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Museveni-Kabaka fallout: End of the 23-year alliance?

By Odoobo C. Bichachi

For three straight days, riot police and the military battled rampaging demonstrators  in Kampala and several parts of Buganda who were protesting the government’s decision to block Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi (king) from touring Kayunga district, where he was due to preside over Buganda Youth Day celebrations. Kayunga is in Buganda Kingdom but a section of the Banyala sub-tribe, comprising 2.7% of the district’s population, were reportedly opposed to the Kabaka’s visit.

With at least 15 dead (although other reports say 21), about 600 arrested, among them Kawempe South MP Sebuliba Mutumba and Kyaddondo South MP Issa Kikungwe and journalist Kalundi Serumaga, the return of sanity to the central region has not just been received with relief but has left many Ugandans asking what this altercation with Buganda means for the future of Buganda kingdom, President Yoweri Museveni, and the country in general.

In his short address to the nation in the middle of the riots last week, President Museveni said that he [and the NRM] had fought many battles in the past and won, and that he would win this one [of the riots] as well. While the President certainly won the battle through the overwhelming display of force and thus forcing the Kabaka to back off the Kayunga trip, many pundits believe that Museveni may have lost the war for Buganda, just like his nemesis Milton Obote who won the battle of Lubiri in 1966 against Kabaka Fredrick Mutesa but actually lost the war ‘ leading to his overthrow in 1971, and ‘defeat’ by NRA rebels in the 1980s.

‘There is likely to be no rapprochement between Buganda and Museveni, I do not see an opportunity for that in the near future,’ said Prof. Fredrick Jjuuko of Makerere University’s Faculty of Law.

This is a view shared by another Makerere University political science lecturer, Dr Sabiti Makara. ‘The implications of last week’s standoff are broad. Museveni is in a Catch-22 situation. He restored the monarchies opportunistically to use them for his political ends, just like Obote did when he allied with Kabaka Yekka. Now he must sort them out but the problem is how?’ said Dr Makara.

While many think it is now a question of when, not if Museveni will be pushed out of power, Makara thinks the President may weather the storm and possibly manage to salvage his image in Buganda in time to win significantly in 2011. ‘Museveni will survive temporarily because he still has the support of political leaders in Buganda,’ Makara said.

 Highlights of Buganda- Museveni relationship
1985: The NRA/M took Kabaka Muwenda Mutebi to liberated areas in Buganda to drum up support for President Museveni’s rebel movement.

In 1992: Museveni chairs High Command meeting in Gulu which endorsed restoration of kingdoms.

July 1993: Buganda Kingdom is restored and Kabaka Muwenda Mutebi is crowned as the 36th king of Buganda at Nagalabi-Budo in Wakiso District.

1994: government hands the Lubiri and Bulange (formerly Basima House) back to Buganda kingdom. But Buganda continues to agitate for the return of more kingdom assets.

1995: (Chief Prince) Ssabalangira Besweri Mulondo opposes Buganda’s demand for a federal system during the Constituent Assembly. As a result, the motion is defeated but Buganda continues pressing for federo.

August 27, 1999: President Museveni attends Kabaka Mutebi’s wedding and donates 100 cows to the royal family.

1996: Buganda starts asking the government to hand over all the kingdom property appropriated by President Milton Obote’s government in 1966.

February 1998: Buganda officials and some opposition MPs start campaigning against the Land Bill 1998.

May 1998: The Buganda parliament (Lukiiko) rejects the Land Bill, saying it would dispossess the Baganda of their land.

July 1998: Parliament passes the Land Bill into an Act. Buganda suspends the Kabaka’s 5th coronation anniversary in protest against the Land Act. Buganda’s Katikkiro Joseph Ssemwogerere declares a mourning over the Land Act. He accuses President Museveni of failing to recognise the key role Buganda played in bringing him to power.

January 2001: Kabaka sacks kingdom ministers believed to be supporters of opposition presidential candidate Dr Kizza Besigye after government accused Mengo of being partisan.

December 2004: The Baruli say they cannot subject themselves to Buganda’s hegemony. Mwogeza Butamanya is installed the Buruuli cultural leader. President Museveni pledges to give him an official car.

March 2005: The central government and Mengo start talks over the return of the kingdom property and the federal system.

May 2005: Government proposes the alternative ‘Regional Tier’ system.

June 2005: Lukiiko rejects the Regional Tier.

April 2006: Police deploy at Nakasongola District headquarters after Baruuli threatened to block Kabaka Mutebi from presiding over the launch of Bika bya Baganda Football tournament.

April  2007: Mengo opposes government’s move to give away Mabira Forest to the Mehta Group for sugarcane growing. The Kabaka offers his land in Kyaggwe, Mukono, to save the natural forest.

