The Tuesday meeting between President Museveni and Ronald Muwenda Mutebi, the Kabaka of Buganda, may have taken the latter’s subjects and country by surprise, but not the salient issues on the table.
With fresh air fanning them on the lush compound of State House Lodge in the leafy Nakasero suburb, the principals ruminated over, and thrashed out, the touchy proposal to scrap Mailo land tenure system.
The proposition was first broached a couple of years ago, by the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led commission, appointed by President Museveni to inquire into land administration and policies in the country.
Seizing on the idea, Mr Museveni has repeatedly and publicly welcomed the idea, and described Mailo tenure as “evil”, jolting Mengo – the administrative seat of Buganda Kingdom – whose officials have dug into the past to remind the President that their support brought him to power.
The reminder, reportedly echoed by King Mutebi yesterday, may sit uneasily between friends, but one seemingly unavoidable after the Kabaka, speaking at his 28th coronation anniversary held last Saturday at Nkoni palace in Masaka City, said Mailo land tenure was a “pillar” and its abolition would cripple the kingdom.
A younger Museveni led the National Resistance Army (NRA), a rebel band with a cradle in Luweero Triangle, and made friends with then Prince Mutebi, courting the backing of loyalists of the kingdom abolished by Milton Obote in 1966, to barrel his way to power in 1986.
In a meeting in the northern Gulu District, Mr Museveni overruled a frontal opposition by some Movement ideologues against restitution of traditional and cultural institutions, upon which Buganda Kingdom became the first to be re-established in 1993. With it, prince Mutebi became king, underlining a mutually-beneficial arrangement.
The decision in later years culminated in the proliferation of kingdoms and chiefdoms across the country, with some such as Buruuli, Kooki and Bunyala in geographical Buganda, taking advantage of the balkanisation to proclaim sovereignty and stage a fight against Mengo.
In the ugliest of the showdown, the Museveni government in preference for Ssabanyala (rtd) Major Baker Kimeeze’s declaration, in 2009, deployed security forces to block the Kabaka from visiting Kayunga, a district in his kingdom, sparking the infamous and bloody pro-Buganda riots.
Indebted to Mengo to a tune of Shs215 billion, the riots and killings that happened 12 years ago marked a breakdown in the fraternal relations between Mengo and the central government, whose wounds the parties have struggled to heal, and birthed mistrust illuminated in the present by the proposal to eliminate Mailo, one of the four land holding systems, but applicable only in Buganda.
“Buganda has never thought about seceding from Uganda or chasing away other Ugandans. We have on several occasions heard different people talking about Buganda land, alleging that it is stagnating the development of the country. This is not true,” the Kabaka said last Saturday.
He added: “Those [individuals] who are doing this [pushing for scrapping of Mailo land] want to weaken Buganda. Such things bring us discomfort and prompt us to ask why land in other parts of Uganda is not talked about. Why Buganda land? Why should Buganda’s unwavering hospitality be misconstrued as a weakness?”
The Buganda king did not mention any names. However, President Museveni is one of the leaders with a pedigree whose public commentary would seize a Kabaka’s rapt attention.
During a retreat for newly-elected Members of Parliament (MPs) at the National Leadership Institute Kyankwanzi in April, Mr Museveni exhorted the lawmakers to support his intended reform to resolve the land question in the country once and for all.
Two months later, the President during the 32nd Heroes’ Day anniversary at Kololo Independence Grounds in Kampala, on June 9, described Mailo land as “an evil land system”.
“It is really very bad and not fair, but some people support it. How do you allow these things to happen?” he said, “Land owners 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.”
The government argues that Mailo system has enabled absentee landlords to evict tenants (Bibanja holders), sometimes in connivance with wealthy individuals, an ill the proposed land law amendment aims to heal.
Separately, Mr Augustine Kizito Mutumba, the head of clan leaders (Bataka) in Buganda, who was present at yesterday’s meeting, had earlier reported to the Kabaka that there was rampant duplication of land titles, which he said deprived many people in Buganda of their land rights.
Questions about land ownership in Buganda, where the Kabaka is culturally the landlord, are touchy because they affect millions of residents settled in the kingdom for employment, business or investment.
According to accounts of deliberations at yesterday’s meeting offered by those in attendance, President Museveni said he was concerned veterans of the guerrilla war that brought him to power 35 years ago, were being evicted indiscriminately.
He reportedly recollected his enduring friendship with Mengo, predating restoration of Buganda kingdom and installation of Mutebi as Kabaka in 1993, and blamed the media for distorting the government plan and public discourse about the matter.
