We can’t allow a minority as a king
Makerere University law don, Dr John Jean Barya, is the legal advisor for Banyankole Cultural Foundation, an organisation opposed to the restoration of the kingdom of Ankole. Michael Mubangizi talked to him about the fate of the Obugabe in the wake of Prince John Barigye’s demise.
Briefly tell me about the court process in respect to the restoration of the Obugabe?
Mr John Barigye, who regarded himself as the king of Ankole kingdom, together with George William Katatumba, who claims to be the Prime Minister of Ankole kingdom, went to the constitutional court in April 2010, seeking for a declaration that Barigye is the king of Ankole. They also wanted a return of all the regalia and former properties like land of Ankole kingdom now held by the central government to him.
There was an application by three people – Mzee William Mukaira, Dr. Godfrey Assimwe of Makerere University and Dr. Yusuf Mpairwe – to join the petition. They wanted to oppose it. The judge hadn’t heard this application, but conferencing notes from both sides were submitted to the registrar. The Attorney General had also replied to the petition, opposing all the grounds Mr. Barigye had sought. As you know, Mr. Barigye died recently and as such, what he was asking for in the constitutional court also died with him.
But can’t that petition be taken over by Prince Barigye’s heir, Prince Charles Rwebishengye?
A court case cannot be inherited. Maybe the young man can draft and file his own petition, [but] he can’t rely on the old petition.
Why are you people still opposed to the restoration of Obugabe even after Prince Barigye’s passing?
We weren’t opposed to Barigye as a person, but to the institution of Obugabe. Firstly, Ankole kingdom has no historical legitimacy. It’s a colonial creation. At the time of colonisation in 1901, Nkore kingdom comprised the present Kashari, part of Isingiro and Nyabushozi. There were also kingdoms like Mpororo, Igara, Buhweju and Buzimba.
The British annexed them to Nkore kingdom and called it Ankole. Indeed, the king of Igara killed himself and refused to submit to the Nkore king. The one of Buhweju was killed in battle, [opposing the annexure of his kingdom].
Secondly, Ankole kingdom was very divisive. It had a caste system with Bahinda on top as the ruling group. Below them were the Bahima who owned cattle and the Banyankole or Bairu [who were agriculturalists]. Between 1962-67, the kingship remained divisive because of those castes and political party lines along DP and UPC. Reviving it would be reviving those historical divisions, which we think have been minimized since the abolition of the kingdom.
Besides, the rules of the kingdom in Ankole have never changed. The king, for instance, doesn’t marry from Bairu, and, therefore, there is no cultural relationship between the Bahinda and the majority of the population. The kingship in Ankole has never been a cultural, but a political institution. The king had no cultural roles. Those roles were among the Bahinda.
The rest of the society, he had nothing to do with them. So there was that cultural disconnect between the kingship and his so-called subjects. So, to say that we have a king of Banyankole now doesn’t make any cultural sense. Since all the administrative, judicial and executive functions have been removed from the kings and cultural leaders, we think this would be an empty institution.
Some people argue that because of the absence of Obugabe, Ankole culture is dying away. Do you agree?
What is culture? Culture is the complete way of life of a given group of people. The way they live, produce their food, their entertainment, religion, language, art, music, drama. All those are elements of culture. Which one of those has died or is dying?
Besides, the king having not been a cultural leader cannot be a custodian of that [Ankole] culture. He can only be a custodian of the Bahinda, but he can’t be a custodian of the culture of the people of Ankole from Ntungamo, Ibanda, Nyabushozi, Bunyaruguru. I think that is a false claim.
I concede that there could be problems with preserving language, but I think what is needed is a systematic effort to preserve, modernise, and update different aspects of our culture in terms of languages, literature, the songs, drama, etc. That is a bigger problem that has nothing to do with the absence or presence of a kingdom.
There has never been a vote on the issue of Obugabe, so how do you people come to conclude that it’s unpopular?
There is overwhelming evidence to show that. First, during the colonial period in the 1940s, there was an organisation called Kumanyana Movement formed to oppose the kingship in Ankole and the domination of the Bahinda. The movement led to the election of the first popularly elected Prime minister called Kesi Nganwa.
In 1967 when the kingdoms were abolished, the Banyankole jubilated. In 1971, while there were calls for the restoration of monarchies by other groups, notably the Baganda through petitions to Amin, the people of Ankole wrote a memorandum to Amin opposing the restoration of the kingdom and that delegation included Barigye’s father, Charles Gasyonga.
If you look at the 1993 Odoki report, whereas in Buganda there was overwhelming support for the restoration of the monarchy, the district and local councils, opinion leaders including religious leaders in Ankole opposed the restoration of Obugabe. There are resolutions to that effect. The Prof Ssempebwa Constitutional Review Commission got a similar finding in respect to Obugabe.
