Did Kayunga riots change Uganda-Buganda relations for good?

Saturday September 14 2019

Blocked.  Police and other security agencies

Blocked. Police and other security agencies cut off Kayunga Road at Ssezibwa bridge to block then Buganda Katikkiro John Babtist Walusimbi from accessing Kayunga District on September 10, 2009. 

By Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi

In August 2013, President Museveni attended the 20th coronation anniversary of Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II at the Kabaka’s palace in Lubiri-Mengo.
In the traditions of Buganda Kingdom, the king’s word is not questioned. The king had invited President Museveni to attend the function, and so his subjects were supposed to make peace with it.
But on this occasion, Mr Charles Peter Mayiga, who was marking only four months as the Katikkiro (prime minister) of Buganda at the time, expended considerable labour calming down Buganda loyalists who tried to heckle the President, asking why he was in attendance.
Until then, President Museveni’s last visit to an establishment belonging to Buganda Kingdom had resulted in his guards shooting a couple of people dead. This was in March 2010 when the Kasubi Royal Tombs, the burial site of Buganda’s kings in Lubaga Division in Kampala, had been set ablaze. The President wanted to inspect the site, but a number of Buganda loyalists tried to block him, resulting in the scuffle that led to lethal shootings.
The attempt to bar the President from visiting the burnt tombs followed a number of instances during the decade leading to 2009 and shortly afterwards when central government officials, even if they were Baganda, were blocked from the kingdom’s functions.
On one occasion, Apolo Nsibambi (RIP), who was the Prime Minister at the time, had money he had contributed as the kingdom fundraised for some purpose returned to him. In short, if the name of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party was written on something, that thing was unacceptable at Bulange-Mengo, the power capital of Buganda Kingdom.

The issues
Just days to the said coronation anniversary, Kabaka Mutebi, together with Katikkiro Mayiga and a bevy of other kingdom officials, had visited President Museveni at State House Entebbe, where a historic agreement was inked. The agreement was for the return of properties belonging to Buganda Kingdom, which the central government had confiscated since the invasion of the kingdom in 1966. The properties included titles for county and sub-county headquarters within Buganda, and a number of prime properties in Kampala and elsewhere.
The fight over the properties, which the central government occupied for close to half a century, lay at the centre of the uneasy relationship between the kingdom and the central government.
A number of the other properties that the kingdom demanded were not to be returned to them in the agreement, but many in Mengo still saw the agreement as a good start.
The suspicion at Mengo, as voiced by different officials, was always that those in power at the centre targeted to grab Buganda’s land. The Land Act of 1998, enacted just three years after the promulgation of the Constitution in 1995, was very heavily contested, particularly the clause on landlord-tenant relations.
President Museveni has positioned himself as being pro-poor and where land is involved, he sides with the tenants over landlords, and his ideas were thought to have influenced the enactment of the 1998 land law that seemed to give undue powers to tenants over landlords.
Buganda Kingdom officials argued that relations between landlords and tenants in Buganda were always good, preferring to keep things the way they were.
The other underlying issue, perhaps the most important cause of conflict between the two centres of power, is the fight for political power. At independence in 1962, Buganda Kingdom allied with the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) then led by Milton Obote and formed government ahead of the late Benedicto Kiwanuka’s Democratic Party (DP), but the alliance was dead within four years after then prime minister Obote got the army to beat Kabaka Edward Muteesa II, who was the non-executive president of Uganda, out of the country in 1966.
Obote banned political parties and installed a republican constitution, confiscating whatever belonged to Buganda Kingdom and renaming the Bulange Building, the seat of Buganda Kingdom, as Republican House.
To those in whose hearts the kingdom remained engrained, Obote became the kingdom’s number one enemy, a sentiment President Museveni would exploit in the early 1980s to mobilise parts of Buganda to launch a war against Obote, who had worked himself back into power in 1980 after he had first been deposed in a coup in 1971.

