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Bishop, MPs, prise parliament’s doors open to the public

Image: Citizens try to enter parliament

Police direct citizens to another entrance to parliament, where they must wait to see if they will be allowed to enter. (Photo: NY)

As MPs gathered in Uganda’s parliament this afternoon to debate a bill that will structure and regulate the oil sector, police on the gates were busily refusing entry to activists who wanted to the watch the debate from the public gallery—until rescue for the citizens’ rights came from the intervention of a prominent cleric.

Shortly before 2 pm Oil in Uganda  found a despondent huddle of barred activists at the parliamentary gate.  According to Henry Bazira, chairperson of the Civil Society Coalition on Oil and Gas, police had told them the public gallery was “full.”

Zac Niringiye, retired assistant bishop in the Church of Uganda’s Kampala diocese, then arrived on the scene to exercise his civil right to observe parliamentary proceedings.  Police let him through on the grounds that there might be room for him to “squeeze in.”

Image: Bishop Zac Niringiye negotiates his entry to parliament

Bishop Niringiye pleads with police to be allowed to enter parliament (Photo: NY)

“I’ll go and have a look inside and if there’s room I’ll come back and let you know,” he promised the two dozen or so citizens on the pavement outside.

Within five minutes Bishop Zac returned with the news that the public gallery was far from full, and waved to the would-be spectators to join him.  Police deferred to the clerical authority and the people streamed in.

Upcountry contingent

Across the road at the National Theatre, however, were around 40 citizens who had travelled to Kampala from Bunyoro and other parts of the country to witness the debate. They too had been denied entry and were now sheltering from the rain.

Among them was Beatrice, a member of Kwatanza Women’s Farmers Group in Hoima District’s Buseruka sub-county, where the government plans to build an oil refinery.

“It is going to displace some people and we are worried that if the law is not fairly put our people may not be fairly compensated” she told Oil in Uganda.

“I came because there is a very important law that is going to be passed and I want to see, me a Munyoro woman, how am I going to benefit. I wanted to enter into parliament because I know it is my right as a Ugandan to go into the gallery and listen to whatever is taking place but to my shock I’ve been stopped  from the gate [told] that I am not supposed to enter, that I was supposed to have got prior notice.”

Asked whether the group had been mobilised or “facilitated” by a Kampala based NGO, Beatrice insisted that they had come spontaneously and at their own expense.

“We have not come as a group, I came alone myself, but I have met some Banyoro people here. I found my brother here [points], I know that one [points], we are all concerned citizens, we all came differently on the public bus.”

Others sheltering from the rain said they belonged to a national youth organisation.

MPs step in

Hearing that others had gained entry to the public gallery, the group moved back over to the parliament gates and pleaded with police.

After a few minutes police told them to walk round to the entrance off Sir Apollo Kaagwa Road and wait there for a decision on whether they would be allowed in.

This entrance was guarded by a dozen riot police clad in body armour.  One of the police carefully filmed the citizens with a video camera.

At this stage three immaculately dressed MPs—Theodore Ssekikubo (NRM, Lwemiyaga County), Geoffrey Ekanya (FDC, Tororo County) and Gerald Karuhanga (Independent, Youth representative for Western Region)—strolled across the lawn to intercede on behalf of their compatriots.

Police deferred to the legislators and the upcountry visitors were allowed to file into the building.

Report by NY

Image: fallen tree wrecks carPOSTCRIPT

Shortly after midday, just around the corner from the Speke Hotel on Nile Avenue, a pre-rain gust of wind took down a mature tree, which crushed a boda boda and a car bearing the logo of GIZ, the German parastatal international aid agency.

“No police, no town council, nothing!”  commented a bystander as this photograph was taken.

The police today had other fish to fry—blocking citizens’ access to Uganda’s parliament, about one kilometre from the scene of the accident.