The idea of the right to self-determination that was promoted by President Woodrow Wilson is about improving material, social and moral well being of people under colonial rule or dictatorship.
In point V of his fourteen Points program Wilson underscored the need for “A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined”. Point XIV stressed “A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small nations”. This principle was incorporated into the Covenant of the League of Nations.
The peace settlement of WWI emphasized the principle of self-determination, meaning the right of each nation to choose its form of government, causing the flame of nationalism to burn even brighter than before. In Kenya and South Africa, for example, the spirit of nationalism focused on the return of land to indigenous peoples.
In the Atlantic Charter of 1941 President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill stated “They respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live, and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them”.
The peoples’ right to self-determination was incorporated into the United Nations Charter adopted in 1945. It states in part “We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our life-time has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”. Article I (2) of the Charter aims “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace”.
The struggle for Uganda’s independence was to right the wrongs of colonial administration such as the profound misconception that Banyoro and Baganda were identical and the former in the “lost counties” should form an integral part of Buganda kingdom, a decision that was contested by Bunyoro government from the beginning and has not been fully rectified – only two counties were returned to Bunyoro in a referendum..
Another burning issue that needs to be resolved is the Mailo land. Through bribery the Christian regents that gained political ascendancy over traditional chiefs agreed to the 1900 Uganda Agreement that robbed the peasants of their land particularly their ancestral burial sites and forcibly incorporated Bunyoro land and people into Buganda kingdom. The Mailo land was divided among the Kabaka, his family members, regents, chiefs and some Baganda notables without consulting or compensating the people who owned the land and used it as their only source of livelihood. In other places like Ireland and Kenya funds were made available for ex-peasants to purchase their land back from landlords. The time has come to right this wrong in Uganda.
The people of Uganda also demand their right to self-determination in other areas, including regaining their identity and dignity. In the interest of cost effectiveness, the colonial administration lamped people of different clans and ethnicity together under indirect rule and gave them a common “tribal” name without consultation. For example all the clans of Rujumbura county of Rukungiri district are called Bahororo according to the Odoki report of 1992. This was done for colonial convenience and has not been corrected since independence whereas in Bufumbira the people exercised their right and changed their “tribal” designation of Banyarwanda to Bafumbira. The people of Rujumbura will exercise their right in this regard during consideration of a federal system of governance in post-NRM regime.