The simple story that explains federalism to a Ugandan



Last week but one, I met Captain Mike Kaggwa a former squad mate of L/Cpl. Patrick Otto at the junior non commissioned officers training course at Munduli under S/Sgt. Mwaipopo.

This week I had my rendezvous with Captain Mike Kaggwa at the Fox On The Hill pub on Denmark Hill in Camberwell not far from my house. As I was playing host I arrived early, bought myself half a pint of Pride of London and sat down on quiet corner of the pub sipping away at my glass and reading a copy of the Sunday Times. Our appointment was for three o’clock in the afternoon. I did not have to wait long before I saw Captain Kaggwa stroll into the pub and I drew his attention with a flimsy wave of the newspaper. He  immediately saw me and quickened his pace as I stood up and extended my hands in greeting. “You are most welcome my dear friend to SE. This is the famous Fox On the Hill.  I hope you had no great difficulty getting here”.

“Ho no not at all”. said Captain Mike. “I came by the District Line to Elephant and Castle and took the number 468 as you directed me. How are you any way Pilipo, you’re keeping alright”?

“I am pretty much in excellent shape” I said. “What will you drink”?

“Well, get me a pint of Stella please” said Captain Mike Kaggwa as he removed his jacket and eased himself into the seat.

As I made my way to the counter I remembered Obargot’s counsel “That can be a huge gamble”, and smiled to myself. It would indeed be a huge gamble for the captain since the counter was situated on a blind bend from our seat. I soon returned with the drink intact.

“Thanks man” said Captain Mike Kaggwa, as I placed the drink on the table in front of him. “So where were we? I think I promised you a flavour of our field training at Munduli under S/Sgt. Mwaipopo” said Captain Mike Kaggwa as he sipped his drink. “Today I would like to relay to you exactly what S/Sgt. Mwaipopo told us would be the best way to establish federalism in Uganda”.

“How come L/Cpl. Patrick Otto has not told us about this. You mean S/Sgt. Mwaipopo actually taught you how federalism can work in Uganda? Incredible!”, I said with much expectation of what was in store for me from captain Mike Kaggwa.

“Ho yeah”, said captain Mike Kaggwa. “S/Sgt. Mwaipopo did teach us how to establish Uganda into a federal nation and bring about lasting peace  to this our long suffering nation”.

” OK captain go right on tell me about federal Uganda”, I said.

“This is how you would establish federalism in Uganda” said S/Sgt. Mwaipopo, began captain Mike Kaggwa.  “First, you need a truely democratic government than the present government of president Yoweri Museveni. Next, the democratic government will have to enact a law; the Federal Constitution Act (FCA). This is the law that will provide the legal basis for implementation of federalism in Uganda. The Federal Constitution Act will have five aims; generally stated as:

(1) To promote, assist and facilitate in the process of  consultations with traditional leaders of the original 15 federal states and districts of Uganda at the time of  Independence in 1962; these are the federal states of Ankole, Buganda, Bunyoro-Kitara; Tooro; and the districts of Busoga; Acholi; Bugisu; Bukedi; Karamoja; Kigezi; Lango; Madi; Sebei; Teso and West Nile, and His Worship the Mayor of the Capital City Territory of Kampala, opinion leaders, religious leaders and the grassroots and all stakeholders about federalism and federal constitution of Uganda;

(2) To convene a Traditional Leaders Conference (TLC), comprising traditional leaders of the 15 original federal states and districts of Uganda and His Worship the Mayor of the Capital City territory of Kampala; to discuss and agree the parameters and  principles of federalism in Uganda.

(3) To facilitate the establishment of fully constituted, regional states consisting of the original 15 federal states and districts of Uganda at the time of Independence, and  the Capital City territory of Kampala. Once fully constituted these several 15 states and the Capital City Territory of Kampala shall have independent legislatures, executives and judicial systems.

(4) To convene the Federal Representatives Assembly (FRA) to draft, discuss and pass the federal constitution of Uganda; and

(5 ) To facilitate ratification of the federal constitution of Uganda by the several states and the capital city territory of Kampala.

Once parliament has passed the federal constitution law the president will dissolve parliament in order for the above process of establishing federalism to begin.

“Excuse me Sir”, interrupted L/Cpl. Patrick Otto looking animated as he gestured his hands towards S/Sgt. Mwaipopo. “I think at this stage the president should have to declare a state of emergency or at least the army should be on a state of Full Alert! You see there could be some rogue kingdoms that might wish to exploit this opportunity to secede. We need to protect the unity of Uganda”, pleaded L/Cpl. Patrick Otoo.

