Is government handling the Buganda Federo question well?

CROSSFIRE: What are the views of the Government and the opposition about the topic of the week? Sunday Vision pits opposition columnist Wafula Oguttu against the Government representative, Ofwono Opondo.


KABAKA Ronald Muwenda Mutebi, while celebrating his 14th coronation anniversary on Tuesday, urged “my people,” — the Baganda — to discard old primitive relics and embrace science and modernity. Interestingly, his call came on the heels of MP Hussein Kyanjo’s (Makindye East) earlier misplaced, diversionary and escapist view that Buganda should secede from Uganda, and Prof. Ali Mazrui’s talk that Buganda be granted political federalism as a special status.

Then the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) boss Col. (rtd.) Dr. Kizza Besigye, not to be outdone, claimed that Buganda can never attain a federal status as long as the National Resistance Movement (NRM) is leading Uganda. These views are not new, except, perhaps, for the players who keep changing with time. This begs the first question whether there is such a thing as the Buganda question or is it the ever receding Mengo clique whipping up raw ethnic emotions for selfish gains? It should be pointed out that it was the so-called custodians of Buganda interests, from Ssekabaka Mutesa I, through the palace coups of Kiwewa and Kalema, who signed Buganda off to imperialism and colonialism, and therefore their descendants should not heap blame on the NRM. The Buganda kings and regents: Sir Apollo Kagwa, Stanislus Mugwanya and Zakariya Kisingiri gave out Buganda land including the much-touted 9,000 square miles to the British Crown, religious institutions and other beneficiaries.

Secondly, if a Buganda question exists how has the NRM handled it in the past and present? The Buganda question exists within the larger Ugandan context of an all-round backwardness. Therefore it must be addressed alongside other areas of the country. The NRM is the only regime since feudalism and colonialism to have handled and resolved parts of the so-called Buganda question through democratic means and that is why, despite the jitters from sections in the Mengo establishment, the NRM is socially, politically and electorally acceptable and very popular in Buganda. The Government has paid off and continues to pay colossal sums of public monies to appease Mengo, and has given prominent public jobs to the Baganda as one of the ways of settling the so-called Buganda question.

The NRM has restored all cultural institutions, even the moribund ones, wherever there was popular demand from the locals, who did not seek to impose its respect on those who disagree. In the NRM, Buganda has, not only the best partner, but also a dependable one. Mengo officials are demanding for a special status and yet refuse to be brought under public accountability.

Through the numerous democratic reforms, the NRM has restored the power of decision-making to the Parliament and local councils. It is for this reason that the NRM is firm that anybody or institution that wishes to exercise authority over public matters and resources must either be elected or at least accountable to an elected organ supervised by the Constitution.

In spite of the daily insults in the media, public debates and official meetings at Mengo, the NRM is still willing, ready and capable of meeting the claimants to the Buganda question for a negotiated solution. During the recent NRM MPs’ retreat at Kyankwanzi, President Yoweri Museveni said he would find time to meet Mengo leaders and in particular Kabaka Mutebi. In addition, Museveni is scheduled to meet political leaders from Buganda, especially those in the NRM.

The writer is the deputy spokesperson of the National Resistance Movement

Wafula Oguttu

THE demand by Baganda nationalists for a federal state for Buganda (popularly known as federo) is as old as the State of Uganda. But the federo question is not a question for Buganda only. It is for other ethnic groups as well.

Colonialism came to Uganda when many ethnic groups were in varying formative stages of nationhood. Bunyoro and Buganda were in the most advanced stages. In the quest for their interests and anxious to be the dominant power in the region, Buganda’s political class collaborated with the British colonialists to conquer the rest of Uganda. This role earned Mengo a special status, but caused suspicions, hatred and a horse-shoe unity by the people in the east, north and west against the Baganda. The Baganda had assisted the enemy in throtttling these budding nations and taken away their independence. Buganda was, however, not bothered by that. After all, they had a relatively better economy empowered by semi-slavery emigrant labour, they had the most educated Ugandans, they were dominant in the civil service and the seat of the central government was on their soil. What therefore concerned them most was consolidating these achievements into a federal status and managing most of their own affairs. The support, agreements, alliances and deals Buganda’s political class has had with successive governments since 1900 were all geared towards achieving the federal status.

Unfortunately, the trend has been that every time the same political class has always collaborated in the betrayal of the people’s cause after getting something for themselves in the government of the day. Buganda should, however, now have greater hope. History is on their side this time. It is clear the National Resistance Movement (NRM) used them and gave them byoya byasswa (empty promises). But the mistakes and bad governance of the NRM has popularised federo outside Buganda. The NRM’s entrenched corruption, nepotism and discrimination based on ethnicity or region or political affiliation have forced many Ugandans to lose the sense of self-belonging to Uganda as a nation and are now sympathetic to a federo alternative. Some frustrated and desperate political leaders have even called for secession of their deprived nationalities so as to get a piece of the national cake. They have received countrywide support. More nationalities like the Acholi, Banyoro, Iteso, Langi and Lugbara have joined Baganda and indicated clearly that they too want more independence, power and resources to run their own affairs.

More will follow even if we know that federo is not the panacea that will automatically bring good governance and improve the lives of the majority. However, none of those agitating for federo has ever put these demands on paper for consideration by all the citizens. What type of federo do they want? Instead of putting their case before Ugandans and mobilising other nationalities and other political leaders has always chosen to hold secret talks with the Government. Federo could be made an important campaign issue in the next general elections.

Federalists should therefore prepare themselves and go out to negotiate and secure written public agreements with political parties. The FDC’s door is open for negotiations. The NRM has taught Ugandans that we must remove more power and more resources from the centre, most especially from the presidency if we want equitable development for all.

The writer is the Forum for Democratic Change spokesperson

Published on: Saturday, 4th August, 2007
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