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Buganda trading her support for a political ransom

By Joseph Ossiya

You cannot change what you will not confront. When one considers the historical aspects of the birth of the entity Uganda, they are fraught with political landmines and buried skeletons, the types of which have the capacity to unravel its very identity and challenge its existence.

The enduring discord between the central government and the Buganda kingdom is one such. History has shown with unambiguous demonstrations that this disharmony is not peculiar to the Movement government. It is a direct legacy of the political history of Uganda and shall exist for as long the government in place is not a stooge of Buganda kingdom.

Even before the Obote I post-colonial government’s orchestrated banning of the kingdom after the “1966 Buganda crisis” in which the protagonists had degenerated their differences to lethal civil war, the conflict stage had already been tested between the kingdom and the former British Protectorate government.

In 1953, barely a year into the reign of the new governor of the protectorate of Uganda, Sir Andrew Cohen, a constitutional deadlock was registered between the protectorate government and the kingdom. Buganda felt vulnerably exposed by the intention of the British to create an East African federation that encompassed the colonies of Uganda, Kenya and Tanganyika. The court of Kabaka Fredrick Walugembe Mutesa II, the late father of the present Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi, forecast that the larger political entity would erode or gravely threaten the exceedingly treasured special status, power and cultures of Buganda, all secured by the standing 1900 Buganda Agreement.

Baganda believed their best safeguard lay in revoking what they thought constituted their acquiescence to be part of the Uganda Protectorate.  Equally they also roundly rebuffed the proposal of the British to develop Uganda as a unitary state. On November 30, 1953, as Buganda’s intransigence stretched the conflict deeper into the no-compromise zone, Sir Cohen signed a declaration that immediately and effectively stamped out British recognition of Mutesa as the Kabaka of Buganda under clause 6 of the 1900 Agreement. The Kabaka was instantly banished and placed under custody in Britain to only return in 1955 after the Namirembe conference had cooled tempers.

In September 2009, after months of subterranean feuding, Buganda and the central government clashed again in bloody urban mayhem with substantial fatalities on the Buganda side. This was just a pressure fissure that graphically symbolised the extent to which Buganda yearned to recoup its sovereign status in the form of a politically enabled kingdom and the compulsion of the central government to robustly dissuade further attempts to assault its constitutional monopoly on power.

To understand this perennial conflict, one must first appreciate the political dynamics that played out in the pre-independence colonial era that led to the birth of the state Uganda. Whereas the rest of the protectorate designated “Uganda” was under direct rule of the Crown governor representing British imperial interests, from 1900 Buganda was given special autonomy because 1); It volunteered imperative cooperation with the Crown authority 2); It had an outstandingly functional organic governance structure already in place under the leadership of the Kabaka that the British were happy to tap into for resource extraction 3); The Buganda expansionist instincts were shelved and later tamed when the Kabakaship was  bound by a Solemn Engagement to observe the conditions of the Agreements regarding the Constitution and not to prejudice the security and welfare of the Protectorate (1955 Agreement).

Article 4 of the agreed recommendations of the Namirembe Conference in 1954 which anchored the 1955 Buganda agreement in part stated thus: “The Kabaka shall retain all his traditional titles and dignities and shall continue to be the symbol of unity of the people of Buganda and between their past, present and future.”

This history brings out some key issues. First, Buganda is inherently competent to pursue a very narrow political philosophy. Only Buganda matters to Buganda. As long as its interests are covered, it will be contented regardless of what happens elsewhere. Secondly, the subject of the Kabaka’s supreme political authority over Buganda and the Baganda cannot be retired by any form of agreement, at any cost or with any party.

The cyclic equation is simple. Buganda and its people draw the essence of their identity from the assumed greatness of the monarchy. The monarchy draws its essence of identity from the convergence of total political dominion in the person of the Kabaka. The Kabaka draws his essence of identity from the love, undying allegiance and unparalleled reverence of the Baganda people. Any anomaly at any point in this equation, as epitomised by the constitutional fetters on the Kabaka presently, destabilises the cherished balance that for so long had propelled Buganda to gain and maintain regional distinction.

The audacity to challenge the central government first for cultural recognition and then for local administrative authority is just a precursor to the contest for political power. Adaptations have been made in the traditional dignities and ceremonies of the Buganda Kingdom to accommodate the provisions of the 1995 constitution of Uganda that limit it as a purely cultural institution. These adjustments have been effected under extreme duress. At no time have the Buganda courtiers abandoned the ideal of a fully functional monarchy existing alongside or even in pre-eminence to the central government.