“Calm down Effendi Patrick Otto”, said S/Sgt. Mwaipopo.  “There is no need for a state of emergency or for the army to be on a state of full alert. What we are proposing to do is to dismantle the unitary nature of Uganda block by block from top to bottom. We shall then build federalism in its place also block by block from bottom to top. Remember, at this stage only the parliament has been dissolved not the constitution. So everything is being done according to law and there is no power vacuum. Are you OK with that Effendi Patrick Otto”?

“Well it’s kind of reassuring Sir”, muttered L/Cpl. Patrick Otto. “However, we should never take anything for granted. I just hope and pray that the army generals will be alert even if the president does not ask them to be”, retorted L/Cpl. Patrick Otto sounding somewhat relieved though not fully convinced.

“Sir I have got another query” begged L/Cpl. Patrick Otto. “Supposed during the Federal Representatives Assembly (FRA) representatives of some rouge state, say Buganda decide that they do not want  federalism any more, and demand full independence instead, how would you handle that?”

“Ho come now Effendi Patrick Otto”, said S/Sgt. Mwaipopo, “it won’t come to that. Do you remember the Traditional Leaders Conference (TLC)? The traditional leaders conference is a formal process of consultation on federalism, and its main purpose is for the traditional leaders to agree and set the parameters of federalism. Once the traditional leaders and His Worship the Mayor of the Capital City of Kampala have agreed the parameters and principles of federalism and made a declaration of commitment to that effect then there is no coming back on federalism, from that point you only fire forwards towards federalism, nothing else.

Secondly, there is a doctrine of international law that justifies secession in cases of severe human rights abuse and oppression of a people. In general the international community will continue to be sparing in its support of non-consensual secession”, explained S/Sgt. Mwaipopo to L/Cpl. Patrick Otto.

“Sir”, it was once again L/Cpl. Patrick Otto gesturing with his hand to S/Sgt. Mwaipopo.

“Yes Effendi Patrick Otto”, responded S/Sgt. Mwaipopo, “do ask your question”.

“Sir, how will the principles and spirit of federalism be established in the original 15 federal states and  districts of Uganda at Independence and the Capital City Territory of Kampala?”, asked L/Cpl. Patrick Otto.

“Thank you Efendi Patrick Otto, that’s a very good question to ask” said S/Sgt. Mwaipopo, beginning the explanation to L/Cpl. Otto’s question. “The most important first step in the establishment of federalism is sensitisation and consultation about federalism within each constituent prospective new state. Intelligent and educated people like you L/Cpl. Patrick Otto will play a very important role in all this. One of the most important principles of federalism in Uganda that will have been agreed by the traditional leaders and his Worship the mayor of Kampala is the right of each prospective new state to maintain its unique cultural, social, political and economic identity.” explained S/Sgt. Mwaipopo.

Sensing that L/Cpl. Patrick Otto was dominating the session I decided to put in my own question to S/Sgt. Mwaipopo. “Sir”, I said, “could you explain how federalism would be established in Acholi, as one of the prospective new federal states of Uganda”?

“That’s a very good question Effendi Mike Kaggwa especially coming from you who is a Muganda”, responded S/Sgt. Mwaipopo. I could see L/Cpl. Patrick Otto trying to pay particular attention to what S/Sgt. Mwaipopo was going to say about federalism and Acholi.

“This then is how you would establish federalism in Acholi”, said S/Sgt. Mwaipopo clearly on top of his stuff.  “Politically Acholi can best be described as a federation of independent chiefdoms, which are descended from the same Luo ancestral linage and holding a common Acholi identity. Each chiefdom is headed by a royal prince or Rwot. Some, but not all, of the notable Rwodi include Rwot Achan II of Payira, Rwot Ogwok of Padibe, Rwot Martin Atinga of Lamogi, Rwot Oryang Lagony of Koch, etc.

The first step in establishing the new Acholi regional state is the drafting and adoption of an Acholi state constitution. The Acholi state constitution will be independent, and will similarly establish independent Acholi state legislature, Acholi state executive and Acholi state judiciary”.

At this point L/Cpl. Patrick Otto who had been listening attentively shot up a question, “Excuse me Sir”, he said, “who will head the regional state of Acholi”?

