A lot has changed since the September 10, 2009, Buganda riots, yet the shadow of what led to the deadly incidents still looms large.
The riots, exactly eight years ago, happened when State machinery was deployed to block a Buganda Kingdom delegation led by then Katikkiro (prime minister) JB Walusimbi from visiting Bugerere County (Kayunga District). Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II was due to visit the area, a move that had been opposed by sections of the Banyala, an ethnic minority in Buganda Kingdom.
The incident was the peak of a very bad relationship characterised by distrust between Buganda’s Mengo-based government and the President Museveni-led central government.
While the 2009 events happened during his reign, Mr Walusimbi’s appointment had, observers have since opined, been made to try and calm down the flaring tempers on both ends. His predecessor Daniel Muliika had openly been anti-Museveni to the point of backing Dr Kizza Besigye’s 2006 presidential bid. Lt Ramathan Magara, a State agent is in prison for killing two supporters of Dr Besigye when he visited Bulange during that election.
At least 40 people were killed during the three-day unrest, according to Human Rights Watch, although the government official toll was about half that number.
Ugandans and the world may never know what exactly happened with calls for an inquest into the killings largely ignored.
In 2013, long before the Kasese clashes that left more than 100 people dead, Rona Peligal, then Africa director at Human Rights Watch, had warned of future consequences if those who killed people were not brought to book.
“The Ugandan authorities should prosecute members of the security forces who used unnecessary lethal force during the September 2009 violence. The government’s indifference to the families of those who lost their lives is cruel and sets the stage for future abuses,” she said.
No member of the security forces that included police, Military Police, regular army and the Special Forces Command (then Presidential Guard Brigade) who were deployed on the streets during the three days of unrest has ever been prosecuted for their role in the killings. A parliamentary investigation too was scuttled or to say the least, never took off.
Besides his official duties at Mengo then, lawyer Medard Ssegona, Apollo Makubuya, another minister in Mengo, and others represented the suspects arrested and detained during the riots. Following protracted legal battles with the State, all the suspects were released. Mr Ssegona says some have since died as a result of time spent in incarceration.
Reflecting on the eight years since, he scoffs at an idea of the report on the killings saying the perpetrators are known.
“If you have a dishonest leader like [President] Museveni all you can do is to tread with caution and wait for him to go,” he said in an interview.
Is all fine?
Attempts have been made since the riots to mend fences between the central government and particularly President Museveni on the one hand and the Mengo establishment and Kabaka Mutebi on the other.
The appointment of Charles Peter Mayiga as Buganda Katikkiro in May 2013 was misread by many who thought he would take a radical stance that he had been perceived to take when he was the kingdom information minister. They were wrong.
He has instead taken over from where his predecessor stopped and moved to further diminish the tensions between Mengo and the central government, at least publicly. Shortly after Mr Mayiga’s appointment, a memorandum of understanding was signed between President Museveni and Kabaka Mutebi at State House, Entebbe.
Several other initiatives between government and Mengo have happened on the positive since but not without any glitches.
Katikkiro Mayiga says the issues that led to the 2009 conflict have been partially resolved. He cites the example of the Kabaka being able to move freely in his kingdom without hindrance by the State. On the 2009 incident, specifically, he cites the thorny issue in Bugerere which he says the central government must take active steps to resolve.
“Baker Kimeze purports to have a chiefdom in Bugerere, which, whereas it is farcical, creates unnecessary acrimony. He occasionally lays claim to administrative headquarters and parcels of land,” Mr Mayiga says.
Eight years later, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda says government is happy with the existing relationship with Mengo.
“There is a harmonious relationship between Mengo and the central government which we are indeed happy about. This is in line with the government policy to have harmony between the centre and other governments, whether they are local governments or kingdom administrations,” he says.
The land question
The issue of Buganda’s land has always been central to all the disagreements that the kingdom has had with government since its restoration in the early 90s.
One of the events that fomented into the Buganda riots was the arrest of Buganda Kingdom officials a year earlier, in 2008.
Mr Mayiga, Mr Medard Lubega Sseggona, who deputised him as kingdom spokesperson, and Ms Betty Nambooze, who the Kabaka had appointed to chair a sensitisation committee on land matters, were picked up by State agents and detained in different places in western Uganda for more than a week.
“The law enforcement agencies should have long ago intervened to stop this law-breaking; but I restrained them because I had not met you (Kabaka) and we also did not want to send wrong signals to the delegates who were coming here for Chogm,” Mr Museveni wrote after his meeting with the Kabaka.
While the officials, according to Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura, faced charges of terrorism, attempts to procure firearms, promoting sectarianism, sedition and inciting violence among others, the widely held belief to date of what led them into trouble was their vocal opposition to the controversial Land Act (Amendment) Bill 2007.
Ten years later and a similar situation prevails in the country. Government wants to amend the law on land to allow compulsory acquisition. While both sides are no longer in direct confrontation, none has restrained their perceived or real agents against attacking the other. Mengo has since moved away from open defiance against President Museveni’s moves. Mr Museveni occasionally issues restrained warnings but has largely, openly, left the institution on its own.
However, pro-Museveni people including ministers have openly attacked Buganda’s recent projects on land including the now famous Kyapa Mungalo where the kingdom has called on those on its land to voluntarily get land titles on a leasehold basis. On the other hand, pro-Mengo people including senior officials in the establishment have not been shy in opposing and discrediting the proposed Constitution amendment on land ownership.
The amendment Bill, now before Parliament, seeks to amend Article 26 of the Constitution to provide for compulsory acquisition of land for development projects, pending negotiations or in case negotiations on compensation with the affected persons fail or stall.
The article in its current form sets conditions for prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation before the compulsory acquisition of property for public use.
Both Mayiga and his boss, the Kabaka, have instead called for the strengthening of the available systems and process such as the courts and police in order to resolve any impasse efficiently.
With opposition from Buganda and other parts of the country, the amendments championed by President Museveni and Lands minister Betty Amongi are facing stiff resistance. Determined to see the amendment through, President Museveni spent a better part of this week hoping from one radio station to another explaining the benefits the amendments will have for the country’s development. President Museveni usually gets his way, sometimes at all costs. What will happen if he fails?
Insiders in Mengo also see the hand of the State in instigating cases mainly about land against the Kabaka. They argue that the suits are aimed at discrediting the kingdom’s fountain of honour and in doing so make the institution lose the moral authority to comment on such issues as land.