Uganda was born and grew up in a divisive atmosphere. The religious wars at the start of colonial rule divided Uganda. Colonial wars in which some Ugandans collaborated with colonial armies to defeat and dismember defeated groups divided Uganda. Indirect rule that favored chiefs that were used to tax, punish, imprison and force commoners to do public work for free divided Uganda. The colonial policy that designated some areas economic growth poles and others labor reserve poles divided Uganda. The colonial policy of recruiting soldiers and police from the northern region by setting the height requirement that discriminated against shorter Ugandans in the south divided Uganda. The colonial administration based largely on districts staffed with officials from the same districts and a relatively detached central government divided Uganda. And the deliberate colonial policy of divide and rule deprived Uganda of national consciousness during the colonial period from 1894 to 1962.
Preparations for independence didn’t help. Uganda National Congress (UNC) which started off as a national party split along regional lines between Buganda and the rest of Uganda. Uganda Peoples Union (UPU) was formed by members of Legislative Council (LEGCO) outside Buganda to challenge Buganda. The non-Baganda UNC and UPU groups formed Uganda People’s Congress (UPC). UPC was overwhelmingly a Protestant party. Catholics formed their own party, the Democratic Party. So Uganda was divided along religious lines as we prepared for independence.
The governor of Uganda Sir Andrew Cohen advocated a unitary independent state. Buganda objected and demanded a federal state. It even seceded to drive the point home, although it had no mechanism for implementing the decision. In order to keep Uganda together a very fragile constitutional and electoral arrangement was reached by Protestant UPC and Protestant KY (Kabaka Yekka party or King only) for a federal government for Buganda and unitary government for the rest of the country, with the kingdoms of Ankole, Toro, Bunyoro and Busoga settling for a semi-federal arrangement. The Catholic Democratic Party was marginalized and lost the 1962 elections. In a rush to become independent on a pre-set date of October 9, 1962, complex and divisive issues like the Lost Counties and Head of State were postponed for a later date after independence. At the time of independence Uganda was neither a monarchy nor a republican. It was simply called “The Sovereign State of Uganda” to avoid a debate that would have delayed independence. Looking back, it’s no wonder that Uganda fell apart constitutionally and politically in the mid-1960s.
Uganda became independent in 1962 perhaps more divided than when it was born in 1894. Mindful of this situation, every Uganda leader has addressed the issue of creating national consciousness by stressing national unity. Obote tried inter alia through education whereby students from the north were admitted to schools in the south and vice versa. In Butobere School in southwest Uganda we had in my first year two Acholi students but they left because the place was too cold for them. Obote also attempted a sophisticated electoral system (requiring a candidate to contest in each of the four regions of Uganda i.e. to contest in four constituencies) to unify the country but he was overthrown a few months before the elections were held. Amin also talked about national unity but got derailed from the project by relying on his tribal people from West Nile and mercenaries from Sudan and DRC in order to survive. Museveni like Obote and Amin before him attempted national unity. On the surface, his first cabinet and other senior appointments reflected his determination to realize national unity but as it turned out that was a smokescreen to consolidate power. Non-NRM ministers were marginalized and eventually dismissed.
Notwithstanding support for national unity, every Uganda leader has been accused of sectarianism or favoring individuals and regions that support them. Amin accused Obote that through the Lango Development Master Plan, he wanted all key positions in political, military, public service, commercial and industrial sectors to be occupied by people from his Akokoro County. It was also alleged that Obote decided that nothing should be done for other districts especially Acholi. In turn, Amin was accused of having all the good things go to his tribal people, Muslims and mercenaries at the expense of other Ugandans. The most vocal accusation of sectarianism and divisionism has been leveled at Museveni who has visibly and disproportionately favored Batutsi and tutsified Ugandans. He has also divided the country into over 100 districts virtually along tribal lines thereby killing the unity idea.
Lack of national consciousness and frustrations resulting from real or imagined regional inequities (some people falsely believe that because Museveni is from western region therefore all westerners have become rich at the expense of other regions) is being translated into notions of regional self-determination or even secession (notions that would probably not be so strong if all Ugandans felt they were benefiting equitably from Uganda Gross National Income).
There are stories subject to confirmation that the northern region might join South Sudan; eastern region might join Kenya and southwest region might join Rwanda, leaving Buganda alone once Bunyoro and Toro in the west have decided what to do (with relatives in northeast DRC, Bunyoro and Toro might be attracted in that direction).
