Don’t cry for Buganda. It will never leave us

Wednesday July 28 2021

Author, Charles Onyango Obbo. PHOTO/FILE

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

My good friend and Buganda Kingdom minister lawyer David Mpanga was on NTV’s “On the Spot” last week, being interviewed by the thoughtful and affable Raymond Mujuni. The subject, invariably, was land reform, a vexed issue in Uganda, and particularly Buganda.
I had missed it, but partisan Budonians sent me links and ensured I watched it on YouTube. As often he is, Mpanga was brilliant and well-behaved.
I was not so much struck by the merits or demerits of the land system in Buganda. I think there is a neat way to shake up the land tenure system in the country; tax unused land, then sit back and marvel at what will happen.
What got me thinking was Mpanga’s correct assertion that the critics of the Buganda land system can’t run away from the fact that Buganda has historically been the most welcoming of other Ugandans.
Not too long ago, in Bunyoro, there was a near-uprising at a perceived takeover by Bakiga, who arrived in the fertile sparsely populated region decades ago and have flourished. Seeking to put out the fire, President Yoweri Museveni pushed a decision to ring fence several elective positions for the Banyoro.
It is inconceivable that something like that would happen in Buganda, where in Mukono in the shadow of what someone called the “southern triumphantilism” that followed the NRM victory and capture of state power, and the lingering bitterness over the predations of the Obote II, someone like Onyango Kakoba was elected as MP for Buikwe North.
There are and have been more non-indigenous Ugandans elected to Parliament in Buganda than other regions combined.
There is, however, the contradiction that while welcoming of others, Buganda has what critics see as a competing nativist trend, expressed by some of its hard-line constituents who want a federal system that would all but grant autonomy from the central state to the regions.
There are the usual explanations for how the cosmopolitan Buganda happened. Historically, Buganda was a local imperial power, and its “subjects” from other parts of the country came to live in their kingdom.  But most critically, being the region where the capital is located, most migration from the rest of the country was bound to happen into Buganda. However, there are many regions in Africa where, beyond the city district, you can’t buy land and live freely as you do in Buganda.
Therefore, the accommodation that Buganda offers to other Ugandans, needs to be delved in more. A part of it likely comes from the precolonial glory of the Buganda Kingdom. Compared to others, the Buganda Kingdom had a good long run, which was unsettled by violent political upheaval. It and its people became self-assured. If you are very self-assured, you feel less threatened by outsiders.
It was also a kingdom that sat on the lakeside. Like coastal people, citizens of lakeside nations, who then go out a lot to the waters, are often more outward looking. Seeing far out to the waters is the best teacher that the world is bigger than your village. Then you need fertile land, so that everyone can feed their families from what they grow in their backyard.
If your land is not fertile, and your harvests are measly, you see foreigners as extra mouths that could leave you hungry or half-fed and you become resentful. Settled on fertile land, with lots of water, and composing poetry and folk tales on full stomachs, you are bound to feel that your way is superior. Thus, the same conditions that allow accommodation of foreigners, breeds a sense of exceptionalism at best, and nativism at worst.
What is fascinating in all this, is that the Baganda seem to be the largest community in Uganda, which is evolving fastest out of its old self. Put another way, the typical Muganda in the 1960s will all but be no more by, say, 2060.
The liberation war of 1979, and the Museveni-led NRA bush war, continued to disrupt Buganda, remake its population, and change its demographics. The 1980s and 1990s ravages of HIV/Aids reconfigured the Buganda family in ways it didn’t in the rest of the country. And as Kampala grows beyond a city to become a whole region, the typical Muganda will be a highly urban creature, with the region becoming the first where the overwhelming majority will not be rural folks.
Buganda will cease to exist, because it became the nation’s most successful example of social evolution and adaptation to crises. There will be a Buganda king, but he will not be a king of the Baganda. The Buganda of 2060 could be equally bemused by the people who are trying to take its land, as by those who are trying to protect it.
Mr Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”.
Twitter: @cobbo3