"You cannot make me lose federo of East Africa" says President Museveni. This is his pre-condition to the aspirations of the people of Uganda. What does that say about democracy in Uganda? Is it for the President to choose for the people of Uganda what their preferences and priorities ought to be or is his role to execute the wishes of the people of Uganda?
Leaders are free to take strong positions on moral issues, however on the currency of politics they have either to support the wishes of the people or reject such wishes at the pain of being rejected at the polling station. What they cannot do is set pre-conditions on the aspiration of the people. President Museveni is trying to play God on an issue he should not be dictating.
Needless to say, it is hard to miss but President Museveni has come to mistaken opportunism for ideology and the man is not for turning. In any case you cannot have a moral debate let alone a political one when the self appointed chairman of the debating society believes in nothing but his own misplaced ineffable rightness and superiority. Somehow the media in Uganda is happy to see him consolidate.
Be that as it may, historically, the colonialists took a similar stand - dictating an East African federo - against a demand from Buganda of a Uganda federo. The colonialists relented and their so-called compromise was to grant Buganda a semi-federal status in the hope that it would cause envy from the rest of Uganda and thus eventually collapse. Led by Obote, his mission was to dismantle Buganda on grounds laid by colonialists. Of course, he took this to the extreme and the events of 1966-67 don't need narrating suffice to say that instead of building Obote chose to destroy.
Museveni is more sophisticated than Obote and is not exactly looking for a total destruction of Buganda albeit he detests the idea of Buganda, or any other region in Uganda for that matter, as a check on his powers to dominate Uganda. So, his is not a hatred for Buganda but a matter of preserving and reserving of all political powers at the centre, which powers he can give and take away as he sees fit. That explains his kifedero-federo (decentralisation), a system where powers are delegated as opposed to devolved constitutionally.
Museveni and his people are not opposed to federo per se rather what they do not want is a system that limits their powers at the centre to do as they please. This is what the so-called negotiations - between the President's team and Mengo - are about. If Mengo were to insist that federo is about devolving powers to the smaller units then Museveni will prevaricate and even make threats at some stage to prolong the inevitable since this is a genuine demand and one likely to help the ordinary people gain confidence and trust in the exercise of power on their behalf. The lack of trust in our leaders is today a disincentive for involvement and development.
It is also worth pointing out that the main opponents of federo are in the pay of Government or are aspiring to exercise power at the centre. It could be argued that their opportunism to oppose is not principled but informed by personal goals where country rates a distant third. Apparently in second place are their kith and kin, friends and supporters of the opportunists.
On the other hand, it is generally the case that a majority of advocates of federo are not in the pay of the State but live in hope that federo will bring about an equitable distribution of the national cake through express constitutional stipulations. In turn, equity will empower and encourage the people to realise their potential.
As for politicians who proudly contend that they do not understand federo, it is their duty to understand it. Instead of the constitutional A-level qualification or equivalent to stand for high office we should instead have a simple test from voters to ask politicians whether or not they understand and support the simple aspirations of ordinary people. If not, people should be advised to avoid electing literate idiots who do not understand the likes of federo and make no attempt to educate themselves.
Moving on, it is ironic that for a President who says that traditional leaders should not have a political role he somehow wants to "negotiate" with a traditional leader on the federo question. Some hogwash, if you ask me.
It is also interesting that people are ignoring why the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) of Professor Ssempebwa was set up in the first place. If you recall, Dr Besigye, on his campaigns in the 2001 presidential election hit a winning note, particularly in Buganda, when he announced that if elected he would support the amending of the Constitution to allow for a federo system to be installed in Uganda. He also said that it is politically healthy to share power between the centre and the regions. President Museveni's reaction was to counter that Besigye was promising empty air; that he too supported a federo system but it wasn't for politicians to give and as a responsible leader, he would set up a commission to investigate the views of the people on federo and other controversial constitutional issues.
Critics of Museveni saw through his opportunism but didn't have the power to stop him. Instead he has used the CRC to rally support for his kisanja agenda. Now, President Museveni and his people are saying that federo is impracticable; that decentralisation is by far a more superior system; that this and that, etc - anything to put down federo. This begs the question that when did they learn that federo is a horrible creature? Was this before the reporting by the CRC? If so, why did they waste public funds to create a commission whose work was compromised long before it was created? If not, where is the evidence to back the crass statements that they make?
