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Bobi Wine walks tightrope in frosty relations with Mengo

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National Unity Platform (NUP) principal Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, popularly known Bobi Wine, in Masaka City last week. PHOTO/COURTESY of @NUP_Ug

One of the recent topics in Buganda has been the whereabouts of Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi, who had of recent appeared in public looking frail.

On return from the UK in April, Kyagulanyi organised an interface with journalists at his offices at the NUP headquarters at Makerere-Kavule, and he also took questions from online participants. 

One of the questions posed online was if Kyagulanyi was concerned about the whereabouts of the Kabaka.

The questions prompted Kyagulanyi to tell the viewers that the best person to answer that the question was “Mayiga”.

In this he meant Katikkiro (Buganda prime minister) Charles Mayiga, but Kyagulanyi interestingly didn’t mentioned his title, something that was interpreted as disrespect by some Baganda. 

Kyagulanyi, a Muganda, thus a subject of the Kabaka, has had a love-hate relationship with the Mengo establishment. 

When Kyagulanyi defeated President Museveni in Buganda by more than 60 percent in the 2021 elections, the President who – has been in power since 1986 – attributed this loss to his opponent’s closeness to the monarchy and sectarianism.

“In some of the voting, the pattern which we saw was very interesting. You can see some of that, where now instead of people looking to solve the social economic issues of the people, they now bring back sectarianism. Like you saw the voting, for instance, in Buganda,” Museveni explained NRM’s loss in 2021 and thereafter Esther Mbayo, then minister for Presidency, reinforced her boss’s messages, saying the Buganda monarchy should leave politics a lone and stick to its cultural role.

Mbayo claimed that using coded language, Mayiga asked voters to pick red coffee beans and not the yellow or greens ones. 

The State, according to Mbayo, interpreted this as Mayiga telling the Baganda to vote for red – NUP’s colours – and not yellow, NRM’s colours.

But Kyagulanyi had always had a rocky relationship with Mengo, and this was seen in 2017 when Mengo moved to demolish developments the singer-turned-politician had on a piece of land found near his Busabala One Love Beach.

Mengo said in a statement that Kyagulanyi did not legally own the land in question, adding that the landlord wanted it back.  

Kyagulanyi reacted by accusing Mengo of turning against its own.

“It is an injustice by my own to their own, but I have to face it and know that it will pass. I will not pursue it any longer,” Kyagulanyi told journalists back then. 

Mengo, on its part, accused Kyagulanyi of using proxies to intimidate its workers.

“Some members of Bobi Wine’s family have made phone calls threatening kingdom employees regarding this issue. We advise Bobi Wine to restrain his family members from making such threats,” Noah Kiyimba, then Buganda Kingdom’s spokesperson, said in a statement. 

Though it’s not clear how this land dispute was resolved, Kyagulanyi has always posed as a favourite of the Kabaka and one of his nicknames is “Omubanda wa Kabaka” (Kabaka’s man).

But the decision to question the Kabaka’s whereabouts seemed to have rubbed the establishment the wrong way.

“You should be careful about people who claim to know everything about the Kabaka, more than me the Katikkiro who resolves everything. A person sits at his home and he claims to know more about the Kabaka more than me... the person who resolves all issues? An individual claims to know more about the Kabaka more than his own child,” Mayiga said last month.

The Kyagulanyi-Buganda Kingdom friction comes at the time when he is dealing with the fallout with Mukungwe-Nyendo Member of Parliament Mathias Mpuuga over the latter’s decision to take Shs500 million of taxpayers money as a “service award” for his tenure as Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LOP).

Even though he left Mengo before the 2011 General Election and stood and won the Masaka Municipality seat, Mpuuga is seen as a Mengo favourite.

It, therefore, didn’t come as a surprise when the impasse between Kyagulanyi and Mpuuga emerged and Mayiga called for a cessation of hostilities.

“We urge political players to be very keen on observance of human rights, starting with yourselves. You need to be patient, respect and talk to one another,” Mayiga said in March.

