The first time I saw the power of debate was during the guild debate at Busitema University during my second year back in 2012. There were six candidates and we knew the front runner who was popular by any standard having narrowly lost the previous elections everyone knew this was his time. He was young, rich and handsome all he wanted from us was a vote which we were chorusing his way. He organised us in cliques with the sole intention of heckling the opposition however when the debate started something happened. Silence befell the room, knowledge started to sip down our craniums and the heckles died. With every word we started to see that his competitor had a better vision than the piper liquidating our pockets. In the end he was floured by a ‘lousy’ looking candidate whose performance at the debate played a key role in ensuring the vote was going to be fought for till the very end. After the debate we all started paying attention to what the opposition was saying in his manifesto, what he stood for. After the debate last Friday those who did not participate wrote it off as a comedy show but that is a symptom of what the lack of debates in this country has brought on us.
When you debate you learn a new thing while if you argue it’s all about the win. Learning a new thing about what’s wrong with your manifesto, can you be held against failed promises you have made over the years. It’s something that has systematically been supped out of our communities, even the education system where other agendas reign supreme over our country. We can’t stand to share a stage with other people and our communities operate like militias where we are judge and the jury. If it was not for our moral campuses I bet politicians would be using money as symbols on their campaign posters.
I remember as a pupil at Rubaga boys we attended debates every Friday at the school assembly grounds during the afternoon lessons. It’s one of the reasons I ever bothered to go to the school library because you didn’t want to look un prepared while making submission on the flour. We respected protocol and always tried to win the day by being clear and concise with our presentations. However today my niece thinks debate in school is an alien thing. For one to win prefect elections one needs a glossy poster, a box of biscuits and a packet of sweets despite several warnings from the teachers they have not created an alternative which used to be the debate. No wonder she thinks the head prefect is a spy for the teachers because everything he does is more pro school administration. I tried to explain that perhaps it was embedded in his manifesto and you never had an opportunity to question it at any debate forum whatsoever. Even at the few rallies in school you were more interested in his good looks, biscuits and sweets he always left behind to pay attention to what he was saying.
I can’t blame the teachers the school curriculum has been changed considerably ever since I left school and there are no longer subjects that question your mind like political education. The reason for scrapping them was the country was pushing for a more scientific agenda and political education is not scientific enough. What that has indirectly created is a situation where everyone sees politics not a forum to sell ideas and ideals but a career. This has taken place with the blessing of the government because every day we hear talk of reducing commercialisation of politics however when a debate forum is put in place to sieve out the inept from the adept everyone goes into hiding. This careerism has emboldened the perpetuators and ensured no one is questioned.
One may say well its one debate it won’t do much but imagine if we organised debates spread over the course of the election campaign period in terms of quarters. Everyone would be able to judge the progress of the candidates as the campaign progresses which indirectly reduces the impact of the money that’s moving hands. Inept candidates would be exposed while those who have good ideas but have been over shadowed by the rich would reign supreme. If I told you Biraaro and Bwanika would come shining out of the debate you would have thought I was drank but that’s what happened to the point everyone is asking themselves why don’t the media do more work in covering such progressive candidates. Debates on their own wouldn’t weed out commercialisation but they would ensure a far more level ground for everyone in the race something that every Ugandan is crying out for even the government although they are quick to write it off as stand up comedy.
I am told there will be another debate on the 10th of February and I know everyone who watched the previous debate will want to watch the follow up debate with the intention of trying to assess progress in the candidates articulation of issues and for those who missed the first one will come out with the goal to trying to find out what they missed. In all my adult life the debate is the only political event in which we didn’t cling onto our past, asked police to explain certain laws and the topic was Uganda not how much each candidate has in the bank. That is something that every voter should be asking for more instead of flipping through his book of excuses.