LETTER TO A KAMPALA FRIEND: Kabaka shed tears for all of us

Monday March 22 2010

By Muniini K. Mulera

Dear Tingasiga: Back in the mid-90s, my wife and I made the acquaintance of Mr Joseph Mulira, who told us that he had been on guard at the Kasubi Royal Tombs since the reign of Ssekabaka Daudi Chwa II.

In his eighties when we first met him at the entrance to the tombs, Mr Mulira gave us a crash course in Buganda royal history with a scholarly clarity that none of our Gayaza/Budo/Makerere friends have ever been able to approach.

We both felt that a man like Mr Mulira ought to have been on the faculty at Makerere University, or facilitated by the Uganda government, or UNESCO to transfer his encyclopedic knowledge of Buganda and its traditions to a permanent record for posterity.
On subsequent visits to Kasubi, I would seek him out to enhance my little knowledge, a request to which he always obliged with great enthusiasm. It was a very sad moment when, upon returning to Kasubi a few years ago, I learnt that Mr Mulira had died.

Perhaps it is just as well that he was not around last week to witness the inferno that engulfed Muzibu Azaala Mpanga, a most heinous attack against his nation, against his history and against the only pure place that was left in the kingdom.

One suspects that Mr Mulira would have been among those who put up resistance against President Yoweri Museveni’s visit to the destroyed mausoleum.

The President’s visit was a terrible miscalculation. The Baganda’s resistance against the Uganda Fire Brigade that had gone to fight the fire at Kasubi was not an act of foolish people, rejecting what was good for them, but an angry reaction by intelligent people against anything and everything that was associated with Museveni’s government.


Fairly or unfairly, they saw the arsonist and the rescuer as one and the same thing. So Gen. Museveni ought to have known that he would not be a welcome visitor, certainly not so soon after the inferno.
But true to form, the President ignored the counsel of wise and sober Baganda gentlemen, who advised him not to visit Kasubi. He would use kifuba (force) to pay his respects to people who clearly did not want his sympathies. He was the Ssabagabe (King of Kings) and he was entitled to unfettered access to any part of his realm. So he dispatched his army of bodyguards to clear the way. In a most obscene disregard for human life, Gen. Museveni’s guards unleashed bullets, killing three innocent Ugandans, and wounding and terrorising hundreds of others.

Had such terror been unleashed by the bodyguards of, say, Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada, or president Milton Obote, circa 1982, a younger Museveni would have had a lot to say about it. Yet we now hear that his spokesmen want us to absolve the President of all responsibility for the death of his unarmed subjects at the hands of his bodyguards. How times change!

The irony, of course, is that in September 2009, Museveni stopped Kabaka Mutebi from visiting Bugerere in Kayunga because of purported security concerns. Gen. Museveni claimed that he could not guarantee Kabaka’s security given that some of the residents of Kayunga were hostile to the Buganda king.
If it was not appropriate, or safe for Kabaka Mutebi to visit a part of his own kingdom, why was it appropriate for Gen. Museveni to visit Kasubi where he was not welcome? What exactly was it that Gen. Museveni’s presence at Kasubi was supposed to accomplish for Buganda and for Uganda?

One must be forgiven for thinking that Gen. Museveni could not resist another opportunity to humiliate Buganda, a kingdom with which he has been at war for a while now. And so he put his own curiosity or, more likely, his ego above people’s lives?

The images of the red-hot inferno engulfing Muzibu Azaala Mpanga and of Museveni’s armed men in plain clothes terrorising unarmed Baganda induced a paralysing chill, followed by questions that I could not answer. What had become of my country if this, one of the most sacred places on Earth and the best link to Buganda’s ancient history, could be so irreparably desecrated by an arsonist, and then by the country’s President?

How could anyone with the smallest drop of African blood in their veins violate burial grounds with fire? How could an African soldier fire bullets at mourners gathered on burial grounds? Had our taboos been discarded along with our rich morals?

To this non-Muganda, Kasubi was a very important and amazingly beautiful cultural site that fed one’s love and admiration for one’s African heritage. My visits to Muzibu Azaala Mpanga always left me in awe of the artistic and architectural genius behind the masterpiece that it was.

The Kasubi that I knew seemed to exist on a plane above that which is occupied by Museveni’s Uganda. The tranquillity of the place, the rich artifacts and the truly amazing architectural details of Kabaka Mutesa I’s residence, now a mausoleum, always transported me back in time as I imagined what life must have been like when that great 19th Century king ruled Buganda. I could never get enough of Muzibu Azaala Mpanga.

My reaction to its destruction was, of course, that of a non-Muganda who, however deeply incensed, could not begin to fathom what the tragedy meant to the Baganda.

To them, Kasubi was more than a spectacular burial ground and shrine for their kings. It was a spiritual umbilical cord that connected them to Kintu and Nambi, the founders of Buganda.

Mzee John Nagenda, the Senior Presidential Advisor on the Media, reported in his Saturday Vision Column that a Muganda friend of his had simply cried “Woowe!” in a SMS to him. This is the agonized cry of people who have just lost a loved one.
In the words of a Muganda friend of mine, Kasubi is Buganda. Once Kasubi is burnt down, Buganda eyidde (Buganda is gone).
I think that was the meaning of the tears that Kabaka Mutebi II shed in public as he stood in front of the burnt shell of his father’s and grandfathers’ resting place. The Kabaka shed those tears not just for his kingdom, but for all of us.
Dr Mulera is a consultant pediatrician and neonatologist