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Museveni, Kabaka on collision path again?

By eriasa mukiibi sserunjogi

The President has vowed to eat anybody opposing him like a samosa or cake

As the dust over the Feb. 18 general elections settles, Buganda kingdom officials, politicians, and pundits are mulling over how President Yoweri Museveni’s side and that of  Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi will interpret the vote in Buganda.

Exactly two weeks after being announced winner of the election, President Museveni signed the Traditional and Cultural Leaders Bill 2010 into law on Mar. 7. Observers of the often publicly tense relationship between Museveni and Buganda kingdom say the signing was a signal of what Buganda should expect going forward.

They say the signing points to a continuation of the firm hand Museveni wielded publicly against Buganda. During the campaign, Museveni allegedly, had a standard response to anyone fearing NRM defeat due to their troubles with Mengo – “Leave Buganda to me”.

Apparently, his magic bullet was money. He either promised or handed over seed money and other material benefits to voters.

The newly elected MP for Kyadondo East, Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, says Museveni’s signing of the Bill was, in fact, a sign of Museveni’s tension and anxiety.

“When Museveni is alone in his bedroom,” says Ssemujju, “he knows that the NRM just stole the Buganda vote; that his win does not represent the will of the people. That is why he is on tension – he fears people will come and chase him Egypt style. That is why up to now he is deploying security heavily.”

Ssemujju says that is also why Museveni, up to now, is still seeking a meeting with Kabaka Mutebi who continues to rebuff him. According to him, three days after the Feb. 18 presidential election, Museveni sent his advisor on Buganda, Robert Ssebunya to lead a delegation of Buganda elders to request Mutebi to meet Museveni.

The Independent was unable to confirm this.  However, there are also credible reports that just days to the election, Museveni wrote a letter to the Kabaka requesting a meeting and offering generous inducements for it to happen. The meeting did not happen. So what will Museveni do next?

If a post-election confrontation between Museveni and the Kabaka takes place, the main group to watch is the new pro-Ganda splinter of the mainstream opposition parties called Ssuubi 2011.

Ssuubi means `hope’ in Buganda and Ssuubi members project themselves as Buganda’s hope. Among them are the Kabaka’s three musketeers: Ibrahim Ssemujju, Medard Sseggona, and Mathias Mpuuga. All are new members of parliament, very vocal supporters of Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi, and have very big followings.

Other prominent members of Ssuubi with similar attributes are Erias Lukwago, who quit parliament to be elected Kampala city lord mayor, Betty Nambooze, who was re-elected Mukono Municipality MP, Hussein Kyanjo, who was re-elected as Makindye West MP, and Lulume Bayiga, who was re-elected MP Buikwe South.

Most of the Ssuubi members, apart from Ssemujju who is FDC, are DP members. DP maintained its number and will have 11 members in the new Buganda Caucus in parliament. Pro-Buganda independents include former kingdom education minister John Chrysostom Muyingo.

Ssuubi and co. are, however, hopelessly outnumbered in the new 375-strong parliament to be inaugurated in May. Even in Buganda, they are a minority fringe of all the opposition MPs in the 87-strong grouping of directly elected MPs for the region. But the Kabaka’s musketeers remain unfazed.

“There are certain things Museveni cannot command whether he signs a law or not,” Ssemujju told The Independent in an interview, “the last time when Buganda erupted, Ssuubi was not even there; but the love of the Kabaka makes people react when he is oppressed.”

If the outcome of a meeting of Ssuubi’s top leadership on March 20 in Kampala is anything to go by, then sparks will fly between Museveni and Ssuubi.

Top on the agenda was a resolution to pursue the holding of their joint party celebrations at the forbidden Kampala City Square any time soon. Ever since Ssuubi announced this plan, the police which is determined to block them has deployed heavily on this spot in the heart of the capital Kampala. But the meeting resolved to go ahead with the joint celebrations according to Ssemujju.

Ssuubi also resolved to fight to restore their member Kasibante’s win in the Feb. 18 parliamentary election in Rubaga North and Muwanga Kivumbi in Butambala.

