at Sheraton Kampala Hotel - Rwenzori Ballroom
on Saturday 16th - Sunday 17th July, 1994
Paper on The Federal System
by Hon. John B. Kawanga, CA Delegate, Masaka Municipality
The Federal System
It is foolhardy, at this point in time, for anyone to attempt to handle this topic. This is more so for a Delegate to the Constituent Assembly like myself. This is a matter which evokes very sharp differences of opinion from all kinds of people. It is therefore necessary to state from the outset that the views expressed herein are purely my own. They are not necessarily the views of all the people of Masaka Municipality, whom I have the honour to represent both in the Constituent Assembly and in the National Resistance Council. Similarly they do not necessarily reflect the positions I may eventually take in my deliberations as a Delegate.
Of late it has become amazing how people attach importance and meaning to single words to interpret complex political and legal concepts. Some people, for example, understand federal to mean monarchy. Others draw very sharp distinctions between federalism and decentralisation. And yet others argue that once a political organisation is called movement it ceases to be a political party.
It is in this context that I found difficult in making a distinction between a form of government and a system of government. Is, for example, unitary or federal a form or a system of government? similarly, is Democracy or monarchy a form or a system of government? Alternatively when one says that he supports a unitary form of government is he, ipso facto, advocating for democracy; and can the same or the reverse be said of a federal system? And in any case are these two, the only systems of government?
Without attempting to answer the above vexing questions, Ugandans are handling the on-going Constitutional debate in the above context. Hence Article 4 (1) of the Draft Constitution reads "Uganda is one unitary Sovereign State and a Republic". That would mean, under the above circumstances, that the idea of federalism has been rejected from the very beginning. And with the word "Republic" added, to the monarchists, it means kingdoms have been rejected as well. We however, intend to avoid being confused by political semantics by analysing the real concrete facts on the ground.
Uganda, an an entity, is the creation of British colonialism between 1894 and 1926 when the final boundaries of present day Uganda were drawn. In 1900, Sir Harry Johnston signed the Buganda Agreement and shortly afterwards did the same with Ankole and Toro. The one with Bunyoro was not signed until 1931. In a way this indicated that Britain was acknowledging the existence of at least 4 nation states with which she had to enter into some formal agreements. Indeed in the case of Buganda yet another agreement was entered into in 1955 between the Kabaka and Britain. For the rest of Uganda the colonialists found it expedient not to go into such niceties; they just divided the remaining areas into various districts.
The colonialists however did not make any pretence about making Uganda into one United country. On the contrary the emphasis was on high-lighting the differences by making Districts tribal enclaves. A prominent Ugandan historian puts this situation graphically.
"Colonialism divided us into Districts which became fortresses of particularism and parochialism and people who tried to scale the district barriers were considered to be trouble makers by the British. So water-tight were these compartments that the confinement of the trouble makers in another district other than one's own was considered to be deportation. Hence James Miti was deported to West Nile in the 1940's and Mulira and Jolly Joe Kiwanuka were deported to Gulu in the late 1950's... This meant that beyond one's district of birth one was considered to be in a foreign country".
Even after independence this phenomenon was perpetuated; hence Article 115 (2) (a) of the 1967 Constitution states:
"the kingdom of Ankole, Bunyoro, Toro shall be construed as references to the corresponding Districts".
Thus independent Uganda further that Districts were based on tribe.
One would have thought that after independence the effort would have been towards greater integration and unity. Unfortunately this has not been so. On the contrary, Ugandans have tended to dig deeper into their past to rediscover their ethnicity and build their autonomy around it. More and more districts have been created largely around ethnic groupings. So you now have Bundibugyo, Kasese, Bufumbira and even for that matter Ntungamo. In characteristic style the people of Ssembabule are now demanding a district. One of the reasons being given is that this area, which was originally known as Bwera, was a kingdom in its own right.
So as we settle down to write a national constitution for Uganda, we must acknowledge that Uganda is not yet a nation. More than 30 years after independence Ugandans, including the very highly educated, are still tribal in their thinking. In 1966 when Obote abrogated the 1962 constitution and declared Uganda a Republic, the intention was to make it one and united. The uniform system of government was aimed at wiping out the tribal sentiments which, sometimes, were considered to be the basis of superiority or inferiority complex. A uniform system of administration was expected to bring about equality, unity and equitable economic development. The dominant position of Buganda, for example, was no more. Buganda was then broken into Mubende, Masaka, East Mengo and West Mengo Districts.