“That’s a very good question again Effendi Patrick Otto”, responded S/Sgt. Mwaipopo. “Now listen very carefully.  As a federation of independent chiefdoms, the several Acholi royal princes or Rwodi will elect one of their own peers to serve as the  nominal and constitutional head of Acholi state for a fixed term of say six years on rotation basis. The constitutional head of Acholi state could be styled “The Acholi Governor General”, and would rank equal to HH the Kabaka of Buganda.

The Acholi state legislature would be the highest elected body in the state, and would legislate on statewide laws and institutions. The Acholi state legislature would bring together legislators from the present districts of Gulu, Kitgum, Pader, Lamwo and Amuru. The legislature could be called the “Acholi Senate”  and its legislator would be called “Member of the Acholi Senate” (MAS) and will rank equal to the Buganda Lukiiko and its members. The Acholi state constitution will guarantee freedom of association including political association, therefore, election to the Acholi state senate will be on multi party basis, with all the major political parties; DP, UPC, FDC, NRMO, CP, etc., taking part. The Acholi Senate would be independent of the Federal State legislature, or Parliament of Uganda. For example the Acholi senate could abolish the death penalty for capital offences such as murder committed on Acholi soil.

The present district council or LC5 would be retained to be the legislature for Acholi districts, similarly the present LC3 at sub county would be retained, and so would the LC1 be retained. These are some of the best reforms brought in by the government of president Yoweri Museveni. Election for LC5 and LC3 would similarly be on multi party basis, with all major political parties taking part. Election for the LC1 would be on “individual merit” and political parties would not be permitted to take direct part in the elections at this very basic level of community.

The Acholi state executive or the Acholi state government would be formed in accordance with the provisions of the Acholi state constitution. The head of the Acholi state government could be called “Governor”, and he/she would be an elected official serving a fixed elected term and would rank equal to the Katikiro of Buganda. Departments of governments such as health, agriculture, education, judiciary, Science and Information Technology, etc., could be headed by Directors. Thus you would have the Director of health, Director of education, etc., and would rank equal to a Mmengo minister.

The process of establishing new regional states would happen at the same time throughout the nation. Once regional states have been established, then next would follow a convening of a Federal Representative Assembly (FRA). The Federal Representative Assembly would comprise of elected representatives of the original 15 federal states and districts of Uganda at independence and the Capital City Territory of Kampala and their function would be to draft  and adopt the Federal Constitution of Uganda.

Once the Federal Constitution of Uganda has been adopted by the Assembly, then it would be left to all the 15 regional states and the capital city territory of Kampala for ratification. The whole process of establishing federalism in Uganda could take between four to five years, perhaps longer”, said S/Sgt. Mwaipopo.

I yawned, and for the first time noticed that both our drinks had long run out. Captain Mike Kaggwa had been engrossed in talking and I in listening so that neither of us realised how more than four hours had gone by. “Shall I get some drinks and something to chew?”, I suggested to Captain Mike Kaggwa.

“Certainly that would be most welcome”, said he, ” I will go to the gents meanwhile”.

I returned with both our drinks and some roasted peanuts. We were soon back to S/Sgt. Mwaipopo’s lessons on federalism.  Captain Mike Kaggwa drank a mouthful from his glass before continuing.

” Next I want to talk about the merits of federalism”, said S/Sgt. Mwaipopo, continued Captain Mike Kaggwa with his narrative. “This is also very important and I want the class to listen carefully. Two distinctions can be made of federalism and how it arises in different nations. These two distinctions are shaped as the product of what is known by  pupils of politics as “centripetal federalism” and “centrifugal federalism”. Centripetal federalism is a “coming together” federalism; this is when there is a strong central or federal government and weaker provincial or regional governments, as is the case in the United States of America. On the other hand centrifugal federalism is a “holding together” federalism; this is where more powers is dispersed from the central government to the provincial government, as is the case in Canada; which has managed to respond to the most basic aspirations of Quebecois”.

At this point S/Sgt. Mwaipopo directed a question to L/Cpl. Patrick Otto. “Effendi Patrick Otto”, enquired S/Sgt. Mwaipopo, “which of the two do you think Uganda’s federalism would fall under”?

“Sir, I think Uganda’s federalism would probably fall somewhere in between a “coming together” federalism and a “holding together” federalism”, said L/Cpl. Patrick Otto.

