Bobi Luweero speech reignites unsettled Buganda question

NUP president Bobi Wine addresses his supporters in Luweero District last month. PHOTO/ COURTESY OF @HEBobiwine ON X

What you need to know:

  • In his now banned countywide tour which he had aimed at mobilising and reenergising his base, Opposition leader Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu threw the spanner in the works when he asked his kindred in Buganda sub-region to raise up against the current establishment, saying it had taken them for granted having supported it for years.
  • But as Derrick Kiyonga writes the speech has reignited the unsettled Buganda question.

When Mr Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine, entered his bastion of the Buganda Sub-region on his recent countywide tour, there was anticipation of what message he had for a region that backed him fully in 2021, the first time he had a shot at the presidency.

Born in Gomba District found in central Buganda, Kyagulanyi wrestled Buganda from the firm grip of President Museveni and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) when he reaped 62 percent of the votes cast in the region, with Museveni, who had been winning in Buganda since 1996 when the first presidential elections were held under his administration, getting 35.91 percent.

After the dust had settled, Museveni said he had lost in Buganda on the account of sectarianism.

“In some of the voting, the pattern which we saw, for instance, in Buganda, very interesting; you can see some of that (sectarianism),” the President said. “I have been following what has been going on. There is nothing I don’t know. I know who has been meeting who; who was giving money to who (sic); I know all that.”

Old Uganda
Museveni claimed that although Kyagulanyi’s catchword during the campaigns was wanting to institute a new Uganda, his real intention was to bring back the old Uganda that failed.

“That is what they wanted to bring back: the old way of sectarianism,” Museveni said.

With NUP scooping 50 parliamentary seats, in the process eliminating Museveni’s ministers such as Haruna Kyeyune Kasolo (Microfinance), John Chrysostom Muyingo (Junior minister for Education), Ruth Nankabirwa (Chief Government Whip) and Edward Ssekandi (Vice President), among others, from Parliament, Museveni equated it to the 1950s and the 1960s when Kabaka Yekka – a monarchist political movement that pursued the kingdom’s interests and dominated politics in Buganda, later forming an alliance of convenience with Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) – catapulted Kabaka Edward Muteesa to the presidency when Uganda attained independence in 1962.

Yet in touring the country,  for the first time since his failed bid to become president, Kyagulanyi had a stop in Buganda, specifically Luweero District.

Found approximately 73kms outside of Kampala, Luweero used to be the heartland of the NRM, or its military wing, having used it as a nerve centre of their guerrilla war operations in the early 1980s. But this dominance was ended by Kyagulanyi.

In his speech that has been labelled as aimed at fanning ethnic tensions in the country, Kyagulanyi first told the energetic crowd he wants to remember the memories of the at least 300,000 civilians who died in the guerrilla war Museveni waged in what is now known as Luweero triangle. 

“I want to pay respect to those who perished between 1980 and 1986 when Museveni was trying to claim power through the use of the gun,” Kyagulanyi said. 

Saying his message is aimed at people living in the 18 counties (masaza) that make up the Buganda Kingdom, Kyagulanyi said it was astonishing that by the time Museveni and his rebels took power in 1986, they were paupers, but had now accumulated property.

“They came with old rotten shoes with shirts in shreds and many of them didn’t have a second pair of underpants, but today they own everything here on the lands of our forefathers,” Kyagulanyi said. 

With Museveni’s son, Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, eyeing the presidency, the singer-turned-politician accused the President of trying to establish a monarchy.

“They are wasting money on birthday celebrations. Museveni is trying to impose on us his son,” he said. 

Just like the Baganda played a critical role in bringing Museveni to power by giving safe sanctuary in the Luweero jungles, Kyagulanyi said the onus now is on Buganda to take him out of power. 

“How did Museveni repay back the Baganda?” Kyagulanyi asked. “He and his henchmen have been chasing us from our land.” 

Sam Mayanja, the State minister for Lands, reacted by denying that Museveni, who has huge chunks of land in Gomba, has been involved in land grabbing in Buganda. 

“I have been involved in fighting land grabs and I can tell you the President has never involved himself in land grabs,” Mayanja said. “I challenge Kyagulanyi to come up with specifics and I will contradict him.” 

The reaction by police was to ban Kyagulanyi’s rallies on the account that he was fanning sectarianism, which is a crime under Section 41 of the Penal Code that defines sectarianism as the practice of degrading or exposing to hatred or contempt or disaffection for anyone on the basis of religion, tribe, or ethnic or regional origin by utterance, printing, publication or performance any such act. 

