|Why Mengo rejected Regional Tier
This is the last part of our series on the long-running dispute between Buganda Kingdom and Uganda’s central governments, right from the colonial times. MICHAEL MUBANGIZI asks whether the conflict can be solved:
If blocking the Kabaka from visiting Kayunga, a part of his Buganda Kingdom, sparked off the deadly September 2009 riots, the confrontation had been brewing for years.
Former Mengo minister, Peter Mulira, says cracks in the government-Buganda relationship started forming in 2005 when Mengo rejected the Regional Tier deal they had earlier struck with the government.
It is the same year that Mulira resigned as a minister in the Mengo government, after nearly 15 years of service to the kingdom.
Mulira had been Kabaka’s minister of Heritage and Culture, Industries, Protocol, and Local Government.
He was, therefore, privy to the monarch’s dealings with the central government, including talks in which Mengo agreed to the Regional Tier.
“I was part of the decision-making, so I can’t now say that I was wrong. I can’t go against what we agreed upon in the 15 years. There is nothing that they agreed upon to which we didn’t agree to in advance as the [Mengo] executive,” he says, referring to the Mengo negotiating team.
On July 25, 2004, the central government and Buganda Kingdom started talks that resulted in an agreement on the form of regional government for Buganda.
Led by then Katikkiro (Buganda Prime Minister), Joseph Mulwanyamuli Ssemwogerere, the Mengo team comprised John Katende (then Attorney General), Apolo Makubuya (then minister of Royal Treasury, now Attorney General) and Charles Peter Mayiga (Buganda spokesman and minister for Cabinet Affairs).
Others were Apollonia Mugumbya (then minister of Gender and Community Development), Prince David Wassajja, Ndugwa Grace Ssemakula and Mbazira Frank Kisaala (then Chairman Clan Heads Council).
The government team comprised the Prime Minister, Prof. Apolo Nsibambi, and ministers Amama Mbabazi, Crispus Kiyonga, Kirunda Kivejinja and Janat Mukwaya.
Others were Prof. Ssemakula Kiwanuka (then a minister), Moses Kigongo (NRM Vice Chairman), Kintu Musoke (former Prime Minister), Lucien Tibaruha (former Solicitor General) and presidential aides Moses Byaruhanga, Fox Odoi and Amelia Kyambadde.
Mengo makes U-turn
So why did Mengo make an about-turn on the Regional Tier deal, which is now one of the major points of contention with the government?
Mulira insists that I get the answer from Mengo publicist Charles Peter Mayiga’s recently published book, King on the Throne.
Mulira, a lawyer, however, adds: “It is nonsensical to reject the Regional Tier because federalism itself thrives on regional governments or tiers.”
He cites India, Austria and Canada, saying that their federalism evolved from the regional governments.
In his 422-page book, King on the Throne, Mayiga says the rejection of the Regional Tier arose from protests against the deal by some sections of Baganda.
“The Mengo team found itself going on the defensive as they tried hard to explain the positive aspects of the regional tier administration that was agreed upon following the talks. Two months after the Lukiiko session, which approved the deal with Museveni, it became clear that all wasn’t well,” he writes.
Mayiga singles out a section of clan heads who “rose up in earnest to oppose the understanding that Katikkiro Ssemwogerere’s team had managed to wrestle from the NRM.”
These, he adds, later demanded a meeting with the Kabaka.
“They sought lawyers and political figures who were opposed to the rule of Yoweri Museveni who advised them to push for the rejection of the regional tier,” he writes.
“People like the late Abubaker Kakyaama Mayanja, Godfrey S. Lule, the late Sulaiman Kiggundu who was a former governor of the Bank of Uganda and chairman of Col. (Rtd) Dr. Kizza Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) political party were quite instrumental in this respect,” he adds.
Clan heads and county chiefs, Mayiga says, met the Kabaka and later President Museveni to voice their opposition to the Regional Tier provisions, including having an elected Katikkiro.
Mayiga concludes that opposition to the Regional Tier was motivated by selfish motives.
“The neo-conservatives, the politicians opposed to Museveni’s rule – for any other reasons besides his sluggishness towards resolving the Buganda question – and others who didn’t want Joseph Mulwanyammuli Ssemwogerere and his team to take acclaim for going a long way towards solving this complex issue, ganged up and took a firm grip on Mengo and wedged a fierce campaign against the ‘regional tier’,” he writes, adding that members of Ssemwogere’s team were branded traitors.
Mayiga’s revelations could be seen as a vindication of President Museveni’s claims that Mengo is pursuing an opposition political agenda.
Like in 1966 and earlier in 1953, Mulira says that the present fight is a “struggle between the Lukiiko and central government.”
He argues that the Lukiiko was wrong to bar the Kabaka from negotiating with President Museveni, saying that it is not without precedent.
