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In Buganda, keeping politics and culture apart is recipe for conflict

Few Ugandans care to reflect deeply on Uganda’s political development over time.

Admittedly, some of our leading historians have endeavoured to interpret the major political events according to their own perceptions and sensitivity. Chief among these are the writings of Professor Samuel Karugire and Professor Phares Mutibwa. It is disappointing, however, to find so many scholars and commentators giving a blinding view of the obvious.

It does not require superior intelligence, rigorous analysis, let alone unarticulated vision to differentiate the ideal but impossible; the desirable but impracticable; before accepting the realistic and possible as a compromise solution. All we need is to forget our cherished biases and scholarly irrelevance in order to pursue the attainment of equality in diversity as a fundamental principle in Uganda’s political development.

First and foremost our indisputably rich cultural diversity dictates a logical choice of corresponding political structures to match God’s predetermined ethnic design. No amount of political engineering can change the cultural mosaic of Uganda.

Hence the supremacy of the Independence Constitution. Little wonder that our continuing rejection of that constitutional order has resulted in disastrous civil strife and political conflict. Let us think deeply about a few examples of irreconcilable differences in our socio-political aspirations.

Kingship and republican traitors

It is neither possible nor desirable to try and persuade those who cherish their monarchical leadership to abandon it in exchange for republicanism and vice versa. The answer lies in TOLERANCE of each other’s preference. Hence, the advocacy for federal relationships.

To divorce culture or even religion from politics is simply diversionary. Attempts at political manipulation and posturing have failed to bring unity among Ugandans through uniform or unitary political structures. The colonial powers recognized this fact and the fifteen original stakeholders built our Independence Constitution on the same consensus.

The stalemate regarding President Museveni’s insistence on an elected katikkiro may be based on a genuine misunderstanding of the deep-rooted cultural considerations in determining Buganda’s relationship with the Central Government. On one hand, President Museveni’s preferred electoral system has already been proven unreliable, corruptible and, therefore, invalid in bringing out democratically elected representatives.

Significantly, the system which works well in urban Western democracies may not be successfully grafted on to African rural communities. When one’s neighbours keep moving house, as is the case in many urban areas, one may be justified in electing one’s political leader on the basis of the candidate’s display of verbal competence or oratory during electoral campaigns.

On the other hand, the articulate speaker at a campaign rally may be given to corrupt tendencies, let alone hide other extreme levels of moral decadence! Thus, the criteria used for his/her election may be disastrously inadequate and deceptive.

In comparison, the Kabaka’s criteria for the choice of a katikkiro are anchored in deep soul-searching tradition. If one may attempt to highlight the intangible criteria used in Kiganda tradition, the under-mentioned factors may be discerned by any clear-headed reader who is open to suggestion.

In essence, the Kabaka’s ministers in general and the katikkiros in particular, are PICKED rather than ELECTED. This does not mean to say those appointed cannot be faulted, reshuffled or even demoted when the appointing authority deems it necessary after receiving negative reports on their performance from reliable sources.

Indeed, the Kabaka has exercised that option several times in the recent past. Incidentally, President Museveni uses more or less the same procedure for appointing prime ministers and Resident District Commissioners (RDCs), though with less rigorous criteria.

For those who are PICKED by using the traditional approach, the following criteria appear to be applicable. The candidate for the office of katikkiro or minister in the Kabaka’s government should ideally show demonstrated competence in the following six continuous performance indicators.

1. Evidence of being PRODUCTIVE; that is, self-reliant and less liable to corruption; presently, offering voluntary service and perceived and popularly known in Luganda as ‘Alina keyeekoledde’.

2. Evidence of being INFORMED; that is, ideally widely read and widely travelled; currently expressed as development-minded. (To avoid the typical Luganda connotation of ‘Atanayitaayita - yatenda nnyina oku [fumba]’.

3. Evidence of being CULTURED; that is, overtly loyal to Buganda’s cultural institutions - the Kabaka, the Lukiiko and clan heads. (In the case of the katikkiro thus qualified to present the heirs of the landed-gentry or dignitaries formally to the Kabaka for approval- okutambuza olumbe).

4.Evidence of being KNOWLEDGEABLE; that is, ideally conversant with Buganda’s traditions and customs (in Luganda ‘Ennono n’obulombolombo’) in order to advise the powers-that-be authoritatively and with creativity where necessary.

5. Evidence of being EXPERIENCED; that is, having either come through the ranks of traditional administration or being a successful practitioner in one’s professional occupation/vocational endeavours and entrepreneurship (in Luganda: ‘Mutendeke aba Mukenkufu’).

6. Evidence of being DECENT; that is, ideally clean in thought, word and deed (in Luganda ‘Muntumulamu’).

The acronym of the above-mentioned secret code is that the appointee is PICKED by royal approval rather than ELECTED on superficial and often questionable performance indicators. Such are the sublime values which may not readily be appreciated by non-Baganda.

In addition to the above mentioned veiled criteria, the Kabaka picks his unpaid advisors, from whom he may seek a consensus on critical issues affecting his kingdom. These may be senior citizens, religious leaders, patriotic dignitaries, loyal members of the royal family and renowned professionals from diverse fields of competence.

In contrast, President Museveni appoints his paid advisors (currently reckoned to be 82 in number) and smooth operators from both indigenous and foreign contacts of sorts. In this way, one form of leadership thrives on instant political manipulation while the other prospers on long-term political survival.

It remains to be seen which of the two will gain the upper hand and eventually appear to possess political wisdom as opposed to political craftiness.

The link between CULTURE and POLITICS is so strong among Baganda, so much so, that any attempt to keep the two apart is bound to lead to perpetual social conflict instead of socio-political harmony. President Museveni’s refusal to recognise Buganda kingdom’s status as a political entity is indicative of his unquestioning belief in outdated colonial relationship with Buganda.

It assumes that politics did not exist, as such, in Buganda until the installation of the NRM regime at the end of the liberation struggle in 1986! No reputable historian, let alone anthropologist, has recorded the absence of a politically organised society in Uganda long before the arrival of the earliest European ‘explorers’ or adventurers.

In her book The Land of Promise, Mary Stuart writes: “The early European travellers who came first to Uganda did not fear strangeness; in fact, they went in search of it. What surprised them was to find a people whose dignified sense of order seemed so like their own.”

Frankly, there are regrettable continuing clandestine acts of arson on Buganda’s key institutions, such as the Bulange, the Masiro at Kasubi, the Bwanika at Naggalabi and the disappearance of Mutesa I royal regalia which was returned by the British and kept in the Uganda museum during Amin’s regime.

These are some of the glaring examples of an irreconcilable relationship, full of hatred, jealousy and evil-mindedness. If these acts are not nipped in the bud, there will be neither peace nor unity in Uganda. Instead, we might be plunged into the worst violent resistance ever encountered. That then will be eternally remembered as the NRM legacy steeped in an unarticulated vision.

The author is a former Buganda kingdom minister.

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