By Dicta Asiimwe
The venue for Buganda’s 17th coronation anniversary celebrations of Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II, Kabasanda, Butambala County is one of eighteen counties of Buganda.
As the bevy of female traditional dancers, in colourful kikoyi wrappers and tight-tops, gyrate to the din of royal drums being beaten in rhythm to the ululating crowds, and the scent of roast meat and festivity fill the air, a keen observer senses an absence of the usual abondment that follows contentment. Instead, there is a sense of yearning.
Many in the crowd recall that Butambala County was previously under Mpigi district but is now Gomba district, a change in names Buganda officials say is a distortion in their history.
Two tragic events in the last twelve months have shaken the centuries-old kingdom; the September 2009 riots over the blocking of the kabaka from travelling to Kayunga, a province of his kingdom, which touched off a deadly riot and led to the closure of the kingdoms radio station CBS, and the March 2010 inferno that razed the Kasubi tombs, where former kings, the kings father and grandfathers, are buried.
Kingdom spokesman, Charles Peter Mayiga, says while there is little for Buganda to celebrate, considering the obstacles they have faced from the central government, coronation is still an important enough event to celebrate.
Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II was crowned on July 31, 1993, twenty-seven years after Buganda kingdom was suspended along with other kingdoms in Uganda by then President Milton Obote.
Since his inauguration at Naggalabi, Budo, Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II has largely had cold relations with the NRM government, curiously led by his erstwhile ally Yoweri Museveni.
The bedrock of the simmering disagreement between the Kabaka and government has not changed; it has historically been, and still is, a battle for control of political power and resources. This war has been played out through the demand for a federal system of government and control over landâ€”a precious resource.Â Â
Mayiga says the government owes Buganda kingdom about Shs 20 billion in rental arrears for the use of land and facilities they believe should have automatically reverted to them on the restoration of the kingdom in 1993. This claim is linked to the unresolved question involving the historical 9000 square miles of land that was vested in the hands of the Buganda Land Board at independence, and Buganda insists it must be returned to it as communal land under the Kabakaâ€™s control for the benefit of all Baganda.
Mengo officials harbor the view that the solution to Ugandaâ€™s political problems is the restoration of a federal system of governanceâ€”a demand government has clearly been cold about. The closest the two sides came to a solution was in 2005 when a high powered Buganda delegation, led by then Katikkiro Joseph Mulwanyammuli Ssemogerere, signed a document with the President that was momentarily viewed as a win-win solution to the federalism question.
The Regional Tier arrangement, however, never took off. The Buganda legislative body, the Lukiiko, threw it out disdainfully, and with it went Mulyanyamuli. Mulwanyammuli is now back to haunt Museveni through his association with the Inter-Party Cooperation and Ssuubi 2011.
Mayiga, who was part of the Buganda negotiation team that agreed to the regional tier, now says the kingdom could not stand the requirement to have an elected Katikkiro. This was one incurable flaw since they wanted the status quo to remain whereby the Kabaka names the Katikkiro.
The government argues that an unelected Katikiro defeats the democratisation crusade, since it deprives the people of their right to elect their leaders. They argue further that a Katikkiro appointed by the Kabaka is hard to hold accountable since the Baganda treat their Kabaka with near infallibility.
Mayiga also said that the regional tier agreement did not provide resources for the regional government and gave it no real power over land or infrastructure since the districts were to report to the central government.
Arguments aside, it appears safe to conclude that this posturing is basically about control. The government will not cede a lot of power to the Kabaka, and the Kabaka will not giving up the chase.
The Buganda demanda for Ebyaffe – a demand for government to honour this proposition, is fueled by the kingdomâ€™s claim that then Prince Ronald Mutebi significantly aided Museveniâ€™s 1980s Luweero bush war effort when he made the journey from London to encourage his kinsmen in the battlefield to rally behind Museveni.
Many Baganda believe the claim, including those who support the Museveniâ€™s National Resistance Movement such as former Luwero chairperson, Abudul Naduli, a Luwero veteran.Â According to Nadduli, it was president Museveniâ€™s promise to restore the kingdom to its former status after he overthrew the UPC government.
Nadduli, contrarily, adds that he is satisfied with what the NRM government has provided to the Buganda kingdom. He argues that by allowing the coronation in 1993, recognising the kingdom in the 1995 constitution and granting the regional tier, the government was on its way to fulfilling its promise to the Baganda.
Amidst the tension, the Kabaka and his palace officials remain stoically defensive of the kingdoms independence. However, they have occasionally appeared to make concession to the Central Government. Kingdom officials have been discouraged from openly campaigning against the ruling party in 2001 and again in 2006 national election. When tough-talking Katikkiro Daniel Muliika was relieved of his duties as Katikiro (prime minister) of Buganda after less than one year in office, speculation was rife that it was because he explicitly showed distaste for the NRM during the 2006 presidential campaign.
For now, Kabaka Mutebi’s predicament has at least not yet deteriorated to the extent of his fathers, Sir Edward Mutesa I. Mutesa was exiled to London twice; from 1953 to 1955, and again in 1966 until his death in 1969. Initially he had problems with the British and later with Apollo Milton Obote, who he had helped bring to power through an alliance that allowed the Uganda People’s Congress enough seats to form a government ahead of the Democratic Party.
In the seventeen years he has reigned, Mutebi, like his father, has repeatedly come head-to-head with a government that is keen to maintain its supremacy over a potentially powerful monarch, which enjoys the admiration of a centrally located and a numerically strong Baganda ethnic group. As the Baganda celebrate, they will be eying the February 2011 national elections and hoping to possibly squeeze some concessions out of Museveni’s government.