They resolved further to go on a huge mobilisation campaign. They want to boost their numbers. Museveni is not likely to take this lightly. Events before the Feb. 18 election show why.

Museveni’s strategy

On Jan. 8, just days to the Feb. 18 general elections, Museveni met the Speaker of Parliament Edward Ssekandi and asked him to urgently convene parliament for one purpose; passing the controversial Tradition or Cultural Leaders Bill 2010.

Museveni’s demand appeared odd; parliament was on recess to allow MPs campaign, the Bill to be passed was unpopular among Uganda’s biggest voting bloc- Buganda- and it had been declared unconstitutional by the government’s own chief legal adviser, Attorney General Khiddu Makubuya.

Ssekandi, who never challenges a Museveni order, on Jan. 11 ensured that the responsible committee prepared to table the Bill. President Museveni’s supporters, among them prominent Buganda MPs, bickered.

They feared that voters would punish them at the polls over the unpopular Bill. The President insisted. He met the Buganda MPs several times to press his point. On Feb. 1 the Bill was passed. Everyone waited for the Buganda voters to punish Museveni and the NRM MPs for passing the Bill. The voters did not.

Instead, Museveni surprisingly won with 1,311,491 votes or 59 percent of votes cast in Buganda against Besigye’s, 692,109 or 31 percent. A total of 2,199,549 votes were cast. Museveni’s Buganda vote accounted for 24 percent of his total national tally of 5,428,369 while Besigye’s accounted for 33.5 percent of his national vote tally.

Buganda kingdom officials insist the vote does not mean Museveni is more popular than the Kabaka or kingdom.

“The kingdom wasn’t competing in the election,” one of them who requested anonymity said, “Tell me one person who badmouthed the kingdom during campaigns but was elected to Parliament or any post in Buganda.”

President Museveni

However, this does not explain why, then, Buganda did not also vote against Museveni if it were true that anybody who antagonised the kingdom was voted out.

Museveni blocked the Kabaka from going to Kayunga and 30 people were killed by the security for protesting, he closed the kingdom’s radio station and arrested the Kabaka’s officials in 2007 for opposing the Land Bill which was unpopular among the Buganda leadership.

The Buganda source argues that Museveni had to position himself as the protector of the king and the kingdom. “May be the people of Buganda (haven’t voted out the NRM government because they) don’t believe their kingdom is under any real threat,” he argued.

The reality, however, is that the Buganda vote was a mixed message. Despite Museveni’s good numbers, the Buganda Parliamentary caucus, whose membership will increase to 86 directly elected MPs up from 67, swung slightly away to the opposition in terms of members or those likely to push for Buganda’s issues.

Up to 27 of the 86 or 31 percent are members of opposition parties or independents. In the outgoing parliament, 19 out of the 67 or 28 percent directly elected and women MPs were either opposition or independents. DP had 9, FDC 4, 4 independents and both CP and Jeema had one apiece.

The Buganda caucus is often sensitive to Buganda’s issues regardless of its composition. Members know that even if they are NRM, their constituents demand that they address Buganda’s demands. And they usually campaign on the basis of addressing these demands.

Kizza Besigye

Open hostility to the Kabaka and the kingdom is perceived to be political suicide in Buganda. Even some NRM politicians ensure they are seen to be pro-Buganda and the kingdom. Vincent Sempijja, the outgoing Masaka district chairman and Kalungu East MP-elect belongs to this camp. He fought for the return to the kingdom of its buildings that house Mutesa I Royal University in Masaka.

In the recent election, a junior ICT minister Alintuma Nsambu was thrown out of the Bukoto East seat mainly because voters were angry over his outbursts against Kabaka Mutebi.

In the wake of the closure of CBS FM in September 2009, Nsambu vowed never again to prostrate before the Kabaka. During the campaigns, this incident was heavily cited by DP’s Rose Namayanja, the eventual winner.

But some perceived anti-Buganda MPs like Speaker Edward Ssekandi and Abraham Byandala also made it back to Parliament.

