The nations of Uganda should define how they want to be governed

A nation is defined by two main characteristics: a common ancestry and a common indigenous language (in Spain for instance people are questioning the idea of the ‘Spanish nation’ that carries negative connotations. They would rather discuss a grouping of 17 autonomous regions – Andrew Whittaker 2008).

Nations or people are the ones, not governments that decide how they want to be governed including declaration of independence, federation or confederation etc. The principle of the people determining how they should be governed was contained in the 1941 Atlantic Charter between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. The charter supported the right of all people to choose their leaders (Roger Matuz 2009).

In 1945 the Charter of the United Nations was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. It states: We the people of the United Nations are determined to develop friendly relations among nations large and small based on respect for the principles of equal rights and self-determination of peoples (UN Charter).

In 1960 the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 1514 (XV) on Self-determination. It reaffirmed that “All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”(United Nations 2002. Human Rights Part I Universal Instruments).

As we examine how Ugandans should be governed in post-NRM period we need to be sure we know what constitutes a nation and the extent to which these nations are independent and free to pursue their political, economic, social and cultural affairs. There are some Ugandans that have come up with 15 nations as a basis for determining how Ugandans should be governed. They have for instance classified all people in former Ankole as one nation; people in former Kigezi as one nation; people in Buganda as one nation and people in former Toro as one nation etc. We need to understand what criteria were used and to be convinced that that those were the right criteria before moving forward.

What we know is that for administrative convenience, the many independent clans that existed in pre-colonial communities that formed Uganda were compressed into “tribes”. For example in Rujumbura the many Bantu/Bairu clans were joined with Nilotic/Batutsi groups and collectively called Bahororo because Makobore who was chief decided all the people of Rujumbura be called Bahororo. That is how the “tribe” of Bahororo came about and has caused so much confusion.

This collective designation of Bahororo was for purposes of administrative convenience. That it was so can be seen since Museveni came to power. It is Batutsi/Bahororo that have enormously benefited from the NRM regime and not Bairu/Bahororo including those that supported him during the guerrilla war. It should not have surprised those who knew sectarianism in Rukungiri why Tutsi people who openly supported or led UPC during the guerrilla war were the first to be protected by NRA when Museveni captured power and the first to get jobs in NRM government or compensated for their properties that were destroyed during the 1981-85 guerrilla war.

Timothy H. Parsons (2010) has cleared this confusion about tribe or nation by stating that “Confused by the range of fluid and often overlapping ethnicities of pre-conquest Africa, British officials concluded that Africans lived in unchanging tribal societies. In the imperial imagination, a tribe was a lower form of political and social organization that, with proper paternal guidance, might one day evolve into a nation. … Working in the service of colonial governments, anthropologists mapped tribal languages, social institutions and customary laws to fashion the tools of imperial administration for district officers. … However, British officials actually knew very little about the local institutions and customs they claimed to protect. Their ignorance created opportunities for individuals [like Makobore of Rujumbura] to convince imperial officials and ethnographers to make them chiefs with the vested authority to define the tribal customs that became the basis of imperial administration”(Parsons 2010). That presumably is how the present so-called 15 nations of Uganda came about.

Through this administrative convenience some clans were placed under hostile chiefs or unacceptable names. For example the people of Bufumbira that were called Banyarwanda changed the name after independence to Bafumbira.

Buganda absorbed parts of Banyoro in part as a reward for supporting Britain to “pacify” Bunyoro and in part because to the British officials the Banyoro and Baganda looked the same, shared similar ecological conditions and spoke a similar (Bantu) language. So they did not anticipate the problems of “Lost Counties”.

As researchers and objective politicians there are issues that need to be addressed fairly in order to find a lasting solution in Uganda. The issue of nations is very delicate and politicians governed by personal gain don’t want to touch. Patriotic Ugandans who are more interested in laying a solid foundation for present and future generations than in gaining a public office should address these issues provided they are fair in research, analysis and recommendations.

For instance, the antagonistic history of Bunyoro and Buganda is still with us today. Robin Hallet (1974) wrote that “Between Bunyoro and Buganda there was a long tradition of conflict into which the British inevitably found themselves drawn. In 1894 Bunyoro was invaded by British and Ganda forces and the ruler, Kabarega, driven from his kingdom [and Bunyoro was colonized]. The Ganda were rewarded for their part in the victory by a large slice of Nyoro territory [that had become colonized], an award that created an issue – the fate of the ‘lost counties’ destined to trouble Uganda…”.

Ipso facto, technically these ‘lost counties and nations or peoples’ are still colonized. According to the UN Charter and UN Resolution on Self-determination, the people in these lost counties (Banyoro and others) have the right to decide how they want to be governed and choose their leaders. The enumeration of people living in those territories that gave one nation the edge over the minority nation(s) was the wrong measure of self-determination.

It is important to note that after Bunyoro was defeated and colonized “Baganda chiefs then demanded all of Bunyoro, claiming that it was a former vassal state. After a careful consideration, the British decided these claims were not fully substantiated, but they permitted Buganda to assimilate a portion of Bunyoro… On assuming administration of the territory, Buganda chiefs attempted to compel the people [conquered and colonized Banyoro] to remain as laborers, thereby inciting a struggle that broke the peace periodically…. Still a major issue today, this conflict is known as ‘the lost counties dispute”.

For the record it is important to note that it was Buganda that at one time was a part of Bunyoro and not the other way around and Banyoro were regaining their territory lost to Buganda when the British arrived. It is also important to note that Bahororo of Ankole who felt they had been colonized by Bahinda chiefs of Ankole demanded a separate district at independence but failed like in Bunyoro to get it. Bunyoro got back only two counties out of eight counties in the 1964 referendum. There are many pending conflicts of this kind in other parts of Uganda including in Rukungiri district.

To resolve these conflicts Uganda should avail ourselves of instruments and decisions in the Atlantic Charter, United Nations Charter and the 1960 United Nations resolution on self-determination. Short of this Uganda will remain a troubled part of Africa and the world.

As Ugandans (nations or individuals) understand their rights and freedoms they will not rest until justice has prevailed. The post-NRM government should take bold steps and address these issues through convening a national convention to discuss everything within the framework of Uganda because in diversity and good governance Uganda is stronger than splitting into small economically unviable communities as has been ably but sadly demonstrated by dividing Uganda into over 100 districts.

Eric Kashambuzi