Arabs have a somewhat cynical saying: “Whoever marries my mother is my father.”
Judging by the reasoning laid out by the lawyer, Mr Sam Mayanja, in his recent opinion piece Call for federo is about special status that appeared recently in one of our newspapers, I think he would have made a very good Arab.
Instead, we enjoy the pleasure of his company here in Buganda where, like many others before him, he has undertaken the role of speaking for the conquest that not just created Uganda, but also the dictatorial and unconstitutional manner in which it is governed.
These are arguments similar in essence to those advocated by (then) UPC “Ugandans from Buganda” in the late 1960s, regime apologists in the 1980s, to NRM intellectuals over the last two decades.
This role works in three ways. They begin with casting aspersions on Buganda’s indigenous governance questioning its obligation to speak on behalf of both the people and the state of Buganda.
This usually done as portraying them as an out-of-touch elite driven by material self-interest.
Second, through a failure to understand or therefore explain the phenomenon that was the colonial experience of the people of this region, they hijack the particular experience of colonial dispossession suffered by Baganda, to advance the argument that they need to be “saved” by “Uganda” from the aforementioned elite.
This was the underlying motive for the Executive’s recent tactic of setting up the Bamugemereire Commission into land issues, (which under normal circumstances, would have been a good initiative).
The NRM scheme was for a procession of bibanja-holders to be paraded before the commission, with a litany of complaints about the Buganda Land Board and the Kabaka.
Thus giving the President a pretext to then step in to protect “my peasants”, by seizing all Buganda-held land. But Buganda then launching its Ekyaapa mu Ngalo lease system, and other revelations that some of the most vocal anti-Mengo Baganda or their relatives were also secretly applying for Buganda Land Board leases, while publicly denouncing them, had the effect of torpedoing that particular “liberation struggle”.
Fourth, they frame their argument to make it look like “Uganda” is a logical and natural historical destination for the Africans here, and that “integration” is the best guarantor of that.
This debate has not come up for a while now. It is the recent reminder by the Katikkiro of Buganda that the kingdom is still demanding a federal system of government, that has brought about this latest attack.
The independence that Ugandan politicians celebrate every October is the product of just one strand of what Prof Dani Wadada Nabudere explained was a multi-sided internally contradictory struggle against colonial rule.
There were the republicans, who wished to simply take over the project as a going concern, and continue the direction and logic laid down by the white managers they were agitating to displace.
This is the one that -with the help of British Governor Andrew Cohen was manoeuvred into a position of dominance over the last stages of the anti-colonial struggle, and handed power in October 1962.
Other strands had different ideas. There were those who wished to return to the values and beliefs of the time before colonisation, especially on the question of land ownership. This was best expressed by the Bataka movement.
Others again wished to be able to adopt some of the new ways of life as exposed to them by the Arab and European cultures, but on their own terms. This was expressed best by the independent Christian movements, such as the Bamalaki, who were suppressed by the colonial authorities.
The republicanist tendency have basically dominated politics here since independence. But they come with again three big handicaps. The first is their inability to differentiate between colonisation, and colonialism, on the one hand, and between independence and decolonisation, on the other. And an unwillingness to try and learn.
Their fundamental problem is the need to cover up that they want to keep the institution that Kabalega and Mwanga’s captors imposed on us, while pretending to be continuing the fight against imperial domination that those two men fought. In short, they want “independence”, but not decolonisation.
This is how Mr Mayanja speaks positively about Kabalega and Mwanga, forgetting that the whole point of their fight was a struggle to not become Ugandans. It, therefore, makes no sense to invoke their spirits in defence of “Uganda”.
Kabalega and Mwanga resisted colonisation. After the conquest, the fight became one against colonialism. After the British left, we remained with the colonising structure.
Is supporting Uganda not in fact the same thing as supporting those that defeated them, in order to create Uganda?
All the modern parties have wanted to maintain a centralised unitary state. This includes Gen Amin (who was a whole party in himself), and parties that have never been in power, like the Democratic Party (Ben Kiwanuka was quite clear on this point), FDC (Forum for Democratic Change) , and ANT (Alliance for National Transformation).
If People Power were to come out with the same position, this would not be a surprise.
The second problem of this republicanism is its failure to understand responsible governing, to the point that they are willing to dress up acts of political thuggery as constitutional developments. In the case of Mr Mayanja, this should be seen as troubling, given that he is a practicing lawyer.
However, he joins a long, and well-used tradition of legal minds in Uganda becoming unwilling to advocate for the law.
Tellingly, he does it using the very same point that created this absence of legal fortitude in Uganda: the problem of how to understand the events of 1966, and in particular the outcomes of the 1966 court case called Uganda v. Commissioner of Prisons, Ex Parte Michael Matovu .
The basic facts were that Mr Matovu was the Pokino (Head of Buddu District). He was arrested in May 1966 and detained without trial.
His lawyer filed a High Court application for him to be ordered produced (Habeas Corpus, I am told is the term).