The 1967 Constitution entrenched the above system. But neither unity nor development, not even stability resulted from making Uganda one unitary Republic. Although Buganda had been militarily conquered and the kingdom abolished, it had not been vanquished. Buganda had to be kept under a state of emergency until Obote fell. A disturbed Buganda simply made Uganda ungovernable. The Government was under such constant assault, that it found it necessary to supplement the emergency powers with a Detention Act (The Public Safety and Security Act, 1967).
The unitary system however was in reality a facade. The real power in the state was the alliance of the Presidency and the Military. Parliament and the various District Administrations headed by Secretary Generals were mere window dressing. The term of parliament expired in 1967 and therefore the members of parliament thereafter in fact represented nobody. They had been humiliated in 1966 by approving a constitution they had not read. And after 1967 they knew that they existed at the pleasure of President Obote. In short, the people of Uganda were no longer truly represented in parliament and Government. The Secretary Generals themselves were mere appointees. So were the District Councilors.
In spite of this strangle-hold control on power, Obote did not feel fully secure. He had to go ahead and ban all other political parties except UPC. In order to get greater national unity he even conceived the electoral representation system of one constituency plus three others elsewhere in the country. Amin did not allow this political force to see the light of day. When he fell out with Obote, he withdrew the military part of the alliance and Obote's experiment went with him. The advent of Amin put an end to constitutionalism or any system of Government. Dictatorship, Militarism and anarchy then took over.
Uganda has thus already experimented with a federal constitution and a unitary one and both failed. The 1962 Constitution contained everything that Westminster had to offer by way of form of Government. The political parties, and the official opposition were provided for. Within the Uganda context, monarchy had been catered for. Kingdoms and their governments had been catered for. Indeed it is argued that monarchs could have survived if Muteesa had not shown ambitions outside his kingdom. By becoming even a Constitutional President of Uganda he destroyed his monarchy and that of others.
The 1967 Unitary constitution did not work either. Its whole purpose was to put all the power in the hands of the President. Democracy was not given a chance to work. For all intents and purposes Obote was determined to establish one-party rule. Indeed the rule of law and respect for constitutionalism ended with the abrogation of the 1962 constitution. Amin rule[d] without knowing that he had to comply with any law let alone the constitution. Uganda thereafter suffered the indignity of being occupied by a foreign force. Governments that followed Amin governed with total disregard to the constitution. During Okello Lutwa's Government Uganda was just in total state of anarchy: at one time having two separate administrations in the same country.
It is against this bizarre background that Ugandans have to determine what system of government they are to adopt for the future. Should Uganda become a unitary sovereign republic as the draft constitution proposes? Should Uganda choose the federal system as the Buganda Lukiiko and the Baganda generally, demand? Or in the alternative, should we continue experimenting with the National Resistance Movement system of governance as we know it today? Those are the challenges that the Constituent Assembly Members have to face.
What has to be remembered is that a constitution must be for the whole country. It must be made for posterity and not for the sectional interests of some group or groups of the present. But at the same time one cannot provide for the future without taking into account the present.
The present general debate has so far revealed that Ugandans of 1994 are not much different from the Ugandans of 1962. They are still essentially ethnic in outlook. This is to such a degree that many delegates instead of addressing themselves to the issues of a national constitution have concentrated on showing how their areas have been marginalised. Many complain of lack of development in their area. Some have even gone to the extent of quarrelling about boundaries between their districts, or tribe for that matter, and that of their neighbour. As pointed out earlier the delegates from Ssembabule have demanded a separate district from Masaka.
The real desire is obviously ethnic autonomy by demanding or emphasizing district status. The trident complaint is of unfair distribution of the national cake. The belief is that if one has a district status one will be in a better position to demand and hopefully get something of the national cake. Virtually everybody forgets that the cake must be produced before it can be shared. A delegate from Kapchorwa complained about all the Pajeros going to Mbarara and Bushenyi and wondered when they will change course.
Ethnic feelings also come to the fore with regard to security matters. All areas around Karamoja bitterly complain about cattle raids by the Karimojong. They also complain about the Karimojong being allowed to carry guns and even move with them freely to neighbouring districts. The Karimojong argue that they need guns for their protection from other cattle raiders. But even the Karimojong among themselves there is a state of constant preparedness. The Jie fear that Bokora or the Matheniko or the Dodoth may at any time raid them and take their cattle.
It is this state of affairs that has led Uganda, small as it is, to be fragmented into very small districts. Many of these are not viable in any way. Their existence however gives a sense of self determination for the particular tribe and jobs for the tribesmen within the district. Many of these districts do not expect to support themselves, they expect support and development to be brought by the Central Government.
