September 9, 2009, marked a turning point in Buganda Kingdom and Bunyala Cultural Institution.
It was the first time the Kabaka (King of Buganda) had been blocked by the central government from accessing a part of Buganda region, until he got consent from Bunyala Chiefdom.
The incident came with consequences to both cultural institutions.
Mr James Rwebikere, the spokesman of Bunyala Chiefdom, says they have made both losses and gains in the last 10 years but their most important aim of awakening their culture has been attained.
“Before, many people feared to be called Banyala. Many were assimilated into other ethnic groups. We are now seeing many people professing to be Banyala, which is a good thing to the development of our culture,” Mr Rwebikere says.
Kayunga District, where the Banyala come from, is called Bugerere County, one of the Buganda Kingdom counties.
Historically, Bugererere was part of Bunyoro Kingdom but it was taken over by Buganda Kingdom in the 1800s.
The Banyala then became a community within Buganda Kingdom.
“Banyala suffered during that time and many people had to flee to Lango and Teso sub-regions. But in 1970s, our communities were attacked in Lango where we were called onami (literally meaning foreigners across the lake). Some members, including my family, had to flee back to our land,” Mr Rwebikere says.
In 1980, the Baruuli and Banyala co-founded the first group, Baruuli-Banyala Development Association, to push for their recognition.
He said the last group fled back to, now, Kayunga District during the second attack on his community in Lango Sub-region during the Tito Okello regime between 1985 and 1985.
After the National Resistance Movement took power, Banyala established another group, Banyala Cultural and Development Association in 1987.
In 1992, the late Nathan Mpagi, the first Ssabanyala, was elected to head it.
“Both Banyala and Baruuli had the same grievances, but each ethnic group was too weak to front its own agenda. We met at the home of the late Mpagi and agreed to form one association in order to have a strong team,” Mr Rwebikere said.
Buruuli-Bunyala Cultural Trust was born the following year with the aim of championing social, economic and cultural interest for the people of the two ethnic groups that share a lot in language and norms.
The institution asked other groups to rally behind members of their ethnicities in the Constitutional Assembly.
The late MP Kitaka Gaweera for Baale County, Mr Muruuli Mukasa for Nakasongola, and Jamil Lutalo for Ntenjeru County, were fronted. And indeed they joined Parliament.
In 1997, cracks emerged between Buganda Kingdom and Baruuli-Banyala cultural institution.
Nakasongola District was a new district carved out of Luweero District. When Kabaka Mutebi prepared a tour there, the Baruuli attempted to block him in vain.
“The resistance didn’t last for long. By 1997, we had weakened. We didn’t see any hope of becoming a recognised institution. We decided to work under Mengo [establishment] if they recognise us,” he says.
They wanted to use the opportunity of a new Buganda radio station, Central Broadcasting Service (CBS), to have a programme in their language.
“Mwogezi Butamanya went to Mengo and shared the proposal with the then Katikkiro [Buganda Kingdom premier] Joseph Ssemwogerere. Mr Ssemwogerere said those were insignificant languages. We were shocked later when we heard Ateso being given a programme on CBS. We said we shall stay in the same house, as Buganda region, but have different bedrooms, as cultural institutions,” he says.
A series of events happened. In 2000, they were able to carve out Kayunga District from Mukono District that was largely dominated by Baganda and paid total allegiance to the Buganda Kingdom.
But they remained a minority ethnic group even in the new district.
The 2014 population census showed that there were 47,000 Banyala in the country and if all were residents of Kayunga District, they would be just 13 per cent of the district’s population.
Nakasongola District was able to pass a resolution for installation of Baruuli cultural group.
In December 2004, Mr Butamanya was installed as Ssabaruuli (the Buruuli cultural leader).
In Kayunga District, Banyala community split into four groups.
The four are: Buruuli-Bunyala Culture Trust led by Ssabaruuli Mwogezi Butamanya, Bunyala Cultural Restoration Initiative led by Noah Byerwanjo, Banyala Cultural Leadership headed by Ezra Lubega and Namuyonjo led by the late Stephen Kayemba.
Namuyonjo’s group claimed that Mpagi was not their leader since he was a Muruuli and not a member of Babiito Clan that culturally produces leaders of Banyala.
The late Mpagi’s group too accused late Kayemba of not being a Munyala, but a former provincial leader brought in by Buganda and colonialists to govern Bugerere County before Uganda attained its independence.
