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Mengo-Museveni: Who needs the other most?

By Joseph Were

Museveni has not spoken publicly on it, but a common anecdote tells how in February 1993, President Museveni held an Army Council meeting in Gulu and high on the agenda was the proposal to restore kingdoms in Uganda.

These   had been abolished by president Milton Apollo Milton Obote in 1967.

Present among others was a prominent Muganda bush-war hero and a Museveni trusted cadre the late Lt .Col. Serwanga Lwanga.

Museveni had called the meeting of the army generals to seek their views on the restoration of monarchs after the then legislative arm of government, the National Resistance Council (NRC), had rejected the idea.

Serwanga in his assertive style told the President straight in is face that he would be making a mistake of his life if he dared restore the abolished kingdoms. Serwanga argued that it was impossible to return kingdoms minus ceding political power to them. In the heated debate that ensued Serwanga argued so passionately that restoring monarchs in Uganda would be inviting demands that President Museveni would never fulfil.

But ultimately, Museveni prevailed over Serwanga and a decision was taken to restore kingdoms. Sixteen years down the road Museveni could be ruing over why he never took Serwanga’s advice.

Is it dawn of another 1966 crisis?

In May 1966, the Lukiiko ordered Prime Minister Obote to take away his government and asked him to establish a new capital city outside Buganda.

On July 20, the Lukiiko again took more or less a similar  stern, even what some call belligerent, position that suggests the recurrence of the 1966 fallout between Buganda kingdom administration and the central government.  The Lukiiko staunchly opposed the expansion of Kampala city as per the Kampala Capital City Bill 2009 and resolved to continue pressing government for federal status beyond what is granted under the regional government system.

This came one week after President Museveni made an appearance on a WBS TV show saying the government would never grant the federal system Mengo demands. He referenced the downfall of the federal system as it was set up at independence, saying, ‘The 1962 constitution failed and failed disastrously because it tried to create two countries in one’federo is a recipe for disaster and we told them in 1962.’

In 1962, the Independence Constitution granted Buganda full federal status and granted the three other kingdoms semi-federal status, while the rest of Uganda was governed by the central government unitarily. In the words of Muganda historian Phares Mutibwa in his book, Uganda Since Independence, ”.This arrangement, negotiated with the British government, was a compromise of sorts, granting the most autonomy to Buganda’.’

This arrangement is also what Museveni referred to as creating ‘two countries in one’, or a state within a state.
The crisis of 1966 is the failure Museveni refers to, which saw then Prime Minister Milton Obote suspend the 1962 Constitution and replace it with the 1967 republican constitution, the Lukiiko subsequently call for central government to be removed from Buganda territory (widely interpreted as an attempt to secede), and finally the ‘battle of Mengo’ in May 1966.

The 1967 Constitution abolished kingdoms, concentrated power in the central government, transforming Uganda into a republic rather than a combination of federal and unitary regions.

The latest stand-off comes exactly a year to the July 2008 arrest of three Buganda officials; Betty Nambooze, Peter Mayiga, and Lubega Seggona, over the same Land Bill. The kingdom officials were mobilising Baganda as part of the Civic Education Committee, a land
awareness group.

Although many people interviewed say Mengo is all bark and no bite, Museveni has given it a privileged position and its withdrawal could cost him dearly in the 2011 election. But Mengo is not alone opposing the expansion of Kampala. The opposition Democratic Party has already petitioned the Constitutional Court to block the expansion.  Should Museveni pull back, DP will have won.

Most scholars downplayed a possible repeat of the 1966 crisis that led to the abolition of kingdoms. ‘That is not possible and the central government knows that Mengo is harmless,’ says Aaron Mukwaya of Makerere University’s Political Science department, ‘The Buganda Monarch in 1966 was still intact and the loyalty to the Kabaka was 100%. The kingdom’s relationship with Mengo has since changed. The new relationship is largely premised on different things both economically and socially.’

Mukwaya says both Mengo and Museveni cannot afford a confrontation. Another scholar argued that Mengo needs Museveni more than he needs it. ‘There is a symbiotic relationship between Mengo and the ruling NRM because Museveni has managed to keep a good following in Buganda and the Baganda are the number one beneficiaries of the NRM government through political appointments.

Mengo is further marginalised by its failure to seek strategic alliances with other communities of Uganda. They have instead singly opted to plead with President Museveni to be handed over Federo on a silver platter.

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