Agreement half fulfilled?
As Mr Museveni waged the war that brought him to power in 1986, he played on the hatred most Baganda had for Obote and also made a number of promises.
At Kabaka Mutebi’s 20th coronation anniversary referenced above, Mr Museveni was in the mood to recall an engagement he had with the then Crown Prince in London.
Mr Museveni said: “Your Highness, you may remember that when I met you in London in 1981, at the late Prof (Yusuf) Lule’s house, I told you that the traditional institutions in Uganda could be restored if the people concerned so wished and the institutions contributed to patriotism within Uganda, pan-Africanism in Africa and modernisation. This was because Africans needed all the four: the traditional practices that are still relevant; patriotism within Uganda; pan-Africanism within Africa; and modernisation…”
Mr Museveni the rebel and Crown Prince Mutebi would meet again during the Luweero Bush War as the prince travelled from London to be conducted around “liberated” areas as the war raged. It is thought that the trip was meant to morale-boost the fighters, many of whom paid allegiance to Buganda and fought in the belief that their kingdom would be restored with all its former glory should they triumph.
The debate has died down a bit in recent years, but for many years during President Museveni’s rule, arguments were alive, even fueled by President Museveni’s own supporters like Hajji Abdul Nadduli, the minister without Portfolio, that the President had not fulfilled the promises he made to Buganda during the Bush War. Hajji Nadduli famously claimed that he personally sat with rebel leader Museveni in a thicket in Luweero as the war raged and Mr Museveni promised to grant a federal (commonly called federo in Buganda) status to Buganda after the war was won.
It is not clear whether there was such an agreement and if it were there, what type of federo was actually agreed upon, but this is a debate that divided the two centres of power from the early days of Mr Museveni’s rule and led to a big fallout at the time the 1995 Constitution was made.
New Buganda?
Were the Kayunga riots the incident that presented the opportunity for the NRM government to beat Buganda into submission? The conclusive answer for this question may still be beyond us because we cannot predict the future with certainty.
But relations between Mengo and the central government moved from confrontational to at worst indifferent after the blood-filled incident.
When Mr Mayiga was appointed Katikkiro in May 2013, he proclaimed a policy that for one to be friends with him, all they needed to do was to love and respect Buganda and its king. He pointed out people he said were his friends, and many of them belonged to the ruling party. It sounds simple, but no one occupying his seat at Mengo would dare say such a thing in a long time before he took over. He occasioned a big change in approach at Mengo.
Mr Mayiga has inevitably been accused by kingdom loyalists of being a sellout, and he has many critics at Mengo and within Buganda. But he has also strongly charmed the kingdom and led an unprecedented fundraising campaign to rebuild Kasubi Tombs and set up a glittering building at Bulange-Mengo.
The other notable change since the Kayunga riots is that no official serving in the Buganda government openly criticises the central government as the case was before. Those who had been openly hostile to the central government left their positions and joined active politics in 2011. The most notable examples are Mr Sseggona, who represents Busiro East in Parliament, and Masaka Municipality MP Mathias Mpuuga.
In a nutshell, 10 years after the Kayunga riots, Mengo is heavily de-politicised and less likely to provide the most immediate threat to President Museveni’s rule as the case was before the riots.
The making of Kayunga riots
President Museveni and his lieutenants accused Buganda Kingdom of looking to be made a “state within a state”, which they say was the cause of the 1966 Buganda crisis because the central government had its functioning considerably constrained by the existence of a powerful Buganda Kingdom.
The NRM government settled for the decentralisation policy, ceding some powers to districts and lower local councils instead of doing so to regions. As agitation continued without abating, the government proposed what they called a “regional tier” system, by which districts that felt the need to cooperate would do so and form some kind of regional government.
The government and Buganda Kingdom officials led by Mr Mulwanyammuli Ssemwogerere, who was the Katikkiro at the time, were involved in a series of negotiations that led to an agreement on a sort of “regional tier” system that they felt would be workable in Buganda and other regions. Mr Mayiga, then an influential minister of information and cabinet affairs in the Mengo government, was also part of the negotiations. This was in 2005.