This created a problem, as the 1966 Constitution had done away with Habeas Corpus, so the High Court had to decide whether in fact the 1966 Constitution in 1966 was in effect, or if the 1962 Independence Constitution was still in force.
In essence, the judges were quite scared, and the court basically declined to enter into what it called a “political” matter.
Since that collapse of judicial backbone, no Ugandan court seems to have ever made a ruling that contradicts the arguments of whichever government is in power, where that ruling would amount to an existential threat to the said government. Coincidence? I think not.
Mr Mayanja’s basic point is one of strong support for the court’s “opinion” that whichever system comes into dominance becomes the law of the land, regardless of the motive and means by which it acquired that dominance. Very Arab, indeed.
Daily Monitor journalist Ivan Okuda best summed up this situation: “As it stands, legislative processes, right from 1966 to 2019, have stood in favour of those who controlled the means of coercion and state power and the courts have found nice English to cover up politicians’ mess.”
To his credit, Mr Mayanja has been a lot more straightforward than other Republicans. All hold this view, but many pretend not to. The NRM has famously made a lucrative power-career for itself by even pretending to have been opposed to it, while actually being in favour.
But that is not the central issue, and Mr Mayanja is not the central focus of this problem, much as he embodies it.
The issue is not so much who seems to be saying a thing, but what it is that is being said. Argumentation such as his is intended to create misreading of the real issues being raised, through the demand for federation.
By always reducing it to first a demand coming only from Buganda, and then second, only from a specific supposedly elite group of Baganda, the idea is to make it seem unimportant. And not legitimate. And yet here we all are, still talking about it over fifty years after the abolition of federation.
I am not aware of Mr Mayanja’s ethnicity. However, I do know that there is a kind of “Ugandan from Buganda” who is of great value to the NRM regime, as they are presented as evidence of the “real” opinions of Buganda’s population.
They are the second type of “good Muganda”, after the one famously attributed to Milton Obote. There have been many. They start with this energy, and end up complaining about “mafias”.
However, federation is neither about Buganda alone, nor the advancement of an elite interest. It is about the decolonisation of power, through its re-distribution back to all those layers of native authority that exist in all native communities.
The reason is in the outcomes of the events of 1966, and in particular, the 1967 constitution: the creation of a highly a centralised power structure called a presidency with an absolute power to detain without trial, seize and hold native land, suppress the media, clamp down on political activism, rig elections; and carry out extra-judicial killings. The year 1966 may have appeared to occur in Buganda, but in reality it happened to all natives in Uganda.
No part of this country has escaped the effects of a security force inflicting pain and death on its people, as the presidency goes after the land and natural resources. This is a legacy -and the point- of a 1966-type presidency.
This must be reversed. And to do that, we need to federate.
Mr Mayanja calls the 1966 events a “revolution”. However, there is no government that has subsequently seized power in Uganda, that did not also call its move a “revolution”, using the basic logic created by the 1967 document.
It is this craven attitude to the menaces of the Executive, that have created the deep governance crisis, as we have been seeing in the NRM era where High Court benches have repeatedly accepted that an electoral process did not follow electoral law, but then also ruled that the outcomes, favouring the one that violated the law, should stand anyway.
It is a crisis rooted in an education system that trains minds to merely know and describe things, but to not fundamentally understand them. A mind that can swear an oath, but not live or die by it.
Law operates ultimately, within a constitutional framework. And a constitution is only valid when those subject to its provisions, have a regular say in how it was formed, and how it is amended. Uganda is yet to enjoy such a process.
If the law were a lake, then individual acts are boats, and the lawyer is the sailor using the oars as specific arguments to steer the boat towards justice.
For a lawyer to argue for, and in fact defend anti-constitutional behaviour, is like a sailor arguing in support of draining the very lake on which their boat floats. As a man whose name literally means “lakes”, Mr Mayanja should try to reflect on this.
But the key questions are not from the past: they are from the future. When the current constitution finally eats the last of itself, ending a process ongoing since 1996, how will we then govern ourselves?
It is no use writing a new constitution if we have not yet understood constitutionalism as a principle. And it is no use trying to invent a constitution outside the already known interests and views of the various peoples within Uganda.
Every regime so far has tried that, and then simply given up, reverting to the physical powers created by the 1967 Constitution. The 1995 Constitution is nothing more than a donor-designed-and-funded window-dressing to this basic fact. We need new thinking, new constitutionalism, new governance and a new state. And possibly, it seems, some new lawyers.
Colonisation vs colonialism. Kabalega and Mwanga resisted colonisation. After the conquest, the fight became one against colonialism. After the British left, we remained with the colonising structure.
Is supporting Uganda not in fact the same thing as supporting those that defeated them, in order to create Uganda? All the modern parties have wanted to maintain a centralised unitary state.
This includes Gen Amin (who was a whole party in himself), and parties that have never been in power, like the Democratic Party (Ben Kiwanuka was quite clear on this point), FDC (Forum for Democratic Change) , and ANT (Alliance for National Transformation).
If People Power were to come out with the same position, this would not be a surprise.