Thursday, September 4, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
September 3, 2008

A unique conference took place at the London School of Economics in the UK in the last week of August. I must confess I was invited to attend but due to circumstances beyond my control, I wasn’t able to take the offer.

However, thanks to the kindness of the organizers, I received a copy of the major resolutions that the conference passed for future action. Without any doubt, this meeting was convened by Ugandans living abroad to discuss the future of their country, particularly the place of what they called “Nation- States” in Uganda.

In their wisdom, these Uganda participants defined their reason for existence to mean service to the traditional nations that founded Uganda the country. Reading between the lines, it became clear that by traditional nations, the organizers meant what are commonly known as ethnic tribes across the continent. These are what they called diverse nationalities with cultural beliefs and social compositions that now inform what Uganda is today.

However, the plot thickens when they assert that African nationalism is their inherent right, and central to this African pride is the pride and dignity in belonging to different ethnic groups like the Wasoga, Karamojong, Baganda, Wakiga, Lugbara or Jo-Acoli that make them Ugandan.

So the question to ask is this: Can someone be an African nationalist yet feel uncomfortable being merely Ugandan without first paying allegiance to tribe? How feasible is it to be an African nationalist, a patriotic nationalist and a believer in the right to self determination for one’s ethnic nation- state?

Perhaps without jumping the gun, it may be in order to trace Uganda’s recent history from 1950s to 1966 when Apollo Milton Obote, Uganda’s founding Prime Minister differed with his President, Kabaka Yekka of Uganda. Those differences were both cultural and political. They were cultural in the sense that since colonial times, the Baganda culture was the dominant one to the extent that Luganda was an examinable language at the Cambridge Overseas Examinations. This meant that Luganda was a major language that was taught in all Ugandan schools long before Uganda got independence.

One insignificant factor of cultural domination by the Baganda for Milton Obote at the personal level was the fact that Obote ended up marrying Miriam, a Baganda either through love or as a symbol of acceptance by the Baganda royalty. Remember in Kabaka’s kingdom, myth has it that all the land, animals, trees men, women and children belonged to the king. Therefore any man who lived in the kingdom could only have a wife, children and land at the pleasure of the king.

When competition for political power between Obote and Kabaka reached its peak, Obote was given the ultimatum to move government offices from Kampala because the city was part of Kabaka’s property.

What the palace had overlooked was that the Ugandan independence constitution had bestowed executive powers on the Prime Minister. It meant that the Prime Minister controlled the military, the police and the security intelligence. Invading the palace and running the Kabaka out of town was the natural consequence as his forces were no match for Obote’s national army.

Looked at differently, the tussle began to snowball into an ethnic confrontation; the Baganda versus Obote Northern tribe. The Nation- State or ethnic ideology had replaced African nationalism or Ugandan nationhood as one would call it. Obote began to be paranoid about feudal powers that different traditional kingdoms enjoyed. In the aftermath of reducing Kabaka’s kingdom to ruins, he decreed that from then on, no more traditional kingdoms would be permitted in Uganda

As the London conference aptly put it in having reviewed and assessed their lived experiences, and having resolved in the words of Michelle Obama that they are driven by a simple belief that Uganda as it is won’t do; that they have an obligation to fight for a Uganda as it should be; a Uganda of their aspiration and heritage; a Uganda built on the interests of her people; a Uganda with a constitution that serves all her people; a Uganda built on consent; what the conference was saying in simple terms is this: a unitary state of Uganda as it is today is not what Uganda should be.

They want a federalism that will give their ancient nation- states legitimacy and devolved power in order to realize their desire for self determination as ethnic communities. When they say they want a Uganda built on mutual consent, what this means is that the current political arrangement of a unitary state is a forced one.

In a nutshell, the Baganda, Wasoga, Wakiga, Jo Karamojong and Banyankole should be allowed to create their own independent states within Uganda. The Uganda as it should be must be a United States of Uganda with a federal constitution so that the Baganda, Busoga, Banyankole and other kingdoms can enjoy expanded state power if not complete sovereignty.

This is the reason the conference found out that the colonial legacy left them with a conscripted unity that diluted and relegated pride in their cultures and traditional systems of managing their societies that has led them to a life of emptiness. To overcome this emptiness, they have to recognize what brings and holds them together such as mutual respect among Ugandan ethnic communities.

Their objective for coming together is very clear; to restore the traditional kingdoms as the foundation for a sustainable, stable and lasting Uganda.

They believe that Federalism will give birth to a Uganda Nation-State that enjoys political and moral support of all the traditional nations of Uganda and for this to happen, they are prepared to talk amongst ourselves to “find answers to the constitutional arrogance that has held them in chains and made them subservient to an arrogant and detached centre that was created by the colonialists. “

These Ugandan federalists passionately believe that territorial integrity (ethnic sovereignty) and self-determination are two sides of the same coin that cannot be separated. They feel that the colonial legacy entrenched a unitary state whose principle outlaws self-determination and considers it as an act of treason. This means that anyone asserting a right to self- determination in Uganda today faces the wrath of the Government in power.

The federalists reject being treated as prisoners in our own country and the assumption that they are subjects of an entity called Uganda! They are demanding an arrangement as a people that recognizes each kingdom, regardless of size or population as an equal partner in the affairs of Uganda.

The question to ask is this: how many Ugandans can buy into this grand scheme of taking Uganda 42 years back? Will the present generation allow for such drastic social and political reforms?

Source: Resolutions from the Uganda London Federal Conference
Issued today: 31/AUGUST/2008
By Leo Ssebweze, Conference Moderator
On behalf of the conference and its organisers