Federalism can’t solve all our problems

By Dr Kizza Besigye

23rd January 2012: There have been persistent and prolific publications and utterances on Federalism by some leaders of Uganda Federal Alliance that are quite misleading.

On the outset, I would like to state that I, personally, and the FDC that I lead, strongly support the adoption of a Federal system for Uganda. This support is based on objective considerations. It is, among others, based on the following reasons:

  • The history of state formation in Uganda; where many autonomously functioning political entities (generally ethnically based) of varying levels of sophistication were forcefully merged into one country by colonialism. The merged political entities had widely varying aspirations and cultures that were merely repressed rather than integrated. This has continued to be a fundamental basis for social-political disharmony and turmoil in the country. Ethnicity has been the base of dictatorships that exploit and marginalize others. Federalism would promote harmony and unity without uniformity.
  • Federalism can mitigate the tyranny due to concentration of power and resources in a central government.
  • It offers States (Regional) governments the freedom to espouse different development policies; allowing a comparison of the outcomes.
  • States/ Regions are more viable planning and implementing units than present Districts. Present districts would remain as lower State administrations.
  • Areas that are not desirous or able to form State/ Regional governments can continue to be federally (centrally) administered, as in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.

In a New Vision article of 12th January 2012, Hon. Betty Kamya asserted that MPs and all others focusing on fight against corruption, abuse of Human Rights, or electoral malpractices are only dealing with the consequences rather than causes of autocratic rule. She asserted that the real cause is having concentration of power in the President; who is the Head of State, Head of Government, and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces; who controls the budget processes, and has power to appoint most people in government.

It has been similarly asserted that the humiliating poverty, decay of social services and infrastructure etc. are a result of the centralized system of government introduced by British colonialism.  It is asserted that the remedy to these problems is to treat the cause by changing the system of government to federalism. This is the rationale behind the petition being made to the Electoral Commission for a referendum on change of political system (I intend to comment on this separately soon).

Whereas it’s appropriate to have federalism in Uganda for reasons given earlier, it’s wrong to suggest that federalism is a panacea for poverty eradication or democratic and good governance.  It may be recalled, indeed, that the Federal arrangement of 1962 was not able to immunize our country against the turmoil that engulfed us a few years after independence.

Presently, there are six African countries with a federal system of government, namely: Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, The Comoros and Somalia.  Nigeria was colonized in 1861, and a Federal system was introduced in 1947 by the colonial administration. It became independent in 1960 and continued as a federation till now. From independence up to now, Nigeria is politically turbulent and corruption is systemic and entrenched.

Despite Nigeria’s plentiful agricultural resources and oil wealth, poverty is widespread in the country and has increased since the late 1990s. Over 70 per cent of Nigerians are now classified as poor, and 35 per cent of them live in absolute poverty. This picture is the same with the other African Federal governments; where wars, Human Rights abuses, corruption are rampant. It’s worth noting that Ethiopia was never colonized.

Uganda is presently ranked 96th according to the Democracy Index (2011) out of the 167 countries surveyed. The African Federal governments are ranked as follows: Nigeria 119th, Ethiopia 121st, The Comoros 126th, and Sudan 153rd. Somalia was not surveyed. Other Federal governments outside Africa include Venezuela 97th, Pakistan 105th, Russia 117th, and United Arab Emirates 149th.

On the other hand, the countries at the top of the DI rankings are Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and New Zealand; all of which have unitary systems. They also happen to be among the top of World Human Development Index (2011); Norway again being in 1st position.

In order to attain a sustainably democratic and good government, which engenders human development, the following, among others, are critical:

  • Informed citizen participation. This entails raising the consciousness and building the capacity and knowledge of citizens. To this end, all-round education (formal and informal) is the key. For example, citizens must have the right and ability to know how public revenues are collected and spent, and to participate in the decision-making.
  • Freedom of expression and media.
  • A strong legal framework and enforcement mechanisms (eg: independent investigative, prosecutorial and judicial functions).
  • An independent and effective legislature and civil society.
  • High official competence (capability) – a product of training.
  • Fiscal (budgetary) transparency and accountability. This includes giving the public budgetary information in an understandable, accessible and timely basis; independent assurances of integrity; and clarity of roles and responsibilities in whole budgetary cycle.
  • The political will and commitment of government leaders. To lead by example and abide by the laws. This is especially vital in the process of making the transition from corrupt authoritarian regimes to democratic and good governments.

It’s these measures and actions that underpin political and economic accountability. In turn, political and economic accountability is the bedrock of democratic and good governance.

Whereas concentration of power and resources in the central government of a Unitary System encourages tyranny, it is clear that where appropriate policies are pursued, this need not happen. On the other hand, if appropriate policies are not pursued, Federal System governments become as corrupt and authoritarian as those in a Unitary System.

Let us support the Federal System of government in Uganda for appropriate and true reasons. Federalism is not, in and of itself, a solution to all political problems.  END:  Please login to www.ugandacorrespondent.com every Monday to read our top stories and anytime mid-week for our news updates.

Dr Besigye is the Party President of opposition Forum for Democratic Change

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