Buganda’s future; food, forests and federo

Nicholas Sengoba

What you need to know:

  • Bring all hands on deck to motivate Baganda to regain confidence as a capable nation and great people with a solid history of enormous achievements.

While commemorating the 30th anniversary of the reign of the Kabaka of Buganda, His Majesty Ronald Edward Fredrick Kimera Muwenda Mutebi II (68,)  the issue of federalism (federo) came up.

The Kabaka explained to the mass gathering at the Lubiri in Mengo that his reign was without the administrative powers (that come with a federal dispensation).

It constrains efforts to uplift the standards of living of Baganda in a  meaningful way. He spoke of enemies of the Buganda cherished idea of Kingdom; rallying his subjects to be steady, fast, patient and resilient while the Kingdom planned on a path of salvation.

Alluding to Jesus Christ who began his work at the age of 30, the Kabaka quipped cryptically and resolutely that the work of Buganda had just begun. The next 30 years -and beyond - will test the idea of federo.

The first 30 years have had a myriad of challenges; political, social and economic. What will stretch the Kingdom manifested itself during the Covid-19 lockdowns from 2020.

With economic activity shut down to supposedly stop the spread of the virus, people around the country run down their financial reserves. Self sustenance became an overwhelming task.

The government intervened by distributing relief food to needy people especially in the poor neighborhoods in the urban and semi urban areas.

It was assumed that those in the provinces were self-sufficient in food, because they reside around arable land.

It was not long before people started appearing on local television (at times prompted by overburdened MPs,) crying out desperately to the government to help them, lest they die of hunger.

These included able bodied Buganda which was rather bizarre. Buganda, which lies in the vicinity of Lake Victoria with many rivers and water bodies in its borders, was famed for its fertile soils, and hard working proud  farmers.

They built Buganda. It was a source of abundant variety of food with matooke (plantain banana) being the flagship staple food.

To this you added potatoes, cassava, yams as side dishes plus a variety of fruits and vegetables. Cash crops like coffee and tea were also aplenty.

Food in Buganda plays a very significant social role. A Muganda will dismiss you with contempt by declaring their food sufficiency in your face. ‘I don’t eat at your home!’ Also in Kiganda culture it is considered almost an abomination for a visitor to leave without eating (Luganda kulya, olugenda enjala terudda) ‘brotherhood is synonymous with sharing; the visitor who goes hungry never returns.’  

It is this food that many blame for the long stay of former President Idd Amin in power.

It has been argued that when Uganda’s economy collapsed in the 70s leaving a scarcity of essential commodities in its wake, instead of dissenting, the majority at the centre endured the hardship because of the consolation that they didn’t go hungry.

It’s also the abundance of food, (lush green and forest cover) that nurtured the agrarian economy.

It helped fund and feed the successful NRA rebellion in the Luwero Triangle between 1981-86.

That war eventually brought down the government of Milton Obote and started the rule of President Yoweri Museveni, now in its 37th year.

When Baganda talked about food (emere) they mainly referred to matooke which was prepared elaborately; wrapped in banana leaves and steamed for long periods. This meant that there was also plenty of wood energy to prepare it which implied prosperity. 

Over 40 years ago when one visited the rural areas in Buganda where the majority live, say for Christmas they were assured of returning to the city with a car-boot full of fresh food, chicken, ducks and parts of a goat or cow.

You only took the relatives essentials like cooking oil, sugar, salt and paraffin. Nowadays you go to the village with your own food and drink plus essentials; including firewood.

You also need a bag full of money to attend to all manner of problems associated with poverty.  

Rural paupers are now in the equation and begging is now an acceptable means of survival.

In the past, the food from grains like millet and maize flour or posho was generally regarded as cheap and alien.

It was mainly consumed by the migrant workers who came to Buganda to work the fields for pay.

It was for those who looked after animals and provided guard services for the wealth of the Baganda.

Posho was also derogatorily dismissed as food for prisoners and the security agents who guarded them.

Even when it entered the boarding school menu, Baganda children were assured of ‘proper food’ during the holidays.  

Come the lock down, Baganda were also crying out on national television for all things, not just free food but what hitherto was meant for migrant laborers and prisoners.

This is how poverty has humbled many Baganda, a good number of whom are now the ‘migrant’ workers in their own land; doing menial jobs for low pay.

Some often moonlight as petty criminals - most disgracefully as food and livestock thieves.

The forests that helped keep the lands fertile and hid rebels have been chopped or sold off before migrating. Some grabbed.

When the environment is destroyed in a scorched earth like manner that is a famous war tactic, it is hard for a society to endure.

It will end up destitute and poor. Nothing crashes dreams more easily and viciously than poverty.

An enemy of a dream can deliberately take this route. Buganda no longer sufficiently grows its own food, especially its flagship staple food.

Most of the matooke in Buganda now comes from Western Uganda, fruits from Northern and Eastern Uganda etc.

Should Buganda attain federo and the cherished administrative powers of old, these will be the daunting tasks of the first 1,000 days. It will have to plan on feeding itself and that means resorting to the badly damaged environment that is necessary in supporting the agrarian economy that Buganda is. 

Secondly, overhauling the regime of poverty, re-igniting the spirit and culture of honest, hard work, reversing a begging and self-pitying culture.

Buganda may try out a federo dry run by taking advantage of established structures like the clan system.

Funds should be mobilized in savings cooperatives and credit organizations (saccos,) to lend each other, prosper and build some financial muscle to protect their land.

Bring all hands on deck to motivate Baganda to regain confidence as a capable nation and great people with a solid history of enormous achievements.