Demand for federo just won’t go away
MENGO, the seat of Buganda government, is in the throes of a stand-off between the radical and moderate wings of the Kabaka’s men. For now, the moderates seem to have the upper hand, writes Joshua Kato.
Since cultural institutions were restored more than 15 years ago, Buganda Kingdom has perhaps made more demands than other cultural institutions in the country combined. They have demanded and are still demanding for federo (federal status), pieces of land that were taken over by the central government in 1966 and political power for the Kabaka.
So far, they have got back some of the properties that they did not have at coronation in 1993. These include the vast Lubiri palace that was until then occupied by the army, the Bulange, where the Lukiiko sits that was until then occupied by the army as the Republic House, all the other kingdom palaces and the Kabaka’s official 35 square miles of land. Also returned are the multi-billion Masaka Technical Institute, which now houses Mutesa University and the buildings that houses Buganda Royal Institute at Mengo.
In mid-July 2008, the kingdom organised a big conference at Hotel Africana, in which they sought ways of making Buganda better. Prof. Ali Mazrui advised Buganda to adopt the changes in the world order so that they can develop. Maj. Kakooza Mutale asked Buganda to differentiate between respect and power, while Prof. Mahmood Mamdani asked them to put their ‘opponents’ on the defensive, instead of giving the initiative to them all the time. Overall, it was agreed that Buganda, being the dominant tribe in Uganda, should be seen to dominate politically. ‘Fighting’ for political power will occupy the minds of the grey heads at Mengo in the next few years.
history of Buganda
Buganda was one of the most powerful kingdoms in the interlacustrine region, now called the Great Lakes region. It was founded by members of the Babiito, who broke away from Bunyoro around 1500. That makes the kingdom about half a century old.
The kingdom is composed of a Bantu language speaking tribe. At first, Buganda had only four recognisable counties. These included Kyadondo, Busiro, parts of Bulemezi (Nakaseke) and Kyaggwe. However, as her power grew, so did her territory. Wars against Bunyoro saw her capture areas like Buddu, Kooki, Singo, parts of Kyaggwe and Buruli between the 17th and 18th centuries.
When the first white explorers visited between 1865 and 1872, they marvelled at the social, economic and political organisation of the kingdom. They decided to use Buganda as the base for all their operations in the region.
Buganda, then under Kabaka Mutesa I, invited the British to come to the kingdom. It was from Buganda that the British expanded their influence to other parts of present day Uganda.
The key agreements that they made included the 1894 Agreement, that made Buganda a British protectorate and the 1900 Agreement that has up to this day, largely negatively reverberated, not only in the ears of the kingdom leaders, but also in Uganda as a whole. The agreement gave Buganda a special place in what later became Uganda. It was the centre of British influence and in many cases, Buganda’s forces fought alongside British forces as the colonialists expanded their influence.
The manner in which the land was divided in Buganda has through the years proved to have been ill-thought. Of the estimated 19,000 square miles of land in Buganda, 8,000 miles were given to Baganda Kingdom chiefs, around 1,500 to the Protectorate Government and 350 miles to the royal family. About 9,000 were kept by the colonial government. This sharing out created a property class of the landlords and bibanja () owners. Subsequent land laws, for example, the Bibanja and Nvujjo Acts in 1928, the Land Decree of 1975, the Land Act of 1998 and the current land amendments were geared towards creating harmony over the contents of the 1900 Agreement.
The division of power between the Kabaka’s government and the colonialists was later discovered not to have been good. At the time, the Kabaka, Daudi Chwa, was a toddler. He was thus assisted by three regents: Apollo Kaggwa, Zacharia Kisingiri and Stanislas Mugwanya. As the years went by, however, the ineptness of the Buganda establishment became more profound. The assassination of Katikkiro Martin Luther Nsibirwa in the early 1940s and the exiling of Kabaka Sir Edward Mutesa in 1953 were the peak of Buganda’s resistance against the British.
It is this setup that still haunts Buganda and the subsequent central governments of Milton Obote between 1962 and 1971, Idi Amin 1971-79, Milton Obote between 1981 and 1985 and Yoweri Museveni from 1986 to date. It is ironic that Buganda looks at the central governments as a continuation of the colonial administration.
Since independence, Buganda has had at least three confrontations with the central government, but the most serious was the 1966 crisis. That’s when the central government, led by Milton Obote, abolished cultural institutions in Uganda and declared the country a republic. The consequences of this conflict reverberated throughout the country for over 20 years. There were killings at the time, Obote’s overthrow by Amin was supported in Buganda, largely because of Obote’s 1966 actions, the 1981 war in Luwero was also supported partly because of Obote’s 1966 actions. However, when the NRM government came to power, kingdoms were reinstated.
The demand for federo has been going on for the last 15 years. Every election year, for example in 1996, 2001 and 2006, sections of the Mengo establishment have upped their demands and in some cases asked the Baganda to “vote for only those candidates who promise federo”. Radicals at Mengo have even demanded that President Yoweri Museveni’s government either gives Buganda federo or Buganda secedes from Uganda.