A source that attended the meeting quoted the President as saying ‘my position, if amendments were to occur, is [to] deter evictions... those people; our veterans, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) historicals who helped in the liberation, but are being evicted, we must protect them’.
Mr Museveni reportedly explained and allayed fears that the amendments only seek to address security concerns and streamlining land administration.
“The Kabaka should have left convinced that there is no bad blood between his government and the NRM,” another source that attended the meeting said.
Prince David Wasajja, the Kabaka’s brother, reportedly brokered the meeting following weeks of terse rhetoric between Mengo and the central government.
The government is yet to draw the principles of the intended land law amendment for Cabinet discussion, which would formally start a lengthy legislation process, making it impossible to accurately know beforehand what will be included or excluded in the planned changes.
Like the President, it was not lost on the Kabaka that MPs will play a pivotal role. He asked parliamentarians at his 28th coronation to fight for Mailo land so that the kingdom is not weakened.
“When Mailo land is abolished as suggested in some quarters, one of the key pillars on which this kingdom was built will be destroyed. You, parliamentarians, who are here, you should know this; Buganda has never failed to discuss this (land) issue,” he said, poignantly.
Sources that attended yesterday’s meeting intimidated that the fears thawed after candid exchanges, resulting in the President tasking the Attorney General to constitute a Working Committee, comprising government and Mengo officials, to resolve the apparent differences between the two sides and map a way forward.
Mr Museveni is also reported to have expressly ordered the Ministry of Finance to expedite payments of Shs215b that the government owes Mengo.
The Kabaka, who was meeting with the President for the first time since their May 2019 meeting at Banda palace, outside Kampala, reminded his host of their August 2013 Memorandum of Understanding in which the government committed to pay all arrears to the kingdom.
State House’s commentary about yesterday’s meeting was brief, summarising it in two paragraphs as discussion about development issues.
In a hastily-convened press conference at Mengo, Katikkiro (premier) Mayiga said “as may be expected, when leaders talk about important issues, they are always hopeful that the outcome will be beneficial to their people. We are hopeful that the meeting of Kabaka and the President will be very fruitful.”
The Kabaka was accompanied to the meeting by a four-man delegation, including his brother Wassajja, Katikkiro Mayiga and clan head (abatakka) Mutumba, and Kabaka’s aide Douglas Mukiibi .
Some kingdom loyalists, speaking on condition of anonymity in order not to offend the king, lauded the meeting between President Museveni and the king, but asked Mengo to always prepare subjects for such interface beforehand.
President Museveni, Kabaka Mutebi discuss development
August 03, 2021
STATE LODGE, NAKASERO: President Yoweri Museveni has today recieved the Kabaka of Buganda HRH Ronald Muwenda Mutebi who paid him a curtersy call at State Lodge in Nakasero.
During the meeting, President Museveni and Kabaka Mutebi discussed development matters of mutual interest between the Kingdom and the government.
The two leaders later briefly exchanged pleasantries, both acknowledging that they have taken long without meeting, before going in for a closed door meeting.
The Kabaka of Baganda was accompanied by a four-man delegation including Prince David Wasajja and Katikkiro (Prime Minister) in the government of Buganda Charles Peter Mayiga.
Kabaka’s 28th coronation anniversary speech
“…Buganda has never thought about seceding from Uganda or chasing away other Ugandans. We have on several occasions heard different people talking about Buganda land, alleging that it is stagnating the development of the country. This is not true. Those [individuals] who are doing this [pushing for scrapping of Mailo land] want to weaken Buganda. Such things bring us discomfort and prompt us to ask why land in other parts of Uganda is not talked about. Why Buganda land? Why should Buganda’s unwavering hospitality be misconstrued as a weakness? …
We strongly condemn some of our people who are deliberately trying to divert us from demanding for our properties [ebyaffe] … We are not considering any other option to get back our properties rather than dialogue. This is what we have been doing in the last 28 years to pursue truth and justice and we are sure that such issues will be amicably resolved through dialogue.
When Mailo land is abolished as suggested in some quarters, one of the key pillars on which this kingdom was built will be destroyed. You, parliamentarians, who are here, you should know this; Buganda has never failed to discuss this (land) issue. We are ready to sit and show you how best land wrangles can better be resolved.
The government announced it would reform land laws scrapping Mailo land, which they say will protect interests of both landlords and Bibanja holders (tenants) and also save the latter from arbitrary evictions. The government attributes rampant evictions in Buganda to the 1900 Buganda Agreement with the British colonialists, which created dual ownership of land by both landlords and tenants.”