As Uganda is undergoing a process of change from a colonial and neo-colonial status into a true nation - state, the making of the constitution becomes an inevitable and crucial part of the revolutionary change, revolutionary because it is a process of change from one political status quo to another. There is, however another aspect to the political process of nation building; this is the emancipation of the nation from a system of political authoritarianism to a democracy. By democracy, we mean here the effective and meaningful peoples' political participation in the political process of their society, that is, in the political management of the nation.
The dual political change noted above, that is, the change from colonial and neo-colonial status and also from authoritarian state, has a common phenomenon. That is, moving from a situation of constraint and coercion to one of freedom, the latter meaning entrusting the citizens with responsibility to manage the affairs of the nation. One political philosopher, F.A. Hayek, says that there is political freedom when men participate in the choice of their government, in the process of legislation and in the control of administration (F.A. Hayek, The Constitution Liberty. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960, P. 133). Besides the fact of political participation, when the citizens are given responsibility and opportunity to manage the affairs of their nation, the institutions of the state are brought closer to them. Indeed, in the colonial and authoritarian state, there was a big gap between the state and the citizens; they were alienated from the machinery of state management. Normally such alienation tends to lead to a situation of apathy among the people as regards political management of their society. This is because over time they would feel that the state is not for their good but for the good of the political elite; the ruling class.
When a nation undertakes the making of a constitution to facilitate the process of nation building including bringing the state closer to the people, it is a plausible political development, particularly in light of a situation where the nation has experienced a dominance of political centralisation in political management. But it is one thing to make a constitution geared to that political direction, and yet another thing to make one which would fulfill the desired political objective of effective nation building. While Uganda is currently grappling with the first aspect of the constitution, the second aspect is the most important in the political life of the nation. The author maintains that a good constitution, that is, one that would ensure effective nation building, would be one which enables effective and meaningful peoples' political participation. It is argued that such constitution would be one geared to federal governance. The political participation, however, becomes effective and meaningful if it leads to enhancement of the peoples economic and social well-being.
The ideal or principle of effective and meaningful peoples' political participation is of crucial significance particularly today when many parts of the world, including Africa, are experiencing a wind of change in political management, change from authoritarian rule to democracy. The objective of this political main stream is that political power should be in the hands of the entire citizenry of a nation, for they are the ones who are ultimately responsible for their economic and social well-being.
A nation should be forged by the people and the leaders both collectively in the atmosphere of meaningful political participation. Otherwise, if the role of the leaders or political elites increases at the expense of that of the people, the state tends towards authoritarianism, managed by a hegemonic elite.
Without one going into the details of the structure of the system of federal governance, it is common knowledge that federal governance enables a polity to be divided into smaller political and administrative units. This widens the base of political activity and decision making, hence diversifying the centres of power, which subsequently gives opportunity to political participation by the citizenry.
Widening the political spectrum of political management of the state has several positive implications. The people are afforded opportunity to elect into the state machinery a bigger number of political leaders whom they know. Thus, if the people or electorate are properly guided in electing their leaders, they are likely to elect good leaders, that is, leaders who are hardworking, development oriented, intellectually and emotionally mature, and, above all, leaders of good moral conduct.
The leaders themselves, being very close to the people, would develop a sense of obligation to them to serve their interests. A good working relationship is bound to develop between the leaders and the rest of the population, or between the state and the citizens. In such a situation the state would be conceived by the citizens not in abstract terms but as part of their life in society. Such a state of affairs is likely to forge the ethic of collective responsibility between the leaders and the rest of the population in managing the affairs of the nation. At the same time the society would develop a cadre of good political guardians, leaders who would have a consciousness of obligation to the citizenry. The ethic of collective responsibility and the virtue of good leadership are elements that have yet to be shaped strongly in the Ugandan society. They would contribute considerably to preventing growth of the problem of corruption, for much of it is due to lack of commitment and obligation among some people to serve the good of others.
In Uganda one of the bottlenecks to development of the country is lack of a strong sense of political consciousness embracing the entire society. Political consciousness may be defined as the awareness among the people that the destiny of the nation is in their hands. The foundation to develop this political virtue would be the participation of the people in the politics of the nation.
