The Busoga cultural leader [Kyabazinga], William Nadiope Gabula IV, has said he will snap up the opportunity to serve as an Ambassador in spite of protestations by some of his subjects and other Ugandans.
In a reshuffle of Uganda’s diplomats announced last Friday, President Museveni designated the traditional king, following two back-to-back meetings between them, as an “Ambassador in-charge of Special Duties in the President’s Office”.
The position, until now, had not existed in Uganda’s formal diplomatic structure, fueling additional concern on what the king’s exact brief or duties will be.
Among the dissenters is Ms Justine Kasule Lumumba, the secretary-general of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, who said the Kyabazinga’s priority should be to “preserve the Busoga kingdom and culture”.
“Our responsibility now is to safeguard the Obwa Kyabazinga bwa Busoga [the Kingdom of Busoga] from disintegrating and the priority of the Kyabazinga is to preserve the Busoga Kingdom and the culture of the Busoga sub-region,” she said at a function organised by the Busoga Development Link at Busoga Square in Jinja Town at the weekend.
Her comments last Saturday follow a briefing earlier in the day to the kingdom’s Lukiiko or parliament, a few kilometres away, by Katikiro Joseph Muvawala that the Kyabazinga had accepted the offer.
“The President has appointed the Kyabazinga after seeing that he has something special he can offer the country especially on issues concerning women, children and the economy. The Kyabazinga has been appointed as a Good Will Ambassador, which is different from the role of an ambassador as we know it,” Mr Muvawala told the Lukiiko.
But the State House announcement did not specify that Gabula IV would serve as a Goodwill envoy and Senior Presidential Press Secretary, Mr Don Wanyama, said Parliament will have to vet all new ambassadorial appointees before they start work.
Article 122 (1) of the Constitution provides that the President may, with the approval of parliament, appoint ambassadors and diplomats.
Some critics say it is unacceptable for a king to render himself for a job approval by the Parliament Appointments Committee chaired by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, who is his subject.
The Constitution bars traditional or cultural rulers from engaging in partisan politics and Article 246 (3)f specifically provides that “a traditional leader or cultural leader shall not have or exercise any administrative, legislative or executive powers of government or local government.”
Makerere University Law lecturer, Dr Busingye Kabumba, seized on this provision to declare that the appointment was ‘improper’ as it offends the Constitution and would set “a bad precedent”.
Because ambassadors and other diplomatic appointees exercise their authority for and on behalf of the President, Dr Kabumba said the Kyabazinga risks capitulating to the President or entangling himself under “collective responsibility” in the government if he takes up the job.
Busoga Prime Minister Muvawala, who holds a government job as the executive director of the National Planning Authority, said the Kyabazinga’s appointment is “good news because it demonstrates the President’s trust in him”.
He claimed that as a Good Will Ambassador, Gabula IV will remain within the kingdom and continue to discharge his cultural responsibilities uninterrupted.
According to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, a Goodwill Ambassador “is a person who advocates for a specific cause on the basis of their notability ... or promote ideals from one entity to another or to a population”.
MPs speak out
A number of lawmakers hailing from Busoga area, among Bukooli North’s Gaster Mugoya, said the Kyabazinga should not take up the job because, as a cultural leader, he is supposed to be non-partisan and serve all his subjects regardless of their affiliations.
“If you accept a political appointment, it means that you have abandoned your role as a purely cultural leader and decided to blend it with politics and this could be risky,” MP Mugoya said.
His Kagoma County counter Moses Walyomu, however, said he has no problem with the appointment.
He said: “And who said you can differentiate politics and culture? They are all about leadership.”
Mr Frank Nabwiso, an elder conversant with the kingdom affairs, said the Kyabazinga should resign if he takes up the ambassadorial role.
“Whichever way you look at it, the appointment of the Kyabazinga is illegal,” he said, citing both the national and Busoga constitutions.
Unlike other kingdoms such as Buganda, the Busoga kingship is not hereditary and the king is elected on a rotational basis from among eleven eligible chiefs.
The kingdom was plunged into a leadership wrangle following the death of Kyabazinga Henry Wako Muloki until President Museveni’s intervention enabled Gabula IV to take the throne.
Busoga Kingdom Chief Prince Samuel Nkuutu Zirabamuzaale said they had misunderstood the assignment, but Katikiro Muvawala’s explanation persuaded them that the Kyabazinga “will be involved in promotion of social and economic work and nothing to do with politics”.
Additional reporting by Moses Okeya