Betty Kamya must abandon the idea of having a national referendum on federalism


Ladies and Gentlemen of good will,

Federalism is a concrete manifestation of the right to internal self-determination of specific communities in a multi-ethnic or multi-national state. A federal structure of the state has the potential to accommodate the legitimate aspirations of all ethnic, linguistic or religious communities for self government and protection of their distinct cultural and religious identities, while at the same time guaranteeing equal participation by all communities and by all citizens in the political and economic affairs of the country as a whole

For that matter therefore, Betty Kamya is very wrong to call for a national referendum on our right to internal self determination in Uganda. This is because it is every region’s responsibility to determine the nature of political arrangement that they so wish in their respective regions. It is utterly wrong, abusive, fallacious, unreflective, and thoughtless for Kamya to call for a national referendum on federalism, and it shows a clear lack of careful thinking on Betty Kamya’s part. Indeed, the Odoki’s commission recommended that in regions where people desire a federal system of government, they should be allowed to adopt it. Odoki never called for a referendum because he knew that it abuses the people’s right to internal self-determination.

How just is it for someone in Bunyoro, through his/her vote, to dictate on the political system which West Nilers (People in West Nile) should have?. Let each region be allowed to exercise its right to internal self-determination and no region should dominate another either directly or indirectly.

Betty Kamya wrote that because the constitution says that we can have a referendum, so she is asking for one. Well, this argument is seriously flawed. You cannot just follow the rules as they are written. Betty must learn that a constitution is not only there to be followed but also, to be challenged. We are not living under the world of Sharia where certain people’s hands have to be cut off because the rule so says.

Kamya’s reasoning on this issue is akin to the fallacy of composition or the fallacy of mediocrity which assumes that any given member of set (rules) must be limited to the attributes that are held in common with all the other members of the set. In other words, we can have a referendum on other things but not on our human rights because they are given unto us by God and by the virtue of the fact that we are human beings. That is what Betty has to understand and probably learn.

Federalism, it should be considered as a “first resort” before any other system is adopted because it is an appropriate form of internal self-determination as articulated in the UN instruments. Therefore, before imposing any other system of government on any region, a sensible leader must have to consult with the people in different regions and allow them to internally self determine. It is until they say no to this proposition that any other system of government should be imposed onto them. Today, people different regions should allow deciding how they want their respective regions to be governed internally. To achieve this, you do not need a national referendum. Actually, if any it should be a regional referendum because internal self –determination is a regional matter.

Many people do love the federal system of government. However, we must be watchful of the self seeking politicians who want to use federalism for their political relevance. Anyway, let me move on to the concrete issue of adopting a federal system of government.

Experiences in many parts of the world have demonstrated that federal arrangements can diffuse tensions and mitigate conflicts between different ethnic communities. Federal arrangements can provide a fundamental basis for the peaceful co-existence and co-operation of diverse ethnic or linguistic communities. These experiences nurture expectations that a new flexible structure of the state and a mode of governance based on the principles of federalism could transform the ethnic conflict in Uganda from violence to constitutionalism and restore the unity of the country that at present is marked by de facto divisions, exploitation, over centralization of power, manipulation, and corruption among other evils.

Consequently, a workable federal arrangement would render secession unnecessary and invalid. But, there are unfounded fears and suspicion that the non territorial minority communities or the smaller tribes can become the orphans or step children, or even the losers of a future federal structure of the state. Ugandans must dispel these fears as hogwash. They should reflect on the critical thinking fallacy of a slippery slope argument which falsely assumes that should one even occur, so will other harmful events. Well, there is no proof made that the harmful evens are caused by the first event. Because federalism was abolished by Obote in 1966 and then tribalism, state inspired violence, torture etc occurred and some Baganda called for total independence from Uganda, it does not mean that it is going to be the same scenario.

Actually, one of the advantages of federalism is that it is characterized by the distribution of power over regional entities. The overarching state, the federation, is divided into territorial sub-units (called states, provinces, Boroughs or Cantons), and State Power is dispersed over these federated sub -units.

Territorially concentrated ethnic or other population groups benefit in such a traditional federal structure in the following four ways:
· They are represented in the national parliament or first chamber as they would have been in a unitary state.
· They are represented in the executive, legislative and judiciary of the federated sub-units where they constitute a majority, enjoying their internal right of self-determination.

