By Norbert Mao, MP
I believe that federalism is the highest form of decentralisation. Any government in Uganda therefore which is committed to decentralisation cannot deny federalism as an ultimate goal. Self-determination and freedom are other grounds for federalism.
Some people confuse federalism with monarchism. This has clouded the debate in a shroud of fear spread by xenophobic politicians. The debate should therefore be focused largely on administrative efficiency and the right of peoples to self-determination. There are individual rights and people's rights. Federo belongs to the latter category.
Let it also be said without fear that in the struggle for federo some leaders from Buganda have been easy pawns in the hands of the enemies of federo. The somersaults by key Baganda leaders during the constitutional debate are still fresh in our minds. As long as individual Baganda politicians still have the incentive nay guts to cut deals with the successive regimes for their personal gain, federo will continue to hang like a carrot before the eyes of the donkey while the stick of tyranny is wielded to the detriment of the people.
This does not mean there are no positive signs. The most obvious one is that federo is now firmly on Uganda's political to-do list. Gone are the days when Ugandan's were told that even a sound night's sleep is a great favour "ushered in by the National Resistance Movement". Federo was on the AOB nay BOA (i.e. Business Outside Agenda). This has changed and politicians will ignore it at their own peril. This of course has invited opportunistic responses from the politically ambitious who posture themselves in a position where they can catch the most votes. All of us are open to this accusation but let each person's record speak for itself.
The second positive sign is that Buganda which is the flagship community as far as federo is concerned are finding their own distinct voice in the NRM din. The politics of "kati twebaka ku tulo" uttered in mega-decibels is slowly being dwarfed by legitimate demands from the grass roots. I frequently meet HM the Kabaka's saza chiefs and they tell me that the countryside is aflame with serious demands. I frequently meet with members of the Lukiiko and Buganda Government Ministers who tell me that they are under a lot of pressure. Demagogues can take advantage of this but fortunately many of these local leaders are well-educated, financially stable people capable of reasoning their way through the maze that is politics.
The third positive sign is that federo is now a national issue. It has a firm supportive basis both in theory and in practice. Many communities in Uganda now want federo to be discussed by the organs of the state in order that decisions are made. There is still need for serious political education in order to strengthen the convictions of federo adherents and to illuminate their understand. Federo will not be easily won. Those who want it must therefore be ready for a tough fight.
There are limits of course. For one federo cannot take off in the absence of constitutionalism. Constitutionalism allows for a healthy tension between the various organs and units of government. Indeed federo will bring about some tensions between the federal government and the federal units. There must therefore be acceptable mechanisms of resolving these tensions. The supreme law must clearly delineate the margins of power and allow for an independent judiciary to interpret and arbitrate where there is tension.
In 1998 I attended a course on federalism at the Institute of Federalism in Fribourg, Switzerland. I can therefore speak with some authority on this subject. Those who struggle for federo must know that unless they stand shoulder to shoulder with those crusading for constitutionalism, they will be like a man who catches a big fish without the means to ward off the sharks. In the absence of the rule of law federo cannot sprout. The struggles for federo must therefore also be the struggle for good governance.
There is no contradiction between a strong federal national government and strong federal units. But this can only be healthy if there is rule of law rather than "law of rulers". This was the problem in the wake of our independence. Dr. Obote grew paranoid and instead of responding by turning to the law as a final arbiter of an obvious conflict of interests, he employed "whim-power". He unilaterally changed the rules of the game. Let it be emphasized however that even a federal arrangement is still a UNION. And the national government has the duty to protect that union. These things must be agreed upon in a constitution. Once the rules are agreed to, the game should proceed according to the rules of the game.
Let me end by saying something which may be controversial but which I have thought seriously about. I believe that if LT. GEN. Museveni was at the helm during the Buganda crisis we would have seen worse. I have some basis for this conclusion. Witness his highhanded response when he ordered troops to fire on unarmed crowds in 1979 during the NO LULE, NO WORK demonstrations. His subsequent delight in violence in northern Uganda also bears out this character trait. Only recently he verbally sentenced critics of "his army" to death in the famous "six feet under" pronouncement. This is not an attempt to exonerate Dr. Obote. Dr. Obote was high handed and he breached the rules agreed to. There were ways he could have responded to the threats from the Kabaka's government using the force of the law rather than the law of force. What I am suggesting is that Lt. Gen. Museveni could have wreaked more havoc. I know Musevenites will dive for my jugular for saying this but I did not want to leave it unsaid. In our debates let us endeavour to scratch where we are itching. If your a** is itching you do not scratch your forehead just because it is convenient. Truth is Lt. General Museveni will never agree to demands for federo. He is a stumbling block to federo. Those who want federo must therefore resolve to tear through him, go over him, or around him. My preference is the third choice. He should wake up one morning and find that he is alone in that awkward position. That is what we did regarding the demands for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in N. Uganda. He remained pitifully alone in the warmonger’s corner. Now he at least does not oppose peace talks with the same gusto of a few years ago.
Those who want to wait for Museveni to grant them federo can as well wait for goats to start laying eggs. They can as well wait for orange trees to start sprouting mangoes. In law we say "Nemodat quod non habet" – you cannot give what you do not have. Lt. Gen. Museveni does not have it in him to grant such freedoms as federo. At least he has never supported it.
~Norbert Mao, MP~
PS: Thank you to the vibrant voices on this list. I enjoy reading the various passions and viewpoints contend. I like the irreverence of it all. No idea is too sacred to be excused from the rigours of reason. Even the Lord Jesus himself said "come let us REASON together". He did not say "come and let me LECTURE you"!