, promote good governance and ensure shared prosperity. Ugandans should therefore showcase their best, especially food, quality and excellent service, courtesy, hospitality, and the natural endowments that we claim to have in abundance.
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