Former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, in his 1908 book; My African Journey, documented his experiences about his 1907 travels through East Africa and the Sudan, thus; “Uganda is a wonderful new world. The scenery is different; the vegetation is different, the climate is different, and most of all, the people are different from anywhere to be seen in the whole range of Africa… Uganda is a fairy tale…Uganda is a Pearl.”
Although he used the term “Uganda”, Churchill was actually referring to Buganda. It is Buganda, whose industrious people, dating more than 600 years back, had established themselves as a civilised, innovative, and productive kingdom.
In medieval times, the Baganda fought, expanded and consolidated their kingdom’s territory, built the economy and fostered civilisation. Whenever you hear historians and other story tellers talking about a glorious Buganda, this is what they are referring to. A Buganda whose leadership knew that nothing would come on a silver platter.
This is the cherished Buganda where subjects were drummed up to work their hands off to ensure their households stayed above poverty lines and ignorance. In the process, this turned Buganda into a kingdom of plenty, rapid growth, blossoming prosperity and culture of dignity.
When the Europeans took charge of Uganda, beginning in 1898, effectively establishing their administration, and after the signing of the 1900 Buganda Agreement, the historical and historic innovations of the Baganda were gradually thwarted. The final blow to Buganda’s economy was landed by Milton Obote in 1966 when he dethroned Kabaka, around whom the economic rhythm of the monarchy revolves.
Between 1966 and 1993, when kingdoms were outlawed, the Buganda economy, just like the rest of the country, was wholly disrupted because there is a linkage between the politics of the people of Buganda and the region’s economy.
Although the NRM government should be applauded for restoring the kingdom and returning some of its properties, the Buganda question has never been answered or resolved.
This is the question concerning a clear determination of the status of Buganda Kingdom in the Republic of Uganda. Much of Kabaka Ronald Mutebi’s era, so far, has been spent in struggles to have the Buganda Kingdom reinstated to its former status of a federal state, constitutionally entrenched within the Republic of Uganda. This is the outcry you hear on a daily basis from Mengo.
Mengo agitates for the full restoration of their kingdom as it was before 1966, a return to the revered status where Buganda held a special position within Uganda and with a prosperous agrarian economy that set the kingdom apart from other monarchies in the region.
Although official statistics depict central Uganda, where Buganda is located, as the least poor region in the country, on-the-ground-realities tell a different story. The mismatch between the statistics and the realities on the ground is perhaps a result of the fact that official statistics tend to include Kampala city in the overall aggregate.
In the last two decades, beautiful houses and buildings have sprung up in Kampala, Wakiso, Entebbe, Mukono, and other peri-urban parts of Buganda. But a few miles outside the city and towns, poverty is rampant. In some areas, some as near as Nkokonjeru (48km from Kampala) in Mukono or Luweero (75km) and Mpigi, poverty is stinking -- you can smell it the moment you enter a particular village, or even strongly on going to someone’s home! For the people living in rural Buganda much as they are in millions, their economy is indeed peasant.
No wonder, Buganda Kingdom finance minister Eva Nagawa Mukasa expressed concern over the limited and unstable revenue base for the kingdom yet the need for services is increasing by the day. She said while reading the kingdom budget for 2013/14 fiscal year recently that the kingdom last year failed to generate Shs38.6 billion reflected in the budget creating a deficit of Shs29.97billion (78 per cent) and that the kingdom was indebted to the tune of Shs275 million.
This is probably what led the new Katikkiro, Charles Peter Mayiga, in his maiden speech to the Lukiiko (Buganda parliament) to say, among the challenges his leadership faced, was the “empty treasury”, on top of lack of markets for produce given the fact that the bulk of Baganda are agriculturists, and joblessness among Baganda youth.
A trip around rural Buganda brings a traveller into contact with certain realities that the deceptive GDP figures may have overlooked. Even where the beautiful houses have been built, the occupants of those homes do not have stable and permanent sources of income.
Many of those beautiful homes are housing what in economics is called a “boomerang generation” where young adults continue to live with their parents, mainly because they cannot afford to live independently.
Therefore, like many people in other parts of Uganda, Mayiga recognises the fact that Baganda are still afflicted by high levels of joblessness, poverty, hunger, ill-health, landlessness, poor quality education, environmental degradation and a host of other socio-political and economic rigidities. He did not end his speech before he dropped a new word in the world of traditionalists, being “innovative”. Mayiga lauded initiatives like K2 telecom, and asked the rest of Buganda to embrace innovation as a way of coming out of poverty.
Politics in Buganda
Those are universal challenges. However, the last decade has added one more challenge that is likely to undermine Buganda’s ability to produce and prosper economically. This is the problem of over politicisation of the Baganda.
When politics got defiled, beginning in 2005 when the 1995 Constitution was amended to allow President Museveni to seek unending terms, Buganda, owing to its central location, became a political war theatre. All political battles take place here. As the rest of the country concentrate on developmental activities, lately the Baganda are permanently busy engaging in running battles with police and the military.
