What you need to know:
- Therefore, while the seeming degeneration into seemingly tribal politics is depressing, it is so if you focus only on the surface. If you look deeper, the issues are not just ethnicity, and the tribal divide is small or non-existent.
Since the January 2021 election, among sections of the ruling National Resistance Movement, its social media brigades and, lately, politicians from parts of northern Uganda, there has been an outbreak of anti-Buganda hysteria.
Although this latest wave has been underway since 1998, it was brought to a high pitch by the fact that musician-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi’s (better known as Bobi Wine) newbie National Unity Party humiliated President Yoweri Museveni and the NRM in the Buganda region, by beating them resoundingly, sweeping the presidential vote and nearly all other elected positions. Given that Museveni’s guerrilla war was based in Luwero, it was a repudiation too hard to take.
The floodgates burst open, and everyone came out saying the Baganda had been tribal by voting for one of their own. This, despite the fact that NUP also got votes in Busoga, and but for the most severe voter suppression and electoral violence ever witnessed in Uganda, would have done well elsewhere. The fact that Museveni locked out the vote in his home region of Ankole, in some places by 101 per cent, isn’t considered tribal. We don’t need really to dwell much on this, because history tells us that you are 10 times more likely to be voted to Parliament and Local Council in Buganda if you are a non-Muganda, than you are in any other part of Uganda if you are not a son or daughter of the soil.
Therefore, while the seeming degeneration into seemingly tribal politics is depressing, it is so if you focus only on the surface. If you look deeper, the issues are not just ethnicity, and the tribal divide is small or non-existent.
We could go further but will confine ourselves to the Museveni years. Its first 15 years were marked by rabid anti-northern politics. That was a continuation of the north-south divide that informed the Luwero war; a means by which the NRM/NRA rallied the country around it during the northern war; but primarily a tool with which it consolidated power.
The period from 2001 to today has seen a lot of anti-western sentiment and profiling. At base, it is the result of the split in the base of the NRM; a means by which the distribution of the dwindling resources and patronage in the NRM state is being contested. Western Uganda hatred doesn’t exist in any tangible form outside this struggle for bread and privilege.
Then we have the renewed anti-Buganda trend. The enduring part of it is a fight over land in Buganda. However, Bobi Wine and NUP introduced a new element; it seems it wasn’t their intention, and it looks like they are not yet fully aware of what they did.
While some of the critics accuse it of tribalism, NUP did the very opposite. It reversed the withdrawal trend and brought Buganda back firmly to the centre of Ugandan politics. There have been two times that this has happened since 1961. Contradictory as it seems, first was in 1962 when the traditionalist Kabaka Yekka (King Only) party allied with the then-nationalist Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) to win the independence election. The second, was when Luwero and its children became the bedrock of Museveni’s rebellion from 1981 to 1986.
NUP has done what hadn’t happened in Uganda in 70 years. It has offered a figure from Buganda to be the leading opposition figure in Uganda’s constitutional politics. But even more significantly, the first Buganda-flavoured democratic opposition since the 1950s. Rather than being an ethnic drive away from the Uganda project, this is a big move to the centre of Ugandan politics.
That poses a threat not just to the ruling NRM, but also to the other democratic opposition tendencies, where rivalries are often intense. Tactically, therefore, it is necessary for the establishment to paint this opposition as Buganda chauvinism. We will see this up to the 2026 election, and the opponents, for example, of amending the constitution and having the president elected by Parliament and not by universal suffrage, will be painted as Buganda spoilers.
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It’s also no accident that some of the most strident champions of this are from the north. We can expect that the next logical step is that the initial “errors” made in the north, and eventually led to the Alice Lakwenya, and Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army rebellions and all the suffering in the region will be blamed, and rightly too, on elements of Andrew Kayiira’s Uganda Freedom Movement (UFM) and George Nkwanga’s Federal Democratic Movement (FEDEMU). It is a whitewashing project NRM needs.
None of these things would have been necessary, if two projects that were begun by Milton Obote after 1962, and since carried on by Museveni, had succeeded. The first has been to end Buganda’s domination of the Ugandan economy. The second, to end the Kampala-centric logic that has shaped the country’s politics, development, and intellectual culture, since the colonial period.
Mr Onyango-Obbo is a journalist,
writer and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3