In celebrating the Kabaka’s 64th birthday, the people of Buganda once again demonstrated unwavering loyalty to their sovereign.
The huge turnout at the birthday run and at Ndejje SS, for the main celebrations, was unmistakably an endorsement of his authority. Masaza and Bika football tournaments have been equally massive in the past. These events have come with increased awareness and financial support in the education, sports, health (fistula, HIV/Aids, sickle cell) and economic spheres in Buganda.
The epic, and growing, demonstration of public support towards the Kabaka and his government at once highlights nagging political questions in our country and problematizes its governance and constitutional model.
In the political and constitutional context, the fleeting feet that ran or trekked to Ndejje SS, this year and in the past, were no doubt a vote in support of the Kabaka and what he embodies - including the protection of the environment, promotion of education, health, the propagation and preservation of cultural norms, and, importantly, his advocacy for sharing of power between the centre and the regions of Uganda - in a manner that respects diversity and engenders equitable sharing of our country’s wealth.
But, in real terms, what does this vote-of-confidence manifest to the people of Buganda and the rest of the country? How can this undisputed vote be harnessed (not suppressed) for political and socioeconomic development for all?
The current legal and political regime places limits on what cultural or traditional leaders and institutions may or may not do. The avowed intention is that they remain cultural or touristic relics. This mindset emanates from an unfortunate colonial and postcolonial history that has pitted the new colonial construct named Uganda against ancient African states such as the Kingdom of Buganda.
Within this purview, when Buganda’s leadership makes demands on power sharing, the custodians of the inherited colonial state swiftly retort that it should not - on the pretext that its leaders are neither elected nor representative of Buganda - under a Western democracy rubric.
Yet, as is apparent, there exist serious questions (and limitations) on the efficacy of the Western model of governance in postcolonial Africa. For a host of reasons, the European model of democracy has met more with failure than with success in Africa.
Conversely, the world is replete with examples of successes in countries either with homegrown or non-Western governance models. Back home, the reality of the authority and legitimacy of traditional leadership justifies a rethink of our governance and constitutional model.
Furthermore, Buganda’s perennial capacity to mobilise its population for sociocultural and economic development - with very limited resources - again proves the potency of traditional institutions in spite of the hardships they have endured since colonial conquest and occupation. And, although it’s leadership is unelected, it remains credible and respected in ways that elected leadership may not be.
Why? This may be due to the intrinsic connection with its populations’ beliefs and aspirations or, due to the frustrations its people suffer with the way democracy is controlled in this part of the world.
But, whatever the reason for failed ‘democracies’ in Africa, the power-relations and political realities in (B)Uganda point to nothing but a need to revisit the constitutional foundations of both entities so that the country’s full potential may be unleashed in our lifetime.
In short, the popular display of goodwill to the Kabaka and his government over the years needs to go beyond pomp and circumstance. It needs to be translated into tangible socioeconomic and political development.
How this may be achieved consists the single most important challenge that our political and traditional leaders face - as we look forward to a future of political stability and shared prosperity.
The Kabaka, and singer Mesach Ssemakula, reminded us at this year’s festivities, that no amount of song or dance will help the situation. But, perhaps more importantly, that success will be achieved - only once we get off our laurels and break some sweat.
Happy birthday and long live Ssabasajja!