Hope coming out of Uganda’s despair

Major changes including in political, economic and social fields more often than not take place in the wake of crises. The plague or Black Death in Europe contributed to the end of feudalism. The devastation of European economies and societies during the Second World War contributed to the birth of the European Union. In his Zurich speech of 1946, Winston Churchill proposed a “United States of Europe” so that Europeans can “dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom”. Although Europeans supported the creation of a European federation, they resented being rushed or forced into it.

And progress was slow and some disappointments were experienced like when Jean Monnet “the Father of a United Europe” resigned as President of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) because it was not followed by further steps towards integration. Out of this frustration, a committee of experts was formed to study the situation and make suggestions on the way forward.

Jacques Delors, President of the Commission of the European Economic Community (EEC) viewed federalism as a method, including the principle of subsidiarity. He saw federalism as a means of reconciling what many people think irreconcilable namely unity in Europe and loyalty to the nation. He stressed that European authority should be proportionate to the problems of the time, noting the vital necessity of maintaining the nations and regions in which Europeans have their roots. Decentralization of responsibility should take place so that “no task is entrusted to a larger entity if it can be performed by a smaller. That is precisely what ‘subsidiarity’ means”.

There are Ugandans who are skeptical that Uganda will ever achieve a federal system of government because of deep historical differences. But many people thought that European Union would never happen because of deep historical differences among states of Europe. But it is there. The leaders moved cautiously and flexibly in consultation with the people.

Uganda needs fundamental change to ensure peace, freedom and prosperity for all. That many Ugandans are speaking out and questioning where NRM is taking us is a welcome development. Expressing opinion about new ideas should, however, not be obstructionist. When you reject someone’s idea propose what you think is a better alternative. Doing nothing is not an option.

It is in this spirit that we should thank in advance the organizers of the London October 27, 2012 conference on federalism. There is enough time to make comments and suggestions based on what has been circulated already or posted at www.federo.com. Hopefully, conference organizers are following debates in the media and taking note of what Ugandans are saying as their contribution to the conference.

The London conference marks the beginning of a journey that in the end hopefully will meet our aspirations. However, to succeed governments of Uganda present and in the future will need to extend a facilitating hand – not to obstruct or impose their decisions.

The responsibilities between states/provinces/districts and the central government will need to be studied carefully before a final decision is taken. Given the complexity and magnitude of federalism, it would be helpful if a Task Force of experts representing all stakeholders is set up at the end of the conference to conduct consultations and update what Ugandans agreed upon on federalism during the Odoki Commission inquiries in the early 1990s. In doing so, let us remember what Delors said about the meaning of subsidiarity.