The role of Baganda in Uganda politics

I have been accused especially by Michael Mutagubya on radio munansi and Aloysius Sempala on face book that I am deliberately distorting the history of Buganda to sow the seeds of disunity and isolate Buganda from the rest of Uganda. The truth of the matter is that it is Baganda that have always wanted to secede and are now mobilizing for independence. Some Baganda with good and others perhaps with no good intentions have advised me to refrain from writing and talking about Buganda the way I am doing because Baganda may not support me should I seek a national public office.

I have stated many times over that you can never solve a problem without getting to the root cause. In Uganda for various reasons we have failed to tackle one of the root causes of Uganda’s political problems. The attempt of Baganda to isolate Buganda from the rest of Uganda is in large part responsible for the political difficulties Uganda has experienced. The British appeasement policy towards Buganda which has continued since independence contributed to Baganda feeling they are special and Buganda is a state within the state of Uganda.

Paragraph 3 of the 1900 Uganda agreement is very clear on the status of Buganda in relation to other regions. It states “The kingdom of Uganda [read Buganda] in the administration of the Uganda Protectorate shall rank as a province of equal rank with any other provinces into which the Protectorate may be divided”(J.V.Wild 1950).

The message can’t be clearer than that. Nonetheless, some Baganda have vehemently insisted that Buganda is a state within a state and have the right to secede. Because I have challenged this false position, I have been branded anti-Baganda that must be opposed and forced to surrender.

As Uganda moved towards independence a Constitutional Committee was established under the chair of J. V. Wild to consult with Ugandans on the form of government – unitary or federal – they prefer and write a report with recommendations on the way forward. Because “A very great majority of people in the Eastern, Northern and Western Provinces … favore[d] the unitary system of government for Uganda”, Buganda feared that it might be dominated by a coalition from the Eastern, Northern and Western provinces (Report of the Constitutional Committee 1959).

The Buganda government rejected the Wild Committee recommendations. During 1960 Buganda tried to negotiate with the colonial authorities for an autonomous federal status; independent army; a separate high court; a separate police force and control of Kampala and Entebbe.

Iain Macleod rejected the idea of negotiating with Buganda. Having failed to achieve the goal, the Lukiiko unanimously passed a resolution on December 30, 1960 and declared the independence of Buganda. The Protectorate government ignored the resolution and went ahead with preparations for direct national elections to the National Assembly. The Buganda government ordered a boycott (T.V. Sathyamurthy 1986). Elections went ahead in 1961 including in Buganda, albeit with a low turnout, and the Catholic-dominated Democratic Party led by Ben Kiwanuka won the elections.

The Kabaka’s government participated in the Lancaster House constitutional discussions but failed to get all they had asked for including retention of all the lost counties and making the Kabaka to be above the Prime Minister. In frustration, the Kabaka Yekka (KY) issued a statement which included a section that “We of Kabaka Yekka cannot hesitate to state that if Uganda is ever to be a prosperous and peaceful country, the Prime Minister must always be subordinate to the Kabaka and other hereditary rulers…”(Onyango Odongo 1993).

In 1963 the Uganda constitution was amended and Kabaka was elected the first president of the Republic of Uganda but the executive powers resided in the office of the Prime Minister. This unsatisfactory arrangement to Baganda and their loss of the 1964 referendum on the lost counties triggered events that led to another attempt at secession. “On the 20th of May, [1966], three saza chiefs … proposed a radical motion in the Lukiiko which was unanimously carried. The Lukiiko thereupon served an ultimatum on the central government which was asked ‘to remove itself’ from the soil of Buganda before the 30th of May 1966”(T.V. Sathyamurthy 1986).

The central government regarded the ultimatum as an act of rebellion to be stopped. “On the 24th of May, the Kabaka’s palace was surrounded by troops under the command of colonel Amin. Obote’s justification for ordering a direct frontal attack on the palace was a large cache of illegal arms had been found hidden in the grounds”. Be that as it may, “After an engagement lasting about twelve hours, the Lubiri was razed to the ground, the Royal Drums were burned, the Kabaka’s flame was extinguished, the resistance of the Baganda inside the palace was crushed, and the Kabaka and the Katikiro were put to flight”(T.V.Sathyamurthy 1986).

Baganda did not give up. They continued to agitate and in the process contributed to the environment that led to the overthrow of the UPC government under the leadership of Obote in January 1971. Amin who led troops that destroyed the Lubiri was warmly welcomed by Baganda when he became the head of state.

That Baganda were happy is revealed by statements from some Baganda religious leaders of major denominations. “The Catholic Bishop Adrian Ddungu of Masaka made a speech hailing Amin as a liberator – which apparently anyone who overthrew the Anglican Obote and his ‘socialism’ had to be.

Likewise, Baganda Anglicans welcomed Amin: Bishop Lutaya of West Buganda diocese is reported to have hailed Amin as ‘our redeemer and the light of God’”(Paul Gifford 1999).

During the guerrilla war from 1981 to February 1986, Baganda provided the largest support to Museveni and his National Resistance Army. They even offered the Luwero Triangle to wage his war from. Prince Ronald Mutebi lent his full support to Museveni as well as church leaders. “Emmanuel Cardinal Nsubuga and Haji Badru Kakunguru’s resistance to the Obote II government and their blessing of the five-year bush war was not a big secret”. When it was felt that there was strong resistance to giving Museveni a second term “… Cardinal Nsubuga went public with his continued support for Mr. Museveni. He made a passionate but strong appeal for giving Museveni an extra five years in order to stabilize the country and arrange for orderly succession”(Daily Monitor February 16, 2006).

As a reward for their support, Museveni has appointed Baganda to very high and prestigious offices including three vice presidents, three prime ministers, speaker of parliament, two deputy prime ministers, vice chair of NRM, inspector general of police, army commander, chairperson of national land board, the key ministries of finance, attorney general and education etc. NRM members of Parliament from Buganda have solidly stood behind the chairman of NRM who is Museveni. The relations between Mengo and Museveni are very warm, witness the signing of the so-called Memorandum of Understanding and current plans to discuss the federal arrangement for Buganda alone.

It is worth noting that some 80 percent of Uganda’s National Income (GNI) is generated in Kampala and its vicinity with a population of less than two million out of 35 million Ugandans where the majority in the Greater Kampala region are Baganda and most likely getting a disproportionate share of the national income.

With all these benefits going to Baganda and the role they have played in crowning and sustaining Amin and Museveni one wonders why they continue to complain that Baganda are discriminated against and stories are distorted to separate them from the rest of Uganda and marginalize them even more when as the evidence above amply shows it is Baganda that have always wanted to secede – a move that I have opposed very vigorously.

Eric Kashambuzi is international consultant on development issues.