Recent newspaper reports about the issue of Tororo state that President Museveni has directed that the matter be resolved using the “colonial boundaries” in order to determine where the municipality should be located in the event of a split of the district. Such a decision is historically misplaced, supports ethnic cleansing, and runs against established practice and precedent that has been in place since the adoption of the 1995 Constitution.
Indeed, it is of considerable surprise that a so-called pan-Africanist such as President Museveni can support what in effect is a decision based on primordial ethnic arithmetic. Furthermore, it demonstrates a blatant disregard of a constitutional order that was put in place by the NRM government itself.
There are several dimensions to the issue of Tororo, but at least two of them stand out, viz., the constitutional and the socio-demographic. Since the enactment of the 1995 Constitution when there were only 39 districts, a total of 78 new ones have come into existence.
Where a new district has been created, the towns/municipalities have remained the headquarters of the old “mother” district. All the new districts have established new headquarters. This has created a precedent followed without exception. The issue of “colonial boundaries” did not arise; indeed, to go back to 1962 is not only neo-colonial, it also assumes that there has been no change in the demographics since independence 55 years ago.
Going back to the colonial order also ignores all of the relevant provisions in our current Constitution, including Article 1 (on the power of the people), Article 3 (on defence of the Constitution), Article 20 (on fundamental rights), Articles 21 (on equality and freedom from discrimination), Article 36 (on the protection of minorities), Article 37 (on the right to culture) as well as the whole of Chapter 11 (on local government). It also violates the provisions of the Local Government Act.
The demand to split the district has several social, demographic and political dimensions. Tororo has always been a multi-ethnic community, and will remain so even after the split. For three centuries, the Jopadhola in Tororo have lived side-by-side with the Iteso, Banyole, Basamia and Bagwere, and more recently with Bagisu, Baganda, Somali and Indians. For the sake of argument, if we are to follow the logic of those who want to split the district based on ethnic majoritarian grounds, it would follow that Tororo Municipality, which is majority “Japs”, would belong to West Budama County. And yet those in support of the split are claiming the municipality. Unfortunately, this debate has completely side-stepped the position of Tororo Municipality and been dominated by the views from Tororo County. What do the leaders and the people of Tororo Municipality have to say? Ignoring them means that the basic principles of consultation and participation outlined in the 1995 Constitution on the issue of the creation of new districts have been overlooked.
But there is an even larger problem presented by the split, which is the creation of endless enmity between two communities that have peacefully lived together for centuries. A split in the district will not resolve, but simply reproduce the same problems that carving up the district is supposed to resolve because the minorities in the newly created district will air the same grievances. The President’s suggested solution for resolving the issue acutely underscores the problem that the politically-instigated craze of “districtisation” has produced. One can also see how a similar problem can be duplicated in many other regions of the country, as it can be extended beyond tribes to even clans. Does the NRM want to have as its main legacy the ethnic balkanisation of the country?
Finally, this letter is really an appeal to the good sense of every citizen of Tororo specifically and Uganda in general to emerge from this narrow, sectarian and selfishly-motivated politicking. Has the creation of 78 new districts since 1995 really improved service-delivery at the local government level?
Dr Oloka-Onyango is a lecturer at Makerere University.