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Two years after Buganda riots

By Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi

Mengo waiting for Bbumba’s action to sue government

Buganda Kingdom Attorney General Apollo Makubuya is worn down by waiting. For six months, he says he has been looking out for one entry in the Uganda Gazette to be able to implement a directive of the Buganda Lukiiko, the kingdom’s legislative body.

Makubuya, no stranger to the squabbles between Mengo and President Yoweri Museveni’s government, says the moment The Institution of Traditional and Cultural Leaders Law 2010 is gazetted, his team of 50 lawyers will swing into action. “We are ready with the paper work but we can’t legally challenge a law which isn’t gazetted,” says Makubuya.

That the law is not yet in force six months after President Yoweri Museveni assented to it is in sharp contrast with the speed with which it was enacted. The Bill was debated and passed late in the evening on Jan. 31 after MPs had been recalled from campaign recess.

The law, now arguably the most potent spark to another round of the government-Mengo standoff, was meant to resolve a decisive question. “The real issue is whether we should have political kings – kings wielding political power,” Museveni told parliament in the wake of the Buganda protests on September 17, 2009. He said it was important to operationalise Article 246 of the Constitution to have a ‘clear’ separation between the roles of cultural institutions from politics.

Why is the government, which hastily pushed the law through parliament, now apparently indifferent towards its implementation?

Syda Bbumba, the Gender, Labour and Social Development Minister in whose docket kingdom matters fall, told The Independent that she still has to write a statutory instrument to bring the law into force. Announcing that the President had assented to the law, Bbumba’s predecessor Gabriel Opio said on April 1 that all he needed was a copy of the Act to write a statutory instrument for the law to be operational. What is taking Bbumba so long?

Observers say the answer could lie in the background to the law. In his September 17, 2009 address to Parliament, Museveni outlined measures he said would decisively resolve the Buganda issue and the law was a central part of the plan. It would among other things require cultural leaders to declare to a government institution all gifts that exceed a certain value, seek permission before talking to an official of a foreign government. They would also be barred from making comments that could be construed to support or disagree with a Bill before parliament or a policy of a political party.

Makubuya says this would contravene the rights of the cultural leaders, the reason he will fight the law in court. But observers say the timing for such a showdown isn’t right for the government to reignite its squabbles with Mengo, especially in view of the protests that have engulfed the country since April. For some time, Mengo was viewed as the biggest threat to Museveni’s continued stay in power.

The September 2009 Buganda riots, which were triggered by the blocking of Kabaka Ronald Mutebi II’s planned visit to Kayunga, are seen as a turning point in the government-Mengo relations.

The government’s tough stance that Mutebi could not visit Kayunga and the ruthless force with which the protests in favour of the visit, which degenerated into riots in many places, were handled, were accompanied by a direct threat. “If the problems persist, there are a number of other steps and measures the Government will take to resolve this matter once and for all time,” Museveni told Parliament on September 17, 2009 in anger-gripped speech.

During the protests, Buganda Kingdom’s radio station CBS had been switched off air, and so it remained for a year. The violence that engulfed Kampala and different urban centres in Buganda left 27 civilian dead, according to police, with some human rights organisations putting the death toll at around 40.

Since September 2009, Mengo-government relations took a non-confrontational turn, a move some people have attributed to Museveni’s hard stance.

But part of the reason for a cooling of tensions could be that some of the most confrontational Mengo officials have since joined active politics. Mathias Mpuuga, a former kingdom youth minister, is now the coordinator the Activists for Change (A4C), the pressure group that has spearheaded anti-Museveni protests since April. His fellow MP and former Buganda Cabinet colleague, Medard Sseggona, has also been busy defending suspects arrested during demonstrations.

A Mengo official who talked to The Independent on condition of anonymity said the kingdom is “unmoved by Museveni’s threats”. However, he said the kingdom leaders now feel that Museveni’s government is getting increasingly unpopular and will collapse at some point.

“It is not our job to make the government hated,” he said, “this government will do the job itself” (through its own mistakes).

All Mengo is waiting for is another opportunity to re-table their grievances. Makubuya says the Kingdom remains steadfast in its demands for especially federo and the 9000 square miles, although these demands haven’t been made as strongly as they used to be.

When Mutebi has himself spoken, the message has been mixed. He congratulated Museveni on his re-election and has on different occasions pledged to work with him. But when there was an attempt for a section of the royals to forcibly take over the Lubiri in Mengo, Mutebi spoke forcefully, and in a fashion that some interpreted as targeting Museveni. “They have been sent,” he said of the kingdom’s detractors at Nakasero market during the functions to mark his 56th birthday.

And going by the turn up and enthusiasm of celebrants marking the Kabaka’s birthday, Makerere University political scientist Dr. Yasin Olum says the kingdom is still ‘very strong’. “Their only problem,” he says, “is that they seem to lack a coordinated strategy to push for their demands.”

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