As federalists, we are saying that the current unitary model in Uganda has ill-performed; is ineffective; lacks legitimacy; all of which are responsible for the current huge democratic deficit in Uganda.
By W. B. Kyijomanyi
We are arguing that the resulting crisis of state is also a crisis of unitarism. Our premise is that unitarism in Uganda is obsolete and thus un able to deal with the problems of a complex multi-ethnic society or manage the political crisis in the country. We are refuting the notion by question whether it is true [if ever it was] that only the central government with a national perspective [have we ever had one] and control of the major fiscal, jurisdictional and bureaucratic resources can play this role.Our view is that the Federal system can do better in managing the burden of bringing together an ethnically and regionally diverse citizen body within the confines of a single-nation state. It is our contention that the basic federal formula-shared rule could succeed in striking a balance between unity and diversity. We are arguing that that is an arrangement that can be both flexible and resilient in Uganda.
How has the unitary system fared on the 3 key factors: [ill]performance; [inn]effectiveness, and [il]legitimacy? What has been the unitary experience today? Have our basic institutions performed? The perception [nay reality] that unitarianism is failing to strike the necessary equilibrium between unity and diversity in Uganda is everywhere. Today that perception is acute in Buganda, Northern and Eastern Uganda. Western Uganda may be the only region today that has yet to feel that perception [it has been the only region to benefit from the state from 1980 to the present]. The perception that governmental power in Uganda is concentrated in the hands of the President -a concentration that has exacerbated conflicts between regions and Kampala .
What do the performance indicators of the central institutions and processes show? Are they workable? Do they have the capacity to balance diversity and unity? Have our institutions and processes provided the forum conducive to negotiation, consultation or simply the exchange of information? I invite you to reflect on our tumultuous political journey since independence to date, and see if any of these have been met. If not why not? Should we continue along the same destructive path? For how long? Is it not true that failure or lack of capacity to secure the balance between diversity and unity is responsible for the current condition where Uganda has been sliding towards anarchy? How can this be arrested or reversed? What contribution can federalism make towards meaningful citizen participation and accountability that is so lacking in Uganda?
On effectiveness, how resilient has Uganda’s unitary model been in responding to various endogenous and exogenous challenges-the various crises shortly after independence todate; the wars; the regionalization? [see Mr. Ssebaana’s story]. The Buganda crisis, the pigeon hole constitution, the Amin coup, the post Amin regimes, the wars in Luwero, Acholi, West Nile, Kasese, Teso and elsewhere have cast long shadows over the effectiveness of Uganda’s institutions. How can our institutions be made effective? Is collaborative federalism the viable option?.
On legitimacy, it is true that in order for citizens to acquiesce in state actions, they must accept unequivocally the institutions and political processes of their system of governance. This reality takes us to the heart of the legitimacy of the Ugandan unitary system. No less than any other political systems, unitary system must pass tests on procedural and substantive legitimacy if it is to survive. With regards to procedural norms, have the rules been fair? Consider the pigeon hole /Mr. Binaisa’s one man constitution; detention without trial; lack of elections from 1962-71; the late Prof. Lule’s (RIP) and Mr. Binaisa’s removal from the Presidency; the rigged 1980 elections; the Muwanga announcements; the Odoki constitution; the Referendum Constitutional saga etc. What have been the cumulative impact of these on the legitimacy question in Uganda? How well have existing institutions and processes conformed to citizen’s expectations-think the Special force, General Service Unit, State Research Bureau and Army under Amin, Army, and NASA under Dr Obote; NRA/UPDF, ISO/ESO, under Mr. Museveni. Have these institutions conformed to citizen’s expectations regarding their own roles?
Have these processes conformed to the norm of accountability and transparency in decision making? After the 1980 debacle, the late Muwanga (RIP) became VP and Defense Minister, as one among many dubious characters who have messed up Uganda and been rewarded instead. Do these actions reflect the distinct values and preferences of Ugandans?
Can we have an effective political system without legitimacy in a democratic system [we have not quite had any democracy]? Is it not true that in democratic systems, effectiveness is vacuous concept without legitimacy?. Dr. Obote I’s reign may have been declared legal after he suspended the constitution, but did it have any legitimacy? Amin’s coup may have been legal, but what legitimacy did it have? We are saying that as long as questions about the nature of of the political community in Uganda remain unresolved, effectiveness, that is, getting things done will remain meaningless. Dr. Obote, Amin got certain things done, Mr. Museveni got certain things done, but in the long run, they/he are/is more likely to suffer, as public attention becomes more and more divided over the proper delimitation of the communities fate. How long could the Luwero war continue? How long can the war in Acholi continue? How long can incursions in Congo go on?
History shows that an effective and efficient unitary system is not enough to legitimize itself in the eyes of most Ugandans. There are currently too many challenges to the legitimacy of unitarism in Uganda. As federalists, our role is to present alternatives as to what can be done to enhance that legitimacy. We are saying that federalism will outperform unitarism since it shall provide sufficient scope for regional particular-isms to be expressed, thus enhancing the legitimacy of the system.
Why federalism? Seymour Martin Lipset (1981:64) states that legitimacy involves the capacity of the system to engage and maintain the belief that existing political institutions are the most appropriate ones for the society. While we agree with that, we believe that legitimacy is principally about people’s acceptance of the system rather than the system’s capacity to engender and maintain support. We have had many regimes using brutal means to achieve the latter. Dr. Obote, Mr. Amin and Mr Museveni have all used more or less the same means to engender and maintain support in trageted areas. That has been and remains unitarianism’s greatest weakness, so it is time to let it go and usher in a new federal arrangement.
The unitary model in Uganda confers too much powers on the President. He (so far no she yet), is truly, Primus without any inter or pares. That is the source of Uganda’s problems because that power has been abused. How do we limit those powers?
But it would be disingenuous if we did not point out the obvious: the principal source of weakness in Uganda’s political system stems from the political parties. They are part of the problem for the existing democratic deficit in Uganda. They can be part of the solution if they choose to democratize from within. The resistance from some quarters is understandable: they have benefited enormously from the status quo at the expense of democracy, unity, peace and economic prosperity in Uganda. Parties can help Uganda move from the current democratic deficit to a legacy of democratic surplus in Uganda. But that won’t happen until and unless we reform all our political institutions.
Federalism has potential to balance unity with diversity, but must be ushered in with attendant democratic reforms within our political parties. It is not a question of either or, but both, if Uganda is to have strong performing, effective and legitimate regimes. Please keep that in mind as we move forward in our dialogue.