May 20, 2007: Buganda Lukiiko opposes direct talks between Museveni and the Kabaka about the federal system. Lands Minister Omara Atubo says Buganda will not repossess her 9,000 square miles unless the Constitution and the Land Act are amended.

April 2007: Leaders from Buganda’s 18 counties petition President Museveni to abandon the giveaway of Mabira Forest.

April 20 2007: Mengo vows to fight the application of DDT by government to fight mosquitoes saying the chemical causes detrimental effects on human beings.

July 2007: The Lukiiko resolves to oppose the resettlement of Balaalo (nomadic cattle keepers) in Kyankwazi in Kiboga District.

October 2007: The Lukiiko rejects the Land Act Amendment Bill.  Mengo says the amendments are intended to deprive the Kabaka and landlords of their rights over land.

November 2007: Kabaka sets up the Central Civic Education Committee to sensitise Baganda about the potential effects of the Land Act Amendment Bill.

December 2007: The CCEC intensifies its campaign against the land reforms across the kingdom. Museveni is revolted. He writes a letter to the Kabaka over what he called ‘growing intrigue, bad faith and seditious tendencies’ at Mengo. Mengo administration replies to Museveni denying any wrongdoing. Police summon three kingdom officials David Mpanga, Daudi Zziwa and Meddie Nsereko for allegedly inciting violence and promoting hatred against the government.

December 31, 2007: Kabaka reshuffles cabinet and appoints youthful ministers, indicating a shift from the conservative old guard.

February 2008: Mengo threatens to sue the central government over the controversial land reforms and delayed return of Buganda’s property.

July 2008: Lukiiko protests against Museveni’s call for Bibanja holders to form associations.

On July 18 2008: The government arrests Buganda’s Minister of Information and Cabinet Affairs Charles Peter Mayiga, his deputy Medard Lubega, and Betty Nambooze, the head of Central Civic Education Committee for undermining proposed changes to the 1998 Land Act.

May 2009: President Museveni tries to call the Kabaka to discuss the growing friction between Buganda and the Banyala in Kayunga. The Kabaka refuses to answer Museveni’s telephone calls.

July 19, 2009: Lukiiko tells government to relocate the capital city from Kampala to another area within or outside Buganda.
June 2009: The central government tables in Parliament the Kampala Capital City Bill 2009 which seeks expansion of the city’s boundaries to include parts of Wakiso, Mpigi and Mukono districts. Buganda opposes the Bill.


Indeed Vice President Gilbert Bukenya, who is also MP for Busiro North, reportedly supported the President’s heavy hand against Mengo and the rioting Baganda youth during the State House meeting with Buganda NRM MPs on September 10. This seems consistent with the VP’s recent private posturing. In an interview with one of our reporters recently, Bukenya disparaged Mengo claiming it had no real influence over ordinary Baganda.

‘In my constituency no one listens to Mengo,’ he told The Independent in July, although he later issued a statement denying bits of the interview.

But if the President is banking on the region’s political leaders, then he might be standing on shaky ground. At this critical time the other NRM Buganda MPs seemed to have been cowed into silence while prominent Baganda leaders in government like Prime Minister Apolo Nsibambi, Speaker Edward Ssekandi, Attorney General Khidu Makubuya have also been conspicuously silent; neither speaking out for the Kabaka, nor for Museveni. They have also not publicly condemned the violence ‘ of the rioting youth ‘ and the brutality of the army and police. Is it because they feared Museveni or their tribal constituency which seemed to be solidly behind the king?

Indeed former State House political intelligence officer turned regime critic Charles Rwomushana told The Independent that the President’s enemies from within seem to be nudging him into self destruction.

‘Museveni’s political machinery in Buganda has crashed; it is not helping him,’ he said, rhetorically asking; ‘In this entire crisis, who of the NRM political leaders has come out to calm the Baganda, why?’

Be that as it may, in orchestrating the events of last week, President Museveni seems to have been reading from the same script as his vice president and his coterie of Baganda advisers and loyalists: that Mengo has no political influence in Buganda that it is a ‘mere NGO’.

But the riots demonstrated that Mengo does have cultural influence which ultimately is political. Some analysts say the President’s undoing was in failing to properly define culture, or over-estimating his ability to juggle the kingdoms for his ends.

‘Culture cannot be divorced from politics. Museveni knows this, which is why he did not restore Ankole kingdom as merely a cultural institution. He knew Buganda’s monarchy was political because it has always been. But he opportunistically wanted to use it, and hoped to be the only one to use it. But now the opposition is also taking advantage of the cultural institutions and it seems to be gaining the upper hand,’ said Makara.