· They are represented as well in the second chamber which voices the concerns of the sub-states in national policy making, and

· They are an active part in the intergovernmental policy networks which are typical of federal arrangements.


Some people argue that federalism is bad because of the costs which may be incurred in its implementation. Now, these individuals are just using every single flimsy excuse to portray federalism as unworkable in Uganda. In fact, they are struggling with ideas, thus ending up waffling between hidden ignorance, hatred for Buganda, and their love for the current abusive system/ regime/government.

First of all, in the current unitary system which is being used in Uganda, 75% of the national budget goes into administrative costs. The government only uses 25% of the national budget to pay for the direct services which people directly benefit from. These services include health, road construction, justice, education etc. The country has so many useless administrators e.g. RDC,s DISOs, LC5s etc. In a federal system of government, we shall cut all this waste down. Secondly, these individuals have not even examined the costs in the unitary system in comparison to what the federal system will cost. Ask yourself, do you think that RDCs, DISOs etc will be needed in a federal system?

Another concern which I have identified in our so called Ugandan intellectuals is the issue of ignorance on social policy development. Most of them assume that money must be the driver of social policy development. This kind of reasoning is seriously flawed because effective social policy development has to be driven by a needs-led approach. One must identify the need to change the existing policies/ systems, develop the new policies/ system and then, in the development process, that is when resources come into play. Lack of resources does not take away the actual need for change in policy. Rather, it motivates the policy developers to use systems in policy development that use evidence of needs to plan the delivery of services in a cost effective manner.

In this debate of federalism, we need people to “an outcome perspective” within “a works mind-set”.
To ensure that you understand what I’m saying, let me use the analogy of UK social care laws. In UK laws, it is deemed unlawful for a local authority to take resources into account in determining the level of any service provision resulting. This was emphasized in R v Lanarkshire Council ex p MacGregor where the judge pronounced that resources are not relevant to an assessment of need but it was relevant when deciding how to meet that need. In relation to Uganda, it has a need and because of that, we must focus on how to use federalism to meet the need and then, discuss cost management after designing the plan.


The Belgian model

Belgium is an interesting example of a country with a combination of territorial and non-territorial federalism arrangements.
This small European country – small than Uganda – has developed by long process a dual form of self-government for its citizens who belong to 3 different linguistic or cultural communities, Flemish, Walloons and Germans.

Belgians are both members of territorial units and members of autonomous non-territorial communities. While the regional councils represent the interests of the people living in the different regions, the community councils represent the interests of the different ethno-linguistic communities from all regions. And this constitutional architecture, though it has not eliminated the conflicts between the 3 communities, has made them manageable and has avoided violent conflict.

Therefore, the Belgian model may be instructive and give some inspiration for the discussion in Uganda.
Does federalism lead to separation?

Many people in Uganda have the fear that a federalization of the unitary State would sooner or later result in the disintegration of the State and finally in the partition of the country. It is certainly true that there have been cases of breakup of federations. But unitary States have experienced secessions as well. And comparing secessions from unitary countries with secessions from federal countries, the danger of secession seems to be greater in a unitary than in a federal State.
In advanced democracies with divided societies, including Switzerland, Belgium, Canada and Spain, federalism has helped to keep states unified and democratic in the face of possible secession by territorially based minorities. Outside the advanced industrial societies, federalism also gets good reviews. Countries whose histories of electoral competition are long (India), short (Mexico), or mixed (Nigeria) have all evinced the positive effects of federal structures. In Russia, the fluid nature of the federal system and the constitution’s lack of specificity have created a number of bilateral relationships between the centre and the regions, but have also managed to eliminate the threat of regional secession – with the obvious exception of Chechnya.

Of course there are cases of countries where federal arrangements failed, like Sudan and Eritrea. Examples of failed federations are also Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. However, those three communist countries were federations only by name, but not in substance; de facto, they were highly centralized and authoritarian States, which kept their different nationalities together by force. Therefore, the dissolution of these formally federal countries after the fall of communist regime should not be considered as a failure of the federal system (which in reality did not exist), but as a failure of the de facto unitary state, which had disguised itself as a federal state.