This brings us to the issue of the 1995 constitution. That it was met with wild ululation at its conception and promulgation cannot be doubted. But was the people’s supposed enthusiasm merely for the achievement of a new book or for the content therein? Is the common man aware of the implications contained between the covers of this supreme document?

It is obvious that the constitution in its present form carries insoluble contradictions for the existence of politically enabled kingdoms in Uganda. Is this constitution to be a uniting factor and pro-people or is it to be denigrated to a self-created iron curtain, able to etch divisions so deep in a people they only live to hate?

The political leadership has the obligation to create and sustain constitutional awareness in order to see that useful meaning is drawn from the whole process of aspiring to effective, focused and involved governance or its nearest equivalent.

However attractive it may currently appear, the practice of limiting interpretation, manipulation or amendment of the constitution to pin-hole viewpoints that serve selfish, parochial and temporary objectives is the classic case of the tail wagging dog. The penalty for our outright irrationality should not be handed down to posterity. This generation of Ugandan leaders cannot afford to play the ostrich that buries its head in the sand to assume the problem goes away as soon as it can’t be seen, especially with the constitution.

Courtiers in the kingdom have specialised in demonising the sitting government and blaming it for their institution’s failure to recapture past glory. Statements abound of the kingdom officially taking the stand to mobilise support only for candidates who are sympathetic to its interests come 2011. These declarations propel the theory that in the manifestation of loyalty, Buganda requires its subjects and sympathisers to consider it superior to Uganda. This is not easy to understand for many Ugandans. It is also a very treacherous path to tread. Such insular political philosophy can alienate Buganda from the rest of Uganda.

Buganda has shown that it is given to gluttony on certain issues but to manipulate its masses for the benefit of a political plot with a deficient national net worth simply because they are Baganda with unquestioned loyalty to the crown can be looked at in some quarters as beyond callous.

“Federo” is not a governance model and neither is federalism what the Baganda crave for. Buganda is wishing for “federo” which is an ideal comprehensively defined by the harmonious existence of the Baganda in Buganda kingdom ruled by a fully empowered Kabaka within the great heritage of their cultures and traditions. It carries diminished import to the rest of Uganda.

A few presidential candidates and political parties, leaning on Buganda’s seductive but fickle pledge of a bloc vote, have promised federalism, the code for “federo”, in their manifestos and are trying, with questionable honesty, to sell it as a national issue. There are those who are aware that alliances Buganda has made in the recent past in order to trade its political support for preferential treatment of its unique agenda have twice backfired. This is primarily because the kingdom protocol was not sufficiently inclusive of the interests of the rest of Uganda.

Buganda should understand that the political dynamics of present day Uganda cannot support the notion of a politically active kingdom because the co-existence of the central state and kingdom power nodes can neither be peaceful nor harmonised into the present constitution. Their intrinsic agendas are diametrically opposed and cannot be reconciled even in a federal arrangement without the total overhaul of our national political psyche. This requires a more decent and deliberate effort to secure buy-in from the rest of Uganda than is currently on the cards.

The elitist superstructure at Mengo should think twice before engaging a formidable opponent – those not born to be ruled by divine right. Preferential treatment of Buganda is tangential to the domain of pragmatic politics at the present time. A well planned and executed diplomatic offensive is likely to yield the investment of national interest in the Buganda ideal far more effectively than political ransom. There are rock-solid reasons for this.

Buganda is no longer a largely homogeneous society with subjects keen to pay allegiance to the Kabaka. This has been distorted by migration patterns that favoured settlement in Buganda by other ethnic groups. Proximity to the capital city Kampala also dictated that the budding middle class and cheap labour league also seek settlement in Buganda.

Vast swathes of land and other prosperity indicators in the kingdom have been acquired by private concerns with no sense of obligation to the Kabaka or to Buganda. Industry, free market forces, regionalisation and liberal education are all working to undermine the conservation of relevance of the kingdom to Buganda in its sought-after status of pre-independence.

There are therefore no guarantees that the king still has unquestionable stakes in the greater percentage of the means of production in Buganda. Distribution of wealth is running on its own self-generated momentum and the central state wields a monopoly on taxation, natural resource extraction and the coercive forces that it is not eager to surrender.

The amalgamation of aberrations that now define Buganda since it was put into political abeyance may be a hard pill to swallow for those who still hope to reawaken the great kingdom in the same pyjamas it was put to sleep in, 44 years ago.

Inspired buccaneers are now hoisting hostile flags on the high seas of aggression between the central government and the Buganda kingdom, ready to plunder any poorly protected political treasures. If not reined in, these miscreants on either side can devise a political script that unshackles turbulence for upheaval-prone Uganda.

Despite whatever motives the key players harbour, let there be immediate emotional calming…or yet again the innocents may be dressed in mourning

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