Today our Parliament has been recalled from recess for a special sitting to, among other things, debate (and probably pass) the NGO Bill.
I have worked with and for NGOs for most of my adult life. I can remember my first interaction with a person working with an NGO. I was in my first year of law school and I was attending the Annual Law students Conference. One of the speakers was Hon Sarah Bagalaliwo and she was the then chairperson of the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA-Uganda). She spoke to us about the work of FIDA, about how they provided legal aid to women who couldn’t afford regular lawyers, about how they traversed the country, teaching people about their roles and responsibilities under the law. As Sarah spoke, I felt a deep stirring in my heart. This was exactly the kind of work I wanted to do. I wanted to stand up for the rights of the poor and marginalized, I wanted to speak out for women, I wanted to use my law degree to benefit community. And so, during my first long holiday at university, I walked to the FIDA office in downtown Kampala and asked to volunteer with them. As a student lawyer, the most I was allowed to do was to take down the particulars of the clients and then write out the case notes, before handing them over to a more seasoned lawyer. I later progresses to doing simple mediation and then when I finally graduated from law school, I was able to take on the full gambit of work that FIDA did.
After FIDA, I moved on to work with 2 other women’s rights NGOs. In my other jobs, I have worked with agencies that fund NGOs, I have sat on some executive boards of NGOs, I have been a member of some, I have done consulting work for a few and volunteered with others. This has become my fraternity – the people I speak with, work with, interact with a lot of time are NGO folks. I have great friendships, I have learned a lot, I have been accepted as one of their own, my career has grown on the backs of NGOs.
So when Government proposes a law that seeks to unfairly restrain rather than enable the work of NGOs, I am deeply concerned. These are my brothers and sisters we are talking about. These are my friends and colleagues that we are talking about. That is why I care.
That is not to say that NGOs should not be regulated, or indeed that there are no bad apples among them, for there are. But rather, the major ask is that if there must be regulation, it should be done in a way that encourages the sector to flourish. It should be done in a way that propels their work. It should be done in a way that attracts more people, like I was attracted, so many years ago – people who will give of their lives, skills, talents and passion for their country and their countrymen.
I am off to watch the debate in Parliament this afternoon. I go with fingers crossed. I pray that the debate will be sober and that we will have an NGO Bill that strengths the sector for the benefit of us all.