The voluminous 520-page book, `Protection, Patronage or Plunder? British Machinations and (B)uganda’s Struggle for Independence’, by Apollo Nelson Makubuya; the 3rd Deputy Prime Minister (Katikkiro) and Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs of the kingdom of Buganda, has attracted a lot of attention. He spoke to The Independent’s Agnes E Nantaba about it and more.
A lot has been written about how colonial rule impacted on Uganda’s politics and economics. What new strands does the book present?
This book is unique. The author is an indigenous Ugandan and Muganda, so it offers a perspective of a native who appreciates the perspective from within as opposed to researchers outside. It also relies on material that hasn’t been in the public domain; I spent a long time in the national archives of UK which many people don’t have access to. There are new angles on personalities, secret missions that the British had, the role of both British and Uganda personalities behind the scenes in collaboration with the British or other Africans in advancing certain interests – most times personal interests which is not much different from what we see today.
The book dwells on the ‘Buganda Question’ as an issue that cannot disappear from the records of Uganda’s history. How best can the question be addressed?
I think it should be the `Uganda question’ because when you characterise it as a `Buganda question’, it makes other people think that we take ourselves to be special. We are not just another part of Uganda but we have a history that predates Uganda. It is, therefore, a Uganda problem because of how Uganda was created and divided at birth. There are problems in other parts of the country, so we can’t isolate the question to Buganda. It’s a bundle of questions; like national integration, leadership, foundations of colonial legacy which perpetuate the divisions and continued dependency on Britain. We have a paradox of being a democratic and independent country in name but not in reality.
What is Buganda’s role in the greater social and economic status of the Uganda?
The kingdom of Buganda is a constituent part of Uganda and has a long history that predates Uganda. It has continued to play a significant role not only because of the size of its population, but also because of its centrality, geography, business, and politics. Many things have rotated around Buganda. Buganda has been at the heart of Uganda, contributing to the stability, peace, and prosperity.
How has politics impacted on Buganda’s contribution to Uganda’s growth economically?
If it weren’t for the problems that we suffered between 1964 and 1966 and all the war period; Buganda’s growth and that of Uganda would have been phenomenal. Because of the gap of leadership between 1966 and 1993 when the kingdom was restored, we lost time and opportunities. In Buganda, a large part of the population supports the Kabaka and believes in the system which makes it a legitimate system compared to systems in which people don’t have much confidence.
Our country has been unstable since 1966 and even after 1986; there hasn’t been absolute peace and harmony. As Buganda, we continue to agitate for some form of autonomy and self-determination which our colleagues in the central government and other parts of the country either don’t appreciate or just don’t want. This form of underlying tension inhibits unity and harmonious development at national level. That is why in this book, I discuss the question and challenges of national integration. When the British created Uganda, they had their own mission, interests and agenda which thrived on divided Uganda. Many decades later, there is a way in which even in post-colonial Uganda we continue to live with divide and rule. Buganda has sometimes been misunderstood to be selfish and not care about the rest of the country but when you look at the facts, Baganda is not just a tribe but a nation that incorporates people from all ethnic backgrounds. We have welcomed people who now own land and this cannot be seen in many other parts of the country. If we had continued in the spirit of inclusiveness and building our traditional institutions, our country would have advanced much faster. There is need to revisit the role of traditional and cultural institutions in the new era. We have tried decentralisation and national republic unity which hasn’t served us well as a country. That is why 56 years after independence people still talk about national dialogue. We need to come together and agree on how best to live together. This history and how it is problematic is covered in the book. When Uganda was being created by the British colonialists, the foundations were undemocratic, militaristic and unaccountable to the people. They supported impunity by deporting the Kabaka. Post- colonial regimes have built on those foundations. That is why we have so much military at the centre of politics. If we are to embark on the new future, we need to address those issues.
The book gives an insight into how British Protectorate administrators deliberately “plundered” and disempowered Buganda Kingdom. How was this done?
The first people who visited Uganda were explorers; then missionaries. Within the missionaries, there were divisions that were planted in the country; others were advancing agenda for Protestantism, Catholicism or Islam. These were followed by proper colonial masters; starting with Captain Lugard of the IBEACO. The idea was to extract, exploit and subjugate the people so that they can serve British interests. There was forced labour and paying taxes without accountability to serve the protectorate regime. The surplus would go to Europe. During the first and second world war, our fore fathers were asked to pay to support the wars of imperialism and through dubious agreements, they would take away resources; including land. In the case of Buganda 1900 agreement, Britain took over control of over 50 percent of all the land including crown land. That is plunder. Beyond plunder, they used patronage and influence to compromise leaders of the time both in Buganda and in other parts. The military coups in Uganda didn’t start in 1971 (Idi Amin) but right from when King Mwanga was ousted from his seat (1888), also in 1953 was another military coup led by Sir Andrew Cohen who forcefully removed Muteesa and deported him to UK. The history of forceful, undemocratic and militaristic takeover of traditional governments laid a foundation for what happened later on in 1966.
What impact has patronage, plunder and protectionism had on Buganda’s political and economic standing to date?
I make the case that when the British first came to Buganda, they were amazed at the level of organisation as a society with some form of government, a leader with the Lukiiko or council was quite impressive at the time. Buganda had people in different fields and the society was on a move. However, by the time the British left, Baganda were on their knees because, all over sudden, we were incorporated in the new thing called Uganda where everybody looked at us as a threat and vice versa. Before we knew it, the Buganda kingdom was abolished in 1967. The kingdom that was on the rise was down. That is why we are still struggling to re-energise and rebuild as a kingdom.
Buganda wants back its expropriated assets and progress was made with the 2013 Ebyaffe agreement. What opportunities does the agreement present to the kingdom in this struggle?
If it were implemented as it was initially intended, it would have been very effective in getting us back as a kingdom. The agreement was made more than five years ago and if you look at the assets returned, it has been implemented in an erratic, piecemeal and incomplete way and that is why from time to time, we have go back to the President to demand outstanding arrears and implementation of the agreement.
Land is one of the prevailing problems in Buganda and Uganda. How does the book address the land problem?
The book addresses the origins of land distribution starting with the 1900 agreement and the designs of the British division and allocation of land. Eventually some people were dispossessed of their land and the land went to be owned by some powerful landed gentry or protectorate government at the expense of the peasantry and that scheme has continued to date. In Buganda we have a problem of Bibanja holders who don’t have access to land titles and those who have acquired land eventually using force to evict occupants. I address that history in the book with some of the proposed solutions to deal with the problem. For instance, we can’t have multiple layers of ownership on the same land because there is bound to be conflict. That crisis will continue unless something is done about it.
What is your take on the move by the British parliament to debate the issue of democracy in Uganda?
We live in a global world where issues of lack of democracy concern people in a globalised environment and like Martin Luther said, injustice to anyone is injustice to all and so to that extent, I don’t have a problem with the discussions. However, by having the British parliament discuss democracy in Uganda shows continued interest. Why would they be discussing democracy in Uganda yet we can’t discuss the same? There are other new forms of influence which are being maintained. So it is important that we understand those forces and find a way of working around them so that we don’t continue to limit development.
Some palace officials say that you are tipped to replace Charles Peter Mayiga as Kingdom Premier. What is your take on this?
Our focus should not be on who leads. Support the leader and work with the central government and the rest of the country to advance unity so that we stop being the back waters of Africa and revive the glorious history. We are all under the King and it’s his prerogative to choose whom he wants.