Asymetrical vs. symetrical federalism

Prof. Mazrui got it wrong on Buganda
Sunday Vision Editorial, 05 Aug 2007

LAST week a renowned African scholar, Prof. Ali Mazrui, suggested that Buganda be accorded a special status. He said that this would solve the friction between Buganda Kingdom and the Central Government.

According to him, Uganda should learn from Quebec Province in Canada, an example of a successful special status region within a country. Mazrui is entitled to his opinion. But he wrongly assumes that what works for Canada is applicable to Uganda, or for that matter, Africa.

He needed African examples to advance his case for Buganda. In addition, he failed to clearly demonstrate how a special status accorded to one region only would impact on the rest of the country.

In effect, Mazrui’s suggestion was simply a call for the return to the 1962 constitutional arrangement that elevated Buganda over the rest of Uganda. Buganda was like a state within a state, to the chagrin of other regions and districts.

The special status was unsustainable and partly responsible for the subsequent political upheavals the country has suffered. It would, therefore, be unwise to return to the system.

Uganda can’t go back to failed experiments but rather should use them to come up with solutions.

And indeed the regional tier system whose implementation has delayed is the answer. Instead of having one special status region, under the regional tier, districts that are willing and have distinct culture or development goals can form a regional block. This way Uganda will have more than one region with special status. It is time to implement the regional tier system.

Published on: Saturday, 4th August, 2007
The Sunday Vision editorial is actually the one that is wrong.

If only those criticizing Prof Mazrui took time to read what he said. And what did he say? That Canada has asymetrical federalism which has allowed Quebec some autonomy in certain matters such as culture and immigration. That is hardly controversial stuff in a federal system.

The editorial creates the impression that Canada has in place the equivalence of the 1962 Ugandan Constitution. Nothing could be further from the truth. Canada is a full federal state with all the provinces enjoying certain powers under their federal constitution-the BNAC of 1867. The only power Quebec enjoys is the right to pick its immigrants wishing to settle in Quebec for cultural/language reasons. But there is nothing to deter other provinces from getting similar powers. Indeed, other provinces such as Ontario-one of the richest-is asking for the same powers Quebec enjoys.

The oil rich province of Alberta too enjoys certain rights which no other province has-it has no provincial GST/sales tax for example, which is the norm in other provinces. That is federalism at its best. There is certainly nothing wrong with asymmetrical federalism within Canada or Uganda for that matter. The press should not create the impression that somehow within Canada, Quebec is the only province to enjoy federeal status. All provinces and territories do.

Moreover, many provinces - including Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan -depend on the RCMP, the national police force for their policing needs, which is not the case in Ontario which has its own police force. That is the nature of federalism.

The point Professor Mzarui wanted to put acroos is that there is nothing wrong with asymmetrical federalism in Uganda. Buganda, Acholi, Busoga, Bunyoro etc can decide to ask for certian powers under the federal Constitution.

Professor Mazrui was not saying that Buganda alone should have federal status. Rather that Buganda could follow the Quebec experience of asymmetrical federalism within a federal Uganda. Members can read the differences between symetrical and aysmetterical federalism on the website.

The media as always is putting the cart before the horse.

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