The battle against COVID-19 should restart debate on Federalism – Part ii – Norbert Mao

In response to my article some people chose deliberately to misconstrue federalism as one and the same with monarchism. This is understandable. There has been a lot of effort by opponents of federalism to distort the case for federalism. Also, given that the leading agitator for federalism has historically and consistently been the Kingdom of Buganda headed by the most influential monarch in Uganda.

The overwhelming support for federalism in Buganda was noted by the Justice Odoki Constitutional Commision which reported that their survey revealed that over 90 percent of the people in Buganda favour a federal system of government. But now Buganda is not a lone voice championing federalism. There’s a chorus from many other units or communities that form the building blocks of Uganda.

The agitation for federalism assumes that the successive consensus on which the Ugandan State was founded have collapsed because of the desire by those with guns or money or both to dominate others and also to impose their narrow consensus on other citizens. Federalism will therefore require the renegotiation of the basis of Ugandan statehood. This is imperative because most of the communities that form Uganda feel as if they were just fenced-in by a colonial fiat rubber stamped by elites eager to step into the shoes of the colonial master.

Federalism can be a cure for many of the ills we face today as a result of the concentration of power in the hands of the central government. When power is concentrated into the hands of the central government, there are no real constitutional restraints on the powers of the central government, people look expectantly to the central government to solve their problems, and the central government’s superior financial muscle fiscal resources give it unbridled leverage over local governments.

There is no contradiction between a strong federal national government and strong federal units. It is all about decentralization, deconcentration or devolution of power. After all Federalism is the highest stage of decentralization. But this can only be healthy if there is rule of law rather than “law of rulers”. This was the problem in the wake of our independence. Dr. Obote grew paranoid and instead of responding by turning to the law as a final arbiter of an obvious conflict of interests, he employed “whim-power”. He unilaterally changed the rules of the game. Let it be emphasized however that even a federal arrangement is still a UNION. And the national government has the duty to protect that union. These things must be agreed upon in a constitution. Once the rules are agreed to, the game should proceed according to the rules of the game.

I believe that if President Museveni were at the helm during the 1966 crisis in Buganda crisis we would have seen worse. I have some basis for this conclusion. Witness his highhanded response when as Defence Minister, he ordered troops to fire on unarmed crowds in 1979 during the NO LULE, NO WORK demonstrations. Witness also the disproportionate violence he sanctioned against those who protested his order barring the Kabaka of Buganda from visiting the county of Bugerere (Kayunga)! know Musevenites will dive for my jugular for saying this but I did not want to leave it unsaid. Museveni will never agree to demands for federalism.

Those who want federalism must therefore resolve to tear through him, go over him, or around him. My preference is the third choice. He should wake up one morning and find that he is alone in that awkward position. That is what happened regarding the demands for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Northern Uganda. He remained pitifully alone in the warmonger’s corner. That is how he stopped opposing peace talks gusto.

Those who want to wait for Museveni to grant them federalism can as well wait for goats to start laying eggs. They can as well wait for orange trees to start sprouting mangoes. In law we say “Nemodat quod non habet” – you cannot give what you do not have. Museveni does not have it in him to grant such freedoms as federalism.