Notwithstanding its manifestation among some of the political elites and some other Ugandans, who led the struggle of emancipation of the nation from colonialism, the political awareness could not develop strongly in the society under colonial coercion. Yet that which was there was basically geared towards resentment of the colonial system rather than nation development. The consciousness for development could have developed after the attainment of independence with increased political participation which the people were promised during the struggle for independence; but the promise was not fulfilled. This perpetuated the denial of the people the responsibility to manage the affairs of the nation. This marginalisation of the people in the country's politics subsequently constrained their potential to develop the sense of political consciousness for national development.
Political consciousness has potential to motivate development of the nation. Also it could check the rise of dictatorship. A dictator easily emerges in a society deficient in political awareness because he usurps peoples' rights without the latter resenting, due to their political illiteracy. At the same time a dictator normally exploits the gap between the state and the citizens.
Political consciousness, however, does not develop solely out of the peoples' political participation. While this gives it a strong grassroots foundation, this foundation needs to be backed up with a well thought out programme of political education at the national level, and one free of ideological inclinations of a particular political regime.
When the peoples' right of political participation is constrained, hence causing disharmony between the citizens and the state, the former are encouraged to develop tendencies of ethnicity or tribalism. This is because the state does not guarantee them a sense of security, which then they search for in the tribe. The existence of tribes does not in itself cause tribalism. The main cause of tribalism is a situation in a nation whereby tribes are superficially and haphazardly amalgamated by the oppressive and constraining tendencies of the state. These were the main features of the colonial and post-colonial states. It is not impossible for Uganda, with a system of federal governance, to evolve as a unity in diversity, the diversity being an inherent component of the Ugandan society. The unity, and also the political consciousness, can only evolve in a political culture that appreciates the potential contribution of the individuals or citizens in the political management of the nation.
In Uganda, the centralisation of political power has had adverse economic and social consequences on many parts of the country. It has contributed a lot to their economic and social backwardness, compared to others. The former were neglected. Such areas include the districts of Moroto, Kotido, Madi, Kapchorwa, Mubende, Masindi, Hoima, Rukingiri and others. The centralisation meant that very little attention was given to them.
With the system of federal governance, besides the local administration giving due attention to the local communities for economic and social development, the peoples' political participation would motivate the people to take responsibility for the development of their localities. The conducive political atmosphere would also facilitate mobilisation of the people for development. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of the country's human population being in the rural areas, such peoples' participation in the economic and social development of their localities could make a significant contribution to emancipating them from the economic and social backwardness. Consequently a big contribution would be made to developing an integrated socio-economic development between the urban and the rural areas.
An underlying factor behind the possibility of the federal system motivating and facilitating development of the federal units is that, it would be easier for the federal or local governments and the people to identify and define problems and priorities before formulating the development programmes. This would be so because of the peoples' local socio-economic experience and also because of the possibility of closer collaboration of the government and the people.
By the federal governments assuming most of the responsibility of organising development for the people, it would alleviate this burden from the central government. In the world today one notices that central governments are increasingly failing to discharge this responsibility. While poor economic performance or increasing economic pressure may be a major factor contributing to this failure, there is also the factor of the governments becoming increasingly overwhelmed by the peoples' economic and social demands and expectations. Moreover, this failure of governments is chiefly responsible for them always becoming unpopular and subsequently their moral authority among the people being undermined. Indeed, to the majority of the people of any nation good government is one which fulfills its responsibility of providing for their economic and social well-being.
In conclusion, the following observation may be noted. The paper was intended to justify the validity and necessity of the principle and practice of peoples' political participation in the management of their nation in light of the nation's political life and socio-economic circumstances. The people would be able to participate actively in the process of nation building and economic and social development if their potential is significantly exploited. But this active participation can only be meaningfully realised by a system of political management which appreciates the potential contribution of the individual citizens in the process of nation building and development. The role of the individual becomes particularly significant in a situation where the central government finds itself unable to fulfill most of its commitments to the individual and the society generally. Federal governance seems to be the best alternative if the people are to have good government, that is, government that fulfills its obligations to the people.