London conference discussed federalism in a tolerant atmosphere

The well publicized London federal conference organized by Uganda Federal Confederates (UFC) took place at the University of East London on October 27, 2012. The attendance could not have been better. A high powered delegation from Uganda joined others at the University including those from the United States of America.

All the four regions of northern, eastern, western and central (Buganda) and all demographic groups of men, women and youth were represented. Different organizations and political parties were also represented. United Democratic Ugandans (UDU) was represented by the Secretary General, Eric Kashambuzi who presented two papers on the Roadmap to Achieving Federalism in Uganda and plans to establish Tutsi Empire in the Great Lakes region.

The debate took place in a tolerant atmosphere under the leadership of the master of ceremony in which participants discussed a wide range of issues related to federalism versus unitarism freely and responsibly, disagreeing where they did in a civil manner. Decorum was exercise as required.

Presentations were followed by pertinent comments, questions and suggestions on the way forward. That the discussions were so engaging can be attested to by the fact that the master of ceremony had to set time limits for presentations and comments so that everyone had a chance to make a contribution. In the end according to my assessment the following observations emerged from the successful conference.

1. It was clear that a unitary system of government and its associated decentralization or tier system hasn’t worked in Uganda in large part because of absence of checks and balances or separation of powers. Power has remained concentrated at the center exercised by the office of the president and/or minister of local government to the extent that local authorities haven’t been able to develop, finance and implement programs according to their human and natural resources, culture and history. Consequently, poverty and deprivation have remained unacceptably high.

2. There was consensus that development is regional or location specific and internally generated and sustained.

3. For any model of governance to work be it unitary or federal it must be anchored on good governance including free and fair elections, transparency, participation and accountability.

4. There was consensus that there is no one single model for federalism and Uganda should craft one that suits her conditions and adjusted as the need arises.

5. Federalism was defined to mean sharing of power between central (federal) and local governments. Once the decision has been reached, the powers, duties and responsibilities of each should be incorporated into the constitution. It was noted that the current constitution will need to be amended to reflect the new developments.

6. Notwithstanding the Odoki Commission report and its findings on federalism which was published in 1992, there was agreement that those findings need to be updated to involve Ugandans that didn’t participate either because they were too young, in the diaspora or not yet born. This demand was reflected in statements and suggestions like a needs assessment, a roundtable, a task force and equal representation. UDU suggested that a task force be established on regional basis with each region represented by at least three people including a man, a woman and a youth. The Task Force should update the Odoki Commission findings and prepare action oriented recommendations as a basis for drawing a consensus on federalism and embark on a roadmap to achieve it.

7. The roadmap should include agreement on standard geographic units (regions, provinces or districts to avoid regional imbalance as in Nigeria); equal rights of all units; functions of federal and local governments; revenue collection and distribution and federal regulations and standards for local governments to follow, etc. It was stressed that a federal system doesn’t mean that local authorities can do whatever they like. They will be guided (and implement) at all times by federal and international norms and standards.

8. The organizers of the conference with support of selected participants should prepare follow-up action plan. UDU requested to be involved.

9. The conference thanked the organizers – Uganda Federal Confederates – for a job well done.