“That is a threat to the Kabakaship. In effect, they are criticising the Kabaka that he made a mistake in meeting the President. They are breaching our cultural norms because if he can be criticised, then he becomes one of us.”
Makerere University History professor, Fred Tanga Odoi, agrees that the Lukiiko is partly to blame for the current confrontation.
“The Lukiiko now appears to be more powerful than the Kabaka…They are so rigid even where the Kabaka seems to be flexible,” he says.
So how will the tussle end? Mulira rules out a repeat of the 1966 crisis, when Kabaka Edward Mutesa was forced into exile following an attack on his palace.
“I am sure good sense is going to prevail. People will reflect on what is best for this country.”
His hope is premised on the conduct of Kabaka Mutebi and President Museveni.
“Once the two agree, it is possible for the rest to follow. We the Baganda look at the Kabaka as the last resort. He has the final say and influence over his people. The President also has influence over Baganda politicians.”
Ugandan academic and professor of Government at Columbia University, Mahmood Mamdani, says that the demand for federo should be seen as a demand for democratic governance, and therefore not a Buganda, but a Uganda issue.
“If we recognise that the force of the federo argument today derives from a widespread consciousness of the need for constitutionally effective ways of checking the concentration of power in the executive – without weakening the government of the day internationally – and not from the particular conflict between Buganda and the centre, we shall be in a better position to solve it,” he says (See full interview on next page).
The head of Makerere University’s Political Science Department, Dr. Yasin Olum, says that since Buganda’s demands involve systems of governance that affect the whole country, they can only be solved through a referendum.
This, he says, would be beneficial to both government and the monarch.
“If Baganda’s agitations are supported by the rest of Ugandans, then the President will have no excuse to deny them [federo]. On the other hand, if the rest of Ugandans reject Buganda’s demands, then the President will have a reason not to guarantee them [their demands] and in the process isolate Buganda.”
Referring to findings of the Odoki Commission in the early 1990s that there was an overwhelming demand for federo countrywide, he says the views could have changed.
“Fifteen years is so long. As a scientist, I think you need to go back to the people and seek their views.”
He, however, doubts that the President and Mengo can agree to a referendum.
Mengo, Olum says, fears a referendum because their demands are so localised, while President Museveni “still thinks that he can settle it through negotiations… and hopes to get political capital if he is the one that solves [it].”
He warns, however, that with just a few months to the next election, it will be politically costly for President Museveni to deal with the Buganda issue alone, excluding other Ugandans, because failure will be solely blamed on him.
History Professor Fred Tanga Odoi says it will be difficult to resolve the current stand-off because like the previous ones in 1953 and 1966, it is about political power.
“They all rotate around the same issue – the locus of political power between the Kabaka and the President or colonial government… They all want to be strong power points in one country.”
No wonder, he doesn’t see a way out.
“It is difficult to guarantee all Buganda’s demands. Even if you give all of them, new ones will emerge. No government can give all that Buganda wants, even if it’s [opposition leader Kizza] Besigye or FDC who are promising federo [once] in power.”
All governments, he says, survive on divide and rule strategies. Giving in to Mengo’s demands such as federo, Tanga argues, will make them too strong a force for any government to control.
President Museveni’s Press Secretary, Tamale Mirundi, agrees.
“There is no President who can solve their problems. That’s their nature; they use politics to get what they want. My prediction is that once they fail to strike a deal with the President [Museveni], the next president will abolish that kingdom.”
Mirundi argues that ordinary Baganda are after good schools, jobs and wealth. If the government can guarantee these, Mengo will be isolated.
Veteran DP politician, Evaristo Nyanzi, 79, is not so pessimistic.
He says the federo issue can be solved through “an understanding with the rest of Uganda.”
“Mengo should negotiate with the rest of Uganda and strike an amicable understanding because they can’t go it alone.”
This understanding will erase the suspicion that other Ugandans have towards Buganda’s demands, he says.
“Buganda was a kind of federal state within Uganda under the colonial times. By virtue of this special status, Buganda had special treatment. This is actually what is troubling Uganda now. It is the cause of the problems we have today.”
Buganda’s historically privileged status was eloquently defended by Kabaka Edward Mutesa in his appeal to the United Nations in 1966, after then President Milton Obote abolished the kingdom’s federal powers.
Recalling the 1953 crisis, Mutesa said: “Sir Andrew [Cohen] insisted that I should agree to Buganda being a local government unit within a unitary Uganda. I thought this was the most unrealistic because since 1900, as a result of the Buganda Agreement of that year, this kingdom had enjoyed a special position vis-avis the rest of the country. Since that time, it had state powers which it could not be expected to lose.”
Evaristo Nyanzi reasons that it is not tenable for Buganda to regain such a privileged status within an independent Uganda.
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