Buganda or govt, who will blink first on Mailo land?

President Museveni (l) and Buganda Kingdom's Kabaka Ronald Mutebi. PHOTO/COMBO

What you need to know:

  • Following the meeting between Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi and President Museveni, there could be a cessation of hostilities between the sparring sides over land, but Derrick Kiyonga writes that this may not last long as has been previously witnessed.

Following the restoration of kingdoms in 1993, President Museveni, who hails from western Uganda, was given a Kiganda name, Katongole, by Buganda clan leaders who were jubilant. 

The elders thought adopting Museveni was one way of showing how grateful they were at a ceremony overseen by Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi himself.

But 28 years later, that romance seems to have been dampened with the name Katongole consigned to distant memory with Mailo land now sitting at the heart of the standoff between Mengo and Museveni’s ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party.  

After the unexpected August 5 meeting between Kabaka Mutebi and President Museveni, a lot has been made out of it, but it seems the only agreement between the two warring parties is that the meeting was too brief and informal to draw any conclusions on what direction the land standoff is going to take. 

“The meeting was abrupt and nothing much was discussed,” a member of Buganda’s cabinet who is close to the Kabaka said. “We shall have to see what happens.”  

From the government’s side, sources privy to the meeting concur that not much came of the meeting. 
“It was a meeting of few minutes and nothing concrete was decided,” a source said.

Museveni has made land reforms a centrepiece of his new and sixth elective term in office and has also made it unmistakably clear during this year’s Heroes’ Day celebrations that Mailo land, which allows dual ownership of land, will be the main target in any reforms.

Museveni has used terms as “very bad” and “‘an evil system’’ to describe the 120-year-old land tenure.
“It is really very bad and not fair but some people support it. How do you allow these things to happen?” he said, adding later, “Landowners should be entitled to full ownership of their land like elsewhere in Uganda. In Ankole, nobody can chase you away from your land. You even fear.”

If there was any doubt about Museveni’s intentions of taking on the Mailo land issue, the appointment of Kampala Associated Advocates (KAA) founding partner Sam Mayanja as the State minister of Lands, has removed such questions.

While Museveni has heaped praises on Judith Nabakooba, the senior Lands, Urban Development and Housing minister, explaining he appointed her to this docket because she has been “very strong on the side of the people in these land things” it’s Mayanja’s appointment that shocked Mengo and its allies. 

For years, Mayanja has been openly critical of the Mengo establishment and how it manages the land that the Kabaka holds in trust for the people of Baganda, known as official Mailo. 

Mayanja, who has been one of Museveni’s lawyers for years, isn’t a politician and this means he can be as frank as he can since he isn’t shackled by concerns that he would be targeted by Mengo in an election.

After being appointed, many thought Mayanja would tone down but the minister in various interviews and opinions written in the State-owned New Vision newspaper, has made it clear that he will champion the interests of bibanja holders and even if it requires doing away with the Mailo land system, the way we know it, so be it.

“Everybody should have a title. I’m one of those people who are saying there is no need to compensate the Mailo land [owners]. They got it free of charge and they have been earning from it. They have been going to the bank to get loans with it. The entire landmass of the Mailo is occupied by bibanja holders. They are the ones who are sustaining the economy. These huge plantations of matooke, coffee, cotton, name it, it’s for bibanja holders’.

But the man [landlord] sits wherever he is and gets busuulu, get envujjo. The same man comes back to the land after 10 years and asks who brought you here? Okay, pay me,” Mayanja told Sunday Monitor in an interview that was published on July 23. 

Mengo’s Achilles heel is the 1900 Buganda Agreement in which chiefs in Buganda got most of the land while peasants virtually got nothing.

Depriving peasants
Under the 1900 agreement, the Protectorate Government got 10,500 square miles; Kabaka 350 square miles; members of the royal family got 148 square miles; Ssaza chiefs officials estates got 160 square miles, regents official estates 160 square miles; regents private estates 48 square miles, Nuhu Mbogo and supporters got 48 square miles, Kamuswaga of Kooki got 24 square miles, 10,000 chiefs and private landowners got a total of 8,000 square miles, missionary societies got 92 square miles, and the Protectorate Government stations got 50 square miles, leaving the peasants empty-handed. 

Mayanja has got the backing of bibanja holders who have formed an association labelled ‘Voice for Bibanja stakeholders’. 
“We are fighting for rights of bibanja holders and we want reforms,” Patrick Ntege, the chairperson of the association, said in an interview with this reporter this week.
“Can you imagine in 1900, when people woke up only to be told that so and so is your landlord? That this land, which has been yours, now is owned by some individual you don’t even know about. We want this suffering to end,” he said.
Mayanja has used this logic against Mengo, saying it has always ignored the common man’s interests as it continues to collect ground rent through Buganda Land Board, a private company.

Mengo at first used its usual tactic of ignoring any adversary but after weeks of Mayanja’s repetitive messages being played out in the media, it realised the danger was real and has had to counter him.

Mengo reacted by dispatching both Charles Peter Mayiga, the Katikkiro (prime minister), and David Mpanga, the Buganda Kingdom minister for special assignments, to do interviews with the media.  

