I have thought long and hard about this topic. The suggestions I present below are therefore not the product of ‘thinking on the hoof’. They are likely, however, to disappoint those who expected a heavy role for MPs.
Given the record of parliament since 1996, or one could say 1989, MPs should play no role in the initial discussions about, or study of, the feasibility of a federal system of government in Uganda. By this I mean they should have no role in their official capacity as members of parliament.
Our MPs [or at least many of them] hold distinguished records as lacking the capacity for expressing independent views on any issue save for the most mundane before parliament. Moreover, the question of federalism should not be exposed to ignorant posturing, which many MPs are wont to do on many questions of national importance, a tendency that has led to debates on critical issues having outcomes that can only be described as inimical to the long-term interests of the country. The UCB saga to which I refer cursorily below, is a case in point.
I do not believe that a serious discussion of the viability of federalism necessarily calls for the participation of every Tom, Dick and Harriet. I propose a small group of independent-minded, knowledgeable and wise men and women, quietly deliberating behind the scenes. I make this proposal on the grounds that an overly large forum would only lend itself to cacophony rather than harmony. You will note that in the following paragraphs this small group gives way to wider constellations of participants.In my opinion these sages could be individuals – whether foreign and/or Ugandan should be of no consequence – chosen by a multi-partisan committee inclusive of all significant political forces in the country. The role of this committee should stretch no farther than simply the selection and final endorsement of the said sages. Thereafter, it should disband.
The sages should be only people who know what they are discussing and are open-minded and sober enough to see the other point of view. I see nothing particularly wrong with such a group comprising academics of repute and other public figures, given that its deliberations and their outcome would simply seek to inform the wider debate.
Where possible, sitting ministers should be barred from membership, as should, under the current system, senior apparatchiks of the Movement Secretariat. As for the president, the question of his membership should not arise. They, too, should submit views as individuals. Suffice it to say that well-known partyists with agendas beyond simply softening up the difficult issues and questions should also be excluded. Party leaders and their ‘ shadow cabinets’ as well as official advisors come immediately to mind. They, too, should submit views as individuals. Likewise, members of the Lukiiko or members of the Mengo cabinet and other so-called cultural institutions should be barred. We should thank the Movement for introducing us to the ‘individual merit’ system; never mind that they have since relegated it to the status of a used condom.
The deliberations of the chosen sages should be closed to the press until such a time as when they feel they are ready with a document or proposals ripe for wider debate. This is where MPs as [overt] political animals, that is, in their official capacity, should come in.
However, debate in parliament should not allow for caucuses of any kind. In that way individual MPs would have breathing space to present and/or clarify their opinions or those of their constituents as the case may be, independent of the views of the government of the day or of the leaderships of their respective political groupings.
A panel of independent observers [judges and clergy, perhaps?] should be constituted to ensure rules of the game are adhered to. In that way, bodies such as the Movement caucus or political groupings whose leaders hold particular views are not allowed to exercise undue influence on spineless and easy-to-sway legislators.
The press would play a critical role here. It is obvious that even clandestine moves aimed at exerting influence on MPs by over-bearing individuals or groups with particular views would leak and get reported by the press. They should then be thoroughly investigated. A body to investigate such violations should be constituted in a manner similar to that used to constitute the committee of sages.
A public information campaign could be conducted via different types of news media for a period of at least 3 months prior to the referendum. The objective of this campaign should be to make clear to the public what the merits and demerits of each of the systems vying for support are. Public broadcasts or adverts via newspapers and bulletin boards should be scrutinised for impartiality. People should only be encouraged to come out and choose a political system of their preference via casting a vote on the appointed day.
Some will criticize my proposals for envisaging 'a perfect world'. I plead guilty to the charge. I have based them on the assumption that the debate would take place within an atmosphere of acceptance by all, including the movement [and other vociferous opponents], that federalism was an inescapable requirement for the country's future development.
Were I to be considering the 'imperfect world', I would have come up with another set of proposals. Suffice it to say, however, that I have no doubt that the issue of federalism will eventually be debated soberly with all interested parties having agreed the need for such a debate. It is a question of time. It could as well not be in my lifetime, but take place it will.
In conclusion, my proposals aim to facilitate as free and thorough a debate as possible. They do not seek to exclude anybody from such a debate.