On November 21 Kampala scholars marked 50 years since Sir Edward Mutesa II died in exile. He was the first president of Uganda and king of Buganda, the centrally located kingdom around which British colonialists constructed the Uganda state in the 19th century. Mutesa was overthrown in 1966 escaped and after a heroic fight.
He lived in London for about 40 months in poverty despite having enormous personal wealth in Kampala that he could not access.
He had given powers of attorney to his sister to handle his estate and send him money but the government in Kampala arrested and locked her up.
His private square mile (640 acres) in Kampala city was grabbed, making Mutesa independent Uganda’s first land grabbing victim. Land grabbing which renders unskilled millions destitute is the biggest threat to Uganda’s stability today.
Twenty-seven years after the abolition of Uganda’s kingdoms, President Yoweri Museveni enabled the crowning of Mutesa’s son, Ronald Mutebi II, as Kabaka of Buganda. Did everyone live happily ever after?
Museveni rushed to restore the kingdom ahead of the Constituent Assembly (CA) which promulgated the 1995 constitution, suspecting that the diverse delegates could oppose the restoration.
With 70 per cent of the monetised economy concentrated around Kampala, no government wants a restless Buganda.
The CA was actually mean on Buganda’s proposals, so Museveni’s granting the Kabakaship ahead of the debates had been well founded. But now with half of Uganda’s 40 million plus population born after 2004, a decade after the new constitution, should the central government still worry about Buganda’s sentiments?
No and Yes. What was legally restored as Buganda is a cultural institution, not a political kingdom. While both central government and Buganda officials know this, nobody dares pronounce it loudly as it could cause trouble. The depth of feeling by (surprisingly the younger) Baganda is amazing.
In 2009, the central government blocked the Kabaka’s movement to a county where some cultural sub-chief was challenging his authority. Kampalans reacted by rioting and many lives were lost. Since then, a loveless peace is observed between the Kabakaship and the presidency.
With neither land nor power to levy tax, Buganda survives mostly as a spirit, a strong spirit. Take this example. Uganda’s commercial printing hub is Nasser Road in Kampala, where any counterfeit sensitive document from land titles to passports can be produced to look better than original
But not a single Buganda Kingdom Certificate (issued for voluntary contribution to the kingdom) can be produced at Nasser for any price, yet it is on simple manila paper. Even the Nasser forgers cannot betray their Kabaka for money.
But population and economic growth are turning the whole of Buganda region, roughly a quarter of Uganda in size and population, into a cosmopolitan area where anybody who can afford a plot can settle without raising eyebrows.
So is there such a person as a genetic Muganda (when the Kabaka’s eldest son himself is half Rwandan)? What is left of the old Buganda is the language — Luganda, easily the most popular language in Uganda. The smart thing Buganda conservatives should do is to resist suggestions of naming Luganda Uganda’s national language. That would be last piece of identity of their cherished kingdom to lose. If they doubt this, let them look for the Swahili tribe of Kenya or Tanzania, whatever remains of it.
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. Email:[email protected]