The youth in Buganda spend a greater amount of their time and cognitive resources memorising and singing political party slogans and carrying posters of politicians.
It is mainly in Buganda where people leave their businesses and gardens unattended to, and spend days running around with self-serving politicians or participating in demonstrations on streets of Kampala, Wakiso, Mukono, Masaka and other parts of Buganda.
Now the Baganda are eating spaghetti and Irish potatoes (chips)! The matooke that used to be a pride of Buganda are now produced in Mbarara and Mbale. To buy the spaghetti and chips, the Baganda sell plots of land bequeathed to them by their parents. Other sources of income for the youth singing ekitiibwa kya Buganda include; sports betting, selling “old” spare parts at Kisekka Market stolen from vehicles, pinning campaign posters for politicians, and riding boda-bodas.
It is the Baganda that are leading those who spend most of their time talking and consuming. That is the reason why the businesses that have peaked faster in Buganda are those that facilitate talking and consuming -- mobile telephony, FM radios, bars, supermarkets, and politics. The highest concentration of such businesses is in Buganda.
In my academic research, I have found that more than 67 per cent of households in central Uganda substitute critical family expenses like food with mobile phone services. That is, in every 10 Baganda you meet talking on mobile phones, six of them have chosen to reduce the portion spent on food and use the savings for airtime purchase.
Some substitute “expensive” food-stuffs, usually critical protein sources such as meat and fish with cheaper but also less nutritious ones such as ground-nuts, to save for mobile phone airtime. Others have been reported to have sold off their assets such as land to pay for a mobile phone! These are findings of a scientific research.
Yet research further reveals that about 69 per cent of the calls that we make are “social” phone calls, that is, calls made to “chat” or “keep in touch” with friends, relatives, or to send greetings to “all listeners of CBS”. Business calls -- those made with the purpose of making money or to engage in a productive transaction -- are very few.
For FM radio operators, the most popular programmes are where listeners simply do not stop calling, where people call to send greetings or to request for songs or to discuss politics. Programmes on farming, business and other productive activities hardly get any listeners calling!
These are worrying realities that the leadership of Buganda Kingdom must find ways to circumvent if indeed they dream of restoring the glory of Buganda. But if there is any area in this country with potential to create wealth and provide a pebble for the overall transformation of Uganda, it is Buganda.
Buganda possesses some of the most valuable economic assets -- land and human resource -- universally used to accumulate wealth and build economies. Land everywhere is the primary asset of production. It doesn’t require more elaboration, especially at this point in time when everyone is scrambling for a piece of land.
Buganda Kingdom sits on 25,096 square miles of land. Actually, they are 16,138 square miles of land and 8,958 square miles of water and wetlands. Most of the land in Buganda is arable land.
The land owned by Buganda, if optimally used, can enable the kingdom to raise the finances it needs to rebuild its economy. If the kingdom regains some financial and economic muscle, it can use it to facilitate its protracted battles to regain its Federal State status.
At the moment Mengo seems bent on using the vast tracts of land it owns as a tool for maintaining loyalty for the Kabaka and the kingdom. It appears to me that the officials at Mengo find satisfaction in the recognition they get as Abataka (landlords) owning vast tracks of land, and in having the tenants paying rent and allegiance to the Kabaka and themselves.
New leadership at Mengo
Apart from revenues generated through the activities of the Buganda Land Board and CBS radio, Buganda has essentially pegged its survival on donations and voluntary services from its subjects -- selling certificates, using CBS radio to mobilise donations and contributions. This is unsustainable.
The richest and largest tribe cannot pride in donations. In the past, Mengo officials responded to those who raise these issues, “We do not collect taxes; how do you expect us to raise revenue to fund programmes?” Some leaders at Mengo even used to refer to their critics as detractors.
Fortunately, the new leadership under Katikkiro (prime minister) Charles Peter Mayiga, together with his smart and innovative colleagues, David Mpanga, Apollo Makubuya, Hajj Twaha Kawaase and others, seems to have realised this. Mayiga’s maiden speech last month sent a clear message that Mengo was ready to move on.
Moving on requires a realisation that although the central government has full control of the national economic resources and the right to levy taxes, it is inexcusable for the Buganda leadership to continue lamenting and mourning. It must find means of investing in its vast physical and human resources to reclaim the historical glory of this great kingdom.
The Baganda cannot afford to continue singing ekitiibwa bya Buganda when the Kabaka is surviving on donations; when the Baganda, a hitherto proud and successful populace, are roaming the streets jobless, hungry, illiterate and sick! This is unacceptable and inexcusable, not even as much as we may want to blame it on the continued “occupation of the kingdom by central government.”
The leadership of Uganda has not stopped us from turning the several tracts of prime land that we own in most of the strategic locations into investments.
The republic has not stopped us from attracting foreign investors to set up income generating projects at every Gombolola and Saza. The republic has not and cannot stop us from turning the vast Lubiri land into a satellite city to take full advantage of the fast-growing real estates’ sector.