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Towards a Federal System for Modern Uganda
Federal democratic governments have proved to be great vehicles for development of communities around the world. Uganda can sustainably prosper with a federal system designed to ensure economic prosperity of the entire country. This is in contrast to the tribal and sectional interests that overshadow the current debate. With economic development as our major aim, we can be assured of growth driven by market forces and broader interests of national integration, peace and prosperity.
National development should supersede tribal interests and as such, our political and economic systems must be knitted with the major goal of enabling the entire society to prosper. The only way we can spread development is through empowering communities to determine their needs and opportunities, and how to meet them. And to identify their problems and how to solve them. When responsible responses to situations are enabled, communities take great strides not only towards total freedom, but also development. Federal governance enables people to respond to whatever needs and desires they have. This eliminates the unnecessary delays and uncertainty involved in waiting for responses from above, where the affected people might not be able to reach and cause influence within reasonable time. In addition, those who have to respond do not have a feel and complete grasp of the circumstances as thorough as those who are directly affected by them.
There has been a political standoff between Buganda as a “nation-state” within Uganda and the government of Uganda. The question of a federal system of government in Uganda should shift focus from whether it should be granted to Buganda to how we can implement it for the benefit of the entire country. Federal is said to have enabled Buganda prosper much faster compared to all other places in the country during the time it was implemented within the Kingdom. Education, health and infrastructure improved during that time. Logically, what gives good results to one has potential for the same to many. For this reason, we should give due consideration to a federal system to be spread all across the country.
A federal system designed for Buganda alone threatens not just the strength of the central government and the unity of the country, but also many people and local governments who will otherwise face their fears quietly. Federal for Buganda is associated with development of greater influence and political power for the person of the Kabaka and the Mengo government. Historically, this is what regimes in Kampala have determined to fight, and in so doing managed to deny the entire country a federal system that would have caused peace and prosperity faster. Even though Buganda has established a reputation of having a welcoming attitude towards all people to its territory, non-Baganda citizens within Buganda still have fears of being discriminated against once Buganda is granted a federal status.
However, by limiting the federal question to Buganda, we limit our perception to a false idea that federal is and should be exclusively limited to Buganda. This way, we blindfold ourselves to a system that can enable Uganda to achieve peace and prosperity. Those who are biased towards Buganda, basing their opinion on history and on what is happening at present can blow trumpets against federal, but by fighting federal, they are not only denying development to one area, they also deny it to the entire country.
Despite Buganda being a “multi-tribal kingdom”, many proponents of federal in Uganda and their antagonists are still limited to the system as if it were in the 60s. We need a new model that moves beyond our tribal limits. Cultural institutions must be protected while creating greater freedom for people to determine their own future. No one individual or group should have the power to sanction the progressive prosperity of the people. This is what top-down leadership systems do. Communities cannot, and should not, rely upon a leadership they can not question and challenge for their development. We can only improve if we can question the way we do things and look for areas we can improve. But when we deliberately refuse to change the status quo, we cannot usher in improvements.
We should seriously explore the possibility of a federal system for the entire country. This is the only way we can avoid tribalism and strife that are intrinsic in a federal granted to tribal areas, and at the same time help non kingdom areas to prosper. This approach can also help protect individual freedoms which are the basis for prosperity. Friends who propose “tribal federal” should realize the problems that are inbuilt in such a setting and join hands in developing a system that will benefit the whole country. Besides, if national unity is truly important to us, as we say, we should avoid the danger of politically dividing ourselves on tribal lines. By limiting ourselves to our tribal lines, we not only renew our tribal past, but also delay prosperity that can only come if we are willing to work together in a spirit of total harmony and integration.
The system of federal that will work for modern Uganda should be different from what Buganda experienced in the 60s. The system can avoid major friction if it preserves traditional leaders and their establishments and creates a structure that guarantees local responsibility and action for development while ensuring unity and harmony among people in all areas. The form of federal system we decide upon should make individuals, agencies and communities accountable more for results rather than rules and regulations.
When monarchies are retained and a federal structure where people elect leaders they can challenge and change within demarcated areas, public forces whose focus is to reinvent systems for improvement can ensure continual change.