“The mobilisation activities were used to incite violence, promote sectarianism and make a legitimate cause for removal of elected government and issuance of defamatory statements,” Deputy Inspector General of Police, Maj Gen Geoffrey Katsigazi Tumusiime, said in statement.

Kyagulanyi ventured into the Buganda question, referencing Kabaka Ronald Mutebi who recently said although the kingdom had been restored in 1993, he had no powers to deliver for his people. 

“The Kabaka is a gentleman and he isn’t confrontational because of his position. But for me as his subject, I will come and be frank and say it the way it is,” he said. 

Government officials came short of accusing Kyagulanyi of Ganda chauvinism, but they said he was engaging in dangerous ethnic talk.

“Fellow Ugandans, let’s rise up and say no to ideologically bankrupt politicians like Bobi Wine, who seek to exploit tribalism for their own selfish interests and cause civil war. Our priority now is economic development,” Minister of State for Primary Healthcare Margret Muhanga said while addressing journalists at the Uganda Media Centre.

The centre of the argument was the self-determination that has always been sought by Buganda Kingdom with Kabaka Edward Muteesa II being the first to make this case during colonial rule.

The youthful Muteesa rejected both the 1900 Buganda Agreement and the memorandum on Constitutional Development and Reform of 1953 both of which made it clear that Buganda Kingdom would be governed under Uganda.

Muteesa, who had succeeded his father Daudi Chwa, had different ideas. He wanted Buganda to be an independent state, in the process annoying the British.

Just like his father, Muteesa rejected the political federation of East Africa which the British had fronted. Muteesa rejected the political federation on grounds it was framed under the pretext of doing away with the Buganda Kingdom, abolishing the Luganda language and enforcing Kiswahili in Buganda. 

Buganda Kingdom also dreaded the East African federation on grounds that it would open doors to European settlers, as the case was in Kenya, and that antique kingdom, with its precious culture, would be eaten up in a bigger East Africa. 

The British government reacted by exiling Muteesa in 1953, but the now-fallen Kabaka in his book The Desecration of my Kingdom made it clear that he knew that they had miscalculated since he had the backing of his people on the issues at hand. 

“[Governor Andrew] Cohen’s unitary state with a Legislative Council directly elected could not include me,” Muteesa wrote. “He failed to understand that I had total support. I think he decided that any influence of mine must be destroyed, perhaps by discrediting me or by more drastic means.” 

Muteesa triumphantly returned to his kingdom in 1955, but in 1966 he was back in England after his hitherto ally Milton Obote attacked his palace and exiled him. 

The relationship between Muteesa, who was the president, and Obote, who was the prime minister with executive powers, reached a tipping point when the referendum was organised to ensure the return the so-called lost counties of Buyaga and Bugangaizi to Bunyoro. 

On May 20, 1966, the Buganda Lukiiko (parliament) passed a motion “ordering Obote to remove his government from Buganda soil and take it to Lango,” forcing Obote to react by declaring a state of emergency in Buganda on May 23, 1966.

Top seat
Thirteen years after Muteesa lost the presidency, Yusuf Lule, another Muganda, somehow found his way to the top seat in the country. 

Ugandans who were fighting Idi Amin’s presidency in Tanzania agreed on Lule to be president on the grounds that they wanted to win over the Baganda and Lule ticked the box since he was a monarchist.

“Getting to Kampala from any direction, you have to go through Buganda. Thus, you don’t have to have any hostility with Baganda,” Prof Tarsis Kabwegyere, one of the conveners of the Moshi Conference, said. “Lule was a prominent man in Buganda and had no record of being Uganda Peoples Congress or Democratic Party. In fact, he was a Kabaka Yekka (KY) man.”

But it took only 68 days for Lule to be ousted from power on grounds he had included names on the Cabinet list that were not agreed upon in the Moshi Conference. 

People such as Andrew Kayiira, Robert Serumaga, Dr Robert Sebunya and Grace Ibingira were all seen as monarchists.

“We should have a president who understands that he derives his power from the Moshi Conference. Such a president should abide by the Moshi agreement,” read the motion which was used to oust Lule from power. 

Lule was replaced by Godfrey Binaisa, a Muganda, but unlike Lule, he wasn’t a monarchist. It was Binaisa who drafted the 1967 “pigeon hall” Constitution that replaced the 1962 Constitution that had given Buganda the much-wanted federal status.

Binaisa would later deny that in coming up with the Constitution he intended to abolish the kingdoms. Years after Buganda had a serious presidential candidate, Kyagulanyi told the Luweero crowd and Buganda at large that it was about time.

“It’s us the Buganda that aided Museveni to clinch power but he has turned against us,” Kyagulanyi said.