What you need to know:
On May 12, 2013, Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi appointed lawyer Charles Peter Mayiga as the Katikkiro (prime minister) of Buganda. His appointment was touted as a strategic move geared at galvanising the kingdom’s young population across the country. His tenure during the last nine years has been a bittersweet experience peppered by, among others, the discernible love-hate relationship between the largest monarchy and the central government. Sunday Monitor’s Frederic Musisi caught up with the Katikkiro.
In an interview with this publication on your two-year anniversary as premier you remarked: “I have traversed the entire kingdom and witnessed poverty that can be a tourist attraction. People must have food, they must not share their houses with animals, they must drink safe water. They must have an income.” What has since changed to-date?
Of course, I made that observation—eight years ago—after what my colleagues and I had observed. That is why we initiated the growing of coffee. You see, poverty cannot be fought by giving people cash handouts; the people must be encouraged to participate in the activity that is going to get them out of poverty, and I think nothing does that better than coffee growing. So we reported that to Kabaka [King] Ronald Mutebi and he advised us to re-popularise coffee and that is what we have done. Where coffee has been grown, according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos), poverty levels have gone down in Buganda —the statistics are there.
From that vantage point—the strides made in Buganda—in juxtaposition with the central government’s poverty alleviation campaign. Step out of Wakiso and you are up-close and personal with poverty, literally and physically. In your view what did you seem to get right?
Well, like I said in the beginning, leaders must identify the areas where people can get involved and fight poverty. The people must fight poverty themselves, and the programmes must be simple; they shouldn’t be complicated. By the way, we talk of coffee here but the “emwanyi telimba” (coffee doesn’t lie) campaign also involves growing bananas, and a lot of it has been grown. So, you must let people get involved in simpler activities which they are familiar with. But then you guide them; because we had to go to the fields, and even now we still go to the gardens to see how the people are tending to the coffee, how they are handling it after harvest. These things are quite simple and democratic; it is not a question of whether you belong to this political group or the other. It also depends on you as the originator of the initiative. But if you think of handing out cash; I mean, how much money can you continue giving out?
In the news recently has been the coffee deal that government entered with some investor that failed to deliver on another mega project. You have weighed in on the matter, but precisely what’s at stake here. Some have argued that the intention is to tighten the noose around Buganda because in hindsight the Vinci deal came after the now Coffee Act aimed at regulating the coffee business which is core in Buganda
First, all governments around the world have the function to regulate any kind of economic activity. But what we say all the time is that government must consult the stakeholders. For example, when they introduced the coffee Bill, the minister of Agriculture came here after I had raised the red flag; I don’t know why they didn’t start by coming here because we are big stakeholders. They proposed imprisoning people for abandoning their coffee farms which was ridiculous or even lining up at the gombololas (counties] to be registered so they can grow coffee.
Even if there were no bad intentions, the way they conduct the process can make people believe that such is aimed at so, because no stakeholder has been consulted; I mean look at the Vinci agreement. I am not aware of a single coffee exporter who was talked to/the actual people who do the business were not talked to, and of course we were not talked to. But you bring a company and say they don’t pay taxes for 10 years, are entitled to land, and are entitled to this and that; how will that company compete with other players in the field? I don’t know the motive behind these things but the way they were handled is below par.
But then your subjects are angry and discontent is brewing. First, government hatched a plan to regulate the coffee sector. Then came the stringent amendments in the fisheries and aquaculture law to control the fishing sector, which as you know affects communities in Buganda and Busoga. If it was fair regulation, you would expect regulation on cattle business at the same time. One school of thought is that there is a deliberate attempt to cripple economic activity around?
Then there was the withdrawal from the International Coffee Organisation; then they doubled the taxes payable upon export of coffee from 1 percent to two percent. I am aware of that Bill to control the fisheries industry... I mean you can’t blame people when they ask themselves what is the motive for all this? You cannot blame anyone who questions the motive, but you see the demand controls everything; fish is a food, coffee is a beverage: the demand is high. But we encourage people to soldier on despite all these challenges. Even other people, those who import things are challenged by the hard taxes.
