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The Buganda Question at 20th anniversary

Ramathan Ggoobi

The Buganda Question at 20th anniversary

What do Baganda really want? What has made it so difficult to resolve the Buganda problem, and what needs to be done to bring the stalemate to a permanent end?

When Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II went to open the Buganda Tourism Expo 2013, on Wednesday July 30th 2013, a sea of excited people turned up. If one carefully observes and analyses the enthusiasm with which the Baganda greet their king lately, one realises that they do this on purpose. “We want to send a clear message to Museveni and his people that we are tired of them,” a group of Baganda youth was heard telling journalists.

This statement prompted me to think aloud: how are the two related? What makes the Baganda think that by showing a lot of love and support to their king, they send a political message to the president of the Republic of Uganda that they are tired of him and his government? What attracts the Baganda to a king who doesn’t provide any patronage or even services, and at the same time detest the leader and his government that offers the goodies?

Mr. President, I have heard you castigating Mengo and other kingdoms, on several occasions, for spending too much time and energy agitating for things that do not serve the “legitimate interests of the people of Uganda.” You often identify peace and security, the right to good health, good education, employment, and access to a big market as the legitimate interests of Ugandans.

In your thesis, these “legitimate interests” should be universal i.e. should apply to all stakeholders in Uganda. However, you do not identify these stakeholders. The first question we should ask ourselves is; who are the stakeholders of Uganda? In other words, which groups came together some 50 years ago to form Uganda?

After answering this question, then we can move on to ask the second question; what are the interests of each of these stakeholders, as individual groups or as a whole. And to avoid clashes, we need also to ask one more question; Are their interests compatible?

Are Baganda tribalistic?

Depending on the type of the answer we get for the last question, we move on to determine an appropriate management model that suits Uganda. That is the theoretical underpinning the so-called Power-Legitimacy-Urgency Model, that we learn in strategy. However, as you and I know, it is utopian to think that you can have a country or even an organisation where interests of all stakeholders are compatible or similar.

Well I did not intend to answer these questions. This will be for another day. I set out to attempt to answer the very question that I am sure must be grappling with as well: What the hell do Baganda really want?

Buganda has given headache to all regimes that have governed Uganda, including the British colonial government. “Every serious problem which we encountered in Uganda had its roots in the Buganda Problem,” quotes the Lord Munster Report of 1962.  

Mr President, I have heard you on several occasions wondering why Mengo, which you helped to reclaim its monarchy, has turned against you. Your speeches have at times alluded to a suggestion that owing to the way the Mengo leadership is treating you lately, the Baganda were tribalistic, narrow-minded, and chauvinistic.

Take it from me, Mr President, that the standoff between your government and Mengo is not a disagreement between you, as Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, and the Baganda. No. This is a historical problem. I have told you before that even if a muganda took over the presidency and behaves the way you are doing, he/she will be resisted in equal measure.

Is “federo” feasible?

The infamous Buganda Question has never been the restoration of Kabaka or restitution of some of Buganda’s expropriated assets (ebyaffe) or giving jobs to a few Baganda sons and daughters. No. In any case the Munster Report, cited above, was written at a time when all these so-called contributions NRM government has done for Buganda were extraneous because the kingdom was abolished much later in 1966 by the late Milton Obote.    

So, the million dollar question remains; what then is the “real” Buganda Question? What is that question that never ceases to haunt Uganda? What makes Baganda swam around their king like ants yet he does not provide them any material goods?

Well, I have always told you that the Baganda want one thing — to enjoy their right to self-determination, to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their destiny. This is the popular ‘federo’ everyone in Buganda is singing. This is what Lord Munster meant in that statement. This is what Obote, a son-in-law and onetime political ally of Buganda, attempted to refuse to give in to in 1966, and which in the end made him lose not only the presidency but also his legacy. Mr President, I can even dare to predict; this is what will finally bring to an end your tight grip on power.   

Reminiscent of the infamous “Eastern Question” of the Middle East to which no one seems to have an answer, the Buganda Question will claim you leaders of Uganda and your legacies until you allow Buganda to enjoy semi-autonomy.

When you talk to the Baganda you realise majority of them (elite and peasants alike) believe that ‘federo’ is achievable and feasible! This is one fact, however much unwanted by you leaders at Nakasero that must be acknowledged by whoever hopes to forge a sustainable solution to this impasse.

Way forward

Mr President, the only viable way-forward to this stalemate, in my opinion, is to engage Mengo in open, principled, reciprocal negotiations — not the past ‘have-this-instead-of-the-other’ manipulations, cooption or intimidation.   

A leaf can be borrowed from the British. They nearly resolved the Buganda Question in the London Constitutional Conference of 1961. The 1962 Uganda Constitution, a product of this conference, had entrenched Buganda’s status as a federal state of Uganda and had it not been for Obote’s madness Uganda would be very far now.

It is a mistaken premise by you politicians to think that the 1966 political crisis emerged from the constitutional arrangement that the British had left us with. Instead, this crisis, which set in motion the political turmoil that has persisted till today, was as a result of personal political miscalculations of Obote and Sir Edward Muteesa II.

I have written in these pages before that the starting point to finding a lasting solution to the political altercation between Buganda and Uganda should be a purposeful reorientation of the 1995 Constitution to the 1962 Constitution. The solution only lies in there.

Any other maneuvers, let them be negotiations, between Mengo and central government, done without reference to the 1962 Constitution, will always prove a waste of time and resources. Mr President, your reign bears witness to what I am saying here. No leader has attempted, or might ever attempt, to contain the Baganda better than you have done in the last 27 years.

What’s special about Buganda?

You have co-opted a good number of the Baganda elite into your government. You also co-opted the Baganda peasants by providing them with public goods such as; UPE and USE, peace and security, electricity, healthcare, water etc., goods that Mengo is unable to provide. You even wrote a land law to co-opt the landless peasants.

To some other chiefs, the hitherto obedient servants of the Kabaka, you bribed them either directly with money or indirectly with jobs. In the end, however, the standoff seems to have escalated. The Buganda Question will be solved only through a serious “give and take” process.

True, granting Buganda the political status it is agitating for negates the central government’s power. But it is also true that denying it this status will continue to deprive the Uganda government of stability and perpetual tenure. A middle ground, a genuine win-win situation, must be found.  

I often hear politicians, especially non-Baganda, asking, “What is so special about Buganda? What about other tribes?” It is historical that Buganda has always held a special position in Uganda. Buganda is strategically positioned in the heart of Uganda.

Its resources and population (the largest of all tribes in the country) provide the pebble upon which the national economy evolves. Its people have a long history of political agitation and civilisation. Whoever does not want to hear this, and work to forge a workable coexistence between this dominant tribe, better packs up his/her bags and leave politics.

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Ramathan Ggoobi

Ramathan Ggoobi is Policy Analyst, and Researcher. He lecturers economics at Makerere University Business School (MUBS) and has co-authored several studies on Uganda's economy. For the past ten years, he has published a weekly column 'Are You Listening Mr. President' in The Sunrise Newspaper, Uganda's Leading Weekly

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