By Isaac Sebakijje
On August 1, 2013 the Government of Uganda and Buganda kingdom signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the return of Buganda properties. We all know that a signed Memorandum of Understanding is usually a Letter of Intent.
However, on April 15, 2014, that intent was followed by the Government’s ceremonious delivery of 213 land titles to Buganda Kingdom to the surprise of many critics and skeptics. Buganda immediately started the daunting task of title verification process. These events are a milestone for both Buganda Kingdom and the nation of Uganda.
We are witnessing history in the making representing the unfolding of a very delicate balancing act irrespective of other arguments. It is also important to note that since no political process was applied in confiscating Buganda’s properties, no political debate was called for to return them. The confiscated Asian properties were returned in a comparable manner. These were stolen goods being returned to the rightful and identified owner, so to speak.
Whatever happens here on, does not rule out the fact that this is a giant step in the right direction not only for Buganda but also for the unification of the nation of Uganda. We salute those who have worked and still working behind closed doors to reach this point and beyond.
Therefore, it is time for Buganda to bury the mindset of a victimised society and self-pity and focus on the future. The Kingdom must rewrite history by turning its misfortunes into economic success. As a returning Ugandan-Muganda, I welcome these developments.
The return of Buganda properties comes at the time when the African continent is on the global radar as the last economic frontier. Most experts agree that Africa is on the move fuelled by vast natural resources, a crop of upcoming young innovative leaders and technological advancement.
Industrialised countries that were accustomed to simply extend donations to Africa are now seeking for economic partnership with African nations.
Buganda, like the rest of the country, is shrouded within this quest for global connectivity and growth. Buganda must let go of archaic traditional ways of governing the kingdom. Buganda must re-examine its traditional leadership and structures and introduce new ways of tapping into its vast resources for the economic benefit of its people.
The future of this evolutionally approach lies within the younger and visionary leaders. Leaders who will be able to strike a delicate balance between politics, culture and economic development. Fortunately, those younger leaders are already in the kingdom and they are beginning to emerge and taking their rightful place one at a time. They represent a window of opportunity to loosen the tight grip of those who might resist the trend of progress in favour of restrictive cultural practices.
A new wind of change is blowing, which Buganda cannot escape. The Baganda are now a widely traveled and internationalised people who are capable of influencing change. Thanks to the Internet including social media and mobile phones because this influence will only gain momentum.
The new generation will be calling for a reassessment of a system or a static structure that fails to deliver either liberty or a minimum of economic prosperity. Considering Buganda’s strategic location, assets and abundant natural resources, the Kingdom is capable of halting declining standards of living, rampant poverty and hopelessness.
Coincidentally, the Kingdom has the necessary plans and programmes in place that can be consolidated and revamped to jumpstart the economic development.
For example, the Royal Development Drive, Sustainable Agricultural Development, Investment and Industrial Promotion, Land as an Investment Asset, Kabaka Foundation, Nabagereka Development Trust, Buganda Development Agency, Lubiri Development Committee, Buganda Land Board, Nkobazambogo, Essuubi lya Buganda, Buganda Youth Councils and more. These are all good efforts but too fragmented. They must be better coordinated to be effective.
Right now, Buganda must privatise and globalise its economic campaign. Globalisation is not a new phenomenon any more. It is a trend that all emerging regions of Asia, South America and the Middle East have embraced in order to achieve economic success. These regions have not lost their culture or national identities in the process but rather modernised them.
According to the International Monetary Fund, the scale and speed with which globalisation is occurring and the way technology (especially in communications and transportation) is changing the world is irreversible. It is now widely accepted that globalisation is not just the latest economic fad. It is the international environment which is making the world a global village.
While it is not a panacea anyone, any nation or any community that resists this trend, for whatever reason, will remain backward and underdeveloped.
For Buganda, there is no shortage of human resources that can utilise this trend and transform this Kingdom into a modern progressive society. There is an abundance of young educated Baganda in the country from a spectrum of disciplines, professions and skills.
Alternately, many equally trained and experienced Baganda form a bulk of those in the diaspora in countries around the world. These Baganda in the diaspora, nicknamed “kyeyoists”, contribute a large portion of the remittances which Uganda enjoys. Many have organised themselves into humanitarian entities to support their kingdom, such as the restoration of Kasubi Tombs.