That is where Uganda is right now in large part because national leaders haven’t made the effort to serve all Ugandans. In one form or another every region is unhappy. The good news is that there is still room for keeping Uganda together. This was confirmed at the October 27, 2012 London conference on federalism that brought Ugandans from all corners and all demographic groups together. There was consensus that we should work together through a national working committee to consult and convene a national convention for all Ugandans to discuss and decide on the governance system(s) that would serve them well. We therefore need a national leader that can build on this momentum. What should this leader do?
The current multi-party political arrangement with winner-take-all has widened the income gap between supporters of the ruling party and supporters of the opposition. Qualified Ugandans in the opposition or independent citizens are being passed over in favor of less qualified and even less experienced NRM cadres. For example, most appointments in Uganda embassies reflect shameful sectarianism and poor judgement of the appointing authority. This is likely to continue should another party win the next elections.
What is needed is to form a transitional government with all interests represented. The government should arrange for discussion of a governance system(s) Ugandans want that allows them to design and implement their development policies and strategies under regional leaders that care for all Ugandans in their respective regions and communities. These policies and strategies should prepare all Ugandans to acquire education and skills for self-development and competition at the national level.
The policies and strategies must fulfill the currently neglected basic needs of food and nutrition security, primary healthcare and overall hygiene including safe drinking water and good sanitation; an education system that is tailored to the labor market and adjusted as the need arises. Adequate housing is important. It reduces congestion and rapid spread of communicable diseases. Slum dwellings are a breeding ground for all sorts of ills that disable people’s efforts from the start. A spiritual environment should be created that ensures that the poor, the vulnerable, the hungry, the sick, the naked, the homeless, etc are not left behind, calling on more active involvement of religious leaders in Uganda’s development process.
The leader of the central government should through parliament and other national institutions set national standards such as education, healthcare and environment for implementation at local levels. Central government funds should be distributed in such a way that the poorer regions are assisted to overcome their fiscal deficits.
The subsequent elected leader should be a leader of all Ugandans, not of the party that elected him/her. To prove conformity, appointments to the cabinet and other political appointments should include members of opposition parties. Checks and balances and strict separation of powers should be put in place and adhered to so that sectarianism at national and local levels is eliminated.
Above all success or failure to lead all Ugandans will depend upon one’s philosophy and level of compassion. Aspiring candidates should therefore spell out their philosophy through writing and speaking so that Ugandans have adequate information to make informed decisions. Aspiring leaders should also circulate their bio data for which there is strong resistance at all levels at the moment. Many Ugandans want to serve the public but are unwilling to disclose who they are and what they stand for. How do you elect a person who refuses to release information about his/her education, historical background and public or private service? This is a baffling situation to say the least.
When my leadership quality was challenged after I was elected Secretary General of UDU, I immediately circulated my profile in three parts for all to see and judge. Others should do the same for any public office regardless of the level. Provision of this information gives an idea about the person seeking public office. If you are not prepared to circulate the information, then don’t stand for public office! Uganda should also institute a vetting system based on agreed upon criteria so that candidates are screened thoroughly, leaving no stone unturned.
To produce leaders bent on serving all Ugandans at all levels, the electoral system should be reformed so that there is a level playing field. Independent international and national observer teams must be fair to all parties and all candidates. They must monitor the electoral process from registration through to the announcement of polling results at the polling station. Arriving in the country a few weeks before voting and monitoring a few polling stations is far from adequate. Writing reports should not be influenced by biased embassy residents in Uganda.
There must be a truly independent electoral commission agreed to by all political parties. There must also be standardized campaign finance to level the financial playing field so that candidates are judged on their proposed policies not the capacity to bribe voters. The media must be equally accessible to all candidates and parties. There must also be term limits at all levels.
Those willing to participate in the proposed transitional government must be barred from contesting the next elections as they may use the power of incumbency at the expense of others. Therefore those wishing to participate in subsequent multi-party elections should not join the transitional government. Not least, the head of the transitional government should not be a current head of any of the political parties to avoid influencing decisions in favor of his or her party. All these decisions must subsequently be enshrined in an amended constitution.
If genuinely carried out, these proposals are likely to create a new political landscape that will bring Ugandans together under one large Uganda umbrella thereby making Uganda come first. The London conference which I attended demonstrated abundantly that with leadership that respects all Ugandans equally, national unity and equal opportunity for all Ugandans can be realized.