It is within this state of total economic helplessness that the policy of decentralisation has been introduced to delegates and the general public. The amount of power to the districts which is being promised is extremely attractive to areas which have never experienced any degree of autonomy. The expected financial support in the form of block grants is a windfall many expect to gain from in a number of ways. On top of this is the additional attractive promise of being given full freedom of handling money collected from graduated tax.
It is against this background that the policy of decentralisation as opposed to federalism, as a system of local government, has gained a lot of support. This is more so in the case of those districts which have always related directly with the central government. These are what may be called the "republican" districts although they have been broken into smaller units. Examples of these are the former Kigezi, Lango, Acholi, Bukedi districts. They also include those districts which used to form part of kingdoms but really owed no allegiance to the king. Examples of these are Bushenyi in Ankole kingdom, Kasese and Bundibugyo in Toro kingdom; and possibly in Kibale in Bunyoro kingdom.
These districts strongly support a unitary form of government under a republic. They find comfort and security in dealing with the government at the centre. Their ethnic interests are sufficiently catered for in the amount of autonomy which is given to them below. Having had no monarchs in the past, republicanism at the centre is just perfect for them. Many do not want to go into any unity which will go beyond their tribe, so the ideal of provincialism is not welcome to them either.
On the other hand of the spectrum are those areas that were originally kingdoms and even had governments. These related to the colonial government in a special way and under an agreement. Under the 1962 constitution they had a federal or semi-federal status. Under the constitution (Amendment) statute of 1993 the kings of old are restored, all right, but just merely as Traditional Rulers. They are supposed to have no political role. They are merely cultural leaders. In the case of Ankole, the ruler is up to now being firmly rejected and the kingdom has been split into 4 districts, three of which are strongly republican.
The former Toro kingdom has been split into 3 separate districts, two of which do not want to have anything to do with the Omukama. And even in the remaining Kabarole district some counties are not very enthusiastic about their king. In Bunyoro one can say that Kibale district is quite lukewarm about the newly crowned king.
The Toro and Bunyoro kings have not yet indicated whether they want their governments restored. One does not yet know how much control they want to have over their former kingdoms. It is not clear yet whether they or their subjects would want to return to the semi-federal relationship they had under the 1962 [constitution]. This silence may mean that they may by now be satisfied with the purely cultural role that is given to them under the existing constitutional amendment. They may not mind a unitary form of relationship with the central government for their subjects, through the various districts that form their kingdoms
This leaves only Buganda Region as the area demanding special relationship with the central government. The restoration of the Kabakaship under the constitutional amendment and the coronation of the Kabaka were just the beginning of a long awaited dream. The cherished dream that Buganda and its kingdom will one day be restored. By the time the Kabakaship was restored, Buganda's former 4 original districts had increased to 8. With Ssembabule District on the way, they may become 9. But districts, even during the colonial times, were not of much consequence to the Baganda. Their loyalty was always at Mengo, that is where their real government always was. The districts were a colonial outfit to which one went for purely colonial matters.
The Baganda now want Buganda to be restored in its original geographical form as it was in 1966 before Obote destroyed the kingdom. They want the Kabaka to be the titular head of a government of Buganda with a Lukiiko headed by a Katikkiro. The Kabaka, they argue, is always the Kabaka of Buganda and it is only then that he becomes the Kabaka of Baganda. Indeed to the Baganda the cultural Kabaka must have a Katikkiro and a Lukiiko which institutions help him govern his people in his name. This is what the Baganda want, and perhaps for lack of a better word or way to describe it, they have simply called it "federo" to mean a federal system of government.
This demand by Baganda has been received with total dismay by people and delegates from other parts of Uganda. They see Buganda as seeking to restore its original pre-eminent and predominant position which some resent. A united Buganda, to some, will become too big and too powerful to handle. And if it wants a federal status whom will it federate with? Even some delegates from Buganda have argued that they want to retain the districts that they now have. They think that they should continue to benefit from the decentralisation scheme which is in operation in some of the districts. In these circumstances can one speak of a federal system of government in the traditional sense?
There are no valid arguments against Buganda joining Uganda as a single entity. This is how it was all along. Obote broke this arrangement unilaterally and this wrong should not be perpetrated. The other areas are uniting themselves as single entity on ethnic grounds, why shouldn't Buganda do the same? The mere geographical and numerical strength of the unit should not be a reason against this unity.
