Last week the 20th anniversary of Kabaka Ronald Mutebi’s coronation was bolstered by a central government pledge to return the Kingdom’s properties to Mengo, Buganda’s administrative center.
Reports were that among the properties to be returned were the Kingdom’s official estates for the county (Masaza), sub-county (Amagombolola) and properties of chiefs.
A contest of wills between Uganda’s then President and Kabaka of Buganda Edward Mutesa II and his prime minister Milton Obote, led to the nullification of the 1962 constitution, the exiling of Mutesa, the abolition of Kingdoms and the appropriation of all Kingdom properties by the central government.
Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1993, the return of these properties as well as the 9000 square miles, rental arrears accumulated by the government occupying Kingdom properties and the restoration of autonomy to the kingdom have been at the center of the often volatile relationship between Kampala and Mengo.
The government’s holding on to these properties has been seen by its critics as a means to keep Mengo in check. The resources that would come with the return would make Mengo a more credible economic force if managed properly and a counterweight to the central government’s will, they argued.
The history of these lands bestowed on the kingdom’s elite by the 1900 Buganda agreement, whose restoration while a useful rallying cry by Mengo means that the cause has not gained real traction among the everyday Muganda.
However, the perceived threat of open revolt by the most populous tribe in the country, on whose lands at least seven in every ten shillings of this country’s economic output is generated, has been a useful club to hold over Kampala’s head.
It is suggested that the management of the relationship has cost several Kingdom prime ministers their positions in recent years and at the top of the new Katikiro, Charles Mayiga’s agenda must be a resolution or at least significant progress on the issue.
The latest developments therefore came at an opportune time for the Kingdom’s young chief minister and one would not be surprised if he claimed some credit given his long tenure as a member of the Kabaka’s cabinet.
It is not a done deal.
The nitty grity of what, when and how will be decided over time.
One can assume in coming negotiations each side will look to extract maximum advantage; Mengo to get all its properties back and government to ensure that this economic base is not turned against it, used in the aid of its rivals.
You can be sure that both sides will be determined not to cede any ground or when all is said and done at least sell the impression that they have come out better off from the ordeal.
If one was to hazard a guess it’s unlikely that negotiations will be finalized in a matter of weeks or even months.
The issue of restoring Buganda’s properties has hung like an ominous rain cloud over our lives for the last 20 years and it would be interesting to see how its resolution tints the political landscape in coming years.
Whichever way you look at it the conclusion of this never ending saga throws up interesting possibilities for the future.
While there may be fears that Mengo, emboldened by its new found wealth would look to settle old scores by sponsoring candidates against the ruling NRM, history of its tacit support for Reform Agenda and more recently the Suubi coalition would play into this thinking, events could turn out very differently.
A contented Kingdom preoccupied with unlocking the potential of its assets for the benefit of its people may not want to rock the boat and instead choose to maintain a status quo where its interests are guaranteed.
On the other hand fearing a complete whittling down of its leverage over Buganda, will the central government look to extract concessions that will guard against an unfettered Mengo falling in the with the opposition, maybe even not deliver all the Ebyaffe retaining something for future carrot and stick situation?
One may question the viability of Mengo as a political force but President Yoweri Museveni’s government seems to take the view that they would rather be safe than sorry.
Whichever way you look at it, this jostling for advantage is definitely a better alternative to the open hostility leading up to the storming of the Lubiri in 1966, whose consequences continue to reverberate down the ages and a situation all players seem wary to avoid.