Beginning January 27, Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II embarked on the most expensive trip of his reign thus far. The mass security deployment along the stretch from his palace at Banda all the way to Kayunga and the pomp and fanfare that attended the tour must have cost a lot of money. But here we refer to a different type of costs, to which we will return to in a while.
During the tour, the Kabaka carried a consistent message of hard work and reconciliation to ecstatic crowds who were sometimes potentially explosive and had memories of September 2009 deeply etched in their minds.
On September 9, 2009, shortly after the former Katikkiro of Buganda, Mr John Baptist Walusimbi, was blocked from crossing to Kayunga to organise for the Kabaka’s visit which was slated for the following day, riots broke out in Kampala and other townships within Buganda, jolting security forces into action.
Deaths, detention, destruction
The official figure of the dead as a result of the riots was put at 27, although other accounts say that many more people died. Scores more were injured and had to spend money and time being treated for injuries sustained during the riots. Others were detained and some of them spent years in Luzira prison accused of participating in the riots.
Mr Medard Sseggona of Lukwago and Co. Advocates, who led the team that defended the riot suspects without pay, decries the “massive human suffering resulting from the government’s senseless actions.”
At the height of the misunderstandings that resulted in the riots, Mr Sseggona was the kingdom’s deputy information minister and he was seen as one of the most radical kingdom loyalists.
He, together with current Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga – who was then in charge of information and cabinet affairs – and Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze, were arrested and detained in different parts of western Uganda as relations between the two power centres soured.
Ms Nambooze was then leading a civic education team – the Central Civic Education Committee (CCEC) – appointed by the Kabaka to educate people about their rights to land.
Buganda Kingdom feared that a set of planned amendments to the land law were meant to “grab” Buganda’s land while the government argued that there was need to strengthen the law to protect tenants from eviction from land. To counter the Kabaka’s committee, Mr Museveni also appointed a counter land sensitisation committee.
But the issues that led to conflict between Buganda and the government “were not just restricted to land,” says Makerere University don Dr Yasin Olum. Dr Olum reckons that the Kabaka and those close to him felt that Mr Museveni “had given them a raw deal” in return for their support for his bush war efforts.
Buganda loyalists say Mr Museveni had promised to grant Buganda a federal status, among other promises, which some of them say have not been fulfilled.
It was for this reason, Dr Olum says, “that Mengo became the centre for galvanising opposition against Museveni” in the run up to the Kayunga riots. When the riots broke out, some people, especially in Kampala, spent at least three days away from work. A lot of property was lost.
It is hard to put a figure to the losses suffered in terms of lives, property, money spent on treatment and time lost as a result of the Kabaka being blocked from visiting Kayunga in 2009.
Calls for a commission of inquiry into how the riots were quelled and other attendant issues, which would probably have provided a clearer insight into the real cost of the riots, did not bear fruit.
Radio stations switched off
Another significant cost came through the decision to shut down three FM radio stations, especially Buganda Kingdom’s CBSFM, which remained closed for 14 months. The two stations – the Catholic Church’s station Radio Sapientia and Ssuubi FM – were shut down for only a short period.
The stations, of course, lost money during the shutdown. In a civil suit filed in the High Court by CBS’s management and workers six weeks after the station was shut down, the station said that it lost revenue to the tune of Shs31 million each day the radio was off air.
On their part, the workers said that they lost Shs65 million per month in salaries and Shs10 million a month in commission. They demanded that the government compensates them.
Going by the above figures and taking into account the fact that CBS remained closed for 14 months, the owners lost over Shs13b in revenue and the workers lost Shs910m and Shs140m in salaries and commissions respectively.
The CBS FM suit has never been determined, probably it will never be. Those who lost their people during the riots had threatened to sue the government but probably they never will, just like some of those who were detained for years without trial over suspected participation in the riots are unlikely to follow through with their threats to sue the government.
However, it seems that both the government and Buganda Kingdom picked lessons from the incident.
Prof Jean John Barya, a law don at Makerere University, reckons that the Kayunga incident could have “forced the concerned parties to reflect on how they would like to run affairs (and) decided that cooperation is better than competition in this case.”
