Buganda leadership should seek alternatives to ‘federo’

Inside Politics March 7 - 13, 2007
Buganda leadership should seek alternatives to ‘federo’

One of those fascinating incidents which Ugandans seem to have decided to forget happened 13years ago. The year was 1993, and the country was gearing up for the restoration of traditional institutions in general.

But of particular import was that the much-longed for and even more-talked-about restoration of the Buganda Kingdom was at hand. Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi was warming up to formally step into the shoes of his father Sir Edward Mutesa II.

But just when it looked like everything was okay, some smart lawyer woke up and moved to seek an injunction against the proceedings. His name was Kenneth Kakuru, very brilliant as a lawyer, but with a penchant for stirring up trouble at just the wrong moments.

Waving the 1967 Republican Constitution, Kakuru argued that the restoration of kingship was unconstitutional.

Realising the impending catastrophe, President Yoweri Museveni simply called an emergency session of the legislature - the National Resistance Council, NRC - which amended the offending constitutional provisions to accommodate the restoration of traditional institutions. On July 31 that year, Ronald Mutebi was crowned King of Buganda.

The move established what has now become a pattern of the Museveni administration: when the President makes up his mind to do something, he will bend every rule to accomplish it - you don't have to coerce or beg him.

This 1993 incident does come to mind largely for purposes of contrast, following the recent sacking of Buganda Katikkiro (Premier) Dan Muliika who was appointed with specific instructions to deliver what, try as she might, Buganda has still failed to achieve: federalism or 'federo'.

Conservative, radical and ruthless, Muliika was a complete contrast of his predecessor Joseph Mulwanyamuli Ssemwogerere who had perfected the art of diplomacy; able to discuss the most unpleasant issues with a smile, rather than the smirk which we have been accustomed to seeing on Muliika's face as he made his case for 'federo'. Apparently Mulwanyamuli's diplomacy was interpreted as weakness and some thought that what the Museveni administration needed was a dose of ruthlessness. The overtures of the two former Katikiros have proved what Buganda ought to know by now: neither diplomacy nor strong-arm tactics will move President Museveni to grant 'federo'.

President Museveni does hold the key to Buganda's 'federo' aspirations. But truth is that as long as he stays in State House, the 'federo' issue will remain a distant dream.

If he had thought it important to give 'federo' to Buganda, he'd have bent or broken every rule in the book to get it done.

But the President clearly recognises that 'federo' would fundamentally undermine the process of nation building. You cannot build a modern nation by dividing it up along tribal lines. Neither would his successors (he is surely lining up those, and the keen eye can in fact identify some of them already) depart from this position.

Evidence suggests that the President holds the view that in modern statecraft, traditional rulers should remain cultural icons, symbols of good conscience, reflections of our social values and aspirations, and instruments of social cohesion, rather than political entities in themselves.

Britain herself has been from time to time debating the relevancy of the royal family, including things like whether or not the Queen should be taxed.

A look at the royalty in Japan, Netherlands, Belgium and the like tells you that the trend worldwide is for monarchs to be as far from politics as possible, just remaining symbols of social norms and aspirations around which the people rally.

As a good politician, all the President is doing is keep Buganda talking, without getting anywhere concrete. That is negotiation at its best.

The big surprise is that Buganda has up to now failed to discern that the Museveni administration really has no intention of granting 'federo'.

It is like endlessly submitting marriage proposals to a woman who is diplomatically and ever so subtly, sending quiet signals that her heart - and mind - are elsewhere.

Even when playing the almost mandatory hard-to-get that ladies love to put up for a while, making a man go round in circles, a lady who will say 'yes' often leaves some clues that all is not lost and that if the man loves her enough to pursue further, he will get her. In this case, the Museveni administration has already spoken its mind unequivocally, but Buganda has not yet discerned the reality.

Part of the problem seems to be that Buganda is not bowing to the winds of change that have engulfed the world and made certain dispositions untenable. Buganda has chosen to resist change, refusing even the slightest modification that would allow them to fit in, and preferring to live in the past.

Even by independence (1962), Buganda wanted to be restored to its pre-colonial position as a kingdom, accorded preferential treatment over other areas, and generally lead life as though the colonialists had never been or independence and statehood had never been granted to the entity we now know as Uganda.

Buganda has painted 'federo' as the magical formula, which, once it arrives, will turn everything right side up, then Buganda will live happily ever after - which is of course not true at all, since people would still have to work hard for development (and in a poor country, some things will always take long to change anyway, federo or no federo).

'Federo' ought to remain a vision; something distant that Buganda yearns and aspires for; not an immediate achievable target that so much time, money and energy should be spent on. Buganda therefore has a choice. Either continue being radical and rigid about getting 'federo' (and get nothing), or adapt (bend) to the winds of change and develop workable alternatives.

For example in Japan, until September 2006 when the Emperor's younger son (Prince Akishino) gave birth to a boy, bringing an end to what had been a succession of girl children born into the royal family, the Japanese had considered amending their Imperial House Law to allow for a female to ascend to the throne.

In fact, if Mengo were prudent, they would at a time like this, appoint a sober consultancy to establish how the kingdom can take advantage of the present circumstances and move forward, see what opportunity lies in the apparent 'difficulty', instead of trying to push an obstacle that has no intention of moving.

The consultants could also draw examples from how traditional institutions in other countries are managing to fit within their societies and how they relate to the broader superstructure called a nation.

Generally, Ugandans need to begin thinking as Ugandans rather than as members of certain tribes. Nation building includes integration of cultures and peoples and we must move towards that.

Buganda therefore ought to be thinking of how to preserve her culture rather than see nation-building through cultural integration as a threat to her own existence.

In choosing to pursue 'federo' relentlessly, Buganda must be commended for her earnestness and never-give-up attitude. But more importantly, she ought to look again and do a reality check to make sure she is not, under the guise of seeking 'federo', failing to prioritise her needs and in the process, sapping much-needed energies needlessly, losing allies and making even fewer friends.
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