Letters from TZ

If you have something to say, say it loud and proud

It was so funny that even the Daily News got the joke. “There was more drama in the National Assembly here yesterday as Mr John Mnyika (Ubungo-Chadema) was kicked out of the debating chamber for uttering derogatory comments against the president, CCM and the House itself,” the first line of the ‘Mynika given marching orders’ story read. Drama, indeed. The kind that only happens on television, which as it turns out, it did. If you were lucky to catch Parliament proceedings on Tuesday, 10 June, you may be nursing a cracked rib injury.

John Mnyika – the honourable – may have missed his calling. His comedic skills were on full display on the floor of Parliament last Tuesday, when he asserted that he was too smart to argue with fools. “If you are in the bathroom and a mad man picks up your towel and you come out nude and start running after him, people will think both of you are mad,” he said. That was hilarious, more so because he was a politician addressing a room full of politicians, where it would be difficult to make the distinction. But I digress.

Don’t be too quick to be distracted by the humour. Mr Mnyika, in his very public criticism of the “president, CCM and the House itself”, did a very courageous thing. Rather than gossip, whisper and rumour monger about what he considered to be a bad budget, he stood in front of the country and said it to our faces. “Mr Deputy Speaker Sir, the devil is in this budget,” he said, in a tirade that eventually saw him thrown out of the House.

The devil may be in the budget, but he is also in your mouth. Life and death scripture says, are in the power of the tongue. And those who love it will eat its fruit. We have become too used to throwing words around recklessly and without pause, dissecting events and debating them from every angle whether or not they have anything to do with us. If Uganda is a walking nation, then we are a talking one. Many of the words we speak are more derogatory than Mr Mnyika could ever hope to be, particularly because we talk about people behind their backs. If gossip and innuendo were currency the majority would be living above the poverty line. We would not, however, be a very courageous bunch.

The Member for Ubungo called the president “very weak”, his legislators “hopeless” and CCM “useless”. There was a time when that would have been considered treason. It may not be as grave now as it was then, but it was serious enough to get Mnyika thrown out of Parliament. It took courage – in whatever amount and for whatever reason – for him to be so insulting. Indeed, as the Daily News reported, the Government Chief Whip pleaded with him to cease and desist, cautioning that it was a serious matter and advising that Members are prohibited from “making irreverent statements [about] the president” while on the floor of the House.

And there’s the rub. We all behave as if we were prohibited from making irreverent statements about people in their presence, which seems to leave no option but to do it in their absence. We believe that insults should be hidden and only bandied about in closed quarters, where their edge cannot be felt. That presumably, is the polite thing to do. The truth is insults are impolite whether they are whispered in the dark or shouted from the rooftops. The fact that they are impolite is not the issue. The issue is that as an adult, you really should have the gumption to hurl an insult at someone’s face, rather than do the cowardly thing and stick a knife in their back.

This is not to say that Mr Mnyika is now some sort of national hero for being rude to the president – far from it. There is nothing attractive about being rude, even if it’s as funny as three comedians walking into a bar. And even if what you’re saying is the truth. But one would rather be rude than dishonest. Lord knows what possessed Mr Mnyika to let loose last week – maybe it was the devil in the budget – but some will certainly claim that it was simply a case of an opposition MP talking ill of the ruling party. Which it may well have been. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a valuable lesson to be learnt. Grown folks should have the good sense – and the wherewithal – to speak to an issue directly. But at the end of the day, as I’m sure the president is well aware, people will talk whether you’re doing things right or doing them wrong. That is the nature of the word and the way of it’s inhabitants. It is said though, that where there is much talk there will be no end to sin, but he who keeps his mouth shut does so wisely. I suppose there is no hope for Parliament then.