Both Mayiga and Mpanga have appeared on NTV’s prime time talk show, On the Spot programme. The sum total of Buganda’s response to the proposed Mailo land reforms has been that there are land problems too, even in areas where there’s no Mailo system.

“There isn’t a Mailo system in Amuru [District, northern Uganda],” Mpanga explained during his appearance on NTV on July 23. 

“There isn’t Mailo system tenure but the natives are dispossessed of their land. The Basongora, in Buliisa in [in Greater Kasese]… so many [other] places.”

But in a surprise move to cool the rising tempers, both Kabaka Mutebi and President Museveni had a meeting that caught most observers unawares. 

But both Mengo and the central government have kept a tight-lip on who actually initiated or brokered the latest meeting between the Kabaka and Museveni.

Nonetheless, sources within State House say Museveni had been shocked by the speech the Kabaka delivered at his Nkoni Palace in Lwengo District during celebrations to mark his 28th coronation anniversary on July 31. The Kabaka, in his speech, made Mailo land debate the central plank of his speech.

The Kabaka frontally took a swipe at the proposed land reforms, saying they are aimed at weakening the kingdom which was reinstated in 1993 following the abolition of kingdoms by former president Apollo Milton Obote in 1966.

“For those who want to scrap Mailo land, their goal is to weaken Buganda. This prompts us to ask, why land in other parts of Uganda is not talked about. Why Buganda land?” he asked, echoing Mengo’s message, which questioned the rationale of the move in Buganda, even when land problems were common elsewhere.

Central government sources say the Kabaka for quite some time had reached out to Museveni for such a meeting but the President at each of the instances had other engagements and the meeting was only made possible only this week.

Sources privy to the discussions say while the Kabaka came ready for a weighty discussion as seen by his entourage, which included his brother Prince David Wasajja, and Katikkiro Mayiga, President Museveni on the other hand, showed no indication of being set for a weighty discourse.

Sources close to the presidency said Mr Museveni decided not to engage in a rigorous discussions considering that the king still looks frail and decided to rather slow-walk the proposed land amendments.

“He needs to first get well,” the sources quoted the President to have said.
Following public concerns about the Kabaka’s health in April, Katikkiro Mayiga said the king was only having challenges related to allergies that was causing him breathing difficulties.

“I would like to urge you to disregard the rumours on social media that the Kabaka had been poisoned. They are totally wrong, unfounded. They cause unnecessary anxiety,” Katikkiro Mayiga then said.

But sources familiar with the finer details of the meeting also intimated that President Museveni wasn’t happy with Kabaka’s decision to go with Mayiga to State House, Nakasero, for the talks. 

President Museveni (R) met with Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi (C) and his delegation at State House Nakasero on August 3. PHOTO/ PPU/FILE

Museveni, it’s said, reportedly blames the Katikkiro for covertly backing National Unity Platform party former presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, better known by his stage name Bobi Wine.

The January 14 presidential polls saw Museveni’s NRM routed in Buganda by Kyagulanyi’s NUP party. Katikkiro Mayiga in several interviews had dismissed the accusations that Mengo had rooted for Kyagulanyi, a Buganda Kingdom loyalist.  

“People in Buganda are free to vote whoever they want just like those in the west voted the way they voted,” Mayiga has repeatedly said referring to how people in western Uganda, where Museveni hails from, voted as a block for President Museveni. 

During the campaigns, Katikkiro Mayiga, who has a knack for using analogies, asked the people in Buganda to pick out ready coffee and leave out the unripe one.

Ripe coffee is red, which is the party colour used by Kyagulanyi’s NUP. NRM then interpreted Mayiga’s utterances as a coded message to the kingdom loyalists to pick Bobi Wine. Little wonder that after the January 14 elections, President Museveni blamed NRM’s loss in Buganda on 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 in January.

“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; I know all that. They were talking of a new Uganda. But actually, they wanted to bring back the old Uganda that failed. That is what they wanted to bring back: the old way of sectarianism.”

Museveni, in his speech, removed all the vagueness, when he correlated the NUP sweep in Buganda – that saw all his ministers and Vice President lose their seats in Parliament – to the Kabaka Yekka, a monarchist party founded in the 1960s with the sole purpose of advancing what some saw as insular interests of Buganda Kingdom.

But to many, Katikkiro Mayiga has long been accused of being an adherent of the regime. 
In 2013, Mayiga, who had just been appointed Katikkiro, was one of the witnesses of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Kabaka and Museveni. The pact was key in smoothening out relations between Buganda and the central government.

The MoU has seen the central government hand over 295 land titles to Mengo, but the tensions have continued to bubble beneath.

Sources say although President Museveni might call a truce, he hasn’t explicitly told Mayanja to hold back. The junior Lands minister will continue to press for reforms in the land laws and appear on government-owned Bukedde TV explaining why there’s a need. 

“The government policy is that bibanja holders must have security of tenure and the President wants Mayanja to continue preaching the gospel,” a source familiar with Museveni’s thinking said.

