By eriasa mukiibi
Museveni’s plan for Buganda in 2011
While on tour in the US in mid-September, the king of Buganda, Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II, received an unusual emissary from NRM Secretary General and Security Minister Amama Mbabazi. The emissary, according to sources that were involved in the meeting, delivered a copy of an intelligence report prepared by Mbabazi detailing how ‘Mengo’s activities were undermining NRM’s support in Buganda.’
The report reportedly showed that the continued closure of Buganda’s FM radio CBS, which was kicked off air when the government blocked the Kabaka from travelling to Kayunga in September 2009 and riots engulfed Buganda, was being milked for political capital by the opposition. Mbabazi’s message was that the ruling party needed a truce with the biggest political ethnic group. He said NRM wanted a meeting between Mutebi and Museveni to resolve any contentious issues, including re-opening CBS. The Kabaka refused.
Anger in Buganda over the closure of CBS has weakened NRM support in the region and the government has, in principle, been open to reinstating the popular radio.
President Yoweri Museveni, who is running for the fourth term, has keenly watched as his support countrywide dwindles. He needs more than 50 percent of the national vote to win outright. Short of that, he will be forced into a re-run which can be very precarious for him. The opposition’s strategy is to deny him an outright win and trigger a run-off between him and his former bush-war colleague-turned perennial challenger, retired Col. Kizza Besigye. Every vote counts.
In 1996, Museveni polled 76 percent of the vote. In the next election, in 2001, he got 69 percent. He dropped further to 59 percent in the last election in 2006. Over the same period, the number of votes for the opposition has been going up. In 1996, the leading opposition candidate got 22 percent of the vote, in 2001 it rose to 28 percent and in the last election, Besigye got 37 percent. Museveni faces his biggest challenge in 2011 ‘ at least according to the numbers.
Insiders in the NRM campaign strategy room say Museveni has realised that his power fights with the Kabaka have eroded his support in central Uganda. His 2011 strategy revolves around consolidating the block western vote, making major inroads in northern Uganda and West Nile, and encroaching on the eastern region and Teso. But he is not giving up on Buganda either.
Analysts say that while he has publicly sought to show that he will not accept a challenge to his hegemony from the Kabaka, privately Museveni has sought rapprochement.
Whenever NRM politicians, frustrated that the closure of CBS and failure to resolve pressing Buganda demands that they thought were eating into their support confronted him, Museveni has had one answer: ‘Leave Buganda issues to me.’
In a tough speech to Parliament following the riots that followed the blocking of Mutebi’s trip to Kayunga in September last year, Museveni had outlined measures meant to clip the Kabaka’s wings.
The amendments to the Land Act that Buganda opposed would be expeditiously passed; the Regional Tier arrangement, which the Kabaka had rejected, would be implemented effective July 1, 2010; a law would be passed to prevent cultural leaders from interfering in politics and spelling out sanctions should they act contrarily; and cultural leaders would declare to the relevant authority all gifts exceeding a certain value.
The amendments to the land law were passed, but no other mention has been made of implementing the Regional Tier arrangement. A draft law to regulate cultural leaders’ bahaviour is still at cabinet level.
Recently, the government returned over 270 acres of land at Kigo along Entebbe Road to the Buganda Kingdom.
In a major conciliatory move, the government recently declared that Mutebi could proceed to visit Kayunga if he pleased, and Buganda Kingdom Spokesperson Peter Mayiga said the king would likely visit Kayunga before the turn of the year. Sources in Mengo told The Independent that ‘the government has been constantly asking the Kabaka to make a trip to Kayunga’.
A stalemate had persisted, however, over the closure of CBS with the government insisting that CBS publicly apologises to President Museveni who accused it of maligning him and the NRM. The Kabaka’s team refused to apoligise. NRM was stuck.
Meanwhile, just days after the Kabaka returned to Uganda on October 5, his advisor and former head of his government Katikkiro (Prime Minister) Mulwanyamuli Ssemwogerere who now heads a political advocacy group, Ssuubi 2011, on Oct. 19 signed an important agreement with the opposition Inter-Party Co-operation (IPC) group. Ssuubi pledged to campaign for IPC presidential candidate Kizza Besigye in Buganda and the opposition grouping promised, if it wins the 2011 elections, to grant Buganda a federal status in Uganda and re-open CBS radio. The NRM had to act fast.
On Oct. 23, slightly over a year since it was closed, CBS was reopened at a low key ceremony officiated by the Minister of ICT, Aggrey Awori. The ministers of Information, Kabakumba Matsiko and Internal Affairs, Kirunda Kivejinja, who have taken a hawkish stance on Buganda and sustained a raucous saber-rattling over CBS closure, were pointedly absent.
Similarly absent on the Buganda side were the Kabaka’s acid-tongued ministers, Peter Mayiga, David Mpanga, and Apollo Makubuya. In place of the young turks were elders like, Godfrey Kaaya Kavuma, who had directly felt the financial pinch when the station was closed and are likely to reign in what government calls any future on-air Ganda chauvinism at CBS.
The question, however, is whether merely re-opening CBS can reverse Museveni’s dwindling support in Buganda. Secondly, whether, if CBS re-opening gives Museveni a surge, it would be enough to lift him past the 50 percent hurdle of the national vote tally.
