Charles Peter Mayiga’s work has managed to speak both to and for Buganda kingdom’s revived fortunes in the last seven years he has reigned as Katikkiro. And he is not done yet.
Last week, he spoke to NTV’s On The Spot talk show host Patrick Kamara about his seven-year tenure as Buganda kingdom premier, the kingdom’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and whether he has an eye on the presidency, among other issues. Below is slightly edited transcript by Ernest Jjingo.
To start with, in this time of lockdown, how are you faring yourself?
To run the kingdom under these circumstances is extremely challenging because you do not get to interface with people and I cannot meet my colleagues. We are holding our cabinet meetings by Zoom conferencing.
It is a very big challenge because the kingdom is about the people and you must meet them to introduce the programs and work with them.
We cancelled very many events like the Kabaka’s tour of the southern end of Buddu county, the annual Kabaka birthday and celebrations, launch of the 2020 coffee drive (Emmwanyi Terimba) in Busujju county and many others.
It has been seven years since the Kabaka made you Katikkiro; take us through your journey as the Katikkiro of Buganda
The first thing my colleagues and I decided to do was to go to the people and tell them it is their job to develop the kingdom. We met the people mainly through the “Tofaali” drive.
Many people think the “Tofaali” was about money but money was just a small component of the objective. The objective was to tell people to rise up and hold the kingdom in their hands, which they did mainly through working hard to improve their finances.
Many people say a federal system of governance can help other kingdoms run effectively but that has not happened. Did Buganda and all the people that were aspiring for a federal system of governance punch above their weight?
No, we didn’t punch above our weight on that. I believe what people want eventually reigns. During the Constitution-making process, 90 per cent of Baganda and 65 per cent of the people of Uganda collectively said they wanted federalism but there were undertable deals in the Constituent Assembly that defeated this proposition.
That is a very explosive allegation you are making. Undertable deals by who?
I mean look, if people had said we want a federal system of governance, how come it was not written in the Constitution? Certain things must be said at the right time and I am not sure this is the right time to say who did it.
But Buganda is such a big force in Uganda because in every sector of governance there are people from Buganda. Were people from Buganda sabotaging themselves?
Yes, Buganda is such a big factor but someone could even ban the monarchy. So, if someone can do that, it means they can even influence the lawmakers and someone could have influenced the people who wrote the Constitution.
At independence, the Kabaka became the ceremonial president of Uganda and that was giving a lot of glory and pride to the Kingdom of Buganda. Do you and the entire Buganda live with that nostalgia?
No. Of course the Kabaka is highly revered and I think Kabaka Mutebi is one of the most respected people in Uganda and I don’t think he has to be president to be revered. He, being the custodian of our heritage, which is nearly a thousand years old, is big enough.
When you became Katikirro, many doubted your potential but you have injected energy, which everybody has seen. Did you have a sense that for the kingdom to be apolitical is perhaps a stumbling block and you could done more if you were not apolitical?
We aspire for a federal system of governance where the Kabaka’s government is empowered both at the legal front and at the economic front and that is what we shall pursue and attain at a certain point in time and I assure you we have the time. Federalism isn’t about anything else other than good governance and giving people in a given community the chance to lay out their priorities.
It should be the choice of the different regions of Uganda to decide whether they want to have cultural institutions or not, but not the choice of anyone sitting in Kampala.
Why can’t Buganda, the largest ethnic group in the country, choose that leader so that when he is in office, there won’t be any kind of undertable deals? He will have Buganda at heart as well as Uganda.
What Uganda needs is the rule of law and good governance. If you have the rule of law, every region is going to get what they aspire for. The one at the helm can be from any tribe but what is important is to have the institutions of state running the affairs of the country.
You don’t seem to appreciate the power of Buganda, the numerical strength, exposure, education. The only spark that is lacking is for you [Baganda] to speak with one voice. But there seems to be an element of sabotage from within Buganda and yet groups in other countries seem to have used their numerical strength to lead their countries.
The dynamics in politics differ from country to country. In Uganda we have not changed the president for 34 years and I do not think that has got anything to do with Buganda.
Secondly, I do not think the point is having a Muganda as president; it also has to do with the competence. For me, if we get a competent Muganda, it would be a welcome thing but I do not want a Muganda in name. It must also go with the competence of the candidate.