It is this shift of alliances that has angered and is worrying the President. Even over his latest ally Bunyoro, where the President seemed to be in charge, pundits opine that in fact it is Bunyoro now dictating the President’s agenda as witnessed by his controversial proposal to ‘ring-fence’ certain political positions in the area for only the indigenous people at the exclusion of the settler tribes and promise to push through Parliament a Bunyoro Act!

However the riots also showed Museveni’s other side, that of an unrelenting military General who never gives up no matter the velocity of the storm. Despite the raging riots threatening to spill to the countryside and the rising number of the dead on the streets, Museveni remained unshaken. He deployed abundantly and declared that the Kabaka would not be allowed to visit Kayunga unless the king fulfilled the conditions of the state. Museveni successfully positioned himself as a hard nut to crack. This is a huge lesson to any opponent intending to confront him now or in future, showing that Museveni is not the type to succumb to his opponent’s pressure.

Which way Buganda?

For Buganda, the events of last week have demonstrated three important things: that the Kabaka still wields political influence over his people in spite of the fact that the constitution limits his role to purely cultural matters; that Buganda can speak with one voice; and that Buganda can cause change or continuity to the status quo.

The direction Buganda decides to go at this moment in time will ultimately shape the future of this country, like it has done in the past ‘ i.e. collaboration with colonial invaders in 1890s, allying with Obote in 1962, supporting Idi Amin’s coup in 1971, and allying with Museveni’s NRA rebels in 1981 against the Obote II government.

Already, the riots of last week seemed to demonstrate a convergence of Buganda’s problems with those of other parts of the country and blocking the Kabaka was only the trigger for all aggrieved Ugandans especially the youth to vent their anger against a state in which they increasingly have no stake.

‘This is simply the trigger. There are many people who are discontented but as tribes ‘ Acholi, Langi, Iteso, Basoga, Banyoro, Bakiga, etc so Buganda just becomes the spark to ignite the fire,’ says Rwomushana, adding that if a charismatic politician unites these tribes, Museveni’s political survival may crash down.

Makara too agrees, saying it is likely that the many unresolved issues like the alleged northern and eastern Uganda marginalisation are going to find convergence with the Buganda question just like other traditional cultural institutions. That will spell trouble for Museveni, observers say.

The question, however, is whether Buganda will take the mantle of leadership from a national point of view, not its usual regional perspective. In the past it has failed to do so, which perhaps is the reason the President is not losing much sleep.

Crisis of legitimacy

While Museveni remains firmly in charge, last week’s riots raised questions of the legitimacy of the President’s leadership, says Prof. Juuko.

‘How quickly Museveni resorted to the army shows he is unable to build political consensus and must resort to the last card ‘ the military ‘ to resolve a political issue, an issue of democracy,’ he said.

By contrast, Kabaka Mutebi seems to have handled himself humbly and, probably strategically. His decision to cancel the Kayunga visit to save lives may endear him to the people ‘ not just of Buganda but other parts of the country as well.

In fact the spontaneity of the events and the spectrum of rioters involved showed that Mutebi ceased to be a symbol of Buganda but rather became a rallying point for diverse grievances against the government. Should Buganda take this to another stage, there is no question where it would all end.

‘If these riots were to be in three regions after disputed elections, the country would come to its knees and the international community would intervene. That would be very bad for Museveni; he can’t afford a repeat of this in 2011,’ says Rwomushana.

Where will it end?

While many look at the latest events as an indicator of what could easily happen should the 2011 elections be rigged like courts of law found in the last two presidential elections only falling short of annulling the results, what should worry Ugandans immediately is the clampdown on the media and opposition, and the return of the military on the streets.

The former indicates the beginning of an era of repression hitherto unseen in the last 23 years of Museveni’s presidency while the latter signals a convergence of the past and present ‘ the duka duka and panda gari phenomenon that presidential advisor John Nagenda graphically painted in his 1996 adverts discrediting then presidential candidate Paul Ssemogerere for having allied with UPC.

Last week, Masaka, Ndeeba and parts of Makindye witnessed the first panda gari, with hundreds being pulled out of their houses and thrown onto trucks for screening, just like it was in the 1980s.

‘The government has chosen to handle this as a security problem but then the political problem will remain and could recur anytime in a worse way. The youth who were fighting on the streets have no stake in the status quo; they will be ready to do anything so they should not be provoked,’ says Juuko.

As for the return of the military, Dr Makara advises the President to keep the army off the streets because in Africa, and especially Uganda, whenever the army has been used to intervene in politics it often turned against its master; it never returns to the barracks!

But whichever way it goes, there is no doubt that the 2011 elections will be held in a completely different atmosphere and could be a turning point for Uganda ‘ for better or worse.

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