Kabaka Ronald Mutebi of Buganda was positively beaming with pleasure when, during his recent visit to Kayunga District, he observed and hailed what he described as ‘this emerging spirit of working together and unity’ between his Ministers and those of the Central Government, members of the Buganda Lukiiko and members of the Uganda Parliament, several of whom turned up to welcome him. He urged them to grow and sustain this development.
Relations between Mengo (seat of the Kabaka’s government) and the Central Government had been at low ebb since 2009 when the latter stopped the Kabaka from visiting the district due to what it described as ‘insecurity’. The truth, however, is that politicians in Kampala were urging the Banyara, one of the many minority ethnic groups of non-Baganda living in the district, to transform themselves into a kingdom. One of them, a soldier in the national army, was named a traditional leader and thereafter demanded that the Kabaka should seek permission from him to visit the district. Mengo rejected the demand, and riots that claimed 27 lives erupted in various parts of the Kingdom.
Columnists and a new generation of young politicians have consistently been calling for reforms at regional level and urging the traditionalists at Mengo to play an active role in Central Government (mainstream) politics. Such calls have, however, come to no avail and have sometimes led to the shunning or expulsion from Mengo of officials or ministers who were trying to introduce working relationships with their counterparts in the Central Government.
The efforts to forge the new spirit of working together and unity which have delighted the Kabaka are, therefore, not new. What is new is his courage to clearly and loudly proclaim his support for those efforts, and the urging of his ministers, members of both the Buganda Lukiiko and the Uganda Parliament to ensure that they continue to grow and sustain that spirit. He even changed Buganda’s protocol by giving precedence to the Central Government ministers in his welcoming remarks.
Also of great importance was the Kabaka’s re-affirmation of Buganda’s 350-year assimilation policy of people from other regions. He said they were all free to stay in Buganda provided they respected the Kingdom’s culture and boundaries.
The latest developments come against a backdrop of last year’s appointment of a new Katikkiro of Buganda, Charles Peter Mayiga, and the dramatic attendance by President Museveni of Kabaka Mutebi’s 20th Coronation Anniversary celebrations on August 3 last year, at the Kabaka’s Palace at Mengo. The two leaders had last met after the riots of 2009.
The President’s visit to Mengo followed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the President and the Kabaka under which the Central Government agreed to return to Buganda, properties that were confiscated by Obote’s government in 1967, when the Kingdoms were abolished. The Kingdoms were restored by President Museveni’s regime in 1993.
In the MOU which took effect from August 1, 2013, the Ministry of Finance was authorised to release Shs20 billion in payment of rent arrears that were owed to Buganda by the Central Government, and a committee was set up by the President to ensure that all the properties agreed were returned to Buganda.
Inside sources revealed that the National Resistance Movement’s Members of Parliament from Buganda played an indirect role in getting the President to act on Buganda’s demands. Their constituents were labelling them ‘poor performers’ and they were rapidly losing confidence in them for their failure to act on the demands. When the party’s support in Buganda started dwindling, the President acted.
This conciliatory approach to the problems between the two administrations has received praise and envy from many peace-loving Ugandans. They view it as one of the keys to Uganda’s future stability, progress and prosperity and expect the incumbent and future leaders to apply it in solving the problems that confront other parts of the country.
Mr Kiwanuka is a journalist and retired Foreign Service Officer. firstname.lastname@example.org