Critics of Museveni said back in 2001 that he had no intention of supporting the federo cause because he is not in the habit of sharing power, the very basis on which federo is founded. To Museveni, the clear-eyed gambler, it is a question of either all or nothing. Federo, as it happens, has shades of gray and is based on the principle of sharing. It follows that federo advocates were (and are) always going to get nothing from Museveni. Indeed at best Museveni would agree to the delegation of power - something he can give and take away - rather than devolving power. That is what he is currently "negotiating" with Mengo.
On the East African federo, which President Museveni is now advocating, has he asked the people of Kenya and Tanzania whether they share his dreams? And why does he assume that the people of Uganda are at one with him on this or are we not entitled to hold an opinion? To say that he cannot compromise on EA federo indicates how much contempt the President has for the people of East Africa and Uganda in particular.
Similar contempt for the people of Buganda informs much of the arguments put forward by the so-called opponents of federo. A constitutional federo, which advocates of federo are proposing is not one based on the whims of the Kabaka or any Muganda alive or dead rather it is based on the rule of law. Can any sane person tell Ugandans how Buganda could secede or run a feudal system under the constitution of Uganda?
Bitter, twisted and driven by irrational envy opponents of federo are making accusations based on what they would want to be the case and nothing to do with hard evidence. A firm and bold defence of federo is termed aggression while when politicians such Lt Gen Tumwiine says he doesn't talk about federo because it is cheap and belongs to Mengo, or when an MP says he opposes federo because he doesn't trust the Baganda, or when Dr Kazibwe accuses Baganda of dark motives on federo, no one bats an eyelid. The accusation of being aggressive truly belong to opponents of federo who have used the federo issue to heap abuse on a whole nation of people, as if one chooses to be a Muganda.
President Museveni talk of Uganda being too small for federal, did he know that Switzerland is smaller in size than Buganda with almost the same population; and that through federalism it has managed for many centuries to host three ethnic groups - Germans, Italians and French speaking communities - to co-exist peacefully? And the contradiction he sees in Uganda being a federo within a bigger EA federo is not backed up by any evidence. For example the Federal Republic of Germany sit well with the bigger European Union. The same is true of the North American Union, which hosts two federal states, namely the USA and Canada.
We have also had Janat Mukwaya, Minister of Justice, tell a fib that federo advocates are opposed to a referendum. But it is a referendum that advocates of federo demanded when the Constituent Assembly ignored the advice of the Odoki Commission by arbitrarily writing into the 1995 Constitution that Uganda is a unitary state.
The other abdication of duty is when Government advises that Buganda should explain the meaning of federo to the rest of the country. This responsibility belongs to the people entrusted with power on our behalf. The State has a duty to explain to the public the options available to us and then leave us to decide what we prefer. Once a vote on the options have been announced then it is the responsibility of the opposing sides to make known why we should opt for one and not the other. As it is those asking Buganda to persuade others of the benefits of federo are putting the cart in front of the donkey.
A word on the so-called negotiations between Government and Buganda on federo: if I understand the procedures correctly, Government is in the process of drafting a Bill to go before Parliament to amend the constitution. That tells me that Government has it in its powers to put what it chooses before Parliament for debate and with its majority if it was to put the question that "should Buganda get federo"? The 'nays' will have it as is the wish of Government. On the other hand, if the question before Parliament was that "should Uganda adopt a federo system"? The Government will have an obligation to put information in the public domain on what it means to adopt a federo system. After that then the lobbying can commence.
To conclude, there is a deliberate agenda to confuse what federo is about because at this moment in time Museveni would lose his bargaining power if he were to support Buganda's proposal for a federo for all Uganda. The clowns who think that they are making themselves a name by Buganda/Baganda bashing should be exposed for what they are because we need to be grown up about our country. Everyone has equal rights as the next man to praise, grovel, shout and curse, as he wants.
Switzerland comprises 41,287 sq Km. This makes it to be only 61% the size of Buganda, which comprises 67,084 sq Km. Put another way, Buganda is 1.6 times the size of Switzerland. Population of Switzerland is 7,096,800 and that of Buganda was 6,683,887 during the 2002 Census; it can be estimated in the August of 2004 to be above 7 million.
Also for the record, Belgium is 32,547 sq Km. It is therefore less than half the size of Buganda (33,542 sq Km). The population of Belgium is 10,239,085.
Uganda is endowed with 254,720 sq Km, the size of West Germany, or more than 6 times the size of Switzerland, and almost 8 times the size Belgium.
From the above facts I would categorically say that those opposed to federalism in Uganda due to her “smallness” undoubtedly have their own hidden agendas and ulterior sinister motives.
By L. Ssebweze
The Spin on the 30% Ugandans for Federalism in the Ssempebwa Commission