DAVID KYEWALABYE-MALE is the Buganda minister for Culture, Tourism, Heritage and Palaces. He is also the managing director of Buganda Land Board (BLB), the entity that manages the kingdom land. Seen as one of the most progressive leaders, he told The Observer what lies ahead for his docket in 2020 and beyond on top of explaining some of the key challenges and opportunities.
It is almost one year since the Kabaka appointed you a cabinet minister; how has the ride been so far?
I happened to be appointed at a time when the Kabaka merged several ministries to remain with only 14. So, my ministry involves several dockets such as tourism and heritage, security, tombs, palaces, research, and Luganda language.
So, my duty is to link all those departments so that they run smoothly and I look back to the past year with some satisfaction. I am also still holding the docket as managing director of Buganda Land Board, as we await the Kabaka to appoint someone to take over from me anytime as he wishes.
Personally, it is a huge calling to be entrusted to run the two powerful institutions but this is not new to me. I was once the Omuwanika w’enkuluze (Royal Treasurer) while at the same time heading Bucadef (Buganda Cultural Development Foundation).
You told media that in your first 100 days as minister, you would prioritize identifying and profiling cultural and tourism sites within the kingdom; what have you managed to achieve so far?
The 100 days were meant to create or cause a difference and to do so, I came up with a roadmap for cultural development. Since my docket includes clans, I have had to work with various clan heads to create order.
We met with the Kisekwa (court that settles cultural disputes) to work out a methodology to ably dispose of disputes arising from clans. We are now planning to create lower courts in the clan system to handle minor disputes since the Kabaka directed that each clan should have a court and a clan katikkiro. This has helped to minimise disputes.
We have also worked to ensure the Kabaka’s engages clan leaderships in any area he visits by visiting their clan sites. He has so far met with about six clan sites in the past one year and many more have been lined up.
During these visits, the Kabaka, as the superintendent of all clan heads, highlights the importance of these clans as far as the tradition is concerned and preserving what they have, because much of the clan land has been grabbed by unscrupulous individuals.
In some cases, the children of the deceased clan head didn’t know how to distinguish between their father’s land and the institutional land and ended up ‘inheriting it’. So, the Kabaka has stabilised these issues and separated the roles.
Third, this practice has enhanced development at these clan sites. If you visited any clan site today, even those that have not hosted the Kabaka, you will realise that there has been great facelift in anticipation of a royal visit.
I have also increased sensitisation on the succession system because in Buganda, we follow the blood system. We are happy we’ve engaged religious leaders in this to avoid being misinterpreted as something about property.
Tourism in Buganda is a goldmine that is yet to be explored; what is your strategy on unlocking Buganda’s tourism potential?
The Buganda Heritage and Tourism Board oversees tourism in the kingdom. We have aligned its management and brought in some new faces. BHTB is curently refurbishing the tourism shop in Bulange.
We are working with the Rotary Club of Lubaga Lakeview to clean the Kabaka’s lake and the results so far are impressive. Security agencies have also helped us pacify and patrol the lake to rid it of wrong elements such as muggers and drug dealers.
We are working to improve Lubiri Gardens. These are just in the interim but we have long-term plans to remodel the coronation site of Naggalabi, identify and label tourism sites within Buganda and document their history. As you can see on Kabakanjagala road at least twenty (20) clan sculptures have already been done and the plan is to have 40 by the end of the year.
Unfortunately, one of the lead sculptors died recently but that will not hinder the progress. We want these sculptures have messages about the history of respective clans so that visitors can learn more about Buganda’s rich heritage.
So, we want to make Kabakanjala road to be a must-visit for any tourist and we also cleared BHTB to set up a craft village near Butikkiro where people can display the many aspects of our culture.
So, in December alone, tourism income doubled in Buganda by just tweaking a few things. Tourism is about showing and storytelling and research and presentation of this information has greatly attracted more people. What we projected in the first six months in the ministry has already been tripled. It was around Shs 60m but we have so far achieved more than Shs 150m and we expect more than that by the end of the year; we expect to earn four times that figure.
