By Bob Roberts Katende
It is common knowledge that the Kabaka is loved and revered in Buganda. But on Friday, September 18, the many people who turned out to welcome him were not just the usual crowds that line up the roads to wave at him during his visits. This was a political statement, coming one week after the bloody riots that characterized the kingdom’s show-down with President Museveni over Kayunga.
At Kasubi junction, on Hoima highway, one would be excused to think that either the president or minister of Security Amama Mbabazi was in vicinity or would be paying a courtesy call to the residents. This is because the duo is fond of moving with a large security detail.
Mean looking soldiers wielding guns pointing in different directions stood beside the already narrow road leading to Wakiso, the venue for Buganda Kingdoms Health Day celebrations.
Motorcyclists commonly known as boda bodas made a quick buck from Kabaka enthusiasts who were determined to show their love for the Kabaka who until recently was free to travel to any part within his kingdom. We are ready to compensate for the failure to escort the Kabaka to Kayunga by turning up in big numbers at Wakiso, said one Kabaka loyalist with backcloth wrapped across his chest as he prepared to jump on boda boda at Nansana stage.
Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi, travelling in a cream Land Cruiser with a Buganda emblem, followed by police patrols, often made stops at arches erected at different trading centers to wave to anxious crowds who had endured the morning drizzle. And standing right behind him whenever the Kabaka got out of his vehicle was none other than Prince Jjunju, who is now part of the Kabaka’s security personnel.
At Wakiso Health Centre, the seemingly spacious compound got smaller every passing minute as the number of people, numbering in thousands fought to get closer and catch a glimpse of a person, who the president has been yearning to speak to for two years in vain. It at one point got extremely hard for one to either move forth or backward. The numbers would at least make any politician envious. At least I have seen the Kabaka, I can now die a happy person, said one woman carrying a baby on her back.
After a few presentations from school children, the master of ceremony, Kaddu Mukasa, invited the Katikiro, John Baptist Walusimbi to speak to the subjects and later invite the Kabaka.
The silence that descended in the audience when the Katikiro walked to the microphone to speak was telling of something. It was either in great anticipation of what he would say about the past incidents in the kingdom that seem to occupy peopleâ€™s minds or it was just a show of reverence to him as a person. But it was likely the former.
â€œTime to negotiate with the central government will come.â€ This was in reference to the impending negotiations between the kingdom and the central government. Concerning the reopening of CBS, the kingdomâ€™s mouthpiece which was closed a fortnight ago, the Katikiro said: â€œI ask you to be patient as we work upon this issue and I urge you to remain united.â€ To probably remain within the confines of what the president said was the role of cultural institutions during a meeting with MPs, the Katikiro quickly reminded the audience of the importance of good health, immunization of children and asking government to ensure that all medicine that comes into the country is safe. The Katikiroâ€™s speech was very brief and it was greeted with murmurs from the crowd. Their high expectations now shifted to the usually guarded speech the Kabaka makes.
â€œWe went through a difficult time recently,â€ the Kabaka began his speech, â€œsome of our comrades died and others were injured while the rest lost in different ways.Â We convey our condolences to those families,â€ he added. That was all the Kabaka said as far as the current political impasse between his kingdom and President Museveniâ€™s government is concerned. He too, like his prime minister, shifted to the dayâ€™s theme: Health. He went on to draw comparisons between traditional or local and imported medicine. He encouraged the attentive audience to strive and prevent diseases rather than waiting to cure them.
No sooner had he said he was summarizing than the unsatisfied audience echoed its dissatisfaction; they needed to hear more. Voices from the audience started shouting: our radio. The Kabaka simply smiled and said, We will talk more next time.
But people familiar with Kabaka’s speeches say his speeches are usually brief. A source close to Mengo said the Kabaka is a person who does not want to be predictable. He added that the Kabaka knew that his first speech after the riots would be one to watch especially by the central government. â€œHe just wanted to beat them at the game,â€ a source concluded.
It remains to be seen how the Kabaka plays his cards in the next coming months as the Musevenis government has moved ahead to play whatÂ political commentators consider a public relations campaign to portray the Kabaka as a bad guy.