Do not fear federo, says Mazrui

News August 1, 2007

Political scientist Ali Mazrui has said Uganda should not be afraid of implementing a federal system of government “just because it is untidy”. “Uganda may still need [a constitutional order] which provides for different paths but guarantees identical citizenship rights,” Prof. Mazrui said while delivering the first Abu Mayanja Memorial Lecture in Kampala on Monday.

Mayanja, who died in 2005, was a co-founder of Uganda’s first political party – the Uganda National Congress in the 1950s. In his lecture titled “Secular Laws and Islamic Values: Abu Mayanja in Comparative Perspective”, Prof. Mazrui said the challenge for many African societies is to find a balance in their “triple heritage”.

He defined heritage as the convergence of the cultural influences of African tradition, Islamic and western cultures. In a sense, Mayanja epitomised those influences being a Muganda, a Muslim, and a western-educated lawyer.

A foundation in Mayanja’s honour was also launched at the same function. Prof. Mazrui, who teaches political science in New York, said Buganda had always struggled because it had distinct characteristics which led to violent clashes in the 1960s that led to the abolition of kingdoms by the government of Milton Obote.

“Buganda became a unique, euro-modern, multi-racial society [that was simultaneously] militantly traditional,” said Prof. Mazrui, who also is a former dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Makerere University.

He said if handled better, Buganda can still retain its uniqueness within wider Uganda. “Uganda is the only African country to abolish kingdoms only to restore them,” he said.Only last week, Mr Hussein Kyanjo, the opposition Makindye West MP, said Buganda should secede because the central government has failed to honour the kingdom’s interests such as granting it a federal status. Kingdoms were restored in the early 1990s.

The late Abu Mayanja was a Cambridge-trained lawyer who was active in national politics for decades. He served the present government in various Cabinet positions including as attorney general. Mayanja was also an active pan-Africanist, and when he was jailed for sedition in 1968, he was bailed out by an even more enthusiastic pan-Africanist – then Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere.

In the debate over the abolition of kingdoms by the Obote government in 1966, Mayanja argued that the act alone did not mean democracy in the UPC-led government. “He said you may abolish some people’s small kings and end up with a big king,” Prof. Mazrui said.
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