By Onghwens Kisangala
The upheavals that preceded the FDC delegates conference over the partys suspension of Rubaga North MP Beti Kamya summed up one of Uganda’s core challenges: democracy and the question of Buganda. The Independents Onghwens Kisangala discusses the issues with Prof. John Jean Barya, a top scholar in the faculty of law at Makarere University. This is the first in a two-part series.
What does Beti Kamya’s suspension from the FDC and the tribal talk surrounding her tell us about democracy in political parties and Uganda in general?
Any political party that aims to lead this country, or any country for that matter, should itself be democratic internally. The FDC has tried to give Beti Kamya a chance, but no consensus has been reached. Kamya should have lobbied for support at the delegates conference I believe she would have had a very good chance.
As for the issue of Buganda in the FDC and for that matter in Ugandan politics, the Mengo establishment, or the pseudo-government around the Kabaka (because it doesnt have executive powers), is, to me, effectively a party, one of the alternative political parties in Uganda. This is why most Buganda leaders are not members of mainstream political parties. Even in the NRM, most Buganda leaders are in Mengo. They are pushing their issues; the right of self-determination for Buganda. That creates a problem for the rest of Uganda. The leadership of the Ganda nationality is much more interested in Buganda’s affairs than in leading Uganda.
This means that the energies and talents in Buganda are not present in our political parties. That is what would create or develop an important person in a party like Beti Kamya in the FDC.
So how did the NRM members from Buganda get to where they are?
I dont think we have very strong and dynamic people from Buganda in the NRM. The people there were hand-picked by Museveni Gilbert Bukenya, Apolo Nsibambi. They dont have power to exhibit the leadership that they would if they had a following in the Buganda region.
The fact that people from Buganda are under-represented in political parties leads to individuals that do join parties gaining more prominence than they would otherwise have. So Kamya had more stature than she would have had if the relationship between Buganda and Uganda was otherwise. Yet she focused her energies on Buganda issues, not national issues. And that can also be seen in DP. Most people in DP are more vocal about Buganda issues than national issues. So I think in the Kamya saga, the party had no alternative. As for Kamya, she is left in a dilemma. It will be difficult for her to join any other party and retain major influence.
Where does this leave the FDC in Buganda?
Things are difficult for the FDC, because a good number of its Baganda leaders have died Sulaiman Kigundu, Vincent Kimera and probably others. But as a party, they still have an obligation to recruit a number of leaders from Buganda, who may include leaders in Mengo. There is no way of running away from it. The alternative could be to enter into some form of understanding or alliance with those other political forces that have credible leadership â€“and that can only be in DP or Mengo. If you cannot have the leadership yourself, you can ally with the leadership where it is located.
How can the Buganda be brought into the national political arena?
The present configuration of politics in Uganda does not allow anything significant in terms of support of opinion leaders in Buganda for the national political agenda or political parties. The only party that has tried to align itself with the Mengo interests, and not very successfully, is the DP. This is a very interesting historical development, because the DP and Mengo have historically been very antagonistic. But the DP today is not the DP that enjoyed overwhelming support against Obote and the UPC. The situation has changed dramatically. Museveni and the NRM have been in power for a long time, and while Museveni may have significant support in Buganda, it is very grudging support, because there is no clear alternative, and because Bugandaâ€™s autonomy has not been assured.
So what is the way forward?
The only way FDC can earn the confidence of Buganda will be to create a tripartite alliance or understanding: FDC, DP and Mengo. The three can agree on a certain minimum common agenda. I personally believe that the only way to deal with this dilemma is to allow people of different groups to have certain autonomy in governing themselves. Failure to do that will mean these problems will continue for some time.
Such cooperation would put Mengo in a problematic position because cultural institutions are not allowed to indulge in politics. How would it work?
I am not saying that they sit down and sign an agreement, but it can be a political understanding; how it is framed is a question of detail. The point that Mengo is not supposed to indulge in politics is also not exactly correct. This applies only to the Kabaka the institution. Mengo, the Lukiiko, even the Kingship itself is nothing but politics. But anyway, this is a rule that is enforced selectively. If a cultural institution supports government, that is okay, it is not politics; but if they support the opposition then they are indulging in politics.