Uganda needs a transitional government under collective leadership

Uganda is slightly over fifty years old since it attained independence in October 1962. Uganda had been slated to achieve independence ahead of then Tanganyika and Kenya. However, internal political conflicts prevented that from happening and Tanganyika got there ahead of Uganda. Even with this delay, we were not able to resolve all the outstanding challenges. In a rush to beat the Catholic-based Democratic Party (DP) that won the 1961 elections and formed the self-government administration, the Protestants rushed into a UPC/KY coalition.

The constitutional negotiators at Lancaster House could not agree on the head of state so we ended up with the Queen represented by the Governor-General. In 1963 the constitution was amended and created the post of a constitutional head of state which was occupied by the Kabaka of Buganda in an election that was considered unfair by contenders from other regions, leaving executive power in the prime minister from the north to the discomfort of Eastern and Western regions. A disproportionate share of the benefits of independence went to the central and northern regions. The executive presidency created in 1967 put too much power in the hands of one president and contributed to the military coup of 1971 that concentrated even more power in the northern region in one military leader.

The problem of having one head of state was recognized during the interim government after the overthrow of the Amin regime in 1979 when a three man presidential commission comprising Wacha Olwol (northern region), Justice Musoke (Buganda region) and Nyamuchoncho (western region). The eastern region was left out. The personal ambitions of Obote and Museveni recreated the post of head of state and government under one leader and eliminated the institution of a presidential commission.

The disadvantages of excessive concentration of power in Museveni as head of state and government; commander-in-chief of the armed forces and chairman of the ruling party are so well known that they don’t need repeating here. Suffice it to say that the institution of a single person as head of state has not served Uganda well in its ethnic, cultural, economic, social and demographic diversity. Accordingly, we need a collective arrangement that will accommodate all the four regions and Uganda diversity as proposed below.

At the political level dissatisfaction has also been expressed beginning with blocking DP from electing representatives to parliament in Buganda in the 1962 elections to the movement system that essentially became a one party political arrangement and the winner-takes-all since the multiparty system was launched in 2005.

Democracy at gun point in addition to bribery by NRM in an environment lacking a level playing field has rendered elections in Uganda an exercise in futility. Ugandans are being disenfranchised in large numbers while foreigners are voting with NRM against the Uganda constitution that bans them from voting. Thus, Uganda’s political and central administration institutions that have benefited a few Ugandans and concentrated power in a small geographic area and one ethnic group at the expense of the rest is setting the stage for a political explosion.

What we are seeing in Uganda in terms of concentration of power and resources is similar to what obtained in France before the 1789 revolution, before the Mexican revolution in 1910, before the revolution in 1917 in Russia and the Ethiopian revolution in 1974. Uganda is thus ready for a revolution – peaceful or bloody. What is missing is a spark whose arrival can’t be predicted. It could occur next week or next month. But we can stop it if there is political will and common sense among Ugandans. We need to do the following to avert a catastrophe.

1. Ugandans must agree on abroad-based transitional government excluding those who are alleged to have committed crimes against humanity whether still in NRM government or out of it. The government must be equitably represented by region, demographics, faiths and ethnicity.

2. The transitional government must be led by a presidential commission so that each region is represented by one person. Care must be taken to ensure that we don’t end up with people from the same ethnic group or religion dominating the commission. There are some ethnic groups that have settled in all parts of Uganda.

3. The public service commission must also be managed by a commission instead of one chairperson. This proposed arrangement will minimize sectarianism in recruiting, reassigning and promoting staff.

4. A formula must be designed to ensure that the security forces (the army, the police and the intelligence) are similarly managed on a collective basis to ensure that power is not concentrated in one person or a group of persons from one region or ethnic group.

5. The cabinet must be similarly constituted so that there is a balance in the distribution of posts regionally ensuring that the most important and strategic ministries of defense, internal affairs, foreign affairs, finance and attorney general don’t go to one region or one ethnic group

6. Separation of powers among the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government must be strictly observed through transparency and accountability to the people of Uganda that must participate effectively in decisions that affect their lives.

Apart from the day to day management of state affairs, the presidential commission (or council whichever sounds better) should conduct a comprehensive population census to determine exactly how many we are and who we are. The data would be useful for planning purposes. Then a national convention should be convened for Ugandans to debate and decide how they wish to be governed.

This collective arrangement has the potential of introducing peaceful and inclusive conditions for economic and equitable growth, job creation, poverty eradication and ultimately attainment of state security and individual freedom from fear, freedom from want and freedom to live in dignity.

Eric Kashambuzi is an international consultant on development issues. He lives in New York.