By Independent Team
Who won what, who lost what?
What happens when a king and his chiefs move too far ahead of his subjects? That is the question Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II and his new Katikiro or Prime Minister Charles Peter Mayiga, now face following events surrounding the 20th coronation anniversary celebrations on Aug. 3.
Of course the Kabaka does not walk during major ceremonies. He is carried shoulder-high in a ritual called okukongojja. That is how he arrived at the venue of the celebrations, the vast grounds of his palace at Lubiri Mengo. But he was visibly tense and kept whispering instructions to his aides and the Katikiro. Part of the reason could have had to do with his unusual chief guest; President Yoweri Museveni.
Although Museveni helped restore the monarchy in 1993 after it had laid in limbo for over 30 years following events that led to the king’s father dying in exile, the relations between the king and the President have been anything but cordial.
The relations had frozen to the extent that in 2009, the king refused to take the president’s phone calls; if the president’s public complaints are anything to go by. An angry Museveni subsequently blocked the king from travelling to some parts of his kingdom and riots ensued in which many people were killed by the military.
Many people were surprised that Museveni this time, was attending a Buganda function. It was the first time in a long time. Even when the king’s brother wedded in April, the President was conspicuously absent although he had attended the king’s wedding in 1999.
It was, therefore, interesting to see the President already seated in the VIP tent when the Kabaka arrived. In embracing Museveni so dramatically, the Kabaka and his courtiers appear to have hurried too far ahead of the ordinary subjects of the king. Museveni must have sensed this as he arrived at 11.50 am to jeers from the multitude.
The cheers and jeers from the heated up crowd that greeted him as he arrived, followed him through his speech, and accompanied him as he left, however, also showed the confusion Museveni’s rapprochement with the Kabaka has spawned in Buganda.
Godfrey Ssubi Kiwanda, the Mityana North MP who chairs the Buganda Caucus in Parliament, and a Museveni supporter, confessed as much later that night on TV. He said they had been prepared for the worst.
“Even if stones had been thrown at the president, it would not have been surprising,” Kiwanda said.
But Museveni could have expected cheers. After all, had he not returned some of the kingdom’s coveted Ebyaffe (properties) just the night before?
The night before, in yet another secret meeting, Museveni had sat alone, in discussion with four Buganda emissaries of the Kabaka. They included Charles Peter Mayiga, the new Katikiro, the Kabaka’s brother, Prince Wasajja, the kingdom attorney general, Apollo Makubuya, and another palace confidante, Herbert Ndiwala.
When they emerged, the 9 o’clock prime news bulletins across the country were interrupted by a breaking news item: President Museveni had agreed to give Buganda its “ebyaffe”, the code-word for a list of properties and other demands by Buganda on Museveni.
In the past, top politicians in the central region have risen and fallen on account of the promise and failure to deliver “ebyaffe”. But barely two months in office, Mayiga who was appointed in May, appeared to have pulled-off the seemingly elusive feat.
The coveted properties
At the heart of the ebyaffe that were returned are the 18 county (Masaza) headquarters and the surrounding 8 square miles around them as demarcated under the colonial agreements. The others are the 192 sub-counties (Magombolola) that have 48 acres of land each, the Gardens in Jeza Mityana, and Buganda markets, compensation for Plot 53 on Kampala Road that has King Fahad plaza, and Mutesa House in London, which was sold off by Milton Obote.
Museveni also pledged in a Memorandum of Understanding with the Kabaka that the government would pay Shs 20 billion in rental arrears, court costs and profits accrued from the government’s use of kingdom assets.
The rest of the offers are unclear and were designated as “all the land and properties that belong to the Kabaka” after verification.
Significantly, however, even as he thanked Museveni for returning the ebyaffe, the Katikiro was careful to say what was pledged were “some” of the ebyaffe; not all. He tacitly signaled that the jostling for pride and prizes between this kingdom of six million people and the central government is obviously far from over.
Cheers and jeers
With this background, the Aug. 3 ceremony was really a carefully choreographed symphony of secrecy, symbolism, and real politik; the three elements observers have grown accustomed to in the Kabaka’s dealings with Museveni.
What was new was Museveni’s apparent determination to offer an unexpected anniversary gift to the Kabaka and Buganda and wade into a hostile reception at the Kabaka’s palace. What does he hope to gain?
It is an intriguing question. While what the ‘lion’ of Buganda gets is partly laid out in the open, what Museveni, who once called himself the ‘Sabagabe’ (king of kings), gets is completely in the dark.
At the coronation function, the confusion persisted when the Kabaka arrived to wild cheers at 12 noon, exactly 10 minutes after Museveni. The excitement followed the Kabaka when he spoke. But the jeers returned despite Katikiro Mayiga’s pleas when Museveni spoke to the crowd estimated to be over 500,000 people. The Kabaka and Museveni made brief speeches that were, again, short but loaded.
Museveni dug into his historical role, starting in 1981 when he was not president and Mutebi was not enthroned, in restoring Uganda’s biggest kingdom, which had been abolished in 1967, to make a point of his commitment to support the Kabaka as a “cultural leader” and not a political leader. The Kabaka thanked him for the support but spoke of the need for “mutual respect”.
Charles Peter Mayiga, the new katikiiro or prime minister, was a dash of excitement as he darted from one to the other and whispered into the ear of Museveni and the Kabaka. By the time the President and the Kabaka left at 3pm, ordinary Baganda who watched them remained either confused or angry as none of them had provided an explanation for their new cordiality and their old position persisted.
As public events go, this was a quick show for both of them but observers have told The Independent that it was the most significant moment since the monarchy was restored in 1993.
