The Speaker of Parliament, Ms Anita Among, was yesterday left holding the can after her ban on a music festival dubbed Nyege Nyege on River Nile banks was overturned by the Prime Minister, Ms Robinah Nabbanja.
This is the first time high level members of the Legislature and the Executive have publicly clashed since Ms Among, who was viewed as pro-executive, was elected Speaker of Parliament. Both parties are members of the ruling party, the National Resistance Movement.
On Tuesday, Ms Among directed the cancellation of Nyege Nyege festival on grounds that it promotes immorality, attracting open criticism from entertainment enthusiasts and members of the Executive arm of the government.
Ms Nabbanja yesterday held a closed-door meeting with ministers and organisers of the festival and later told journalists at a press conference that the event would go on.
“The event will take place as planned. It is an event that attracts thousands and thousands of tourists across the globe and, therefore, cancellation would be challenging. We also have to think about the economy,” Ms Nabbanja said.
The meeting was attended by the Director of Immigration, Maj Gen Apollo Kasiita Gowa; the police director of legal and human rights, Erasmus Twaruhuka, and the director of police operations, Mr John Nuwagira.
This angered Ms Among and a section of Members of Parliament allied to her.
“Whatever statement I made was with my full conscience as a Catholic and I am not about to withdraw and I will not withdraw. Whatever happens, Parliament is at peace,” Ms Among said in Parliament.
“Whatever is happening must be put to a halt until tomorrow when we agree,” she added.
Nyege Nyege is an annual art and musical festival that was started in 2015. It attracts tourists from all over the world. It is slated to be held between September 15 and 18. Moralists have been accusing Nyege Nyege festival of promoting nude dances and homosexuality, an allegations the organisers deny.
On Tuesday, MP Sarah Opendi (Tororo Distirct Woman, Independent) raised Nyege Nyege matter in Parliament, terming the event as a breeding ground for sexual immorality and importation of bad foreign cultures.
She was supported by the majority in Parliament and any attempts by the State minister for Tourism, Mr Martin Mugarra, to defend the festival as an economic booster, was dismissed.
The debate went to the public court, especially on social media.
The executive director of Uganda Media Centre, Mr Ofwono Opondo, used his twitter handle to ask Parliament not to hijack the Executive power.
“But surely @Parliament Ug and @AnitahAmong could have done better by referring to how #NyegeNyege 2018 was handled successfully without causing this unnecessary controversy. Please don’t turn Parliament into a law enforcement organ,” Mr Opondo tweeted.
In 2018, the then Minister of Ethics and Integrity, the late Simon Lokodo, attempted to cancel the festival on the same morality grounds, but he was overruled by his colleagues in the Executive. The festival went on with restrictions.
The festival, which has not occurred in the past two years due to the Covid-19 lockdown, resumed this year.
Ms Rose Lilly Akello, the minister of Ethics and Integrity, was one of the MPs who protested the holding of the festival, but after meeting Ms Nabbanja, she toned down.
“The government in partnership with the police and the event organisers had agreed to meet and agree on terms and conditions for the event to proceed,” Ms Akello said.
The State minister for National Guidance, Mr Godfrey Kabyanga, also supported the festival.
“There might be some aspects of immorality, but this is a one off event that can be regulated. With proper guidelines, we can achieve both decency and business,” Mr Kabyanga said.
During the plenary sitting yesterday, a section of legislators, who supported Ms Among’s decision, accused the Executive of disrespecting Parliament.
MP Francis Mwijukye (Buhweju County, FDC) said Ms Nabbanja’s decision to hold a press conference over Nyege Nyege without tabling it in Parliament was disrespectful for the Legislature.
Ms Nabbanja joined the House later during the debate of the festival. She was earlier being represented by Justine Kasule Lumumba, the minister in-charge of General Duties.
Asked to explain the government position on the festival, Ms Lumumba said she couldn’t because she hadn’t been briefed.
She said a meeting is scheduled today where Parliament and the Executive are expected to “consult” and harmonise on the way forward.