Clash of cultures: Which way for Buganda?

Wednesday June 12 2019

On the spot. Ms Ruth Nakimuli Kasujja, who

On the spot. Ms Ruth Nakimuli Kasujja, who former Prime Minister Apolo Nsibambi, chose as heiress. The act has since sparked public debate on the position of the girl-child when it comes to family succession. PHOTO BY Joseph Kiggundu Right: The late Prof Apolo Nsibambi 

By James Kabengwa

Top officials in Buganda Kingdom have asserted that modernity cannot supersede tradition as they insisted it was wrong for former Prime Minister Apolo Nsibambi to choose a heiress.
“This shouldn’t have happened and as head of the clan, I have instituted a committee to recommend the next course of action,” Mr Walusimbi Mbirozankya, said in an interview recently.
Mr Walusimbi is the head of the Effumbe clan to which Nsibambi, who died on May 28, belonged.
Nsibambi chose his daughter Ruth Nakimuli Kasujja as heiress.
The act has since sparked public debate.
Mr Walusimbi asserted that he gave instructions to investigate whether Nsibambi did not have any male relative who would be named heir.
“The committee will look into whether in the late’s lineage, there existed no male. A report should be out in the next few days,” Walusimbi said.
But he declined to explain the nature of action the clan would take but ruled out legal action. There have been calls for Ms Kasujja to step down.
During a funeral service at Namirembe Cathedral in Kampala, Mukono Bishop James Ssebaggala prayed for Ms Kasujja as heir in what now officials at Buganda Kingdom have called an endorsement of an abomination.
“The bishop is a Muganda of the same clan as Nsibambi. He knows our norms. How could he play a role to confirm a woman as heir to his father yet he knows it is unacceptable in Buganda?” an official, who preferred anonymity, wondered.
The Mukono Municipality Member of Parliament, Ms Betty Nambooze, in a facebook post, challeneged those who want Ms Kasujja to step down as Nsibambi’s heiress.
“Interestingly, in this 21st Century, some people are raising up against the late Nsibambi for ignoring the Baganda culture to appoint a daughter as heiress. In Buganda, norms can be changed or amended by a reigning Kabaka and by allowing Christianity and the Baganda to practise the Christian faith, Ssekabaka Muteesa I changed many Baganda norms concerning women,” Ms Nambooze posted.
She said Nsibambi should be left to rest in peace and Ms Kasujja accorded the support she deserves to uphold her father’s legacy.
Daily Monitor’s attempt to get a comment from Ms Kasujja were futile by press time. Similarly, her Sister, Ms Juliet Nsibambi, in a telephone interview with this newspaper recently, declined to discuss the matter.

What the kingdom says
The Buganda Kingdom minister in charge of special duties, Mr Daudi Mpanga, says according to the Kiganda norms, there is a distinction between property inheritance (okusikira ebintu) and customary inheritance (okusikira omusaayi).
“Customary inheritance, properly done, comes after the formalities of performing last funeral rites (okutambuza n’okwabya olumbe) and is superintended by the family and the clan. It is gender-sensitive and gender inclusive in so far as a man is succeeded by a male, referred to as Omusika (deceased’s son, nephew or brother), and a female, referred to as Lubuga (his niece), while a woman is succeeded by a female, also called Omusika (her brother’s daughter or her son’s daughter) and a female (her niece) also called Lubuga,” Mr Mpanga explains.

The difference
“Property inheritance, on the other hand, is supposed to be equitable among the deceased’s offspring, with both male and female offspring as well as spouse(s) sharing property equitably - note that this does not mean equally because it may not be possible to share property equally, but there must be fairness and no discrimination between beneficiaries on grounds of sex,” he adds.
He says while a female offspring is entitled to inherit her late father’s property equitably with her male siblings, she cannot be her father’s customary heir. Similarly, a male offspring can share in his late mother’s property but cannot be her customary heir.
“This is not discrimination. It is a customary distinction based on basic biology. Further more, it is not the proper role of the church to usurp customary or even legal inheritance norms,” he says.
He stresses that a customary heir cannot be installed by the church during a funeral service, in much the same way as letters of administration cannot be signed by a bishop during a service.
In Buganda, Mr Mpanga says, customary heirs are installed after proper last funeral rites and that is done by the appropriate clan leaders (Omukulu w’Olunyiriri, Ow’Omutuba, Ow’essiga or Ow’Akasolya).

The law

Succession. The Succession Act 1906 prohibits under customary arrangement a daughter to succeed her father. It says the customary heir should be a person recognised by the rites and customs of a tribe or community of a deceased person as being a customary heir of the deceased.
“The fact that Nsibambi was a Muganda and that his tribe bars daughters to succeed their fathers, the heiress is then a nullity,” Mr Steven Kisira, the head of information, communication and technology at the Insurance Regulatory Authority, said in an interview.
But the Act also creates relief for Ms Kasujja if she were appointed a legal heir. A legal heir, by law, is the living relative regardless of sex, nearest in degree to a person who dies without living a Will.