Land grabbing is rampant in Buganda. Some sacred land has been grabbed or sold off. There is a risk the Kabaka could reign over people who are landless in his own kingdom...
That is one of the biggest challenges we are facing today. The issue of land must be addressed by looking at six factors. First, the police simply lack the capacity to investigate land-related matters.
The land unit of the police force is extremely weak; it is not facilitated and lacks the technical ability. So, when someone occupies land illegally, the police may not be able to investigate and gather evidence that needs to be tabled in court.
The second problem is the performance of the courts. In 1994, courts would dispose of land cases in a month all over the country but today you will be lucky to dispose of a land matter in five years. The way courts function is a challenge because the mighty ones have a way of getting around the system.
Third, is the inefficiency of the Lands offices. Criminals get land titles and genuine people have theirs cancelled. The fourth factor is the population explosion. The fifth is overuse of the land, which has made it unproductive and therefore for anyone to reap a huge harvest, they have to have a big chunk.
The sixth is political interference. Resident district commissioners and other political heavy weights defy court orders. So, if you want to address the issues of land today especially in Buganda, those are the six factors and not the mailo land system that should be addressed.
Is the land law disadvantageous to Buganda like the law, which gives security of tenancy?
The biggest problem has never been the law; it is the governance. For example, why can’t the police, courts and land offices do their jobs? This has been our far cry even when these laws were being introduced way back in 1998. The problem is how you empower the agencies charged with the duty of implementing the law to do their work.
There are people who criticized you a lot when you launched the “Kyapa Mungalo” land project. Was it bad for Buganda?
Those were self-seekers and how was it bad for Buganda? The Kabaka is giving you a title, which you can take to the bank to get a soft loan. Whoever has a registered interest on land is in a better position than someone who has a claim that is difficult to define.
The people who were saying that Kyapa Mungalo is wrong were the first to get their certificates from Buganda Land Board. These were self-seekers who did not want people of Buganda to be empowered.
Let us look at the issue of COVID-19. How is Buganda prepared for post COVID-19?
We must place emphasis on ICT in the aftermath of COVID-19 because even after the pandemic is brought under control, I think we are going to rely very much on ICT to carry our programmes forward. In Buganda, I have instructed all our organs and companies to fully embrace ICT at all levels of administration.
Secondly, many people are concerned that we are going to experience an economic downturn but when you examine history, every after a crisis, there is a spike in demand. When the lockdown is lifted, the demand for food will increase and those who can grow food will earn handsomely.
Is there anything the kingdom can do to secure the livelihood of its people; because right now they are not working to earn a living
When I went on the “Tofaali” campaign, I realized the levels of poverty throughout the whole kingdom and we looked for ways of addressing this issue. The most practical thing for many people in Uganda to do is to embrace agriculture because most of them are in villages and we encouraged the growing of coffee because it is one of the cash crops most people are familiar with.
We embarked on the campaign to grow more coffee and it has caught on extensively. People are also growing matoke in Singo, Masaka, Kiboga and Busiro and I think we must start from agriculture to fight poverty.
People are not earning under lockdown; does it worry you that if they are pressed hard against the wall like they seem to be right now that could breed anarchy?
Of course it could. I think half of the population in Kampala needs to earn something every other day to survive and that population is big when they don’t have food. We can only hope that the pandemic is brought under control so that the lockdown can be lifted much as I think it is a tough decision for government.
Post-Covid-19, how do you think Kampala should be runs, considering the many propositions coming up? This is the heart of Buganda and Uganda and you have such a big stake...
We have got so many boda boda riders and taxi drivers who cannot simply be pushed out of the city without an alternative plan. What we need to do is to regulate the transport industry because regulation brings about order.
If the city authority wants to control public transport in the city, I think all stakeholders should be involved. If you want to introduce a bus system, which I think is wise, you need to bring the taxi owners together and make them buy shares in the bus companies.
Must every leadership decision include bringing people to the table in order to make a decision?
It makes it easier for implementation. The bus system I think to a larger extent would control the traffic confusion. I have advised the city authority against a car park in the middle of the city. Why should cars congregate in one place and then move out which creates a gridlock? The vehicles should just keep moving concurrently.