It took the effort of the then Resident District Commissioner for Kayunga District, Ms Margaret Baryehuki and MP Gaweera to bring the four groups to one table.
All groups agreed to create one forum and late Mpagi was chosen to lead the forum’s interim committee.
However, Ssabanyala’s leadership and Namuyonjo’s team disagreed on what was agreed upon.
Mr Rwabikere says late Mpagi was elected to lead the group while Mr Charles Ssenkungu was named the spokesman of Namuyonjo. The committee was to investigate and find out who the rightful leader of Banyala is.
In 2006, the new committee met President Museveni and he gave them a go-ahead.
“Baruuli-Banyala Cultural Trust went on to announce [late] Mpagi as the Ssabanyala, which was illegal,” says Mr Ssenkungu, who was legal advisor on the committee.
Mr Ssenkungu is now a representative in Buganda Kingdom Lukiiko (Parliament). The Kayunga District councillors passed a resolution for the installation of Banyala cultural institution.
The Ssabanyala’s group had achieved politically.
On October 13, 2007, the Namuyonjo group, led by Mr Ezra Lubega, petitioned the then Attorney General Khiddu Makubuya to block the installation of Mpagi as Ssabanyala.
The D-Day was to come on August 3, 2008, and preparations for the coronation of the Ssabanyala were set.
Mpagi, the Ssabanyala-to-be, got the shock of his life.
The central government had put all its energies to ensure that the event is successful until on the last day when it caved in to Buganda demands that the installation should not be held.
The then Attorney General wrote to Ssabanyala-to-be cancelling the coronation.
Upon receiving the communication, Mpagi’s blood pressure hit the roof, triggering several other health complications.
Efforts to save his life in Mulago hospital where he had been rushed for treatment were futile. He died on the date he was to be crowned.
However, he left structures that were later to be used by his son, Baker Kimeze, an army Lieutenant.
On August 10, 2008, Lt Kimeze, a serving military officer, was installed as the Ssabanyala.
Government would show its commitment to his cause when they promoted him to the rank of Captain two months after his coronation.
Ssabanyala Capt Kimeze escalated attacks on Buganda Kingdom vowing not to allow Kabaka of Buganda to visit Kayunga District until Mengo establishment has sought permission from them.
Buganda Kingdom could not swallow what they described as an infringement on the constitutional rights of association and movement.
To demonstrate their rights of association, Buganda Kingdom organised Kabaka’s tour of Kayunga District on September 10, 2009.
The central government insisted that Buganda Kingdom must first seek consent from Ssabanyala if they are to hold any events in Kayunga District.
Two days to Kabaka’s tour, government moved in, with police dispersing a health camp that had been organised by Buganda Kingdom at Ssaza grounds.
The following day, then Katikkiro John Baptist Walusimbi was blocked from accessing Kayunga District, which sparked riots in Buganda Region in which more than two dozen people were killed.
Mr Ssenkungu sued government for blocking Kabaka Mutebi from travelling to Kayunga District and won the case.
In January 2014, Kabaka made his first visit to Kayunga District four years after the riots, but still, the Mengo establishment had to notify the Ssabanyala team.
Mengo did not notify of other visits to the district since that time.
In Kabaka Mutebi’s last visit to Kayunga District this year, Namuyonjo Judah Kayemba, the son of late Stephen Kayemba, was announced as the new leader for Banyala recognised by Buganda Kingdom.
Ssabanyala’s efforts to seek government help to stop Kabaka Mutebi from visiting without notifying them failed this time.
The change of mind by the government and its deliberate refusal to gazette Ssabanyala as a cultural leader has come with political and economic consequences to his institution.
Mr Rwebikere says they are unable to get financial resources from their partners unless they have been recognised by the government as a cultural institution.
Buganda politicians, led by Mukono Municipality Member of Parliament Betty Nambooze, have also made it difficult for government to officially fund the Bunyala cultural institution as they often question, in Parliament, how financial resources can be given to an institution that is not gazetted.
He says Members of Parliament and local leaders from Kayunga District do not want to associate with Ssabanyala leadership.
“We invite them to our events, but they don’t turn up. They only come during elections to seek votes from our people. We are telling our people to change the trend and vote those politicians who care for us,” he says.
He adds that some of the councillors, who are Banyala by ethnicity, do not want to be called so.
“We want peace with Mengo, but they should also recognise us as an independent cultural institution and Kabaka will never be our king,” he says.