Ssemwogerere out, Muliika in
After the negotiations, a beaming Ssemwogerere announced to the kingdom that a historic agreement had been reached with the government, which he said catered for many of the things Buganda wanted. To drive his point home and define his approach, Mr Ssemwogerere used a loaded Luganda proverb; “Nnyama ntono, okaayana eri munkwawa” (meaning that Buganda Kingdom should first make do with what had been provided as it struggled for more).
Mr Ssemogerere’s incrementalist approach, however, was not well received by a number of groups in the kingdom, which forced him to resign together with his cabinet. And so the era of Mr Dan Muliika, a representative of the most radical wing of Buganda Kingdom, had arrived.
As Katikkiro, Mr Muliika arrived at a particularly difficult time. He took over when Dr Kizza Besigye had just returned from South Africa to challenge President Museveni for the second time. Dr Besigye was arrested and charged with treason, misprision of treason and rape, and the political temperatures were sky-high.
To the already boiling temperatures, Katikkiro Muliika added his acerbic criticism of President Museveni’s government, quickly drawing criticism that he was butting for Dr Besigye. To those wearing NRM lenses, even to neutrals, it appeared like Mengo and the anti-Museveni politicians at the time were one and the same thing.
Then 2006 came and went, with all the tension, killings and violence that accompanied it. In February 2007, just after a year a few months since Mr Muliika had taken over as Katikkiro, the Kabaka relieved him of his duties and placed the kingdom under Mr Samanuel Ssendawula as caretaker for a year, until he appointed Mr John Baptist Walusimbi as substantive Katikkiro in 2008. It was under the watch of Mr Walusimbi, a man thought to have had a soft spot for NRM, whose engineering firm was said to have been contracted to do some works on State House Entebbe, that hell broke loose in 2009.

The ‘internal exile’
But before the 2009 Kayunga riots, there had been enough drama in-between.
After the 2006 election, the government proposed amendments to the land law, which Mengo said were meant to dispossess Baganda of their land. The Mengo administration was vocal in opposing the proposals, and Kabaka Mutebi appointed Ms Beti Nambooze to head what he named the Central Civic Education Committee (CECC) to “sensitise” Baganda about the proposed amendments.
President Museveni was particularly unhappy about the work of the committee and some Buganda Kingdom ministers, including Mr Mayiga and Mr Medard Sseggona. Ms Nambooze and Mr Sseggona were at the time not yet MPs.
To express his displeasure about the campaign against the proposed amendments and what he called causing disaffection against NRM, Mr Museveni wrote to the Kabaka on December 18, 2007, thus: “The law enforcement agencies should have long ago intervened to stop this law-breaking; but I restrained them because I had not met you (Kabaka) and we also did not want to send wrong signals to the delegates who were coming here for CHOGM...”
The pro-Mengo campaigners against the proposed land amendments did not relent, and the government pounced in July 2008, arresting Ms Nambooze, Mr Mayiga and Sseggona. The trio were driven around different districts of western Uganda, including Bundibugyo, in what was cynically referred to as them being taken into “internal exile”. It was a strong signal that the gloves were off, but Mengo still refused to back down.
As the government looked to cut Buganda down to size, chiefdoms that sought to secede from the kingdom – Bunyala and Buruuli – seemed to enjoy official support, something to which the kingdom took strong exception. The self-appointed chiefs in the said chiefdoms became bolder with time, saying the Kabaka could not visit what they called their territories without their permission. Buganda Kingdom took exception to this.
And so on September 10, 2009, Katikkiro Walusimbi led an advance team to Kayunga, which is claimed by Bunyala chiefdom, to prepare for the Kabaka’s visit, which was to take place the following day. There had been back-and-forth arguments between the central government and the Buganda Kingdom before this trip, with the central government communicating to the Kabaka in no uncertain terms that he would not be allowed to visit Kayunga. In Kayunga, choreographed actions were in earnest, with motley groups threatening to cause chaos should Kabaka Mutebi proceed with his visit. Security capitalised on this to argue that the Kabaka needed to stay away to ensure peace.

Days of ruin
The Katikkiro and his entourage was stopped at Ssezibwa bridge and could not access Kayunga, touching off spontaneous demonstrations in Kampala, Masaka and some other towns that quickly turned riotous. Going by the official account, 27 people were killed, although other accounts say many more actually died. The Buganda Kingdom-owned Central Broadcasting Service (CBS) radio station and a few others were shut down on accusations of whipping up emotions and inciting people into violence. CBS remained closed for more than a year.
The riots took immense effort on the part of the security services to quell, and the resistance was unprecedented during Mr Museveni’s time. Makerere University law don Joe Oloka-Onyango referred to the incident as an uprising.