Ssekandi narrowly held onto his Bukoto Central seat but his re-election remains controversial. Just as in 2006, he had to fight hard to stave off challenge from DP’s Jude Mbabaali, the same man who was after his job this time.

Katikamu North MP Byandala was loathed by many for his role in the passing of the amendments to the land law as chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Physical Infrastructure. He won comfortably.

On the other hand, Mawokota North MP Claver Mutuluza, Butambala’s Ibrahim Kaddunabbi and Umar Mawiya of Kalungu East were not returned despite going against their party (NRM) and voting with Mengo against the Land Bill. Mutuluza also voted against the Cultural Leaders Bill.

However, in most of the rural constituencies, NRM candidates faced stiffer competition from independent candidates than from representatives of the major opposition parties. In fact, some opposition-minded politicians who stood in rural areas opted to run as independent candidates because they believed it stood them in better stead.

The election results show that Buganda penchant for being double-faced has become institutionalised.

In Mengo, the Prime Minister Katikkiro J.B. Walusimbi always maintains talk of the kingdom’s neutrality. He distanced the kingdom from even Ssuubi, which was led by a former Katikkiro, Mulwanyamuli Ssemwogerere.

In fact, another former Katikkiro Dan Muliika reportedly lost his job for allegedly criticising Museveni’s government during the 2006 presidential campaigns. This time, immediately Museveni was declared winner, Walusimbi congratulated him and the Kabaka also called to convey his congratulations.

A Mengo official who preferred anonymity said the Kabaka deliberately ignores political affiliation when appointing his officials.

“This is how people like Prof. Badru Kateregga (an NRM historical and active member) were appointed (to the Lukiiko),” he said.

Tough times

Despite that, Museveni is desperate to trim Kabaka Mutebi’s royal wings and palace officials claim part of Museveni’s plot involves the government’s refusal to pay Shs20 billion it owes the kingdom in rental arrears.

For a long time, pundits have posited that Museveni is unhappy that Mutebi sits on the throne of a popular cultural entity that routinely meddles in politics. The tension has a history that goes beyond Museveni and Mutebi.

It revolves around Buganda’s political, economic demands on the central government, including the demand for a federal government.  Similar tension led to the attack, in 1966, on the palace of Kabaka Mutebi’s father, Kabaka Edward Mutesa, by forces of then president Milton Obote.

Eventually Obote abolished the kingdoms.  In the last two years, pro-Kabaka riots have erupted over Kabaka Mutebi’s being twice blocked from travelling to parts of his kingdom, having his officials kidnapped and detained, and his commercial radio station being switched off for a year. Talk is rife that anger over allegedly rigged election could result in similar riots; hence the continued heavy security presence on the streets.

This time and as the Feb. 18 election drew closer, anticipation was rife that the Baganda would use Museveni’s campaign-time generosity to press all politicians with its demands. On October 19, 2010, Ssuubi signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Museveni’s main challengers, Col. Dr Kizza Besigye, the opposition presidential candidate for four allied opposition parties.

As part of the deal, Besigye promised to, among other things, grant Buganda a federal status and deal with its long standing grievances including the contested 9000 square miles of land, if he won.

But Museveni refused to budge, and instead offensively sprung at the kingdom with the Cultural Leaders Bill. Initially seen as part of Museveni’s grandstanding to force the Kabaka to a pre-election photo op, the Bill grew wings until it was signed into law on Mar. 7.

Whether this law becomes the first flare for tension depends on the handling and resolution of a constitutional court case the kingdom is planning against the Cultural Leaders Bill. The Buganda kingdom officials opposed the law arguing it is unconstitutional and targets their Kabaka, Mutebi.

Their view is backed by legal brains including former Supreme Court Justice George Kanyeihamba who says the law is unconstitutional and infringes on the rights of traditional leaders.

A Buganda Kingdom minister told The Independent that preparation of the suit is in advanced stages and “will be filed within a matter of weeks”.

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