Freedom of Expression – Case of Open-Air Community Debates in Uganda - Wishes Disney

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Friday, January 28, 2022

Freedom of Expression – Case of Open-Air Community Debates in Uganda

Community debates attract everyone regardless of the socioeconomic status to topical issues of the day.

Besides, interaction or communication is natural and part of human survival. It is simply a natural attraction to socialize and interact, no matter the extent.

They influence government policies and decision making process -and are appreciated as one of the credible means to voice out local concerns, reform governance, and work towards peace.

Those in power use the forum to explain government positions on different issues of contention, so that they can be understood and be accepted by the people.

Equally, the opposition politicians use it to constructively criticize government and remind them of their failures so that they can correct or adopt new friendlier policies.

Individuals -who think can offer better leadership, use the forum to let their ideals known to the population as well as identify themselves with them -such that during elections, there are higher chances to be voted into power.

Even those -who lose chances of becoming members of parliament (MPs), it soon caught up with them when President Y.K. Museveni eventually appointed them Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) or deputies to the position. What matters, though, is the question of whose interest the speaker fronted. Sometimes they have to eat their own ‘vomits’ and call black color white.

From open-air community debates young aspiring politicians gain confidence and public speaking experience. In fact, many of them are still pursuing the trade and are darlings of the people.

Community debates offer an opportunity for frustrated and disappointed citizens to vent psycho-pathological conditions off -which, alone, was therapeutic enough. Affected participants leave the forum calmer and feeling better than when they came -having ‘blown’ out the toxicity of anger on leaders that betray the nation.

They provide a credible way for private individuals to form civilian parliament and let themselves be heard by both policy makers and the lazy MPs (member of parliaments).

It is a sure way local participation and representation can be ensured -helping to fill gaps left behind by the legislature. It fills the gap left behind by the representative democratic system -in which most MPs do not live up to the people’s wishes.

An empowered citizenship is in position to make informed decisions and pressure government to pass people-friendly policies in line with decisions reached at personal and group level -and to further evaluate leadership performance (accountability).

The debates arouse political consciousness of mainly educated youth -who either join the discussions or begin to view affairs of their country in a two-faced manner and make informed decisions -accordingly.

It makes vernacular-speaking radios relevant to Ugandans in the countryside. Radio stations developed different brands or names for every forum -which included: the ekimeza brand on radio one, simbawo akati (Radio Simba), mambo baado (CBS), among others. But events following the September 11th, 2009 protests forced government to ban open-air debates.

On the eve and after national or international holidays, the participants discuss significances of such days to Ugandans. In that way, it helps to educate the masses on relevance and challenges of those days, for example, the 8th March (Women’s day), the 9th June (heroes’ day), the 26th January (Teresita day), 9th October (Independence Day) and the mid-year Budget reading days as well as the hot topics in parliament.

It not only helps to bridge the gap between those in government and its people, but plays an empowering role of the masses. There is no clear demarcation between the debates and the radio stations banned, because soon after their ban, the community debates too either ceased or were weakened.

It can be submitted that; there is need to let open-air community debates and discussion relayed again on radios at all levels -to provide forums to brainstorm societal problems, for problem-solving, for venting and psychological healing or peace and for enabling policy reform and formulation for the benefit of the common man, and for healthy relationship building as meaningful avenues for good governance and peace-building and prevention of psychologically traumatizing condition of war.

However, more research is needed to define and set limits of open-air community debates so that while it assumes the rights and freedoms of assembly, information and expression, and appreciative of its responsibilities to society and governance, it knows it limits for orderliness Uganda and common good of its people.


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