It is also true that federal countries like Canada and India are still facing separatist threats, but it seems to be equally true that they are able to resist these centrifugal forces and preserve the unity of the country because of the federal structure. Without federalism, most probably the forces of secession would be more successful.

From all these examples we can draw the conclusion that federalism is no cure-all prescription for the elimination of the secessionist claims and the disappearance of ethno-political conflicts.

In federal multi-ethnic states conflicts and tensions between different ethnic or linguistic groups will not disappear. Multi-ethnic federations like Nigeria, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Canada, Belgium and Spain are still facing severe challenges by ethnic or linguistic rivalry or secessionist claims.

But the point is that conflicts and tensions between different ethnic groups in federations are in most cases fought out non-violently and thus become politically manageable. In consequence, the risk that such inter-ethnic conflicts result in intra-state violence and attempts for secession is certainly lower in a federation than in a unitary state.

So federalism is no absolute guarantee against secession. But federalism has the potential to moderate nationalist political passions and channel armed conflicts towards peaceful discourse and transform warfare into conventional politics.

Thus, in a federal state, it will be easier than in a unitary state to manage such conflicts through non-violent means, by negotiation and compromise. Hence, the dangers of not devolving power are greater than of doing it, and the probability of secession is higher in a unitary state than in a federal one.


Federalism is an expression of both unity and diversity within a single political system. But federalism per se is not automatically a recipe for democratic governance, partnership and ethnic harmony. Its success is not guaranteed. Federalism is only a framework and a mechanism for distribution of power that can lead to a solution to ethnic conflicts in a society. What matters is substance rather than labels.

Successful federalism is premised on the willingness of all parties to co-operate as partners with each other while respecting their differences through constructive compromises between particular and common interests. Without such a will, federalism becomes an empty promise and will not work in reality. Therefore, for a coherent and cohesive federal arrangement that would stand the test of time, more important than the structures and institutions of federalism are its principles, fundamental values and rules, the “culture of federalism” as expressed in the consciousness, beliefs and attitudes that determine the political behaviour of political parties, and the broad citizenry. For federalism to flourish it requires the will for partnership and a sincere commitment to permanent association by all parties involved. So the federal culture seems to be the Achilles’ heel of federalism

No matter what form federalism takes, how federal institutions are designed, and what federal principles are emphasized, it is generally clear by now that where there is a positive attitude towards federalism and a will to build a federal system, where the political society involved rests on sufficient trust, sufficiently widespread to allow the many leaps of faith that must be taken to make federalism work, where political culture is either favourable or at least open to federal arrangements, where all of this leads to a wider understanding of liberty as federal liberty, then federalism has a good chance of succeeding when used for peace-making. It may have almost as good a chance if most of those elements are present and some chance even if one or two of them is. But it seems quite clear that without any, the chances of success are extremely limited.

Richard Mukasa
Awangaale Ssabasajja Kabaka Muwenda Mutebi. Ne Nabagereka Lady Sylvia Naginda agerekere Buganda.


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.

4 responses »

  1. Many revolutions have taken place in Uganda,but to bring it to your attention, many regions in the country have sat on the sideline waiting for some regions to think and decide on their behalf, what is deemed right, that is why we have legislators making decisions that they think will benefit their regions.Calling for Federal referendum is good for every sensible soul,according to the events that have occurred and are taking place in Uganda. To solve these problems such as human rights abuses,corruption and end of dictatorial military regimes such as the current. I support a National federal referendum. This will give other regions power to exercise their
    rights by voting for it or against it.For us in Buganda we have suffered a lot and if we do not do something, our children we condemn us for leaving them in captivity of which the kingdom stands now. Nanyinni Muffu Yakwatta Awawunya! On behalf of our organization BAGANDA UNITED INC we are pushing for Federal system of governance for Buganda and Uganda, if other regions do not like it, then Buganda Kingdom get ready to cut ourselves off the rest of Uganda forsake of freedom from captivity brought to us by Dictator Museveni. Prophet Joseph Preacher Kizito: Let my people go!

  2. I for sure know very well that Kamya works for state house & has no nobal cause for Buganda.What ever she’s up to is for the benefit of Nrm her self & M7.

  3. Do you know for sure or you are dishing her since she is a woman in politics and forwarding a different approach from the men who have so far failed??

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