A number of fragments that make up the districts of Buganda are too small to be viable yet. It will be in their best interests to be part of a bigger unit which can assist them to undertake bigger projects. A constitution is the supreme law of the land but it is also a social contract. In the Ugandan context the various nationalities of Uganda are now re-contracting to live in one political entity called Uganda. It is imperative that the interests of Buganda get taken care of in that contract just like those of other areas.
A question had been asked: What if Buganda wants a federal system of government and the rest of Uganda do not want it, how can Buganda have it? In other words, who will Buganda federate with? It will be noted that federalism is sometimes a way of preserving cultural and historic diversity and individuality within the framework of a greater national entity. In fact this is the most compelling aspect for the Baganda in this regard. They have a monarchy which is inextricably interwoven with their cultural heritage which they hold so dear and want to preserve. Their colleagues appear not to care about this and think that treating the Kabaka as just another Traditional Ruler is enough.
This is where the problem lies. It is necessary for other Ugandans to appreciate that the Kabaka, to the Baganda, is not just a Traditional Ruler. He is an institution which has evolved over a period of 500 years and more. Every Muganda is linked to the institution through his clan. Virtually every clan has a function to perform in relation to the Kabaka. And these functions are not performed by the clan heads, but by ordinary members of the clan. This has been so since time immemorial. By an intricate arrangement, every clan qualifies to produce a Kabaka and many have done so in the past. After the death of that king the legacy and memory of that fact was preserved by the palaces that used to be preserved in various parts of Buganda and which survive up to today.
This institution was the same one which in turn constituted the ruler of a kingdom in the political sense of the word. He ruled over a country called Buganda over a people who spoke one language, Luganda. He ran a government which had a Lukiiko and a Katikkiro. Even before the advent of the colonialists the Kabaka had various departments headed by various chiefs appointed and disappointed by him; among whom were Ssaza Chiefs. This structure was modified quite a bit by the colonialists but the essence was preserved up to independence. This is what Mengo sought to preserve in what it called the federal system of the 1962 constitution.
The old Baganda who saw it work are still living to say that the system was wrongly abolished by the abrogation of the 1962 constitution. The young Baganda are being made to understand that peace and stability of Buganda and Uganda was seriously disrupted by the unwarranted destruction of this cultural heritage. And if this is so, then why not revert to it in appropriate constitutional form? In any case that is how it had been and if we are correcting the wrongs of the past why shouldn't this aspect be included in the constitution?
The rest of Ugandans argue that this is the very system that led to the 1966 crisis and the problems that followed. Why should Buganda and Uganda be returned to those turbulent times? If the Baganda want their Kabaka, he should just be put in the general category of Traditional Rulers, be limited to cultural functions and be apolitical.
A suitable compromise position must be found between these two extremes. And in this regard political semantics will not do. Real practical solutions which satisfy everybody must be found and this requires compromise. It is not the word federal that matters but the practical form that the relationship between Buganda and the rest of Uganda takes is the one that is of consequence. In this context even the word apolitical requires definition.
The Baganda and the rest of Ugandans know how Muteesa II overstepped the mark and became political. The 1955 Buganda Agreement and even the Buganda Federal Constitution had made him a constitutional monarch. The Kabaka, however, did not strictly live within the confines of the provisions of the law. He became partisan when he got very closely associated with Kabaka Yekka (KY), for all practical purposes a political party. Indeed Kabaka Yekka had no leader, the highest office therein being Secretary General. And whenever it was publicly asked who the leader of this big Buganda movement was, the rhetoric answer always was, "who does not know who the leader is", implying that it was the Kabaka himself.
It is said that the Kabaka himself met Obote in order to initiate the KY/UPC alliance. The Kabaka's name was closely linked with the Buganda boycott of registration and the subsequent elections in 1961. After independence Muteesa got directly and personally involved in taking ex-servicemen to Ndaiga in order to rig the impending referendum in the lost counties. And the height of his political folly was accepting to combine the office of Kabaka with that of Head of State of Uganda as President. These are the kind of political activities which the Kabaka should be prevented from participating in specifically. And if there is any others let them be specified also. These provisions within the constitution would of course be subject to enforcement and interpretation like any other provisions should the need arise.
Buganda as an entity would then be restored to its pre-1966 boundaries. The Kabaka would then become titular head, titular in the sense that whatever would be done in Buganda would be done in his name and not by him. His government would consist of the Katikkiro and Lukiiko consisting of Abataka, Clan heads, or their representatives from the counties of Buganda.
