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Museveni and Obote: birds of a feather that didn’t fly together?

By Joe Powell

On April 15th, 1966, self appointed President Milton Obote addressed an emergency session of parliament to present a new constitution and explain why he had suspended Kabaka Edward Mutesa II as President of Uganda. On September 10th 2009, President Yoweri Museveni addressed the nation on the stand-off between his government and Mengo. Perhaps surprisingly there are striking similarities in the nature and tone of address given by Obote in 1966 and Museveni in 2009. Although Museveni has touted his opposition to Obote’s 1966 decision to revoke the Constitution, a point he reiterated last week, a re-reading of their speeches places the two men far closer together on Buganda issues than many commentators have previously thought.

The following are Obote and Museveni in their own words:

On violence and plotting:

Milton Obote (MO): I can now tell those who talked in this House and those who listened, that a lot of things happened, and by God’s grace this country received the bounty of the creator and was, therefore, not plunged into bloodshed.

Most of us have been thinking very seriously what to do in order to give to this country a basis that they will understand, and to rid this country of irresponsible ambitions and the desire that, because of the accident of birth, somebody must direct as of right the affairs of State and the lives of our citizens who elected us to this place.

Yoweri Museveni (YM): I would like to conclude by condemning the criminals, hired by Mengo that caused damage in Kampala and the suburbs. Initially, the Police acted slowly. Now, however, the Police has been re-enforced by elements of the UPDF. All areas where the hooligans are will be covered and, stern action will be taken against them according to the Police procedures. Looters will be shot on sight as will those who attack other civilians.

On constitutional matters:

MO: I want to say now that the Constitution was worked out by representatives of this country, and for the good of this country. Behind it there was the idea, the hope, and the belief, that no one would try to use that Constitution to serve himself. Admittedly, when that Constitution was being framed, there were disagreements, and one can say that it was a compromise on behalf of all of us to have that Constitution.

YM: I have come to address you about the sustained unconstitutional behaviour of His Highness Kabaka Mutebi, the Mengo Kingdom officials and the Kabaka’s Radio CBS.

MO: The Constitution was abused first here in this House on the 4th of February, again it was abused repeatedly on Makindye Hill “it was abused“ and we have now acted and today I am not begging Members of Parliament for anything.

YM: I sought guarantees from them that the monarchies, when restored, will never meddle in politics again, as happened in the 1960s and before. They all agreed and swore that they would never allow their monarchy to meddle in politics. That is how that principle was captured in article 246 (3 e). The same article (3 f) provides that cultural leaders will not “wield Legislative, Executive or Administrative powers”. Article 178 reiterates the same principles and goes into details. Unfortunately, however, no sooner had we promulgated the Constitution of 1995, than I started hearing that Mengo was undermining the NRM. I could not believe this.

MO: I find that some of the correspondence does not take account of the fact that in so far as the Constitution of Uganda is concerned the office of the Kabaka is not the same as the office of the President of Uganda.

YM: Meanwhile, I have been consulting some of the influential Baganda about this. I told them that we can no longer tolerate this unconstitutional behaviour of Mengo with the apparent connivance of the Kabaka. The progressive forces will definitely take decisive actions soon.During those consultations it transpired that the Lukiiko is now dominated by opposition political activists especially the ones that lost elections. Most of the balanced voices have been removed from the Lukiiko.

MO: We must, therefore, offer the country some kind of document, but how do we do it when the old document is in existence? Yet we must do it, I want therefore, to tell hon. Members that as from this moment the Constitution we had from October 9th, 1962, is hereby abrogated. With that sentence let us recall that the 1962 Constitution was worked out by citizens of Uganda, but in a large measure was also worked out by the British Government.

YM: It was the paralysis in the constitutional arrangements of the 1962 Ugandan Constitution plus UPC’s lack of straight forwardness and their double standards that, eventually, caused the 1966 crisis and all the subsequent tragic events. By 1986, about 800,000 Ugandans had died through the extra-judicial violence that followed those mistakes.

On the role of foreign elements:

MO: Here I was without knowing anything, finding that I would have been saddled with a military mission from a foreign state coming probably with the express purpose that happened in Stanleyville in the Congo, when paratroopers were dropped there. We are not in need of any foreign troops at all.

YM: I also got information that Mengo elements got foreign funds to further their aims of fighting the NRM and undermining the Constitution. We are following these reports very closely and we shall defeat all those elements involved. I encourage my friend His Highness Kabaka Mutebi to distance himself from the Judases. The NRM fought many battles; we shall win this one also.

