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Mengo’s New Vision boycott tests Kabaka’s popularity

By Joseph Were

Since President Museveni announced on July 12 while appearing on WBS television that he would never grant Buganda Kingdom the federal system of government, the sense of the Rubicon being crossed has become pervasive.

A headline story in the government-run Sunday Vision newspaper the same day did not help matters.  ‘Bulange title held’ it screamed, claiming that a minister in Museveni’s cabinet had confiscated the title to Bulange, the Buganda kingdom seat of power, over a Shs 1 billion debt.

In June, the government’s Attorney General had tabled a Bill in Parliament, The Kampala City Bill 2009 that proposes to expand the boundaries of the city. However the Bill is vehemently opposed by the Mengo monarchists because it encroaches on Buganda land.

‘How come the government has failed to produce a map of the proposed Mengo municipality and is only showing us one of the Kampala Expansion Plan?’ a Mengo source close to the Kabaka asked.

Almost a month since July 14 when Buganda youth burnt, tore up, and stamped on copies of the New Vision newspaper during a Buganda kingdom parliament session to condemn Museveni, the newspaper has remained locked in the crossfire.

‘Boycotting Bukedde and the New Vision newspapers is just the beginning,’ a source close to the king of Buganda, Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II said on condition of anonymity.  ‘We will show Museveni that we can mobilise Buganda against his government,’ the source said.

According to this source, the Buganda kingdom has lined up a ‘civil disobedience’ campaign against Museveni’s government.  Other civil protests planned include a boycott of official functions called by President Museveni, and a distribution of fliers exhorting Baganda to oppose the government unless it grants them federo. According to deputy Katikkiro Yusuf Nsubuga Nsambu, Buganda needs to legally block the government from trespassing on Buganda kingdom land when Kampala is expanded.

‘The Kabaka always reads three papers; New Vision, Bukedde, and Monitor,’ a Kabaka aide told The Independent, ‘he is now reading only Monitor.’

The success or failure of the New Vision/Bukedde boycott has become a test of whether the Buganda kingdom can mobilise Baganda against Museveni. Staunch Museveni supporters say Buganda cannot win against Museveni but the monarchists say that while the Mengo establishment might be discredited, the Kabaka is very popular.

The leader and Prime Minister of Mengo, Katikkiro John Baptist Walusimbi, is a central player in the feud. Although the current standoff is not the first, it is significant because it draws attention to 2011, when the terms of office of two prominent players expire. President Museveni is up for re-election in 2011, while the Kabaka might refuse to re-appoint Katikkiro Walusimbi in 2011 over his handling of the current conflict.

Although Walusimbi has in the past proved committed to resolving the historical impasse between Buganda and the successive Uganda governments, today he appears discredited.

On July 17, his deputy Katikkiro Nsambu wrote a comment in the Daily Monitor saying, ‘The only problem is that Buganda’s potential to obtain its prime interests is being weakened by traitors who serve central government’s interests from Mengo’¦ there is no secrecy at Mengo. Spies are all over the leadership, things can’t move without confidentiality.’

Before that, drama unfolded at a July 4 ceremony at the Buganda kingdom palace, an event attended by the Kabaka. It started when the kingdom prime minister, Katikkiro Walusimbi was making his speech. No sooner had he let out the words ‘We should pursue talks with the government as the civilised option’ than the crowd let out a thundering boo, forcing the Katikkiro to halt his speech.  An aide who was next to the Kabaka says the king struggled to maintain an impassive stare.

The same aide said when the Katikkiro returned to his seat he turned to the Kabaka and whispered; ‘Don’t mind the booing crowd; we must continue with the talks’.

But can the impasse be resolved without Walusimbi’s moderate stance? Incidents like Museveni’s appearance on WBS TV are not a good sign. Insiders say that Museveni initially asked for three hours on WBS. As if to ensure that the Buganda issue took precedence over Museveni’s prepared topic; ‘The Teso famine’, staunch Buganda fundamentalists Ibrahim Semujju of The Observer and John Kakande of the New Vision joined the interview panel. Instead of focusing on Teso, Museveni ended up explaining how a federal system was deliberately omitted from the NRM bush-war 10-point programme.

‘We made an amendment in Article 178 of the Constitution, which provides for regional governments under the regional tier arrangement. We shall not grant anything beyond that,’ he said. It appears that both sides of the ongoing feud believe they can have the last word in the fight over money, land and power. That means someone has either miscalculated or is bluffing about the cards in their hand. The question is, who?

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