Beti Kamya, the president of Uganda Federal Alliance (UFA) and former Lubaga North MP, has been collecting signatures across the country to petition the Electoral Commission (EC), to organize a referendum on whether Ugandans should be governed under a federal system of governance and also reduce the absolute powers of the president.
Kamya spoke to Edward Ssekika about the exercise – and her desire to return to Parliament.
You have been collecting signatures since December; how is the exercise going?
Let me first explain briefly the background to this. After a long ideological journey and soul-searching, we [Uganda Federal Alliance - UFA] got convinced that the problem of Uganda is the system of governance more than the leader or regime, because we have been through nine regimes but the problem doesn’t go away.
We are now convinced that the problem is actually bigger than the president and, therefore, the solution more sophisticated. The problem is the system of governance which has been passed down from the colonialists.
So, why did you engage in elections?
In 2011, I participated in presidential elections not to win but to launch the federal ideology outside Buganda; we called it ‘de-Bugandanization’ of federalism and ‘Ugandanization’ of federo.
The best strategy was to use the opportunity of a presidential campaign because they give you a car, driver, fuel, and security to move around the country, it was an excellent opportunity.
So, there are many constitutional avenues through which we can change the constitution and one of them is a referendum.
You campaigned on a federal platform and lost the elections; how are you convincing people to support an idea they rejected 2011?
First of all we are explaining to the people the history of Uganda – that a mere change of regime has not changed their lives and the particular characteristic is that whoever enters State House doesn’t want to go, he has to be pushed.
The reasons as to why leaders want to overstay in State House, is there is too much power – [the president is] more powerful than Parliament, Electoral Commission (EC), Judiciary, police, army and any institution.
Under the constitution, the president is an absolute employer; he is the one who almost appoints everyone in this country. He has the prerogative of mercy, has the key to the consolidated fund and while holding office, he can’t be taken to court. [He becomes] a dictator created by the Constitution.
Buganda has been asking for federalism but Mengo won’t support your cause; you must be worried.
The reason I am not worried is I’m on the right track. Never be worried if you are on the right track, because at the end of the day, they will all admit.
Would the Electoral Commission organise a free, fair and transparent referendum?
If we get the numbers we want and take them to EC and verify their names, the EC will give us a certificate of verification, acknowledging that they have received millions of petitioners who support the petition to hold a referendum. Then the EC can organise an election and people vote on their views.
This means you already have a good start. So, our job is to remind these people to go and defend their signature [vote]. There is no way we can lose this referendum because it is not about Beti Kamya but a governance issue.
How many signatures have you collected so far?
So far we have collected 750,000 signatures. Under the Constitution, we require 10 per cent of the registered voters, which is 1.3 million people. But we want to raise at least three million [signatures]. We are convinced that we are on the right track. Our biggest challenge is to get signatures - because political leaders [still] think Museveni is the problem.
Where are other political actors? Aren’t you a lonely voice?
But it is not my fault if they don’t see what I see. But I’m not worried about them, because when Museveni was going to the bush those people who were established didn’t follow him.
They [people] follow when the wagon has gained momentum. The elite are very arrogant, they don’t move. It is the ordinary people who are giving us the signatures, the elite are always a problem. They don’t cause change.
Generally, how is the reception across the country?
The people of Lango, Acholi, Kabale, Ntungamo and Rukungiri were very receptive. Honourable Mao and Isha Otto did a great job in Lango and Acholi. The people of Acholi, who had tried to form the Nile republic, find federalism a compromise.
Other areas like Busoga, Bugisu and of course Buganda, apart from Mengo, are also receptive. The president has always said there is a difference between Buganda and Mengo, I totally agreed with him.
How much money have you injected in so far?
I do not know. We have spent a lot, but not so much because this system is designed to be money-friendly.
What is your source of funding?
Donors, well-wishers, Ugandans in the diaspora. We have a lot of support in the diaspora mainly because a lot of Ugandans live in federal countries so they understand the problems of too much power in the presidency that led them to run away from home.
When do you hope to complete the exercise?
We started on the December 17, 2012. Our plan was to collect three million signatures so that by January or February next year  we are through and then submit to the EC. This will give the EC time to prepare the budget and submit to Parliament. We would like the budget for the referendum passed in the next financial year [2014/2015].
What if you get the signatures and Parliament fails to appropriate the funds for a referendum?
For me the first battle is to document the people who told Odoki that ‘we want federalism’. There are five million people, let us see how you can ignore them. Secondly, the constitutional provision that provides for election is the same that provides for a referendum and it doesn’t say that elections take precedence over a referendum.
So, you can’t start looking for money for elections without money for the referendum. You can’t decide on who will govern them without deciding how they will be governed. I think it is going to be an interesting constitutional battle.
What challenges do you face in collecting signatures?
Our biggest challenge is money. If we had the money, we would have a signature collection team in every corner of the country. If we had money, we wouldn’t have taken a year. It would take us two months. We are struggling but with commitment.
The other challenge is police … they are ignorant of the law. They are so terrified of doing the right thing in case they are misunderstood; so, they are on tenterhooks. Then of course, the prejudices and the intrigue around; for instance, the Katikkiro said we don’t want a federo. I want to ask the Katikkiro, that I’m prepared to put these books down [collecting signatures], let him show me the way how we shall get federo.
The Katikkiro has personal reasons; they are not for Buganda. Buganda has only one constitutional choice – that is the referendum. He should have mobilized Baganda to support the referendum. The Katikkiro knows that the president has no authority to give us federal. If the president couldn’t give us a Movement or multiparty system and subjected it to a referendum in 2005, how can he give us a federal system?
How does the federalism you are championing differ from the one Buganda [Mengo] wants?
You know federalism is a universal concept of devolution that each country domesticates differently. The American federal is different from the Kenyan, but Mengo’s is also domesticated for Buganda. Mengo married a universal concept of federalism with monarchism.
First of all, I think that we should have a commission of experts in all fields, once we have voted for federal, to design for us a good federalism for Uganda, which we can have consensus on. In Kenya, they made one fundamental mistake; they didn’t define the sharing.
That must be defined and tied in the Constitution and shouldn’t be debated on. Then we can talk about the equalisation fund or grant to equalise other regions.
Where would you like to see UFA in the next five years?
The next stage is to get UFA in Parliament, so that I launch the party in parliament, because you see what happens here, people think about a party in Parliament. All the donors, and even our Political Parties and Organizations Act (PPOA), a state will fund parties in Parliament. We have to focus and have about 10 MPs [in the 10th parliament].
Are you are likely to be one of them?
Yeah, yeah, I could be, one of them. I hope to return to Lubaga North constituency.
You were an FDC strong woman; do you regret leaving FDC?
I have no regrets at all. It gave me an opportunity to have serious soul-searching and that is how I started my ideological journey which I’m firmly grounded in. I think the problem with FDC and most other opposition parties, is they have personalised politics around Museveni; even in the NRM, it is about Museveni either you love him or hate him which is terrible.
You have been critical about the 9th parliament why?
I criticize the whole institution of Parliament. In the 9th Parliament, there [are only] 10 people who speak and they are 370 people who vote.
How can you expect ten people will do anything? At the end of the day, it is the results and not the process. Yes, they have made a lot of noise - 10 MPs with a strong speaker [Kadaga] - didn’t the Public Order Management Bill pass?