Quest for federalism must be principled

Opinions February 23, 2008
Politics: Morris Komakech

Buganda is usually very presumptive when it comes to advancing its interests. Take for instance, the agitation for federo. A feature article by J. K. Kavuma Kagwa entitled Create four federal states (Daily Monitor, February 13) is one such passionate appeal for what the Baganda have conceptualised as a utopian state of their existence.

Mr Kavuma in his article, made some interesting proposals such as creating four federal states namely; Buganda, Rwenzori, Masaba and Nile respectively. In the same article, he marvelled at the upfront approach undertaken by Acholi leaders towards embracing a federal system of governance as a viable alternative to the current unitary system that has fermented military dictatorship and tribal conflicts.

There are several discrepancies with Mr Kavuma’s attitude which subsequently presents underlying contradictions within the Buganda mainstream ideology. Mr Kavuma, for instance, assumes that the Acholi people are newcomers in this matter of federalism. From a historical perspective, the Acholi have always supported a federal system and that position was eloquently presented to the Odoki Commission in 1993. However, what has left Ugandans of same mindset unsure about Buganda’s own position, is the uncompromising preference for “federo” instead of federalism.

Most Ugandans perceive Buganda’s fervent agitation for federo as the step toward cessation. During the Baganda Annual Convention dubbed “Tabamiruka” at New Brunswick in New Jersey last September, the issue of federo and Buganda secession came up for debate.

It was Kabaka Ronald Mutebi who clearly scorned the latter idea. The Kabaka argued that such a move would alienate Buganda from the rest of Uganda and generate contempt for its other interests. Mutebi argued intelligently that Buganda should engage in the war of ideas and strive relentlessly to work with other regions like Acholi to achieve “federo.”

Kabaka Mutebi’s position is a comfortable position indeed. Buganda must endeavour to address, urgently, this misunderstanding of their “federo” which sounds loaded with sinister intentions. Ugandans must know whether federo is synonymous with general principles of federalism that their potential allies- the Acholi - and others may agree with.

Other striking contradictions preside within the very nature of Buganda and its intrinsic objectives. It is reasonable to argue that while northerners may wish to strike an alliance with Buganda in the struggle for federalism, Buganda itself, is not precisely organised enough to front its own case, consistently.

Besides, there is no guarantee that Buganda can stand the heat of controversy without flip flopping and reneging on its alliances in the face of state resistance or corruption. The recent attempt to reach an agreement for regional tier presents an interesting read to reaffirm my case here.

Another contradiction is the unexploited might of Buganda both in terms of having access to power and a potentially huge voter population. Majority of power brokers in Uganda in the last half century have been largely a composite of Baganda elites in cahoots with those in power.
If “federo” is at the heart of some of the wishes of Buganda, how come it is the Baganda who are constantly sabotaging it? For instance, in the current NRM government, half of the cabinet ministers are from Buganda and are NRM.

Buganda also enjoys a big number in parliament where federalism could be debated and passed since it is a national issue. How come the electorates who are mainstream Baganda are not pressing their MPs and ministers to prioritise the advancement of Buganda’s interest?
Another glaring contradiction is the excessive political loyalty Buganda has committed to the ruling NRM. The Baganda voters have persistently supported the NRM government while crying foul about the same government that it has marginalised Mengo and deprived it of its properties. Buganda must consider divorcing the NRM if it wants to reclaim its glory.

And at the most dire need for empathy during times when people were dying in the northern and eastern parts of Uganda, the Baganda rallied behind President Museveni’s regime and never spoke out for the innocent villagers who were being killed. Twenty years of bloodbath in Acholi went unnoticed. Buganda needs to cultivate a culture of internal consistency and develop internal mechanism to understand that in the game of politics, one cannot hold grudges forever, to that blinding point.

The search for identity by northerners within Uganda stems from being utterly rejected and subsequently alienated by the rest of the country for two full decades. The conceptualisation of semi-independent Nile Republic in the North is borne out of discontent in line with facts that northerners have been and continue to be treated like second hand citizens nationally. Their quest for federalism is a genuine cause that must be pursued swiftly with principled alliances.

The author is the founding member of Federal Review Commission Uganda. He is resident in Canada. May be contacted on
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