King Ruhemba gwe Njura was feared in his kingdom and beyond. His decisive victory over the warrior princes from the Northern Principalities (and his deep association with the commoners) had created a living legend: revered and feared.
Without inspiring fear and reverence, he would not have ruled for 30 years. Indeed, no king had ruled Zamunda for more than 10 years.
But now he was aging. Hitherto known for his near total grip on all aspects of social and political life in Zamunda, the king’s aging was manifesting itself in conspicuous ways that it even invited whispers of a possible abdication (or outright challenge from the princes).
King for 30 years, Ruhemba gwe Njura had come to realise that though a ruler may revel in the excitement of the commoners, it was actually the princes who held power (on the warped premise that the king and the princes held that power on behalf of the commoners).
And in his general estimation of the dynamics of power (which he called the ‘Philosophy of Raw Power’), Ruhemba gwe Njura had come to the conclusion that there was no need for the commoners in the power equation if one had the loyalty of the princes.
It was even better if those princes were members of the nuclear royal family; not some distant prince whose only claim to associate with the crown was participation in a succession war or other.
The challenge against King Ruhemba gwe Njura manifested itself in subtle ways. Known as the Lion of Zamunda, some courtiers started referring to him (in whispers though) as the old fox; a reference to how he had outsmarted all the princes who had supported him during the succession war.
He had many titles: Ibambasi (holder of the skies); Ssabalwanyi (warrior of warriors); Ssabagabe (king of kings), Zwangendaba (the only man with a vision); Rwitabagomi (punisher of rebels). Even his name, Ruhemba gwe Njura (he that lights a fire under a shower of rain), carried a challenge to anyone who doubted his capabilities as king and man.
This is the man, now weak or otherwise, Prince Kanungu wanted to challenge.
One of the many princes who had supported Ruhemba gwe Njura during the 15 year succession war, Prince Kanungu was loyal to his king. In the later days of the reign, he was rewarded with the position of Engazi.
In typical Zamunda royal court traditions (or contradictions), Engazi was not really the equivalent of prime minister. He was merely the favourite of the princes. And needless to say, the king’s favour was discretional depending on weather.
The commoners had also started feeling uncomfortable with the unending reign of Ruhemba gwe Njura. It was not uncommon for people to drop unguarded remarks saying he had ruled the kingdom for half the time the pink people of Kyerupe occupied Zamunda.
Engazi Prince Kanungu thought he had made his calculations with scientific exactness: the people needed another leader and he, Prince Kanungu of the Kinkizi branch of the royal clan, was the best placed to take over from the aging king. He was the man of the moment.
However, even with his certitude, Prince Kanungu still worked on his plan with reticence. Wishing to be king was a treasonable act.
What Prince Kanungu did not know, or had not reckoned with, was that the king had been made aware of his treasonable plans. Prince Kaka Tiyagasi, the royal chief enforcer, had collected irrevocable evidence exposing Prince Kanungu’s plans to rally the commoners.
Prosecuted in court by commoners Mumba and Vanite, Prince Kanungu’s lawyers only had this to say: “It is an act of contemptuous injudiciousness for our royal client to be persecuted by...”
Mr Bisiika is the executive editor of East Africa Flagpost.