Unitary federo vs federo unitarism


Political tolerance is vital
Monday, 14th May, 2007

Peter Mulira


When I resigned from the Mengo cabinet citing intolerance of divergent ideas, the then chairman of the bataka (clans) council issued a press statement in which he called me an aduyi or enemy of Buganda’s interests.

To add insult to injury, he went on to state that they had all along known me to be President Museveni’s spy in the cabinet and as such my departure was good riddance thereby in an unwitting way justifying the reasons for my resignation.

As if that was not enough, a caller into a radio programme I was appearing on poured scorn on “those Museveni spies on Mengo” and in the stuccatto voices of a village bumpkin prayed earnestly God help them and “kill those miscreants”.

When my brother Dr Ham Mulira, was appointed a minister another caller volunteered that Museveni had rewarded me for my good spy work while Betty Kamya curiously advised me to leave Buganda’s affairs alone and concentrate on planning my retirement which I had done before we heard of her. All these fulmications illustrate the level of intolerance to divergent ideas our society has reached as well as the thin line between the concept of freedom of speech and its transgression over which many radio stations hover. This freedom has limitations. For example, one cannot run into a crowded theatre shouting “ fire, fire” when he knows there is no fire and invoke the right to free speech when apprehended for causing a stampede. His action is likely to cause him social and legal sanctions.

Many radio stations are in the habit of allowing people to shout slanders on their airwaves in disregard of the law. I earned the airwave insults simply because I took a universalist approach to the federo issue.

Although sometimes I get confused when the neo-traditionalists talk about federo my commitment to federalism as opposed to federo, a system of governance, is as total as it can be and I have written more articles in support of the system perhaps more than anybody else, a fact which earned me an invitation by the US State Department to go the United states at its generous expense and study how the American federal system works in practice. On my return, I was even more convinced of the virtues of federalism in contradiction to unitarism and started asking some hard questions as to where federal supporters could have taken a wrong turning.

One thing which I realised was that the sine qua non of federalism was regional autonomy which allows people to manage their affairs within their cultural, geographical and economic context. The other elements such as constitutional entrenchments are mere mechanisms to protect this autonomy to make it work unimpeded.

Viewed in this way, federalism has as many hews as the number of countries which practise them.

The American forefathers who first gave us the federal concept over 200 years ago drawing from the experience of the ancient biblical 12 tribes of Israel and the red Indian Inca empire created a federal constitution with subsidiary unitary features while the Indian constitution which was promulgated in 1950 taking from the Canadian experience created a unitary state with subsidiary federal features.

Secondly, I discovered that all the federal states in the world were preceded by autonomy of their component parts. In America, the 11 colonies which had won their independence from Britain came together to form the US union while in India the autonomous provinces which created the Government of India Act, 1935, of the British parliament transformed into the independence states.

All the federal states in the commonwealth followed the same route, in the case of South Africa via the Bantustan states. Here in Uganda, Buganda’s autonomy came in its constitution of 1961 one year before it gained independence on October 8, 1962 and ‘united’ with independent Uganda the following day. This federal arrangement was torpedoed by Milton Obote’s constitution of 1967 when Uganda became a fully fledged unitary state.

The question for supporters of federalism is do we want to introduce a federal state with unitary features or a unitary state with federal features? Luckily, Buganda’s proposals to the Uganda Constitution Review Commission, 2003, answers the question for us when at page 72 it states that Buganda does not want to return to the 1962 federal system and goes on “a federal system that was suitable in 1962 certainly needs modifications to make it work in the year 2003”. This means that the option is on a unitary arrangement with federal features but how do we get to this stage? We must first devolve power and functions to regions which desire autonomy and this is exactly what the constitutional amendment to article 178 of the constitution does.

After these autonomous regions are in place we can start talking of federal states as was the case in India. Scotland in the UK followed this route to autonomy and so did the Basques in Spain and the Flemish in Belgium as well as the northern region of Italy. To reject regionalism in total because we ask for federo shows a certain lack of understanding of the federo idea.

Simply put, federalism means the union of autonomous regions which share state power between the central, regional or state and local governments. Federo, on the other hand, is not a system but a generic term for the quantum of autonomy of a region or regions first invented by the former MP from Masaka, Mr. Patrick Kiggundu.
FedsNet Blogger: See The UK as a Quasi-federo State!
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