East Africans remain attached to Old Chieftains and Kingdoms; is this a recipe for secessionists?


East African March 21-27, Charles Onyango-Obbo’s article; “East Africans may still romanticise old Chieftains” is spot on in title. However, it may be argued that the cessation tendencies are yet to materialise in the hearts and minds of the citizens.  On the contrary; most citizens have considered colonial boundaries sacred and sought ways of fitting in via federal or regional sub-groupings with; legislative, executive and judicial functions to enjoy economies of security and centralised economic redistribution for overall growth at the national level. Ghana set the pace, Ethiopia is a new successful one and Kenya’s new landmark constitution sets the pace in the EAC for regional governments. “Democratic federalism has played a major and vital role in the economic success of Ethiopia.” H.E. Meles Zenawi


It is the subjugation of these hopes and aspirations as predicted by Rousseau in his classic book; “The Social Contract” where most legislatures make laws for the ruling parties or the autocrats of the day that are often at variance with the citizens’ aspirations.  The lack of autochthony of colonial derived artificial republican autocratic constitutions lies at the heart of most conflicts that we have experienced so far on the African continent and also fuels secessionist tendencies in the extreme case.

Otherwise; if legislatures accommodated these Chiefdoms and Kingdoms in constitutional monarchies and regional sovereigns; as opposed to opportunist resource seeking quasi colonial-like pretences at republics and the associated neo patrimonial state largesse at the expense of the body citizen. Secessionist dangers would be non-existent, and African society would be better off and largely free from conflict and so much waste and death.

Constitutional autochthony is the process of asserting constitutional nationalism from an external legal or political power. The source of autochthony is the Greek word αὐτόχθων translated as springing from the land.  It usually means the assertion of not just the concept of autonomy, but also the concept that the constitution derives from their own native traditions. The autochthony, or home grown nature of constitutions, give them authenticity and effectiveness. It was important in the making and revising of the constitutions of India, Pakistan, Ghana, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Zambia and many other members of the British Commonwealth, Wikipedia. It remains critical that all further attempts at constitutional democracy in EAC should not lose sight of this principle.

UK is a very successful union of Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales. They are regional sovereigns in a larger one. It is important to note that being part of the UK does not mean you have to give up your Scottishness or Englishness. In Africa that would be described by a derogatory term tribe. There is nothing to suggest for example that Buganda was not a nation with all the 3 arms of the state present in an autochthonous setting.

In a federal setting; the social-economic, cultural and political freedom would lead to better allocation of resources and reduce corruption hence leading to long term political stability- a pre-requisite for economic growth and social economic transformation.

The great Winston Churchill stated that some countries think that by getting rid of their monarchs and ridiculing them; and renaming themselves the republic of this or that; they have suddenly developed and gotten rid of poverty of the mind and pocket and assume that they have founded  sustainable countries. On the contrary; he argues that in Britain they have learnt to accommodate their monarchs and they are thriving. While you can’t certainly say the same (thriving); for the many African republics that did away with monarchs in the mainly Marxist Leninist revolutions of the day, the latest one to crumble is Libya.

In the weak social political republic setting; EAC will be a federation of structurally weak sovereigns whose citizens are yet to be comfortable with a dominant often corrupt and rent seeking autocratic republic setting often at logger heads with the most cherished and revered Kings and chiefs. Buganda Kingdom is a case in point; does it want to secede? No, is it happy being in the current Uganda and its Laws? No.

Then it must be the case that the solution lies somewhere in the middle of the two extremes; centralised republic or secession. An autochthonous federation still remains the ideal long term solution to Uganda’s socio political problems. Indeed the 1962 independence constitution was the closest thing to the ideal solution.

These aspirations we are lucky are still being pursued via peaceful political means; should the youngsters decide to demand for their God given rights forcefully; then the ensuing violence would render many years of economic progress wasted. The secessionist risk remains a real risk in Uganda; given the irrational exuberance on the part of legislatures that often love to be the centre of attraction with little regard to their specific heritage. Silencing the voices of the much cherished Kings and Chiefs may backfire with far reaching ramifications to the current dominant largely unitary republican constitution.

At the 5th International Conference on Federalism December 13 – 16, 2010 at the United Nations Conference Centre, Addis Ababa H.E Meles Zenawi stated that: “Ethiopia has throughout its long history endeavoured to develop a system of governance that embraces its diversity- one that helps it to transform its extraordinary diversity from an existential threat to a deep well of strength and dynamism with little success. Indeed the management of its diversity has for centuries constituted a primary challenge- a challenge that has massively contributed to its centuries long journey backwards from the frontline of world civilization to one of the poorest countries on earth. Our experiment with Democratic Federalism over the past two decades must thus be seen as one in a line of attempts to achieve unity in Diversity. All indications so far suggest that this is at last a successful experiment”

It seems that for stability to prevail there is a role to play by the Chieftains and Kingdoms, love them or hate them. They remain popular and thus will play critical roles in the social economic transformation of their people. It is about time they are viewed as part of the solution.

Abubaker B. Mayanja


The writer is a Financial Economist and formerly a Research Fellow at the Economic Policy Research Centre.


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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