In November 1993, when Prince Barigye was enthroned, life went on normally. Banyankole never protested until two or three days later when government announced that it had cancelled his coronation. What’s your take on this?
There was no need to go on the street. It was a secret thing in Nkokonjeru. Why go on the street, especially if we knew that the thing was so unpopular and may not go further? [Supporters of Obugabe] agree that they are unpopular, but still say that their minority view should be respected.
So would you support a referendum to weigh the popularity of Obugabe?
The solution provided for in the Institution of Traditional and Cultural Leader’s Act is that where the issue of traditional leaders is not resolved, it should be referred to a council of elders and clans. When there is no consensus, then it should go to court. We had thought it would refer the issue to a referendum. I think the law assumed that all kingdoms follow the structure of Buganda. The clans in Ankole aren’t structured that way, they have no heads.
Would a proposal to have the kingship rotational or have the Omugabe marry from all clans make Obugabe acceptable to you?
That is not for me to make, it would be those that want the kingship to propose it. Incidentally, monarchies aren’t constructed that way; they have some claim to legitimacy from certain aspects. The legitimacy of this kingdom is from that lineage. If you break it and make it rotational, it will not be a king of Ankole; it will be a cultural leader of Banyankole because he will have no reference to the historical monarchy.
It will be a new institution like the Emorimor in Teso. Take for instance the kings who were created between 1962 and 1967 like the Rutakirwa of Kigezi and another one in Bugisu. They all died because they were artificial and I believe that even these new traditional leaders who have been artificially manufactured are not going to last.
No one is forced to pay allegiance to a king, so what’s wrong with having Omugabe since you won’t be forced to recognise him?
That is not true. First of all, he will be my king; he will be a king of Banyankole without my acceptance. Secondly, whereas they say nobody will be forced; there are many ways of forcing you. For instance, if a district council or central government decides that they are going to maintain a king; that they are going to pay Shs 5 million a month and a car, you will be paying.
How do you respond to allegations that you people are using your Bairu [population] dominance to oppose the kingdom cherished by most Bahima?
We respect the minority views in as far as they don’t affect us. I have never heard of a minority king anywhere in the world. I think the minority should accept the views of the majority.
Some people argue that the 1993 Act on the restitution of cultural leaders and the 1995 constitution restored all formed kingdoms, including that of Ankole.
Article 246 allows traditional leaders to exist in areas where people want them. It is not mandatory. The 1993 Act was repealed by the constitution, but it is also hinged on the wishes of the people. And that is what we are saying, that the majority people of Ankole don’t wish to have Obugabe.
So how do you see things panning out?
First of all, I think it will be more difficult for Prince Charles Rwebishengye to lay claim on kingship because whereas Barigye’s father was a king, for him he has less historical claim because his father was never a king. I also believe that Museveni thought that he would use traditional leaders for his political purposes.
That’s why the kingdom of Buganda was established in 1993, but it has since become a problem for him and therefore, while he has tried to divide Buganda by propping up these minority monarchies, he might be thinking that he may not be able to contain all these traditional institutions that have come up. Therefore, the government is likely to be more conscious on the restoration of [Obugabe].
I think Museveni knows Ankole society very well, and he believes that it might ignite unnecessary controversy and divisions and therefore cost him support. I don’t see Museveni restoring Ankole kingdom unless he is no longer interested in contesting for political power or if he says he can leave the ramification of the restoration to whoever follows him. I don’t think he would love to create another centre that would give him headache.
Even after Museveni, it is unlikely that the Ankole monarchy would be a source of political capital to whoever comes after him. In short, unless the Ankole monarchists re-invent themselves, by for instance demanding for a king of the members of Nkore Cultural Trust, I don’t see headway for them.
You say you are opposed to kingdoms, but how come we see you align yourselves to kingdoms like Buganda?
We don’t owe allegiance to any kingdom, not even Buganda. What took us to Buganda was not to pay allegiance to Buganda or the Kabaka, but to explain our position. We wanted to tell them that if the kingdom in Buganda is popular let it be, but they shouldn’t interfere with the affairs in Ankole.
The Katikkiro and his ministers listened and [understood]. A recent interview with Apollo Makubuya [the Buganda Attorney General] showed something different, but of course they will prefer to have so many kings around to boost their numbers.
[Makubuya] is right that it’s not government that creates kingdoms but the people. Government only provides the law creating kingdoms, but it is people who create it. That’s why we say that for us we aren’t interested and it should be us to say, not government, not Buganda and obviously not any other group. And for us we are ready not to interfere with Buganda. If their king is popular, that is okay with us, but if the king is not popular in Ankole they should also accept it.
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