A weather-beaten, tumbled down and neglected mansion is all that remains in the Rukooki suburb of Kasese town in western Uganda. The mansion is the palace of the once-powerful Busongora Kingdom, one of 27 kingdoms reinstated by the government in recent years as cultural institutions.
A couple of cows grazing is the only sign of life. There is no gate or guard but the house remains locked. In the backyard, were horses, donkeys and camels. And, today, only four kingdoms — Bunyoro, Buganda, Busoga and Tooro — enjoy mainstream recognition.
The problems of Busongora started at the beginning of the past century when disease and colonisation oversaw its political and population disintegration.
Today, a decade since the restoration of monarchies, just over 11,000 people identify themselves as Basongora, as per the 2014 official national census.
The monarch, King Ndahura II Kashagama, 50, the current king of Busongora Kingdom, ascended to the throne in 2015 after the death of his uncle, Rwigi IV Bwebale Rutakirwa.
I met the king with only his assistant in tow. What he lacks in regal aura is compensated by his education, international networks and world views.
King Kashagama is a graduate of communication studies from the University of Toronto in Canada and at one time worked as a journalist.
He was also speech-writer and advisor of former Ghanaian President John Atta Mills and is conversant with pan-Africanism.
He lectured world history, electoral reform and parliamentary governance at the Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia.
He starred in the Star Gate TV series and several other US and Canadian film productions alongside movie stars including Danny Glover, Michelle Rodriguez, Kerry Washington, Delroy Lindo, Jet Li, Alfre Woodard, DMX, Aaliyah, Jessica Alba, Isaiah Washington, Pierce Brosnan, Al Pacino and Mark Wahlberg.
In its heyday, Busongora was one of the largest and most powerful kingdoms, incorporating a large swathe of western Uganda.
However, things fell apart at the turn of the 20th century when the British and Belgian colonialists invaded and decimated its population in protracted wars. In 1907, King Kasigano was captured and imprisoned by the invaders, marking the beginning of independent Busongora’s journey into oblivion.
Even though the colonialists successfully took control of the kingdom by 1907, it was the deadly sleeping sickness that delivered the real mortal blow, claiming the lives of at least 250,000 of the 360,000 surviving Basongora by 1910.