At the same time the Central Government has been dangling land reforms, which proposals although has been around since the 1990s…
There is no need for land reforms. What needs to be done is to handle six key areas; first is the land office, because people with money find it easy to acquire titles, even over and above other titles—someone who wants to carry out a search or a transaction in the land office may fail, and that is the first problem.
The second problem is the police land unit; they simply don’t have the capacity to investigate any land-related crime and because they can’t investigate, they can’t prepare investigations files to the court for possible prosecution of the culprits.
The third problem is the court system; a land case can last between 5-10 years in court before being disposed of. The fourth problem is political interference even in situations when courts issue orders; then you get directives from the Executive. There must be a clear separation of roles between the Executive, Judiciary, and Legislature; the checks and balances are healthy in any society but when you get Executive orders interfering with court orders you compound the problem.
The fifth problem has to do with population explosion; a village which had 300 people 10 years ago has 3,000 people today but the land is the same and government cannot mitigate that. The sixth point is the land in densely populated areas have been overused and out of nutrients so we need government programmes focusing on how to apply nutrients in the land but you don’t see that anywhere. Those are the core problems; it has nothing to do with Mailo land or the land tenure system.
There is discontent brewing around some corners of the country and it can be seen from how people voted, inasmuch as some people clung onto the angle of sectarianism. How do you foresee everything playing out?
Well, those in charge of government must address the areas which cause discontent. People are not only discontented but are also unhappy about corruption; that has to be dealt with because it causes anger within the population. They must encourage economic activity which creates jobs because the youngsters are not employed; the lack of jobs is as a result of stagnation of economic growth, and economic growth happens when you encourage economic activities in which people have comparative advantage. People get angry over the lack of the rule of law; you know, people who are arrested in broad daylight for committing certain crimes walk away scot-free. So, these are the kinds of things which I think that those in charge of government need to address, otherwise the discontent will grow.
Do you think we are seeing a climax of the end of the Buganda-NRM abusive relationship?
Abusive? I don’t understand that.
“Abusive”—it’s common knowledge Buganda offered President Museveni and his band of rebels a base to fight against president Obote II’s government and later the Tito Okello junta which was ousted. Some understandings were reached but as we have seen the relationship turned abusive over the years marred by, among others, mistrust.
Well, whatever happens; every government in the world must address the common needs of the people, even if there are no coalitions or relationships and such things. I follow political events internationally and I know, every leadership must set its minds to finding solutions to the challenges that people face.
The areas that I have just mentioned that cause discontent under any situation, whether Buganda housed the fighters in the bush or not, if you don’t deal with corruption people are going to be angry; if the social services are not good enough, whatever happened in the past people are not going to be happy with you. Whether or not the fighters were in the bushes of Buganda, if there are no drugs in the hospitals people are going to be angry. So, the bottom-line is that the areas that people view as enabling them to live a decent life must be dealt with care because history affects the present but it is not entirely determined by it.
But then Buganda continues to come under attack, painting the kingdom as synonymous with the National Unity Platform which as you know continue to be ostracised as a reincarnation of Kabaka Yekka. Don’t you find the institution being at crossroads?
You see, Buganda is the largest polity in this country. It is the centre of commerce and everything; it has to appear in the news. Now, politicians will want to find excuses of why they didn’t perform well here or well; the true cause of any true election if it was free and fair is how service delivery has been effected. Everything else is just hollow-talk.
Commenting briefly on your nine years as Katikkiro, what are your major achievements?
I don’t want to talk about my achievements, you should talk about them. But well, Buganda is crystallised by the five key tenets; heritage which rotates around the Kabaka and the clan system and our traditions, and we have gone a long way in that area. The second is federalism; sharing power and the federal system of government. The third is protecting land and our borders. The fourth is hard work; initiating projects and programmes.
The fifth is unity. I think we have scored well in the four, except for federalism and it was subdued; the demand was frustrated during the Constituent Assembly deliberations because of under the table deals but that doesn’t worry me so much. I will tell you what; what people want, they eventually realise and achieve it.
Our concern today in the kingdom is to address issues, especially poverty, unemployment, health, because you see; with or without federalism we have to deal with poverty, job creation, health service delivery, and in good time federalism will be realised.