The government’s gripe against Mengo has been that it has always opposed every land reform that sought to give bibanja holders security of tenure. Government officials cite how Mengo opposed the Land Act, 1998, and the 2010 subsequent amendments that intended to give bibanja holders sometimes called bona fide occupants security of tenure.

One of the vital sections of the 1998 Land Act Amendments, is Section 32, which states: “A lawful bona fide occupant shall not be evicted from registered land except upon an order of eviction issued by the court and only non-payment of the annual nominal ground rent.”

When the government proposed land amendments in 2007, which were later passed in 2010, Mengo responded by instituting a Buganda Civic Education Central Committee (CECC), which campaigned aggressively against the reforms saying they were an attempt to grab Kabaka’s land.

The government responded in 2008 by arresting Mr Mayiga, then Buganda Kingdom spokesperson, Medard Sseggona, then the kingdom’s deputy spokesperson, and Betty Nambooze, who headed the CECC.

Mayiga was released without being charged while Sseggona and Nambooze were charged with sedition after being detained by security agencies for several days. The charges were later dropped. So far, the battle over land reforms hasn’t escalated to involve security agencies.

The Kabaka, in his recent speech, insisted his government will continue to firmly demand for two things, namely self-determination under the federal system of governance, and its property referred to as ebyaffe.

At the dawn of independence in 1962, Buganda was granted federal status, which Obote upended in 1967, following the introduction of the so-called 1966 pigeonhole constitution, but Mengo has consistently demanded to regain that status with no success.  

Under the spirit of getting a federal system of government, in the early 2000s, a Mengo team led by then Katikkiro Joseph Mulwanyamuli Ssemweogerere negotiated with the central government led by then-premier Apolo Nsibambi and agreed on a ‘regional tier’. But when Katikkiro Ssemwogerere presented this deal to the Lukiiko, he was initially lionised by its members as a great negotiator.

But within months, the Kabaka had sacked his entire cabinet that included Ssemwogerere and Mayiga, after accusations that the regional tier was nothing but hot air [byooya ya enswa] and that Buganda negotiators had been compromised by Museveni.

To date, the regional tier, which gave districts the greenlight to form regions, has been shelved by the central government despite being accepted by other kingdoms such as Bunyoro, Tooro and Busoga.
What constitutes “ebyaffe” has become another source of conflict between Mengo and the regime.  
Following the restoration of kingdoms in 1993, Traditional Rulers (Restitution of Assets and Properties) Act was instituted even before the 1995 Constitution came into play.   

The Act is essential when it comes to cultural institutions because it had the effect of restoring traditional assets and properties confiscated by Obote when he abolished kingdoms on September 17, 1967.

Following the institution of the Act, Mengo got hold of 350 square miles also known as official Mailo, which are now being managed by a private company called Buganda Land Board (BLB). Mayanja has insisted that it’s illegal for BLB to manage the land. 

“Now the problem with this official Mailo is its public land, you can’t manage it under a private company because you will manage it under commercial lines. Secondly, if you are holding land in the trust of the people of Buganda, it should be under a trust. And trust can’t be delegated but when it’s your company you appoint a board of directors as he [Kabaka] has done,” Mayanja said in the Sunday Monitor interview. 

“Now they know they aren’t there constitutionally, they have put in place a company [Buganda Land Board], which is now managing public land. You know they don’t say Buganda Land Board Ltd. They don’t want the public to hear the word limited because they think it’s the Buganda Land Board that existed under the 1962 Constitution, which is a lie to the public.”

Another contention by Mengo, which isn’t about to be resolved is the fate of the 9,000 square miles, commonly known as Mailo akenda in Luganda, that can partly be traced in the lost counties of Buyaga and Bugangaizi, which are now part of Bunyoro following the contentious 1964 referendum.

Some land titles of the 9,000 square miles have been returned to Mengo, while a huge chunk of it is still under the Land Commission and the district land boards and recently Mayanja dismissed Mengo’s agitation for that land as “comic.”

“The comic in the absurdity of Mailo akenda (9,000 square miles) tale, lies in the attempt to hide the truth that the 9, 000 square miles was part of land grabbing,” he wrote in his articles circulated to various media houses.

“The land was carved from Kingdoms of Bunyoro, Ankole, Kooki [Chiefdom] in the 1900 Agreement, which gifted to Buganda the counties of Buluuli, Bugerere, Buyaga, Bugangaizi, Kabula and Mawogola.”

Depriving peasants  
1900 Pact...

 Under the 1900 agreement, the Protec-torate Gove-rnment got 10,500 square miles; Kabaka 350 square miles; members of the royal family got 148 square miles; Ssaza chiefs officials estates got 160 square miles, regents official estates 160 square miles; regents private estates 48 square miles, Nuhu Mbogo and supporters got 48 square miles, Kamuswaga of Kooki got 24 square miles, 10,000 chiefs and private landowners got a total of 8,000 square miles.”   

At the dawn of independence in 1962, Buganda was granted federal status, which Obote upended in 1967, following the introduction of the so-called 1966 pigeonhole constitution, but Mengo has consistently demanded to regain that status with no success.