Was Dr Obote right about Federo?
Obote’s last word on federo
“It is hereby resolved that the [Independence] Constitution be abolished, and the [Republican] Constitution now laid before us be adopted and it is hereby adopted.”
This is how Dr Milton Obote, Uganda’s founding executive prime minister; dramatically introduced a republican constitution for the country on April 15, 1966, effectively abolishing kingship.
The lawmakers, besieged outside the House by heavily-armed soldiers, adopted the new constitution before copies of the document were stacked in their pigeon holes. The Speaker barred them from asking any questions of Dr Obote on that day, according to the Hansard, the official of parliamentary proceedings.
In the five-hour speech, Dr Obote accused SseKabaka Fredrick Mutesa, then ceremonial President, of conspiring with some army officers and a foreign country to topple his government.
“…there is going to be no federation; so all the powers that had been divided to all corners of Uganda have been brought back to Parliament…[only] one country, one Parliament, one government and one people,” he said, as MPs laughed at his unilateral declarations.
Some political commentators say Dr Obote’s pronouncements, vilified particularly by pro-Buganda monarchists, was vital to hold Uganda together but his error was to militarise politics.
At the height of the tensions between the central government and monarchists, the Buganda Kingdom parliament (Lukiiko) resolved to kick out the central government and demanded that the capital city be removed from Buganda soil. The government responded by deploying the military which flushed out SseKabaka Mutesa from his Lubiri stronghold forcing him to flee into exile in the UK where he later died.
Such was the humiliation to the monarchy that Uganda People’s Congress party, then led by Dr Obote, is still largely denounced in Buganda region to this day, three years after the death of the former President.
Dr Obote’s fall-out with Buganda kingdom regained debate value after President Museveni clashed with Kabaka Ronald Mutebi’s government, culminating in the September 10-12 riots in which 27 people were shot dead, mostly by security forces.
The events that unfolded in September drew parallels with the 1966 confrontation, prompting analysts to question whether monarchies can thrive in a republican state like Uganda.
This followed President Museveni’s pronouncement, in a speech to Parliament five days after the riots, that the traditional leaders he restored in 1993 must have no say in politics.
He said: “The real issue is whether we should have political kings – kings wielding political power. This concept is totally rejected by the NRM because it is anti-democracy.”
“The king is not elected. If he wields political power, how shall he be accountable for his mistakes?”
This exactly is what appears to have worried Dr Obote’s 43 years ago when he addressed Parliament. Dr Obote said then that Uganda must be rid of “irresponsible ambitions that, because of the accident of birth, somebody must direct as of right the affairs of State”.
“Let us give the best to Uganda and let Uganda return what it can offer to our individual areas… We shall never build a nation if at the same time we are trying to build tribes,” he said.
He then proposed regional governments run by salaried officials, which in essence is what President Museveni says his government will introduce next financial year as one of the measures to dampen enthusiasm and agitation for federalism.