By Muthoni Karubiu
Youthful prime minister unveils vision for ancient monarch
Everything seems muted in the spacious office of the new prime minister of the powerful Buganda kingdom, Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga, at Bulange palace in Mengo, Kampala. F
rom his radio, which is barely audible, to the small television set on the wall behind the visitor’s seat that plays a continuous loop of news headlines; courtesy of a popular 24-hour international channel, everything is at extremely low volume. Mayiga, reclining in a black rich leather office chair faces his visitor’s directly with only his the dark wooden table between us.
Though welcoming and unquestioningly friendly, Mayiga appears to be quite brisk and confident as he quickly dives right in and asks for the interview to start. Soon he is emphasising his points with hand gestures, his hands flying all over the few scattered papers and files on his rather large desk.
Mayiga, possibly in his latter-40s, is one of the youngest premiers in Buganda’s recent history with specks of starting grey in his neatly trimmed moustache and matching chin beard and fancy haircut. A pile of newspapers lying neatly on his left speaks of a reading man; the one visible at the top is in his native Luganda. There is also a small stack of books, one bearing the colours of the Ugandan flag.
The new katikkiro has been one of a gang of four-young courtiers of the king labeled firebrand; Apollo Nelson Makubuya; now kingdom minister of Justice; John Mpanga; the attorney general, and Medard Ssegona, who is an MP in the national parliament.
Some say Mayiga’s strength is that he has been the moderate voice of the gang. He speaks with passion for the Kingdom mainly and at this early stage of his leadership, is quite excited about what he can accomplish.
His appointment in May was applauded as he has built a reputation while working in the inner circle of the Kingdom administration for the last 22 years. A sophisticated lawyer who speaks the `street language’ might seem like a contradiction but for Mayiga, it seems to be a natural result of the very public nature of his service to the kingdom.
Since his first role as Secretary to the Ssaabataka’s Supreme Council, he rose to the position of secretary to the cabinet and Information Minister, and now holds the title Katikkiro which literally means `apex’.
Kavuma Kagwa, an elder within Buganda who has observed Mayiga as he rose through the ranks believes the new prime ministers “has been well prepared by the Baganda.”
Although quite young compared to John Baptist Walusimbi, the respected 69-year old engineer he succeeds, Mayiga says his relative youth will not affect his leadership of a kingdom whose history goes back hundreds of years and is one of the largest in the region.
“I have been around for some time, I’ve got a fair understanding of the history of this institution, I can be seen as a bridge between the youthful subjects of the Kabaka and the senior citizens,” he told The Independent.
His appointment is implicitly for a four-year term, although a previous Katikkiro, Dan Muliika, served just 10 months and was acrimoniously removed as is the kabaka’s prerogative. For now, Mayiga can be viewed as a fulfillment of the Buganda King, Sebasajja Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II’s promise to make his the reign of the youth.
Kabaka Mutebi is 58-years old and appears determined that young leaders, such as Mayiga who have been groomed, take up just such a position as the Katikkiro-ship.
What is exceptional about Mayiga is his populist nature. He likes to appeal directly to ordinary Baganda. The biggest show of this was during his inaugural speech at the Buganda Parliament or Lukiiko as it is known.
He walked in to the sound of sustained clapping and everyone was on their feet and appeared genuinely overjoyed at his introduction. When he begun to speak, he thanked a long list of people, inserting little quips about each, and went as far as heartily thanking the press for their coverage, some of which was live, and the ordinary people up in the gallery for attending the session.
As he continued to read a speech crafted to draw a response, especially from the ordinary folk looking down from the gallery or watching on TV from elsewhere, he took great pains to pepper all his points with easily identifiable anecdotes. He had the small crowd laughing and cheering emphatically when he took a hard line against the central government. He was using ‘street language’; he was one of them.
The issues he raised were beyond just those that affect the Kingdom. He spoke on `Buganda issues’ of health services, food, creating markets for farm produce, and preserving culture. Other issues like rampant corruption and violence, he said, are problems the country as a whole needs to find solutions to.
Buganda is the biggest of several tribal chieftains in Uganda. Having been abolished by previous government, they were officially restored by the current government of President Yoweri Museveni and Kabaka Mutebi was enthroned in 1993.
Mayiga’s delineation illustrates this broader perspective in considering the country and his kingdom issues as sometimes separate but integral to national issues.
“You cannot have a strong Uganda unless you have put particular aspects of her people in the right perspective, unless you ensured they are well preserved and protected” he says.
It is for this reason that he says, “if you want to have a stable Uganda with a clear focus on the future, you need to strengthen the different cultural aspects of Uganda’s people.”
His tough sounding rhetoric shows up when he speaks on the relationship between Buganda and the central government. At the Lukiiko he sounded a call for the government to pay the kingdom all it’s owed, including rent arrears amounting to billions of shillings.
The Prime Minister also said, rather brashly, that Buganda has no time for ‘useless talks’. This may have been a jibe at the negotiations the two parties have been attempting to hold since the restoration of the Kingdom in regards to a federal system of governance and the return of ‘ebyaffe’ or ‘what is ours’.
These are the sorts of statements that have seen Mayiga branded as a radical and even compared to the highly combative Dan Mulika who was forced out of the Prime Minister’s office after only a year as he had thoroughly antagonised the central government with tough demands.
Mayiga rejects this label.
“I am not a radical at all,” he told The Independent, “but I’m very firm in my beliefs. I’m going to stand up and say what I have to say if I think that’s what is necessary to preserve the integrity of the Kabaka, I will say it loud and clear.”
In a conversation that dwelt on what his new role as Katikkiro means both to him and the Kingdom as well as Uganda, it was obvious Mayiga would have no problem accepting at least one label; that of a loyal Muganda to his king.