It is not even true that a bus system will take away jobs. Buses should have hubs on the outskirts of the city where they refill from, get washed, change drivers and serviced and all these create jobs for different kinds of people.
Tourism has taken a hit and may not recover for a long time, which means the hospitality industry is going to struggle. What ideas does Buganda kingdom have for reviving the hospitality industry?
We are badly hit as a kingdom as far as tourism is concerned because when people come to Uganda, those who want to see the heritage go to Bulange, Kasubi Tombs and many other places within the kingdom. But I think the best way to deal with this is to ensure standard operating procedures (SOPs) are in place. We have to assure tourists that their safety is guaranteed. The hotels, vehicles, tourist areas must all be safe for them.
What lessons do we learn from nature, which is hitting us back for probably not taking good care of it? Lake Victoria is flooding and rivers in Kasese are bursting their banks.
If there is a situation, which makes a case for federalism, it is the COVID-19 pandemic and the environment. You cannot expect the central government to deal with all these issues at once. Why don’t we empower federal governments to deal with these problems, which arise time and again? If I had the power, there would be no environmental issues in the kingdom of Buganda but I do not have the law.
Lwera swamp is a water catchment area for Lake Victoria but I want to cry every time I drive through it because Chinese are growing rice in it. How can rice be more important than the environment? We do not have the power to stop them and that is why I want federalism to ensure better governance.
Recently, the speaker of parliament and the president locked horns over the Shs 10 billion shared among MPs. What is your take on that?
I think that has been the most interesting aspect of the lockdown. A parliament must go right after the executive, which is the essence of separation of powers. We do not want a parliament which is always in bed with the executive that can only spell doom for the country.
I do not think, though, that MPs were right to receive the Shs 10 billion or take the Shs 40 million but parliament should stand up to the executive and tell them this is wrong.
Do you think the element of separation of powers is endangered in Uganda?
Many times when you compromise the legislators, they are not going to separate the powers. I hear they were paid Shs 40 billion; definitely that compromises them.
But the spat between the head of the legislature and the head of the executive is healthy for democracy and that is what we should be seeing all the time for better governance of this country.
Hon Robert Kyagulanyi has inspired a lot of Ugandans and the political momentum seems to be on his side. Is Kyagulanyi the one?
I do not know. I only have one vote and it is a secret ballot; so, I cannot tell you who I am going to vote. But I think what the country needs is an atmosphere where people can express themselves freely, contest for any office without any hindrance and people should vote for whoever they think is capable of leading the country freely.
Some people have applauded you on your achievements but I also see a lot of negativity against you. What is bringing the lots of dirt thrown at you?
First of all, the people throwing dirt at me are not many but they like to talk a lot all the time. There are also detractors who do not want to see the progress we have made in Mengo. It is modest but it creates an impact.
They challenged me during the Tofaali drive and Kyapa Mungalo because I was able to mobilize people and encouraged them to work and develop themselves and they didn’t like that.
The detractors do not want these modest achievements, which we have made during these past few years; so, they bribe the drunkards, criminals and marijuana smokers with little money to come up with all kinds of abuses. If you want to say I am bad, you can say it but if you expose your nakedness in a bid to paint me bad, then I think it is you who is exposed.
Do you think the general election can still happen in the scheduled time?
I think so. If the pandemic is brought under control nationally and globally and the standard operating procedures (SOPs) are being adhered to, I fail to see what should stop the elections. The rallies play a part but I do not think the millions who vote do so after attending rallies. The idea of having an election is not about the rallies because people will vote for you even without coming to your rallies.
The campaigns should be carried out on radios and televisions because at least 80 per cent of every area in Uganda is covered by them. If the pandemic is still raging at the end of the year or early next year, the Electoral Commission should engage the country in a debate on whether to have the election or not.
After seven years of serving Buganda, do you have the ambition of leading your country?
I am not a prophet and I cannot predict what the future will bring. At the moment the only ambition I have is leading the kingdom on behalf of the king.
If you ask me whether I have got the qualities to be president, I think I have got them but at the moment I have got enough on my plate. Today I cannot run the kingdom and then build up ambitions for leading the country.