Chairman Nyanzi English is terrible but the politics we have will accept it

Chairman Nyanzi

Chairman Nyanzi at Nxt Radio

Chairman Nyanzi, a brother of Kyadondo East MP and presidential aspirant Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, aka Bobi Wine, has been the butt of some very unkind jokes about his English.

He is on a campaign trail for a parliamentary seat in Kampala and has been giving interviews, some in English.

The problem is that his English, the language Parliament uses, is terrible. It has left some wondering how he will perform his duties as a legislator if he is elected.

Yet I think that Chairman Nyanzi—his real name is Fred Ssentamu—does not have to worry. As long as he has a large number of supporters who are registered voters, he should sit back and relax. He will be elected and will somehow serve his constituency.

That is how politics in Uganda works. It has attracted and continues to attract individuals who are not suitably qualified for the positions they vie for. And it is hard to change this trend since it is created by voters.

Parliament already has MPs who can barely string several words together in proper English. I may be wrong, but I find that Kenyan women selling sukuma wiki in Nairobi markets speak better English than many Ugandan MPs.

If Chairman Nyanzi is elected, he will be treading a well-trodden path. The comedian and actor Kato Lubwama, who replaced Ken Lukyamuzi as the MP for Rubaga South, speaks English after a fashion.

Mr Lubwama once publicly and proudly spoke about his inability to speak English, saying (famously) that Ugandans who think they are very fluent in English would never scream in English if they had a heavy slap on their cheeks. (I think he was right.)

In Uganda, a politician’s inability to speak and write English does not matter. In Parliament, an MP does not work single-handedly. If their English is awkward, and it prevents them from speaking, they just have to keep silent, and others will carry on. What’s more, they do not have to speak to voters in English, and the voters are the ones they are answerable to.

Two good examples illustrate how our politics is comfortable with politicians whose suitability for their roles is questionable. The first, and the one Ugandans remember most, is former Kampala mayor Nasser Ntege Sebaggala.
He first became mayor of Kampala in 1998 but was arrested in the US over bank fraud after being in the job for only two months. A US court handed him a 15-month jail term.

Mr Sebaggala’s political opponents and detractors teased him over his broken English. But he seems unfazed and often uses broken English to respond to those taunting him over broken English.

“If you allow me to speak in Luganda,” he told Makerere University students in 2015, “I would be very much appreciate [sic].” He went on: “When I am I here, whatever any mistake I take…I am not an Englishman. I am an African… If you do not fight for yourself on your foot, you cannot survive.”

It is hard to understand what Mr Sebaggala meant by the last sentence in the quote. But it is even harder to understand what Maurice Kagimu Kiwanuka, a former MP, diplomat and Cabinet minister under Mr Museveni’s government, said eight years ago at a conference in Switzerland.

“What my government does nowadays they bring in politicians in the diplomacy. Because sometimes when a career diplomat the problem. He may stick to the principles. Civil servants are very obedient what,” Mr Kiwanuka said as attendees listened in disbelief.

Mr Namiti is a journalist and former
Al Jazeera digital editor in charge of the Africa desk
[email protected] @kazbuk

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