It is all about creating several opportunities while also closing leakages, and this has required us to push a few less-productive people out.
For instance, it is on record that Uganda’s second-biggest forex earner is tourism and we all know that a big share of tourist attractions are here in Buganda. So, we believe if we harness tourism, we can get more. We are profiling key places such as different tombs, Naggalabi, Ssezzibwa, Lubiri, where we expect to put a cultural village after the master plan is out. We want to have a one-stop centre where someone can understand the history and heritage of Buganda and its culture.
Meanwhile, KCCA has come on board to support us in our endeavours and we are in final stages of starting the Kampala Easter Carnival along the Royal Mile. We had planned to do it over the Christmas period but there were many activities in-between that didn’t allow us enough time to prepare. But we plan to decorate the Royal Mile to have activities for three days through a series of events under the clan system such as exhibitions, competitions and merrymaking.
We are doing this to create awareness. We also want people to realise and tap into the business side of promoting their culture. That’s how we can preserve it. Times have changed. An institution that has no income can easily perish but we are ensuring that Buganda has as many sources of income as possible.
What is the Kabaka’s call for census in Buganda all about?
It is simply about bringing together people of Buganda to appreciate their heritage and to strengthen our culture. People are dispersed all over the world but we’ve teamed up with various clan leaderships to bring them together.
Much as the core values of the clan are to conserve and preserve our culture, we are embracing modern ways to reach out to everyone, including creation of a database of all Baganda. Someone should be in position to know the size and capacity of his/her clan through ancestry. This is just one way of enhancing our culture even though there are some forces which see this in a negative way. This is not tribal at all.
Some critics claim that apart from Kasubi, other tombs were neglected and they are rotting away. What plans do you have to return their former glory?
We are working much closer with Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) and have teamed up with the Wakiso district leadership to open up access to some of these tombs that are more than 25. This is a big tourism potential.
Also, a number of Kabaka’s palaces are currently undergoing repairs. The Bamunanika palace is undergoing a major overhaul, so is the one in Nkoni - Buddu. What we have ensured is order in those palaces.
Restoration of the Kasubi tombs is behind schedule and news has emerged that the original contractor is threatening to sue for breach of contract. As the minister in charge of heritage and tourism, what is your say on these issues?
The contractor [Omega Construction] is demanding money as per the work he did and the certificates issued to the kingdom. We’ve already paid more than a billion shillings and what the kingdom is simply doing now is verifying claims and once the position has been harmonised by the parties, we shall come up with a formal position.
The kingdom cannot take anyone’s money but the recent excitement coming up is because we are about to complete the Masiro and it is intended to divert the attention and keeping some individuals relevant.
If there is any disagreement between the contractor and the kingdom, there are available channels within the legal framework in the country to resolve them. They cannot be a lobbying issue and Mengo is an organised institution to handle the situation in the best interest of everyone, particularly the Kabaka. What we cannot do is to give any shilling beyond what was worked for. This is not personal money. Some people think they can use Masiro to hit at people and the Mengo leadership.
Right now, the system is streamlined because I receive reports from the team at Kasubi, recommend to the treasury which also crosschecks before releasing any money. These are things that were missing before. That’s why we are moving faster because everybody plays their role, not duplicating roles as was the case before.
At what point should we expect the tombs to be fully restored and handed back to the kingdom?
Works at Kasubi have been accelerated in recent months. The recent Kasubi discussion is just diversionary because in the past, there was a lot of bickering in Kasubi and work was not moving as planned. So, with the changes streamlining the work, the talk [has been taken outside Kasubi] and next month we expect to start roofing the tombs.
We are moving ahead of schedule after the realignment. We are not short of resources and all materials are on the ground and as the supervising minister, all is going according to plan. What is remaining is not a contractor’s work but steps that follow the norms and traditions of Buganda. It involves artisans and craftsmen. All this should be done within this year.
As the person in charge of security, the security around the Kabaka is paramount but of late, journalists have complained about the harsh treatment at the hands of Royal Guards. How can this relationship between the kingdom and journalists be improved?
