Federo is to curb secessionist tendencies

LOOSE TALK Fredrick Golooba-Mutebi

Misplaced conclusions on secession
August 26 - September 1, 2007

Recently, Makindye West Member of Parliament and Jeema bigwig, Hussein Kyanjo, went public with thoughts he had kept to himself for a long time. He declared that, in his opinion, the time had come for Buganda to detach itself from Uganda and become an independent country.

As would be expected in a context where Buganda remains the bogey it became in the years leading up to independence when political parties led by non-Baganda with no agenda to sell to the public used its "arrogance" to frighten people into supporting them, Kyanjo's pronouncements set off waves of alarm and indignation.

Most alarmed were those occupying important political positions, which is not at all surprising, and those who aspire to be seen as "progressive" (that much-abused word), which is interesting.
Some members of the public, mostly Baganda, if reactions on radio and in print media are anything to go by, though, were thoroughly gratified by Hajji Kyanjo's statement. He, some claimed, had spoken out on their behalf, expressing the same ideas they had long wanted to express but lacked either the courage of their convictions, or the forum, to do so.

Those among the alarmed who are quick to look for historical parallels with whatever they see as "a crisis" started conjuring up images of impending doom. To them, Kyanjo risked sparking another "1966 Crisis".

Kintu Nyago, a self-professed Pan-Africanist (that free-for-all label), East African federalist, and National Resistance Movement spin doctor at large, weighed in with legalistic arguments.
In a New Vision article, he claimed that there was no reason why anyone would seek to champion secession in Uganda, and threatened prosecution for those daring to do so, not least because it is a treasonable offence.

In a debate on one Internet discussion forum, Bukedde journalist, Ahmed Kateregga Musaazi, volunteered to join those who might seek to crush Buganda if it ever tried to secede.

The more sophisticated opponents of Kyanjo's views chose to go "technical". First, they claimed, Buganda is too small to survive as an independent country. Second, they argued, it was "strange" that Kyanjo would agitate for secession when "everywhere" people were creating large political units.

Underlying this particular argument is the view that large political entities are necessarily more stable and better to live in than small ones. What all these people need is a good dose of history. Those who brandish the 1966 Crisis as a scare tactic each time there is an argument between Buganda or what some refer to as "the Mengo establishment" and the central government, should study the events leading up to the storming of the Lubiri in 1966.

The story is much more complex than the one they peddle; of Buganda's attempt to secede being the cause of what happened. At the very least they should read lawyer Peter Mulira's well-informed newspaper columns.

Those who believe that prosecution is the proper antidote to secessionist sentiments ought to familiarise themselves with the conduct of secessionist movements. Secessionists usually cite cultural and other injustices to justify their calls for separation, as indeed Hajji Kyanjo has attempted to do (see, for example, "Buganda is being cheated", The Weekly Observer, July 16).
One may disagree with secessionism, but that in itself should not reduce the subject to the status of a taboo. Open and honest discussion is a far better option for two reasons. It could easily expose secessionists as a bunch of rebels without a cause and undermine their chances of securing support.

Alternatively, it would allow for their grievances, if valid, to be addressed. This is a more intelligent and politically astute way of dealing with secessionists than threatening them with violence and repression. The notion that bigger is better and more stable is questioned by the number of secessionist movements, past and current, in Africa.

The vast majority are traceable to the continent's large states: Nigeria, Sudan, Ethiopia, Senegal, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, and Morocco. Even Tanzania, one of Africa's historically most stable countries, must now contend with incipient secessionist sentiment arising from feelings of exclusion begot by Zanzibar's highly polarising politics.

Africa's small states have for the most part been more stable than their larger counterparts, and also largely free of secessionist movements. Well, it may just be that, with a few exceptions, when it comes to countries, smaller is safer.

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