Below this, the rest of the Administration could follow the pattern that would be obtaining elsewhere in Uganda. An improved version of the existing decentralisation system would equally apply. The concept of taking services closer to the people and having them determine what concerns them locally in their locality would be preserved. The old structure of village, Muluka, Ggombolola and Ssaza or county councils would be revived as units of Local Government. These would even combine at District level to deal with matters of a District.
This structure would have the advantage of making local government uniform throughout Uganda. Buganda Government would handle only those matters which Districts in Buganda would agree to as best handle-able as a united body. If need be these could even specified. There are so many things so many things that the separate districts cannot do on their own but which things would be accomplished as a united group. This option of a number of other Districts combining in similar fashion would also be available to other Districts which may want to take same course of action.
The government of Uganda would under the above arrangement, continue to oversee the running of all local governments throughout the country. At the same time the people of Buganda would also be in a position to pursue their cultural, social, economic and even political interests as one entity if they so desire. The people of Buganda through their Lukiiko and through the various councils of local government would freely determine how the various councils of local government would freely determine how they would find and support the institution of Kabakaship and its government. The Omukama of Bunyoro and Toro could apply the same formula.
This position could be achieved by making appropriate provisions therefore in the constitution. This necessitates mentioning that there are Traditional Rulers who were actually kings in their own right. They should be specifically named in the constitution. This should be so in the case of the Kabaka of Buganda, the Omukama of Toro. Provision of extending the list to cover the Omugabe of Ankole and possibly the Kyabazinga of Busoga should also be there.
The structure proposed here is not federal in the strict sense of the word. It however caters for a pressing demand from a very sizeable section of our population. Uganda has suffered so much in the past that it is necessary to find a lasting solution to our problems. This requires us to be ingenious, understanding and accommodating. If we do not do that, this whole constitution making process will not achieve the desired end. What Ugandans look forward to now is peace, stability and sustained development.
Ugandans ought to be reminded that the constraint search by the Baganda for their lost identity has, all the way from 1966, been a source of great political instability. Up to today they want their things fully restored. Since 1966 this cherished desire has been there but has been politically suppressed. At appropriate moments, however, every leader has used it to get the support of the Baganda. Idi Amin used it by returning the body of Sir Edward Muteesa for burial. This gave him some popularity upon which he rode. It took the Baganda sometime to realize that he would not go beyond the funeral.
When the 1979 Liberation War came, many Baganda believed that it would bring the Kabakaship with it. Much of the support of Prof. Lule got in Buganda was based on the belief that, he being a Muganda, would not fail to do something about it. In his removal was seen the anti-Buganda conspiracy. This fear was strengthened and vindicated by the emergence of Paul Muwanga and later Obote as the leaders of the subsequent governments. Many monarchists who had sought solution of the problem by peaceful means by supporting the Democratic Party in the 1980 elections started looking elsewhere.
The subsequent armed struggle of Andrew Kayiira and Yoweri Museveni found these disgruntled forces ready recruits. It is not by accident that the armed struggle had its base and strong support in the Luweero Triangle. These areas also happen to be the location of many former palaces of late kings. The spirit of Buganda traditionalism is strongest there. Indeed the question of the restoration of the monarchy after the removal of Obote was a major rallying point within FEDEMU, UFM and NRA.
Tito Okello Lutwa was not oblivious of the Buganda question. Immediately he took over power, he started reaching out for Mutebi. He invited him back and started making some unintelligible references to the Kabakaship. It is not mere accident the NRA/NRM found it appropriate for Prince Mutebi to tour their liberated zones before they took Kampala. There is no doubt Buganda was very happy about the coronation of the Kabaka. They however, want the whole Buganda question solved once and for all in proper constitutional form. It is only then that Buganda will feel fully comfortable within Uganda and cease to be a constant source of our instability.
That is the reason why a Federal System has to be discussed. But this has to be a special federal system because there may be no other federal states to make the traditional federal form of government that we are familiar with. We could even drop the word federal if the actual political form fits the demands and aspirations of all the people concerned. That is why some people have started suggesting that Uganda should simply be referred to as the sovereign state of Uganda.
It has not been found necessary in this paper to into all the other intricacies of the political system that Uganda should follow. Time and space does not permit this. Suffice it to say that whatever system we may finally adopt it can be accommodated within the proposal we are making. This is so because we want the political and administrative structures to be uniform throughout Uganda up to and including the district in all ways. It is only the named and specific residual functions in the areas of say culture, environment and economic integration that will go to the Lukiiko. All these of course remain negotiable provided the spirit of tolerance, accommodation and unity in diversity is there.