The press is part of us but we need to know and understand the limits because the top priority is to prevent any danger to the Kabaka’s life. I would love to meet with the journalists’ association to forge a way forward to have an organised way of covering Kabaka’s events.
So, we fully respect journalists but we cannot allow the Kabaka’s security to be jeopardised because of a few individuals. There is minimal commotion around President Museveni because he has a state-of-the-art security detail.
If we also had such superior gadgets, maybe we could relax the security measures. Both parties much appreciate each other’s work. Security also needs to allow journalists to do their work. We also need a solid journalists association to rein in errant members.
The scope of BLB has met some critics who view it as unconstitutional. This has caused some tension between Buganda and the central and local governments. How are you working to improve your relationship with them?
Some people continue to mock us so that we may react but we restrain ourselves. Some people do this deliberately to be seen by the powers that be. If we had been illegal as some say, we would have lost court cases.
BLB is a corporate body that doesn’t hold any titles. We don’t issue titles. In fact, it is BLB helping people to regularise their tenancy and protect them from land grabbers.
We don’t have to respond to everyone because we would be playing to their tune. We meet all our obligations and last year URA ranked us among the top 100 tax-compliant bodies in the country.
How is your relationship with the central government?
It is great. The former minister of Lands [Betty Amongi] tried, either by omission of commission, to create some excitement and doubt about BLB but we do our work in the open. The ministry sent a team of commissioners here to find out how we do our valuations and they found ours were at par with theirs.
They checked our filing system and were shocked we were even advanced because ours was computerised. They scrutinised Kyapa Mu Ngalo and they got nothing. She had been misinformed by self-seekers and land grabbers but her technocrats had no problems with us. All the titles we handle are signed by the government registrar in the ministry of Lands!
When it comes to busuulu, we charge what the government decreed. For example, in Masaka, bibanja owners pay Shs 2,500 annually regardless of the size of the kibanja. The core job of BLB is to ensure that Kabaka’s subjects enjoy their tenancy and there is no rift between the two parties much as many people have unsuccessfully tried to stir it up.
The land law empowers the unregistered landowner more powers than the registered owner, and that sometimes creates tension but on Kabaka’s land, we sensitize and bring harmony for people to understand the truth.
At BLB, we work in the worst case scenario for Kabaka’s subjects because we give them a basis to protect their land from grabbers. Of course, the Kabaka will never tell them to leave because without the people, there is no Kabaka. That’s why we try to be civil.
Sometime back, you launched a Land Electronic Card aimed at fighting fraud; what is the successes and challenges of this initiative so far?
It is still on course but we are reassessing the situation after getting a setback when the technological service provider had a disagreement with the financier. So, we dissolved the MOU and are now working directly with the technological provider and we have finalised the deal for everything to be up and running in a few months.
The card will be able to incorporate all aspects of land and our system will be able to detect the size of land one has, even when it is not Kabaka’s land. This should help people in acquiring bank loans among other things and eliminate conmen.
By the way, what happened to Kyapa Mu Ngalo?
We closed the campaign last year because it was largely promotional. We subsidised the prices to help people get land titles and more than 8,000 people benefited from this. The challenge is delivery of a few remaining titles due to the high volumes of land transactions in various land offices.
What do you expect from the new Lands minister Beti Kamya?
Personally, Beti Kamya is my friend and we work together in many different committees and capacities. I know she is a good listener and I hope she gets interest in learning the dynamics of land laws in the country.
We also expect her to lobby government to release many other titles still held by the central government, ensure those we have get registered in the Kabaka of Buganda’s names also make sure that districts and other agents of government stop transacting on Kabaka’s land without consent. That’s the best we can ask of her. We shall support her and by virtue of also being a Muganda, we expect her to understand the Buganda land tenure.
I hope she fast-tracks government’s land electronic system to be at par with us and wipe out the inconsistencies as well as land grabbers that use the loopholes to deprive people and government of their land. This would reduce fraud.