By Henry L. Sserunjogi
After the three-day riots that rocked parts of Buganda but with a heavy presence in Kampala, many have distributed blame and opined on the cause. Surprisingly, this incident has greatly reignited the curiosity in whether during the five-year guerrilla war that brought the NRM to power, there was an agreement between its then rebel leader Yoweri Museveni and Buganda or then Prince Ronald Mutebi for restoration of monarchy and federo.
Besides Hajji Abdu Nadduli, the Luweero NRM chairman who claims to have attended the meeting that agreed on restoration of monarchy and federo, nobody else has offered a definite answer.
Although many in Buganda believe and talk of the agreement, the Kabaka has never openly commented on this issue either. None of the Mengo insiders, Luweero Triangle survivors or NRM fallouts has ever come out with evidence to this claim. President Museveni has repeatedly refuted this claim. I am not an NRA/M or Mengo insider. The following historical account of the war events and the writer’s credibility are a result of having been situated in Semuto area in the first three years of the NRA-UNLA conflict and as a student-teacher respectively. Right after the NRA made Semuto the centre of their struggle, Museveni embarked on public relations. He regularly met local area elders to sensitise them on why the NRA (his rebel organisation as it was called then) chose to fight and in Luwero of all areas, and about their military and political agenda. He would highlight what the NRA expected of the residents most of which was to grow more food so that the surplus could feed the rebels. Another and very important need for Museveni was the elders to persuade their sons to join the struggle. It was evident that recruiting and growing food were the most important to him at that time, the rest were curtain raisers.
These meetings achieved the objective and where they had failed, fear for the UNLA attacks did it for him. They used to send the local youth recruits back to villages to persuade other youths, telling them that it was safer to be in the jungle than at home because the UNLA would come to kill them. This forced many youths to join the struggle. When NRA reorganised themselves after the UNLA’s attack on Kikandwa village and repulsed the government forces on different fronts, Museveni started asking the elders in these meetings what they wanted NRA/M to do for them if it captured state power.
This was around late 1981 and it is fitting to say that asking this question at that time was more of playing on the locals’ emotions and political manipulation for more of their support.
Every time Museveni asked this question the answer from the residents was the same; restoring the Buganda monarch and federo. He told and kept reminding them that he was fighting to restore civility to the whole of Uganda where other tribes opposed to the Buganda kingdom and federo might not be happy. He repeatedly suggested constructing for them a tarmac road around Luweero district that would serve them in economic development but which would also be a national infrastructure compared to the monarchy which is only for Buganda and prone to fueling resentment to Buganda and NRA/M. He also kept suggesting they come up with something else more national than the return of the Kabakaship (monarchy). These once only-elders meetings later became open for all residents as NRA became strong and secured more territory in Luweero and Mpigi without UNLA making any deep entry in the ‘liberated’ areas.
These meetings went on until the UNLA (government army) forced NRA out of Luweero Triangle in a flight some people called ‘Safari Rwenzora’ to Mt Rwenzori in western Uganda. But it remained clear what the Baganda expected the NRA/M to do for them in appreciation of their support. They used to tell Museveni that his suggestion of the road could follow the monarchy and federo since the infrastructure was for the whole nation. They never minced words in telling him that for them as Baganda, their support and loss of life and property occasioned by the war, they would want their Kabaka and federo. On his fears about federo and monarchy attracting resentment from other tribes, he was reminded that he would have waged his rebellion in those areas and in if he wanted, he could actually go and fight in those parts. However, Museveni never at one time gave in to their demands. Every meeting ended in disagreement, a sign that Museveni himself was very anti-monarchy.
During that time, conditions were very bad in all camps. Food was becoming scarce every month. The local population could barely grow enough food to feed their families and then have surplus for the guerrillas. More discouraging in growing this food for the NRA was that payment would be in the future and only if the rebels captured power. But worse for the fighters from Buganda was that sectarianism was said to be so open in all the NRA camps. All fighters from western Uganda were said to have wielded authority over others or more so Baganda. Although there were no ranks at that time besides commanders and a few regimental heads, anybody from western region could give one a punishment for anything. The Baganda fighters felt that they were always placed in the most dangerous spots at every front and because of this they were dying more than any other tribe.
Stories of death plots on Baganda fighters through friendly fire at the front and in camps became common and without investigation at all. The answer to complaints about preferential treatment within fighters was that those from the western region were more educated. These complaints attracted stern punishments; 50-plus strokes of a cane and spending days in underground dugouts. Many Baganda fighters deserted but also many stayed because it was very dangerous for them outside the camps in case they were caught by the UNLA.
As NRA was about to make the final assault on Tito Okello’s UNLA and capture Kampala, Museveni desperately needed more recruits in order to secure Kampala and other liberated areas and at the same time pursue the retreating government forces. Museveni was popular in Buganda but not many youths wanted to join the NRA for the bad conditions there. It was because of this between-a-rock-and-hard-place situation that forced Museveni to approach Prince Ronald Mutebi, hoping that his involvement and touring the Buganda rural areas with him would make the elders entice the youths to join the struggle. It worked and the rest is history.
What led Museveni to run to Mutebi at this hour of need wasn’t their previous relationship. They didn’t know each other as John Nagenda once wrote in The New Vision, and later Museveni himself. His knowledge that the people in Luweero had constantly demanded the monarchy made him bring Mutebi and go with him around Buganda areas under the NRA control. This made the Baganda believe that Museveni would bring Mutebi back as Kabaka if he became president. He cast his last card and it worked; most of the NRA combatants at the time of capturing Kampala were Baganda.
Now, about whether there was an agreement between Museveni and Ronald Mutebi about the restoration of the Buganda monarchy, it is twisted thinking. It is therefore unthinkable that Museveni brought Mutebi to these risky areas under attack by UNLA, paraded him to Baganda and at the end just said to him; ‘it was nice meeting you, thanks for coming, see you next time and bye.’ I firmly believe there was an agreement made either before Mutebi’s coming or at the end of his tour and which of course was about restoring his kingdom. In all these denials, the Kabaka should be credited for never spilling secrets of the said meetings and agreement. But having said that, I still think Museveni fulfilled this agreement because of the constant demand by Baganda for the restoration of the monarchy as the only compensation and reward number one during the war.
Knowing how anti-monarchy Museveni was at that time and now having restored the Buganda kingdom, he has fulfilled the agreement he made with Mutebi and paid Buganda for its support to the bush war.
The writer is engaged in networking and communication management in USA