In interviews on TV, radio, and newspapers in the days that followed, ordinary Baganda spoke of their excitement that Museveni had returned Buganda’s properties.
NRM Vice Chairman for Buganda region, Hajji Abdu Nadduli appeared to sum up the general sentiment of the Kabaka’s subjects.
“The central government is simply returning what it had stolen from Buganda and this is long overdue,” he told journalists. The sentiment was not gratitude. It was satisfaction. It was about words left unspoken. Like the kingdom’s quest for more political autonomy from the central government; the so-called demand for “federo”.
End of Federo?
Almost all Buganda leaders say the kingdom wants federo above all else. Mayiga was in the past at the centre of negotiations for federo with Museveni. Had he now given up this quest?
In an interview, Mayiga told The Independent: “The people of Buganda, over 90% want a federal system of government, everyone is moving in that direction, including Kenya. 65% of Ugandans told Justice Benjamin Odoki `we want a federal system of government.”
He said there would be no “rush” but “what Buganda needs will be attained at the right time”.
“Federalism means one thing: sharing power,” he said.
Mayiga is aware that power-sharing with the Kabaka is a message Museveni has said he will not countenance. He is also aware that a power-sharing fight with then President Milton Obote led to the king’s father, Kabaka Mutesa II, fleeing into exile in the so-called 1966 `Buganda Crisis’.
Mayiga is, therefore, possibly biding his time; waiting for an opportune moment to demand federo; as the semi-autonomous relationship with the central government that Buganda covets is called.
Will that moment come towards the 2016 elections when Museveni will as expected be hungry for votes? Is this another sign of the pragmatism that many say has led Mayiga to score success where others failed? Or is it another false start for another Buganda Katikiro?
After all, the man Mayiga succeeded; Katikiro John Baptist Walusimbi, came in on a powerful ticket of better working relations with Museveni. He was understood to be a pragmatic Museveni sympathizer.
But his tenure saw some of the worst days between the kingdom and the president as the Kabaka’s ministers, including Mayiga; were arrested and jailed, the kingdom radio shutdown, and the king blocked from moving to one of the kingdom’s counties.
Already Mayiga’s scoop is being punctured by critics as an “unclear” win.
What is in for ‘Sabagabe?’
For a start, although details of the offer are still scanty because the Memorandum of Understanding Museveni signed with the Kabaka has not been made public, what has been mentioned looks similar to offers that Museveni has been willing to give since 2004.
Museveni, in the 2004 regional tier proposal offered Buganda the 18 county (Masaza) headquarters and the surrounding 8 square miles and the sub-counties (Magombolola) and the 48 acres of land each has. He also offered the markets and the rental arrears, court costs and profits accrued from the government’s use of kingdom assets.
What was not on offer was what this time has been designated as “all the land and properties that belong to the Kabaka”. These still have to be verified and on Aug.6, Katikiiro Mayiga set up a committee to pursue them. Until the deal is in the bag, therefore, the Baganda know better not to count un-hatched chickens.
Equally significant is the observation that the team that met Museveni this time and brought back ebyaffe on Aug. 3 was largely the same team that, in July 2004, was involved in talks with Museveni that culminated in an agreement on a government for Buganda called the “regional tier”.
The only missing officials are Joseph Mulwanyamuli Ssemwogerere, who as then-prime minister; led the Buganda team and John Katende, then-attorney general. This time Mayiga, Makubuya, and Wasajja who attended, are all avowed supporters of the regional tier.
Mayiga has said the regional tier was not implemented in the past because of “selfish interest” by some people in the Lukiiko then.
Did he assure the president that the regional tier would not fail this time?
The regional tier Bill was presented to Parliament in December 2009 and passed as the Regional Governments law.
It effectively operationalised Article 178 of the Constitution, which states that “two or more districts shall be free to cooperate in areas of culture and development” and made provisions for the regional governments to elect administrators.
But at the time, Makubuya said Buganda was opposed to the law because it wanted a specific reporting hierarchy and reporting structure between the districts, the regional government, and the Central Government.
They also disagreed on the provisions on the election of the Katikkiro, and the management and control over land. Has Makubuya removed those objections now?
Are we now likely to see Kabaka Mutebi concede to an elected katikiiro other than one he appoints? What concessions did the Kabaka make to Museveni?
The argument has been that Kabaka does not need to offer concession because Museveni needs Buganda to win elections in 2016. This claim appears weak because this is not election time and Museveni has never been stronger in Buganda than now.
It is barely two years since Museveni swept the election in Buganda. The 2011 elections came at a time when Buganda was still reeling from the after-effects of the September 2009 Buganda riots in which Museveni brutally blocked the Kabaka from travelling to Bugerere.
Museveni was, therefore, expected to lose miserably. Instead, he won the elections in all the 24 districts in central region, which is effectively Buganda. He won at least 62.7% of the votes and has since sought to consolidate his position.
Another consideration is that based on numeracy, Buganda can still complain about marginalization in central government. But they have 18% of the ministerial positions compared to the 35% held by western Uganda and control some prominent positions in the government including the Vice president, Edward Ssekandi, and the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen. Katumba Wamala. Museveni, therefore, appears unassailable and does not need to make concessions to Buganda.
It, therefore, remains unclear what his game plan for Buganda is. Unfortunately, the deal is shrouded in secrecy and, some say, that is where the trouble between Museveni and the Kabaka starts.
That, some say, partly explains why the Kabaka’s subjects greeted Museveni with jeers instead of cheers when he appeared at the coronation celebrations. But if the jeers will turn into cheers could depend on how soon the actual handing over of all the ebyaffe is implemented.