Revisiting federo debate in Buganda Kingdom

Moses Byaruhanga

Recently the Kabaka made changes at Mengo. When the new team took office, they renewed the fight for federalism which in Buganda is known as federo, and the return of the 9,000 square miles of land.

These two subjects are talked about by Mengo people with a lot of emotion and in some cases not well explained. When one talks of federalism, what does he really mean? Federalism is the sharing of power between various levels of administration, with the federal government at the top, with state or provincial governments below.

In some cases within a state or a province you have lower governments like districts or counties. The leaders at various levels in a federal system are elected by the voters. When the federo issue came up again during the constitutional amendments government took cognisance of the existing power sharing within the country between the central and local governments.

There was general agreement between those who were advancing federo and the central government leaders that the powers at district level should not be tampered with. The issue then was what powers should be given to a level higher than the district. The central government agreed to cede some powers on education, health, intra-district roads etc.

The other subject of concern was how should leadership at the regional level be determined? The government position was that they should be elected. The federo team wanted some leaders appointed by the Kabaka who is constitutionally barred from engaging in politics.

The argument of government was that in a modern world of multiparty politics where leaders at various levels compete on party basis, how do you appoint a leader at a regional government?
The leaders at Mengo who are resurrecting the federo debate should answer these questions. It is pertinent to note how history has shaped other monarchies in the world. In Britain, at one time before the Glorious Revolution of 1688 the monarch was absolute. However, with democratic evolution the monarchy in Britain left administration to the elected leaders.

Parties compete and when one party wins elections, the monarch retains a constitutional role of conferring the instruments of power to the Prime Minister. The monarch does not make a choice of who becomes the Prime Minister.

My challenge to Mengo and some of the opposition groups who, for opportunistic reasons, promise federo to Mengo is how do you mix monarchism with democracy today? Monarchs nowadays have only non-partisan roles like that of the Queen in England.

Even here in Uganda with colonialism which gave birth to the 1900 and the 1955 Buganda agreements, the powers of the monarch were greatly reduced to the extent that the Kabaka could no longer appoint any minister, including the Katikiro, without the approval of the colonial administration.

On the 9,000 square miles, at the time of the 1900 agreement, Buganda had approximately 17,000 square miles. Out of this 8,000 square miles were portioned out to 1,000 leaders including the Kabaka who was given 350 square miles.

Imagine the whites being the ones giving the Kabaka land in his own kingdom where prior to the agreement he held all the land in trust. The other 9,000 square miles went to the crown. On both lands there were local people who were tilling. Those who were on the 8,000 square miles became tenants and started paying busulu (a tax) to the new landlords who never bought the said land.

Various legislations since then have put the 9,000 square miles under various controls. When Mengo talks about this land they give the impression that it is lying somewhere being held by the state. To cut a long story short, whoever is in Buganda and is not on malio land in on that land.

All those who have land titles and bibanja outside the mailo land are what the Mengo talks about when it demands the 9,000 square miles. Government has rejected demands for restitution of this land. After all the 1995 constitution gives ownership of land io the citizen dwelling on it.

That which is not occupied or allocated was vested in the district land boards. On the current debate on whether to transform mailo land into freehold system of tenure, my view is that the two are the same and in order to avoid political confusion mailo system of land tenure should be maintained.

The writer is Special Presidential Assistant on Political Affairs.
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