They also act as effective ambassadors for Uganda and Buganda who lure investors in the country. Some are turning the “brain drain” into “brain gain” for Uganda by returning home. They arrive in Uganda with entrepreneurial ambitions, disciplines, visions and work ethics commonly lacking within the local environment. Those who are still in their host countries are beginning to invest their hard earned money in Uganda.
Is the old guard of Buganda leadership receiving these innovative sons and daughters with an open mind? Is the old guard receptive to these developments or is it trapped into traditional history treating innovation suspiciously? Do they frustrate or block the efforts of foresighted Baganda who can propel the Kingdom into a sustainable modern future? These are some of the questions whose answers lie within the establishment.
As I welcomed the return of property to Buganda, I looked at one of the many Buganda’s goldmines sitting virtually idle right in Kampala. That goldmine is the Kabaka’s Place (Lubiri). It is connected to Kabaka’s Lake (Ennyanja ya Kabaka). Looking at the unsightly brick fence and makeshift landscaping that shields the Palace, visitors would understandably conclude that it is an abandoned property. Historically, I know how it got this way but others may not. This prime asset alone can be transformed into a world class Buganda centre generating millions of dollars every year for the Kingdom and putting hundreds of people to work.
This place can be transformed into another tourist wonder and added to Uganda’s accolades. It must be turned into a facility that includes a world class hotel with state of the art conference and exhibition facilities, an indulging spa, and a destination village entertainment/retail centre.
The rich cultural heritage of Buganda will be a key component of the facility incorporating indigenous art and architectural elements into the design, enhancing and complementing the beautiful natural environment.
Construction must integrate the rich culture of Buganda traditions and customs and shopping for local traditional art pieces and handicrafts. Spontaneous kiganda dancing and music, a huge part of Ugandan life will be a part and parcel of the complex atmosphere. Sculptures, fountains and local art will be a place that people will want to see and experience and recommend to others. The facility will include adequate square footage of usable space with separate entry patios apart from the main entry for the palace guests and visitors.
There has been a talk of simply building a five star hotel in the palace or even an airstrip. If so, that will be a regrettable underutilisation of this prime cultural site. The hotel should be a part of the master blueprint described above which must include Kabaka’s lake. The master plan must be in symphony with Buganda’s and Uganda’s tourism sector drive. It must involve world class consultants, designers and investors.
It has taken Buganda since 1966 to turn things around. I strongly suggest that the Kingdom takes time or even years to do things correctly using a “think tank’ composed of great minds. “Nze ndiira wa” officers must be isolated and be denied any role in this process. A very seasoned marketing and promotion global team must be put in place to attract the right investors, funders and even philanthropists.
As the comprehensive list of returned properties change hands, the need to professionalise the process of development will increase. A “special desk” showcasing Buganda investment opportunities must be set up along with a global marketing arm.
Agriculture, which is the mainstay of the Kingdom’s economy, will call for mobilisation of the masses to organise cooperatives turning subsistence farming into profitable commercial farming. Agriculture and agro processing will uplift many from abstract poverty and raise the standard of living in Buganda. As we speak today, Buganda’s agricultural potential is virtually untapped, so is tourism.
The move by Prime Minister Charles Peter Mayiga to name a team of experts headed by conservationist Dr. Gladys Nalubowa Kalema to sit on the Buganda Tourism Board is welcome. A combination of agriculture and tourism development will be the most effective weapons against rampant unemployment and poverty in Buganda and the rest of the country. These sectors will produce more people with technical knowhow, skills and talents needed in today’s job market.
This in a nutshell points to where Buganda should be headed in order to unlock the growth potential of the Kingdom. It won’t be as easy as a walk in the park but it must be done. It will involve a non-partisan approach involving Baganda from different walks of life. It will involve dreamers, visionaries, creators and practical thinkers.
It must unite those with divergent political and religious affiliations for a shared mission of uplifting Buganda and its people. How successful it can be depends on the fearless internal reforms, efficient management of capital resources as well as the national economic landscape.
It will be a team effort leaning towards, unprecedented discipline and supported by all. Buganda cannot do it in isolation. It must be done in the spirit of Buganda and also in collaboration with Uganda’s national economic development programmes.
The writer is a hospitality and tourism professional and founder of Impactafrica Trade and Investments: firstname.lastname@example.org