In 2006, Museveni polled 60 per cent of the 1, 993, 743 valid votes in Buganda, while his main challenger, Besigye, got 39 percent. The other candidates shared the 1 percent.
In 2006, Museveni garnered most of his votes from western Uganda, 38 percent, followed by central, 29 percent, east 24 percent and north 6 percent. Of the 4,078,911 votes he got almost a third was from central, which in effect is Buganda. The west gave Museveni 1,556,594 votes, the east 970,672 and north a paltry 262,123.
Museveni’s strategy in 2011 is to win more votes in northern Uganda to compensate for lost votes in Buganda. That explains former FDC MP, Alex Onzima’s central role during Museveni’s nomination at Namboole on Oct.25 and Museveni’s recent schmoozing with Kampala Mayor Nasser Sebaggala, a former member of the opposition Democratic Party. They are expected to bring in the disillusioned former opposition members.
That Museveni’s Buganda vote accounted for 29 percent of his total national vote tally of 4,078,911 is significant. Besigye got 779,446 votes in Buganda which constituted 30.3 percent of his total national tally of 2,570,603 votes. Conclusion: Buganda is very important to both Museveni and Besigye. Any votes lost to one are votes gained by the other.
The new CBS
The omens are not good for Museveni.
Since CBS re-opened, its signature tune has been a baby crying uncontrollably followed by a concerned stranger, a father-figure in a patriarchal environment, asking: What is the matter? ‘That baby will continue crying until he is given federo,’ is the reply. End of jingle.
The choice of opening theme melody could have been designed to signal that Buganda is unbowed and would continue to make its political demands on CBS. But that could change because of what happened during negotiations to reopen CBS.
When the Kabaka refused to meet Museveni during negotiations to reopen the radio station, sources say, the President opted to discuss with the people running CBS. They deliberately exclude people from Mengo whom Museveni is not comfortable with. In the final meetings, only three people were present ‘ Museveni, CBS shareholder and Managing Director Kaaya Kavuma and the head of Lugave Clan Grace Semakula Ndugwa.
By the time these meetings took place, a decision to reopen the station had already been reached at government level ‘ Museveni had already told cabinet and his Generals that the station would be reopened. All government needed were assurances that the station would not be used to mount an anti-NRM campaign.
Ndugwa told The Independent that one of the things they agreed with Museveni is that ‘no member of any political group would be allowed to undermine any individual or political group’.
Ndugwa indicated that CBS management would be strict to ensure discipline. In observance of the broadcasting regulations, the programmes manager, the news editor and others in charge of broadcasting must have journalism qualifications.
Former workers of the station spent the week starting October 25 undergoing refresher training. There was also counselling, aimed at addressing the emotional and psychological needs of the workers before normal broadcasting resumes.
Hot spots remain
But some Buganda Kingdom power-brokers, including Attorney General Apollo Makubuya, remain unhappy and could breed belligerence. Makubuya told The Independent that he was happy that CBS was reopened. However, he said he was not aware of the discussions that led to the reopening. ‘I have just read in the papers everything about the process of reopening CBS; the radio station was closed illegally and I personally feel even its reopening was illegal ‘ it was only guided by politics without attending to the legal issues involved,’ he said.
Another point of contention is the CBS workers’ demand for compensation over the closure.
Former kingdom Premier Mulwanyamuli Ssemwogerere says the government was pressured by the Ssuubi 2011 ‘ IPC Memorandum of Understanding clause in which Besigye undertook to reopen the station within the first thirty days of his presidency and pay ‘appropriate compensation’ to whoever was hurt by the closure.
According to Ndugwa, nothing conclusive was discussed about the case in court.
But Buganda Kingdom Spokesman and Minister of Cabinet Affairs, Henry Mayiga told The Independent that the CBS workers would soon meet to decide on further action.
‘The case was filed by the workers and that it is only they who shall decide what to do with it,’ he said.
A CBS employee, however, told The Independent that he had been told they would be fully compensated and the case would be dropped.
Katende, Sempebwa & Co. Advocates, according to information available to The Independent, filed the case and represented the workers without receiving any payment. They hoped to recover their fees from government later. Withdrawing the case could therefore involve government not only paying the estimated Shs2 billion compensation claim by the workers; it would also have to pay the lawyers’ bills and probably compensate the shareholders too.
Another issue is the question of compensation for the deaths and destruction of property during the September 2009 Buganda riots. The government has offered to compensate the families of the deceased but nothing has come of it yet.
‘Reopening the station is a good thing but I don’t believe that should mean the human rights violations that were committed at the time the radio was closed should be ignored,’ Makubuya said.
He said government soldiers who killed people during the riots have not been punished.
Meanwhile, FDC spokesperson Wafula Oguttu told The Independent: ‘Just a few days after signing the MoU (with Ssuubi) that the station would be opened soon after IPC government comes to power, the regime and their running agents have been panicked into reopening it.’
He added: ‘Of course the Baganda masses know who have assisted them to force the reopening of CBS€¦ CBS too will be credited by the ordinary person to FDC and Dr Kizza Besigye among others.’
But Mbabazi told The Independent that there were no special conditions for reopening of CBS apart from following the broadcasting rules.
The 2011 vote numbers will tell who the Baganda voters believe is on their side