On the press:

MO: I was accused not only by individuals, but I was accused also by foreign press. I was accused by two Kenya papers ” the Kenya Weekly News “ sometimes they call it Uganda Weekly News, there is very little about Uganda in it “ and another paper called the Reporter. They tried to paint those who were trying to cause chaos in this country as those who are trying to defend the Constitiution…Some of the gentlemen who wrote the articles are now out of the country, and let me assure the country that the others who still remain will also leave this country. I have said from time to time that when it comes to deciding whether one should have the press, or should have a country, I at least, and I urge the peoples of Uganda to vote for having the country and to forget about the Press.

YM: Additionally, the Kabaka’s Radio, CBS, launched a campaign against the [land] amendment. His Highness the Kabaka commissioned a group of people led by Nambooze to travel around Buganda and incite people, with all sorts of incredible lies, against the proposed land bill amendment and the Government. Museveni ayagala kubba ettaka lyamwe ‘ Museveni wants to steal your land, etc. CBS promoted sectarianism, at one time talking of people with long noses (“enyindo mpanvu). It is not our duty to measure people’s noses “ long or short.

YM (Setting conditions for the Kabaka’s visit to Kayunga): CBS stops forthwith their campaign against NRM, including what they have been doing recently, inciting the public to storm the Police who are peacefully carrying out their duties…Decisive action will be taken on any media house that continues the practice of incitement.

On their relationship with the Mengo leadership:

MO: To be fair to the Katikiro, I got a letter yesterday from him. Once again here it does not talk about whether we should meet or not; he tells me the Lukiiko is right and everybody else is wrong. I have, therefore, carried out what I said I wanted to do; I think it can be a very easy thing to talk about people being dictators, but I have made not request to any foreign government to come and assist me in trying to rule privately.

YM: Again, he [the Kabaka] persistently refused to answer my calls; I kept trying. At one time I was told that he was abroad. That should not be a problem. There are telephones abroad ¦Anyway, last evening, about 8pm, I again asked Ameria to try and ring the Kabaka one more time. This time the Kabaka responded…We arranged to talk at 10.30 p.m. Indeed, we talked at 10.30 p.m. I asked him: “Your Highness, why have you been refusing to answer my telephone calls for the last 2 years?” He answered that he was not ‘aware’ that I had been ringing. I asked him: Why does your CBS abuse and demonize us?” He answered: “I do not believe that is true.”

On their view of Mengo’s role in governing the country:

MO: Uganda is composed of definite traditional organisations and on the 4th of February, 1966, Uganda witnessed something that many of us hoped would never be a reality’ that was the open and public exposition of the relation between master and servant, when the servant sits in this house, for the servant to deliver goods to the master. Innocent civilians would have suffered merely because an ambitious man, who was brought into this House through friendship, who was brought into this House on a promise that he would deliver Uganda on a silver platter to his master, wanted to turn the whole of this country into the domain of one man.

YM: When we triumphed in 1986, the subject of restoring the traditional leaders started coming up. Even in the bush, opportunists like the late Kayiira started bringing it up. In the bush, however, especially during the Kikunyu conference of 1982, the NRM openly rejected Kayiira’s position of talking about monarchies. We said that we were fighting for the freedom of Ugandans; once the Ugandans had got their freedom they would decide on what to do. Our major points were captured in the 10-Point Programme. Therefore, those liars who say that we committed ourselves to monarchism in the bush should be disregarded.

MO: In the old document [Constitution] the message was that Parliament of Uganda was never to be supreme, but that Parliament of Uganda must bow to some other assemblies and abide by the reasonings of those other assemblies. In this document, the proposal is that Uganda Parliament must be supreme.

YM: In my talk with the Kabaka last night, he referred to the difference between political and cultural matters. That is a good point. That is what we have been telling Mengo all along. Then, in that case we should not discuss with the Katikkiro because he is not political; instead we should discuss with the hundreds of the elected leaders in Buganda: MPs, LCV-Chairmen, LCIII-Chairmen, etc. Anyway, I will discuss all this with His Highness the Kabaka, when we meet soon, now that he has answered my telephones after two years.

On an “ungrateful” Buganda:

MO: There are many people in this country who did a lot for the welfare of our citizens, and who did a lot for the independence of this country. Many of them are not Members of this House, but let no one think he can use short cuts in order to gain popularity¦ Some of us in this House had to struggle with voters in order to come here. Some, of course, came the easy way.

YM: His Highness the Kabaka could not take the calls of the President of Uganda; moreover, the President that led the struggle for democracy and the monarchies. I hear that the Baganda have two proverbs: ‘gwowonya eggere yalikusambya’ (if you help a person to treat a wound on his leg, he will use that particular leg you treated to kick you). Another one says: ‘oguggwa tegubamuka (a forgetful person will not recall that the old beer he drank, is sweeter than the new beer he is currently drinking).’ Anyway, given my work methods, I did not give up. Whenever any controversy came up involving Mengo, I would telephone His Highness the Kabaka; he would, however, not answer my telephones as usual. When the controversy over Buruuli came up, I telephoned him; but he refused to answer my telephone.

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