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Buganda must outgrow the culture of nostalgia

By Vision Reporter

Added 7th October 2009 03:00 AM

THE recent standoff between President Yoweri Museveni and Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi revealed the inherent nuances within Buganda’s social organisation whose implications have traditionally impacted on our national affairs.

THE recent standoff between President Yoweri Museveni and Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi revealed the inherent nuances within Buganda’s social organisation whose implications have traditionally impacted on our national affairs.

By Peter Mulira

THE recent standoff between President Yoweri Museveni and Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi revealed the inherent nuances within Buganda’s social organisation whose implications have traditionally impacted on our national affairs.

Unless we get a clear understanding of these nuances, the relationship between the kingdom and our national leadership will continue to be strained. Many people have reacted to the impasse by calling for legislative control of cultural leaders but this makes the mistake of assuming that the Kabakaship as an institution is cultural. The Buganda society is organised in a pyramid kind of structure with the Kabaka at the apex. One side of the pyramid represents the kingdom’s cultural organisation while the other one indicates its political organisation. The bottom line represents the people.

Understood in this way, it will be seen that in Buganda’s social organisation culture and politics do not mix at all except at the apex where the cultural line is headed by the Sabataka and the political one by the Kabaka.

Accordingly when you legislate to control cultural leaders in the case of Buganda you will only be dealing with the Sabataka not the Kabaka which will not solve the problem.

The title “Kabaka” is a political one which referred in history to the absolute ruler of Buganda. The title changed to a “titular ruler” of Buganda in the constitutions of 1955, 1961 and 1962. It is therefore inconceivable in the Baganda mindset to imagine a ruler whether absolute or titular who is not connected with politics. But the role of a ruler is a constitutional issue.

What is needed is to have a constitution of Buganda which is subject to the principles of the national constitution that will articulate the constitutional role of the monarch. The monarchy in Buganda has played a significant role in our history as a symbol of its peoples’ aspirations although at times selfish people exploit its popularity for their own good.

In the late 1920s the Kabaka was the symbol of resistance against the colonial plan to introduce Swahili as the country’s lingua franca and his efforts led to the rapid development of the Luganda and other local languages’ authography.

Again in the early 1930s the Kabaka sent a delegation to the British House of Commons in London to oppose the proposed East African federation in which the Africans would have been submerged by the whites and it was the Kabaka who in 1945 introduced the first democratically elected African local councils in east and central Africa. Accordingly the Kabaka as an institution can be a useful agent of change but in performing this role the individual who occupies the throne often has to tread a precarious road in which he has to balance the interests of the state with the aspirations of his people.

This situation played itself out in 1953 when the then Governor Sir Andrew Cohen required the Kabaka to sign an undertaking that he would support the colonial government’s plans to revive the idea of an East African federation or else he would be deposed. Knowing that this would go against his peoples’ wishes, the Kabaka declined to sign the undertaking as a result of which he was deported to Britain. The recent standoff between the Kabaka and the President must be seen within this historical context.

Since a new leadership came up at Mengo in 2005, a radical anti-government mood gripped Buganda which must have put the monarch between a rock and a hard place. Using scarecrow political tactics sent out through the powerful medium of the radio stations, a vocal section of the Baganda became convinced by a few politicians that the kingdom was under siege and that its very survival was in the balance.

Although these claims were motivated by political populism, a mood of defiance was openly embraced by some senior advisers in the kingdom who publicly opposed any interface between the Kabaka and the President but thankfully the rest is now history.

The new mood ushered in by the talks of the President and the Kabaka calls for adjustment in three areas as we approach the promised negotiations. First, cognisance must be taken of the fact that the kingdom’s rigid attachment to its past rather than the future is working against its interests.

Professor Ali Mazrui has made a distinction between cultures of anticipation and cultures of nostalgia. Cultures of anticipation plan for the future even if it means sacrifices today whereas cultures of nostalgia like Buganda’s value custom, ancestry and tradition.

The type of kinship solidarity engendered by cultures of nostalgia affects development and leads to lack of preparedness to deal with new challenges as the Kayunga crises demonstrated. We must strike a balance between the past and the future.

Secondly, the federal idea which is dear to Buganda was historically important for people who wanted to preserve their autonomy when hardball states were still the primary actors in national and world affairs but since the end of the cold war states are externally losing their sovereignty, functions and power to international institutions while internally there is a trend for state governments to lose power through devolution to sub-states, regional, provincial or local political entities.

The Uganda constitution, for example, enumerates powers and functions reserved for the national government and the rest is left for local entities to share. A lot can be achieved within this framework.

Lastly, cultural xenophobia which characterises Buganda’s politics has become illusionary as demographically the kingdom has become a macrocosm of all the tribes in the same way immigration has changed the traditional Canadian nation from the old Anglophone and Francophone nation to a global nation of all the world’s people.

Today, about one person in six Canadians is a immigrant and with this has come different perspectives in public policy which emphasises equality for all instead of protection of the old order. With immigrants now accounting for almost 50% of its population, Buganda must start to think in terms of multi-ethnicism in its public affairs.

As I contemplated on the issues of the day, my attention was drawn to an article I wrote in The New Vision of December 13, 2005 before the constitutional amendment which introduced the regional tier.

In that article, I said: “The Buganda problem will remain unresolved until five things are accepted and put in place namely, a Buganda constitution subject to the national constitution in which the Kabaka is recognised as the titular head or constitutional monarch, a government at Mengo headed by an elected Katikkiro and properly funded, an elected Lukiko and recognition of the 18 counties as districts of Buganda and a system of lower local government based on egombolola (LC3), omuluka (LC2) and ekyalo (LC1). That article demonstrates what can be achieved through negotiations and accommodation.
The writer is a lawyer

Buganda must outgrow the culture of nostalgia

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