Mr Charles Peter Mayiga can be cited as an example on this. Since his appointment as Katikkiro, Mr Mayega has been willing to cooperate with the government and President Museveni in particular, often to the discomfort of some groups which are opposed to the government.
Mr Mayega has clearly defined his policy as “loving whoever loves the Kabaka,” in the process welcoming back into the fold of the kingdom ruling party politicians who would hitherto be booed off kingdom functions.
The President had himself stayed away from the kingdom’s functions for a long time until he attended the Kabaka’s most recent coronation anniversary.
Mr Museveni’s attendance came hot on the heels of the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the government and Buganda in which the government undertook to return to the kingdom or pay compensation for some of its properties and land, which were confiscated in the 1960s.
The MoU, signed on Buganda’s behalf by the Kabaka himself, has been criticised by some Baganda but mostly in hushed tones. A former senior kingdom official told us, for example, that the katikkiro, and not the Kabaka, should have signed the MoU.
He argued that the Kabaka traditionally leaves all the administrative duties to the katikkiro so that in the event of mistakes which may invite criticism, the criticism is directed at the katikkiro and not the Kabaka. In Ganda culture, the Kabaka is beyond reproach.
In taking the decision to sign the MoU, however, the Kabaka was aware of the pros and cons of his actions, for such arguments had cropped up regularly whenever talks between the two power centres were mooted in the past.
Mr Museveni insisted on negotiating directly with the Kabaka since a negotiated settlement which he had reached with former Katikkiro Mulwanyammuli Semwogerere to implement the Regional Tier arrangement was rejected by the kingdom’s parliament (Lukiiko).
A kingdom insider we talked to said the Kabaka and those close to him now consider that the best way forward is to cooperate with the government and are willing to make compromises to achieve it.
“Buganda is almost 1,000 years old (and) it is important to know that it will outlive any government,” the official said, “the best course of action in this case is not to make the kingdom a target of the regime.”
This, it seems, is being implemented by attempting to make equidistant all political forces. Individuals who were openly critical of the government have since left Mengo and some of them, including Mr Sseggona and Ms Nambooze, are now in Parliament as opposition representatives.
Happy ever after?
But even then, it is not clear whether the costs incurred during the Kayunga riots were sufficient as collateral damage to guarantee a blissful relationship between Mr Museveni’s government and Buganda Kingdom.
Prof Barya says there are “still red herrings” that may suggest otherwise. Key among them, he says, is the issue of land ownership and use, which remains unresolved yet it was at the centre of the disagreements between the two power centres.
It is ironical that Kayunga is still a hot bed of land wrangles. During the Kabaka’s visit, Lands State minister Aidah Nantaba skipped one of the Kabaka’s tours as testimony to the severity of the problem. The Kabaka went to tour the farm of a landlord who was in recent months fighting with tenants over land.
Ms Nantaba sided with the tenants in a battle that drew in President Museveni and police boss Gen Kale Kayihura.
Prof. Barya says the longer Mr Museveni stays on as president as the land question remains unresolved, the higher the possibility of “a renewal of hostilities between him and Mengo.”
Speaking in Kayunga, the Kabaka indicated without saying it that the 2009 incident was very expensive and need not be repeated. Only time will tell if it was a lesson well learnt.
September 10, 2009 marked the beginning of three dark days of riots in Kampala city and other parts of Buganda and brought back memories of the Buganda Crisis of 1966. Friction which had been simmering between the Kabaka of Buganda Ronald Mutebi, the central government and the leader of the Banyala in Kayunga who was trying to secede from Buganda, exploded into bloody violence when Buganda Prime Minister John Baptist Walusimbi was blocked by armed police and the army from going to Kayunga.
Walusimbi was heading to Kayunga to prepare for the Kabaka’s scheduled visit to mark the kingdom’s annual youth day. The government shut-down the kingdom’s radio station CBS and three others in a major clamp-down. Riots spread to Kampala, Mukono, Mpigi, Kayunga and Masaka.
More than 500 people were arrested in various parts of Buganda, a police station was burnt to ashes, and a police officer was shot and injured in the leg while a female officer was sexually assaulted.