“We should return to the 1962 Constitution that gave Buganda federo or we split off the rest of Uganda,” said Yusuf Nsubuga Nsambu, one of the deputy katikkiros of the kingdom.
According to the independence constitution, Buganda had federo. The establishment controlled the agriculture, education and road networks within the region. This, according to Baganda at the time, was an engine for development.
During the constitution-making process in 1994, the demand for federo was one of the salient issues. By the end of it all, a system that gave districts powers to co-operate was agreed upon. However, since Buganda did not like it, it never worked. “What is a charter? What does it mean to us?” wondered Mengo officials.
While kingdoms like Busoga wanted the Charter operationalised, it was not. The fallout was, however, notable. For example, several influential Baganda personalities like Prof. Apolo Nsibambi and Besweri Mulondo were declared traitors. This is because Nsibambi opposed certain Mengo officials who wanted to reject the new Constitution because it had not granted them a federal status.
Mulondo, on the other hand, did not support federo because the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) supported it. He famously referred to the whole situation as “ssemusota guli mu ntamu” (snake in the pot), describing the catch 22 situation in which Buganda was.
Nonetheless, Buganda continued demanding for federo. President Museveni offered to talk. Between 2004 and 2005, there were discussions and meetings between the central government and the Buganda government over the same issue. Museveni led a powerful government team that included Vice-President Prof. Gilbert Bukenya, Prime Minister Prof. Apolo Nsibambi, ministers Amama Mbabazi and Sam Kutesa. The Buganda team was led by Katikkiro Joseph Ssemwogerere, Owekitiibwa Peter Mayiga, Owekitiibwa Apollo Makubuya and Owekitiibwa John Katende.
Like the case was in 1994, however, a regional tier system was agreed upon instead of the much cherished federo. “We met for over 72 hours with these people and agreed to have this regional tier,” Museveni said.
At first, sections in Mengo said it was a wonderful deal. “Ekitono okaayana kiri mu nkwawa (Take what you have been offered while you demand for more),” Katikkiro Joseph Mulwanyamuli Ssemwogerere said.
According to Ssemwogerere, the new system would have given Buganda a budget and control over agriculture, district roads and education supervision. An initial budget of sh26b had been set aside to kick-start it in 2006. Mengo would have had two nkiiko (parliaments) with one purely cultural while the other was political and executive. The political lukiiko was supposed to have an elected Katikkiro.
The regional tier was later rejected by the radicals in Mengo, who called for the awarding of full federo. As a result, the regional tier, that took many hours to debate is yet to be operationalised, although other kingdoms like Bunyoro and Toro have called for its implementation.
It is the failure to get the much-hyped federo and other issues that Buganda has had a total of four katikkiros in the last 15 years. Three of these have come in the last three years. It was after this agreement that long-serving Katikkiro, Ssemwogerere, was removed after 12 years in office. His removal was linked to ‘lack of satisfaction’ among the ‘Baganda’ over his agreement with the central government.
“We cannot have an elected Katikkiro,” declared Daniel Muliika, who took over from Ssemwogerere. Muliika, a re-nowned traditionalist, lasted just one year, before he was replaced with Emmanuel Ssendawula, who was in turn replaced by Eng. John Baptist Walusimbi, a known moderate.
One of the biggest failures of Mengo in the last 15 years is overlooking the need to market themselves to other cultural institutions. On many occasions, Buganda has met the central government alone. To other cultural institutions, this is seen as despising them, or giving Baganda a special status. This is why while Buganda demands for federo, other regions are quiet.
Radicals, moderates lock horns at Mengo
WITHIN social and professional circles, he is known as Medard Lubega Sseggona. In political circles, however, he is known as Kalyamaggwa, which is short for akalya amaggwa kekamanya bwekagakyuusa (the animal that feeds on thorns knows best how to turn them over in its mouth, without getting hurt). The proverbial name tells a lot about the character of the youthful lawyer and traditionalist.
Kalyamaggwa represents a new group of youthful radicals at Mengo, the seat of Buganda government. Most of them are graduates and have come into the political limelight through radical Buganda youth groups like Nkobazambogo, which mainly operate in tertiary institutions. Their radical approach has already brought them into conflict with the moderates at Mengo.
The stand-off between the radicals and moderates became apparent during the recent arrest of three Mengo officials, including Kalyamaggwa. The radicals called for drastic action against the Government, while the moderates, led by Katikkiro John Baptist Walusimbi, wanted a peaceful resolution of the crisis.
For now, the moderates seem to have won, since the expected massive public uprising at Bulange did not take place. Instead, an agreement for further talks with the central government was reached.
Since it was the first time in President Yoweri Museveni’s regime for three senior members of the Kabaka’s government to be arrested and detained for a week, a civil uprising by angry Baganda was feared. Business places like Kikuubo were expected to close down and the whole country generally was expected to come to a standstill. At least this is what the youthful members of the vocal Nkobazambogo and Bazzukulu ba Buganda predicted. But to their disappointment, nothing of the kind happened.