“I think it is better for good leadership to sit down and talk to one another  with patience and listen to wise counsel because you have to keep on serving the public when you are together.”

But Kyagulanyi didn’t heed Mayiga’s advice. He instead upped the tempo by attacking Mpuuga publicly and also suspended him as NUP’s vice president in charge of Buganda region.  

“In accordance with articles 6.3 (h) and 7.1 (e) of the party constitution, I hereby suspend you from the position of deputy president of the National Unity Platform for the central region with immediate effect, and accordingly refer the matter to the National Executive Committee,” Kyagulanyi said.   

Mayiga’s move to call for talks between NUP and Mpuuga didn’t go down well with NUP leadership, prompting Kyagualanyi to join the crusade of people who are pressurising the Katikkiro to reveal the whereabouts of the Kabaka.  

“It is now worrisomely becoming NUP’s policy to disparage persons in the Kabaka’s service under the guise of a deeper love for the Kabaka than the rest. Mengo has perused and will continue to peruse a non-partisan policy and no one will draw it into partisan politics,” said Isaac Mpanga, a member of the Buganda Lukiiko (parliament). 

But in a recent interview with this publication, NUP secretary general David Lewis Rubongoya denied any friction with Mengo.

“There is no rift whatsoever. In any case, why should there be such a rift? NUP believes firmly in the empowerment of cultural institutions. Our leaders at different levels, beginning with our president, have consistently expressed loyalty to the cultural institutions because that is our heritage.”

“Our leader has expressed his love and admiration for the king of Buganda in word and action as is well known. He is Omubanda wa Kabaka. So there is no bad blood whatsoever… But, of course, the State and some other actors have deliberately tried to drive the narrative that we are at odds because of their known, selfish intentions, which I am sure cannot stick,” he added.

Exploiting breakdown
With Kyagulanyi seemingly not in good terms with Mengo, Abed Bwanika, the Kimaanya-Kabonera legislator who has also fallen out with NUP, has moved to exploit this breakdown in relations.

Bwanika led the way during the burial of Pascal Ssakasamba, the brother of former Democratic Party (DP) leader Mathias Nsubuga.

“If we are doing politics. If we are in the struggle, you should stop abusing the Katikkiro. Stop abusing our leaders. Mpuuga also met up with his supporters to re-emphasise that Buganda Kingdom shouldn’t be dragged into partisan fights,” he said.

“We have told Kyagulanyi, ‘don’t start a war with the kingdom’. We have told him not to hobnob with people who malign the Katikkiro. We have told him we are not at war with the Buganda Kingdom. We have told him NUP is a political party, we are not at loggerheads with the kingdom,” Mpuuga said.

“Buganda Kingdom is above any other political party you would think about. Is there anyone among you who is demanding to see the Kabaka? The Kabaka has the Katikkiro and we should follow what the Katikkiro says,” he added.

CBS issue
Another flashpoint between Buganda and Kyagulanyi is that it has been about fours ever since the NUP leader last appeared on Central Broadcasting Services (CBS) – a Buganda Kingdom-owned radio station that has cult following in the central region.

Kyagulanyi’s supporters have been vocal in asking why their man hasn’t been hosted for all these years. 

But sources say Mengo decided to at least temporarily halt hosting Kyagulanyi on the account that he made, in their view, libellous statements during his last appearance at the station in 2020 before the general elections.  

It should be remembered that CBS was among the radio stations that were switched off in the aftermath of the 2009 Buganda protests.  

Though the Kabaka had talks with Museveni, CBS remained off air for a year.  

It is thought by some that government decided to keep CBS off air as a way of breaking Mengo’s back as it’s a key cog in its financial inflows.  

Though CBS has been on air since October 2010, the fate of its licence, which was revoked in the aftermath of the riots by the Broadcasting Council, remains a mystery.

Sources say with that, CBS has been self-censoring and the decision not to host Kyagulanyi is part of the self-preserving model it has adopted since it went back on air.

But Kyagulanyi’s supporters do not buy into this explanation.