Sunday January 26 2014

What if Kabaka declared corruption anti-cultural?

By Joachim Buwembo

When I walked through the living room on my way out, I found the maids engaged in a heated argument about a deceased comedian whose paternity had been in dispute. The minister’s maid, being a non-Muganda, was challenging my maid what the big deal was for the dead comedian to have been produced by a man and woman of the same clan, and his inadvertently having also proceeded to produce a child with a woman of the same clan.

My maid was too worked up to give coherent answers. That anybody should even ask what can be wrong for two Baganda of the same clan to have an intimate relationship was simply blasphemous for her, for her people consider it as incest. She was shaking with anger when I came to her rescue.

“The Baganda consider everybody from their father’s clan a brother or a sister, so any intimacy between such persons is as bad as incest,” I explained. “That is why they are revolted by the findings of the DNA test.”
“And on what do they base that belief?” asked the minister’s maid.
“The belief is several hundred years old and I cannot tell you with accuracy what its basis is,” I answered. “Which also makes it difficult to challenge it.”
“So how can it ever be changed for the sake of those Baganda who might wish to marry but are from the same clan?” she asked.

“It is like asking when will Catholic priests who want to marry will be allowed to take wives,” I responded. “You can give a hundred reasons why they should be allowed to marry but until the Pope says so, they cannot.”
“So there is a way,” she said with satisfaction. “So in the case of Baganda…”
“Unless the Kabaka says so,” I said without waiting for her to finish. “He is the custodian of the culture, all customs, beliefs, practices, name it.”
“And how can he be persuaded…”
“Forget it,” I said, again not allowing her to finish.
“Okay but just in case he decreed?”

“He wouldn’t,” I firmly told her. “Even the High Court a few years back blocked the intended wedding of a balokole couple who were both from the Mbogo clan.”
“Can he allow people to eat their totems? My friend Nakalanzi looks at me longingly whenever I buy the delicious nsenene but tells me even if nobody who knows her is watching, she cannot even touch nsenene. Can’t Kabaka have mercy on her and allow her to eat nsenene like us?”

“He wouldn’t.” I affirmed.
“But you said he has the power over his peoples’ way of life!”
“He does,” I concurred and quickly added. “And he uses the power well, not badly. He uses the power wisely, not recklessly.”
She paused and looked at me with a challenging smile. I knew that smile so I braced for whatever was coming. It came out rather softly.

“Can the Kabaka declare corruption to be against Buganda culture?”
I hadn’t quite prepared for that one but managed to say, “The government where it mostly occurs is beyond his realm.”
“But there are Baganda working in that government,” she said with a fixed smile.
“The government already holds corruption to be illegal, so that would be duplication.” I said.
“But the church preaches against corruption in addition to government’s outlawing it,” she argued. “Do you consider that duplication?”

“One is temporal law while the other is spiritual,” I defended, but even as I said it I knew I was driving myself deeper into her trap, and she pounced without hesitation.
“Maybe the cultural one could help where the two have failed,” she did not even raise her voice, knowing she had me where she wanted. “Every subject of the Kabaka should feel as nauseated about corruption as they do if a man eats his muziro or marries his clan sister.”

I wanted to agree with her but was not ready to concede easily so I tried again,
“But Kabaka’s subjects are only maybe 20 per cent of the public service.”
“Even if they were only 10 per cent, if they can become revolted by corruption, that is enough to trigger change. Moreover, corruption is not practiced by public servants alone but in collaboration with the public and especially business people. So if it became taboo in the whole central region where the seat of government is, if all district councils, local administrations and UPE school managements in Buganda started operating in clean mode, wouldn’t that constitute a major starting step towards cleaning up?”

I thought she had a compelling argument so I allowed her to extract a promise from me that I would pass the suggestion to my clan head to pass on to the Katikkiro to cause the declaration of corruption as an anti-cultural practice in Buganda, ranking down there in the sewer with incest and totem eating.