Roadmap to achieving a federal government in Uganda

Fellow Ugandans and friends

One of the major complaints at Uganda meetings that I have attended is that participants are never given reports in good time to study them and consult appropriately in order to debate effectively and take informed decisions. Consequently, meetings end up without taking decisions on the way forward.

Given the vital importance of the London Federal Conference, I have decided to publish my preliminary thoughts before the meeting to give Ugandans and others an opportunity to make comments and suggestion especially on points I may have left out for incorporation into the final statement so that everyone participates in this exercise. I have already circulated a draft statement on “What do we know about federal governments?” on Ugandans at Heart Forum, and

Please let me have your comments and suggestion as soon as possible before finalizing them for the conference.


Roadmap to achieving a federal government in Uganda

My presentation is in two parts:

1. Renewing national support for a federalism

There are some Ugandans who believe that 65 percent of Ugandans support the federal system of government as reported by the Odoki Commission in 1992. We therefore don’t need to seek national support again, they reason. However, debates in the media indicate that there is a sizeable number of Ugandans that think differently. Since the Odoki Commission consultations were conducted in 1992 or earlier, it is possible that new developments have taken place and shouldn’t be ignored. What is known is that when federal systems are imposed on unwilling segments, there will always be some problems.

The incorporation of some regions in Indonesia at independence in 1949 was resisted and led to secession movements with East Timor becoming independent a few years ago. Eritrea was incorporated into Ethiopian federal system against the people’s will, resulting in a 30 year bloody war until it seceded.

Against this background, the London conference will need to reflect on the developments since the Odoki report was issued in 1992 and determine the way forward. In anticipation that there may be need for further consultations I have written a statement titled “What do we know about federal government?” in which I have made a case in support of federal system in Uganda. The duties and functions between the federal government on the one hand and states or provinces or districts on the other hand will be incorporated into the constitution when an agreement has been reached.

The tier system of government rooted in decentralization should be rejected because power-sharing between the central and regional or local governments is loose – is like a privilege and not a right. Under this arrangement states or provinces can only do what the central government asks them to do which can change anytime. The state or province has no legal authority to initiate activities and this stifles state authorities to response to needs as they arise. Furthermore, the central minister for local government has power to use decrees, orders and other measures to frustrate state activities.

2. How to achieve a federal government once federalism has been accepted at the national level

Studies have shown that when a federal system has been adopted improperly things have gone wrong and resulted in collapse of the system. The central African federation combining then Southern and Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland collapsed because Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland felt that the federation was designed to benefit the white community in Southern Rhodesia that would dominate blacks. The signing of agreement establishing East African federation in 1963 didn’t happen because Uganda was uncomfortable with it. It feared white population in Kenya dominating blacks in the federation states.

The Yugoslavia federation collapsed because the Bosnians took a disproportionate share of economic benefits. The Czechoslovakia federation collapsed because the Slovaks felt the Czechs disproportionately benefited economically from the federation.

In Nigeria, the federal system based on three regions: Northern, Eastern and Western regions in which each was dominated by one tribe: Hausa in the North, Yoruba in the West and Ibo in the East marginalized minority groups. The larger population size and overwhelmingly Muslim north versus smaller populations in western and eastern regions predominantly Christian created political problems and military coups. To avert disintegration the three regions have been divided into 36 states.

In designing Uganda’s federal system, it is very important to draw lessons from these examples. One issue to be resolved is whether Uganda’s federal entities should be states, provinces or districts.

Another area that needs careful attention is collection and distribution of revenue by the central government to states. In Indonesia the Aceh region has had its natural resources including gas exploited with a disproportionate contribution to national revenue. When the people complained and agitated for separate independent state their rights were violated by military brutal force. The Niger Delta region of Nigeria feels the same that her oil and gas resources are exploited for the benefit of other states while the population in the region remains poor and marginalized. This is an issue that Ugandans will need to grapple with to find a mutually acceptable formula between the federal and state governments.

What about political parties and parliament?

National parties should operate in all states, provinces or districts. No state for whatever reason should block formation of a national political party in its area.

Uganda should have a two chamber parliament at least at the national level. An upper house with equal number of representatives by each state regardless of size should be established. The lower house will be established with representatives according to population size.

Issue of non-residents and immigrants

The issue of non-residents and immigrants has been a source of conflicts in some countries. For example in the Maluku region of Indonesia conflict has been triggered inter alia by migrant population. Uganda has many migrants and refugees. How will they be dealt with within states or provinces?

The issue of inter-state movement

State or provincial government shall have no right to impose restrictions on mobility across their states or charge fees.

Federal offices in states

Competition to fill posts in federal offices within states will be subject to competition by applicants from all parts of Uganda.

Sharing of revenue from natural resources

States that generate resources from their natural resources should retain a large share of that revenue to be agreed upon between federal and state authorities.

Duties and functions of states

States should be responsible for everything except defense, foreign affair, national security, macroeconomic policy including fiscal and monetary matters and federal judicial affairs.

Duties and functions of federal government

In addition to the duties and functions mentioned above the federal government will set national standards and regulations that states must comply with such as sitting standardized national examinations, meeting environmental and human and animal health standards.

Task force of experts

Given the magnitude of work ahead, the London conference should appoint a task force of experts to study these issues in detail and write a report to be discussed at another plenary conference. The public should be consulted extensively in all parts of Uganda and abroad so that their views are reflected in the report. This will ensure ownership and sustainability by the people of Uganda. The next step would be for states and central government to negotiate power-sharing.

Duties and Functions in the constitution

Once agreement has been reached on the above and other issues the duties and functions of federal and state governments will be incorporated into the constitution.

Eric Kashambuzi