“You are probably right”, said S/Sgt. Mwaipopo. “Some regions of  Uganda may want a strong central government, while others may prefer more powers dispersed to the regional or provincial governments. It is up to Ugandans to find the right balance”, I saw L/Cpl. Patrick Otto nodding in agreement.

“What then are the merits of federalism”?, said S/Sgt. Mwaipopo. It was more of a preamble than a question.

“According to pupils and practitioners of democratic politics these are the merits of federalism”, enumerated S/Sgt. Mwaipopo.

1. Federalism furnishes the means of uniting commonwealth of peoples under one nation and one national government without extinguishing their separate administrations, loyalties and local patriotism.

2.  Under federalism regions or federal states can act as ‘laboratories’ for policies to be tested. A comparatively small commonwealth like an American state easily makes and valuates its laws; thus mistakes are not serious, for they are soon corrected; other states profit by the experience of a law or a method which has worked well or ill in the state that has tried it.

3. One major merit of federalism lies in its capacity to accommodate diversity. When a country is subdivided in sufficiently small and autonomous subunits, different religions, ethnic or cultural groups can arrange their affairs according to their preferences in their own areas.

4. Generally, where there exists many decision-making centres covering limited areas, more people will get what they want from those who govern them than where only one decision making body is in charge of the whole country.

5. Federalism is the most effective way of preventing ‘dictatorship of the majority’ over a minority. Thus in a situation where 51% of the population could dictate to 49%, administrative borders coincide by and large with ethnic or other divison lines within a country. In that case federalism can be effective method of solving minority problems.

6. ‘Practice makes perfect’; by groups perfecting their association, coexistance and interdependence within their smaller subunits, ethnic or cultural groups, this will lead to more confidence in striving to live in a much larger country or nation.

7. The direct opposite of a “one-solution-fits-all”, federalism tends to minimise the risks involved in errors in political decison making: if such an error affects the whole country, the damage will be severe than if it affects only one province.

8. Federalism provides a method of plurality in a country where there are sufficiently stong local loyalties and where in its absence the only resort to hold the country together is force.

Finally class, I want to live you with a few satatistics and facts about federalism to think about. There where only a handful of true federations at the end of the Second World War. These included Australia, Canada, Switzerland and USA.

Since 1945 numerous countries have become truely federal, including Austria, Germany, Mexico, Spain, Belgium, Colombia, Peru, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Brasil, USSR, Argentina, Ethiopia and more recently Nigeria and South Africa. Where democracy progresses, surely in many cases federalism will follow. Can anyone of you imagine a democratic China that is also unitary? Think about it”.

I looked at my watch and the time was a quarter to eleven. We had been in the Fox On The Hill for more than six hours and it all passed like a flash.

“Thank you so much captian Mike Kaggwa. This has truely been a very well spent evening and I have learnt a lot.”

“My pleasure my dear friend Pilipo. Now let’s get out of here”.

Pilipo Oruni

UAH forumist residing in London

References: Forums for Federations,Canada; The Federalist Papers, and the United States Constitution; Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty; Buganda Constitutional Proposals 2003; Obargot Pabwola notes on ideas and thoughts for federalism in Acholi; Pilipo Oruni, What is Right for Uganda, 1994; Notes by Andrew Garib, Campus Progress;


About ekitibwakyabuganda

Ba Ssebo ne ba Nyabo, Twebaza Abaganda bonna abulumulirwa Obuganda . Era twebaza ne mikwano gya Buganda gyonna wonna wegiri munsi yonna. Omukutu guno gwatandikibwawo nga e’kigendererwa kwe kuyigiriza abantu ebintu ebikwatagana no’Buganda era nokuwanyisiganya ebilowozo nebanaffe abatali Baganda. Abaganda ne mikwano gya Buganda mukozese omukisa guno muwereze ebirowozo byamwe no’bubaka bwona obunaagasa Abaganda na’baana Buganda berizala mu maaso eyo. Obumu ku bubaka obuwerezebwa ku mukutu guno bugyibwa mukuwanyisiganya ebirowozo okubera kumukutu gwa Ugandan’s at Heart (UAH) Forum ogwatandikibwawo Mwami Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba. Era twebaza muzukulu wa Kintu ne Nnambi ono olw’omulimu gwakoledde bana Uganda bonna abali e’bunayira mungeri yo kubagatta mu byempuliziganya no’kutumbula okukolaganira awamu.

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