The speech that ended Buganda Kingdom’s aspirations for federo

Former Uganda Lands Commission chairman Mr Besweri Mulondo. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Besweri Mulondo, the Ssabalangira (chief prince) and Buganda’s First Deputy Katikkiro was charged with making the pitch for Buganda. Unfortunately, it was his pitch that ended Buganda’s aspirations.

On Tuesday, March 28, 1995, Constituent Assembly (CA) delegates from Buganda region, backed by proponents of multiparty democracy, battled Movementists who were supporting the introduction of decentralisation as opposed to federalism, which Buganda desired.

Going into that day, the pro federo forces’ strategy had been for a delegate from outside Buganda to propose federo, which would be backed by a pitch from a prominent delegate from Buganda. The idea was to give the demand a national outlook.

Besweri Mulondo, the Ssabalangira (chief prince) and Buganda Kingdom’s First Deputy Katikkiro (prime minister) and minister for Agriculture, who was also the National Resistance Council (NRC) representative and CA delegate from Mityana South, was the man charged with making the pitch for Buganda. Unfortunately, it was his pitch that ended Buganda’s aspirations. 

Below is his submission from 29 years ago:

Mr Mulondo: Thank you very much Mr chairman. I must say right from the beginning that I have a problem. Mr chairman, we have a saying in Luganda that, ‘Semusota guli mu ntamu.’ When you want to beat it, you will break the pot. And when you leave it in the pot, then you still will not eat the food. So, Mr chairman, I have a problem because everybody knows that the people who sent me here asked for a federal system of government for Uganda. Some people say here for Buganda, but I have some information here Mr chairman.
Since we started debating this motion, many people from my area have been advocating for a federal system of government and I joined them because that is what my people back home told me to uphold; to ask for.

Mr chairman, when we started here we had a plan for a federal system for the whole of Uganda and quite a number of our fellow delegates said, ‘If you want a federal system, you talk for Buganda. You have no right to talk for the rest of Uganda.’

We moved from that position and we talked for Buganda and now people said you are isolating Buganda; trying to put it in a special position. So after failing to get the real thing, we started to look around, Mr chairman, as you can appreciate. For support, for negotiations, for advice and we have done this here, outside to government, almost everybody who was prepared to talk to us and this is not a secret. You know about this. We have spoken to the politicians. The Baganda even have a saying, “Wokubira omulalu mu kyaama nga ayogera obulungi gw;olaba…”

Mr Chairman, personally I wanted to give you this background so that when you come to decide you know exactly what you are doing. 

I have personally participated in most of these negotiations. We have seen the highest people in the land. We have seen the lowest people, we have even talked to mad people because there was no way we had to come up… (Laughter) 

Now, Mr chairman, my real problem is here. Can I stand here and say I do not support Federo? I mean, one must look at this as the mission which brought me here, but now if I am going to say I support Federo what… because Mr chairman (Interruption).

The chairman: Order! Order!

Mr Mulondo: Mr chairman, I am a member of Committee Four and in the absence of the real thing as I said earlier, we had to accommodate views from people and try to reach a compromise because – and I want to ask the House that we must be mature people and people who are prepared to work for the benefit of this country (Applause).

We all have a problem and I want to appeal to you, we shall all leave this place a happy people because if we do not, then all the time that has been put into the formation of the Constitution, all the resources shall go down the drain as waste.

Now Mr chairman, I have looked at this amendment and I have asked myself, now what do I do? I really support federo, but then… (Laughter)

I have struggled with this subject ever since we started and I honestly feel federo is the best for us all, but looking at The Hansard and looking at the contributions of many of the people here; and I thought I was the mature person who should come and try to guide you people because even when I look at myself, there are only about two people who compete with me here in the House and they have had their time.

I have never been a politician until I was forced to be because of the problems of Uganda and I was a victim of these problems and I think I cannot go a second round. (Applause)

So, as I said, I was looking at The Hansard and at our contributions, especially the strongest brain-storming at the beginning of this conference, and also I looked at the contributions of some of the people who came to Committee Four where I belong. I started wondering why, what has really prompted all this change of heart at this later hour? (Laughter)

But then we have the pot there and the snake is in the pot. So you better be careful with how you look at the things. This is a pot of clay and you have the stick and you must kill that snake. But you should not break the pot because you still want to eat.

Now, here we are and I have braved my ways. For your information, I wanted to examine the details because I am pro-federo and whoever talks about it should have my support, but then I have to look at the reality of the thing.

Mr chairman, we must be honest because while we are here, we also have constituencies back at home. I have been watching and hearing about a lot of people from the radio and TV and at times reading about them from the papers. But I have not seen many, apart from those who share my views, who come out in the open and support federo. I have not.

When they go back home, in their rallies I have not heard them talk of federo. Now, when we are here and we have reached a position which, in my position is almost giving Buganda – which is my main constituency – a sort of federo, although it is not the real thing, I now start to think that probably it is the English which might be disturbing us. What do we want? Do we simply want the word ‘federal’, or do we meaningfully want the real substance? (Applause)

Sympathising with the rest
So Mr chairman, I said I have a problem and I hope every one of you will appreciate my problem. Because for me I want to deliver the substance to my people. There are a few things which I have personally been thinking about alone and sympathising with the rest of the many people.

When somebody occupies your house for, say a period of 30 years – like when we lost our federo – and after 30 years he says, you can have your house back, but then looking at it you find the windows are broken, the bed is not where you left it and so on. 

For me, I would have taken that house as it is and then put it the way I want. I beg you honourable members that when we move, what my chairman of Committee Four is going to move here, please bear with us (Applause).

Because if you do not, then you will not be mature people who think for the good of others. I want to say that in view of what I have said, if the movers were very near me, I would have appealed to them, for the benefit of us all and for the peace that we all have and which we should not disturb, withdraw this one – (Applause and laughter).

Confusing words
And where need be, Mr chairman, try to avoid these confusing words “federal” and “decentralisation”. Let us create what we understand. What we want, in my opinion, is meaningfully shared out power. Let us look at these structures and where we feel the power have not been well devolved, we devolve them properly and appropriately. (Laughter)

So Mr chairman, I have since morning been listening to the contributions of my fellow delegates and both those who are supporting this motion and those opposing it have all not supported or opposed the most crucial issue of power distribution.

I do not want to call it decentralisation because it also disturbs me – either devolution or giving powers to the people. We all want to achieve this, but we have appended it to traditional words here and there and they are English words which are giving us all these problems.

Let us create meaningful structures. Let us create structures and if we need the names after that, then we can say I think this structure is a region; I think this structure can be called federal; I think you can call it this or that and there we shall avoid disagreement.

Mr chairman, with that I beg to say that the federal issue, or word, should not derail us form what we want to achieve qualitatively in the way of developing meaningful lower political and economic structures. Thank very much, Mr chairman. (Applause)