“Can you imagine that three of our officials were arrested and nothing happened? Is that how we should handle these liars?” shouted a member of Nkobazambogo, in whose view, the central government officials were the liars.
Besides Sseggona, the Mengo radicals include David Mpanga, a youthful lawyer and son of Joyce Mpanga, an NRM historical, currently in charge of research at the party headquarters. Others are MPs Erias Lukwago, Beti Kamya and Hussein Kyanjo. The trio may not hold any office at Mengo, but their voices and actions have a lot of impact, more than some of the ministers.
Then there is Betty Nambooze, the chairperson of the Civic Education Committee, which is supposed to educate the Kabaka’s subjects about the controversial Land Bill. What all these people have in common is that they belong to the young generation of radical leaders at Mengo.
They are buoyed by two old guards, Deputy Katikkiro Nsubuga Nsambu and former Katikkiro Daniel Muliika. It was Nsambu who first suggested that Buganda break away from Uganda, if it is denied federo status, a sentiment more recently echoed by Kyanjo.
The moderates, who include Walusimbi, Kaaya Kavuma, Charles Peter Mayiga, Emmanuel Ssendawula and Attorney General Apollo Makubuya, would rather see Buganda get her way through negotiations.
Walusimbi is in a big dilemma. He is not a politician. He was elected specifically to implement the kingdom’s development programmes — to get Kabaka’s subjects out of poverty. He is a peace-loving man. During the recent crisis, the radicals were furious that instead of sounding the war drums, the Katikkiro called for calm. Some even accused him of being an NRM supporter, citing various government engineering projects he was involved in.
The Kabaka has got a history of appointing radicals, but he has a bigger history of sacking them as well. In 1996, Duncan Kafeero, hitherto a minister of agriculture in the Mengo establishment was sacked and disowned after he advocated violence against the Government of President Yoweri Museveni.
In 2001, several ministers were sacked after they openly campaigned against Museveni in the presidential elections. They included Joyce Ssebugwawo, now in FDC, Kamala Kanamwangi, Ssewava Sserubiri, and Robert Ssebunya, who has since become an adviser to Museveni.
In 2006, Dan Muliika, who had become openly critical of Museveni, was also sacked. He was sacked largely because he failed to create or to show that he wanted to create harmony between the central government and Mengo. Muliika, who is still influential, especially among the radicals, says it’s fruitless to talk to the central government.
“Talking will not bear any fruit. What will Museveni give us?” he told journalists recently.
Radicals have also had their share of success. In 2005, the moderates, led by Joseph Mulwanyamuli Ssemwogerere then Katikkiro, discussed and agreed to have the regional tier system. However, when they presented it before Mengo, it was rejected. Ssemwogerere and the team that discussed the deal with the Government were later dropped and replaced with Muliika, a sworn radical. Muliika was, however, dropped a year later, because he proved to be ‘too radical’. Who will win this time?
“How can he ask us to remain calm when the Kabaka’s officials are incarcerated?” an enraged member of the Nkobazambogo group asked. Present at Mengo to encourage the demonstrating youths was Beti Kamya. “The Katikkiro should not just tell people to stay calm when a one-year-old is being denied breast milk,” said Kamya, referring to Nambooze’s baby.
Both Nkobazambogo and Bazzukulu ba Buganda tried to mobilise the Kabaka’s subjects to demonstrate at Bulange, but only a few turned up.
“Katikkiro akozewooki ng’abakungu ba Ssabassajja babatulugunya? Ayinza atya obutayita obuganda okukungaana wano okwekalakasa? (What has the prime minister done about the arrest and torture of the Kabaka’s officials? Why hasn’t he called upon the Baganda to demonstrate?)” asked a member of the youth group.
Apart from their age and their background in Nkobazambogo and other radical youth groups, most of these youthful radicals belong to opposition political parties, mainly Democratic Party (DP) and Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).
For example, Erias Lukwago is the DP’s legal adviser, while Betty Nambooze was, until recently, the party’s spokesperson. What riles the Government is a lack of proper distinction between the roles of these people.
“When we defeated them, they withdrew and hid in Mengo,” President Yoweri Museveni laments. When does Nambooze speak as a Mengo official and when does she speak as a DP spokesperson? How will the government she is opposed to counter her statements without being seen as fighting a mukungu (Mengo official)?
The opposition seems to appeal to a wider audience, if they are talking from Mengo, than when they talk from their parties. This is because Mengo has got a much wider audience, which comprises many who support NRM. This is the dilemma facing the Kabaka and Katikkiro on one hand and the central government on the other. Walusimbi and the moderates are calling for more talks with the Government. In fact, Walusimbi met Museveni, in what was seen as a move to lay the ground for a meeting between the Kabaka and the President.
Last week, information came out about the cat-and-mouse games between Nambooze and the CBS radio establishment. It seems Nambooze is being phased out by CBS, after failing to tone down her language as demanded by the Government. Since her arrest and subsequent release, she has been off air.
Of course, this may put them in bad light with her listeners, but according to the moderates, that is one of few options for creating harmony between them and the Government.