Wednesday, September 16, 2009




President Museveni yesterday moved to disarm Buganda Kingdom by announcing a raft of measures to keep Kabaka Ronald Mutebi and other traditional leaders from politics.

Addressing MPs during a special session of Parliament, President Museveni said his government would soon table a Bill before Parliament seeking to enforce Article 246 of the Constitution that bars cultural leaders from politics.

Speaking publicly for the first time since calm returned to the country, President Museveni said last week’s riots, which claimed as many as 24 lives, were “not about the Kabaka visiting Kayunga”, but more about “whether we should have political Kings – Kings wielding political power”.

He said: “The King is not elected. If he wields political power, how shall he be accountable for his mistakes? A political leader, since he/she is elected every 5 years, will be voted out if he/she makes mistakes. What do we do with a traditional leader who is not elected but has made mistakes?”

Instead, he indicated plans to by-pass Kabaka Mutebi and his appointed officials by calling for a meeting of all elected officials in Buganda – including clan heads from the Kingdom – to help resolve the stand-off with the central government.

Buganda officials, including Kabaka Mutebi, have become increasingly vocal on political matters such as their demand for a ‘federo’ system of government as the Kingdom moves to flex its muscle to try and wring concessions out of the government.

In a move that signals a shift in central government relations away from Mengo to elected leaders in Buganda, many of whom are from the NRM, President Museveni said his government would set up Regional Tier governments among willing regions in the next financial year.

The Regional Tier proposal was passed into the law as an alternative version of federalism that shifts power away from unelected traditional leaders to elected central government officials but has never been implemented due, in part, to Buganda’s strong opposition to it.

President Museveni, who has accused Buganda Kingdom of receiving funds from an unnamed foreign country to fight his regime, also announced yesterday that a law will soon be enacted to regulate funding of traditional institutions.

“In order to guard our sovereignty,” he said, “so that Kings and traditional institutions are not used as foreign agents or agents of local business groups, we need to provide, in that law, that any gifts exceeding a certain magnitude should be declared to the relevant government institutions.”

President Museveni defended the closure of Buganda’s radio, CBS, taken off-air last week for allegedly inciting violence. “The Mengo radio was closed because it was meddling in politics, promoting hate, lawlessness and violence,” he said. He also defended the conduct of security agencies involved in putting down the riots against allegations that they used excessive force and live ammunition against unarmed civilians, saying they had acted within the law.

The President said in a televised statement during the riots last week that he had finally spoken to Kabaka Mutebi after two years of trying, in order to try and resolve conflicts between his government and Buganda.
Although the two leaders are meant to meet soon to try and resolve their differences, President Museveni said he had been trying to speak to Kabaka Mutebi over the phone since Saturday evening without success.
Besigye hits back.

Mr Museveni accused his main political rival, Dr Kizza Besigye, who has criticised the government’s handling of the stand-off with Buganda and its handling of the violence, of involvement in the riots. But Dr Besigye said last evening that demonstrating is a constitutional right, adding that the President’s wish to muzzle cultural leaders was against the Constitution.

“There is nothing that for example stops the Kabaka from talking about land. What is the party of land?” Dr Besigye asked, adding: “There is absolutely nothing wrong for the Kabaka or the archbishop to speak about corruption; it’s a devil and has no party. Issues like peace, land and corruption are political questions and have no party.” Mengo remained defiant in its response to President Museveni’s address yesterday with a senior official insisting that the Kingdom will not be deterred from making its demands.

Mengo defiant

Buganda’s Deputy Information Minister Medard Ssegona described Museveni’s speech as “diversionary”. He said: “For us we shall continue pushing for our demands because they are legal and the options within the law have not been exhausted. We expected the President to convince us instead of coercing us; what the President is doing now is “a game of might” as opposed to logic and reason.”

Buganda’s interests, Mr Ssegona said, “Are permanent as opposed to leaders who come and go”. He rejected the President’s claims that Mengo was being used by the opposition to fight the NRM government and said Mr Museveni, like other political leaders, “Is always welcome to Mengo”.

President Museveni’s speech yesterday leaves the Kabaka and Mengo officials facing a task of seeking to mobilise political support to their position without the voice previously available to them through CBS radio.

The President, on the other hand, indicated his desire to take advantage of Mengo’s current inability to effectively mobilise against him by announcing that amendments to the Land Act, which Mengo is strongly opposed to, would now be brought to the floor of Parliament.

Silver lining for youth

In a move that appears to be recognition of some genuine grievances among many of the rioters, President Museveni said his government will push ahead plans to create jobs for urban youths by making as much as Shs30 billion available for cottage industries. The unemployed, landless youths, President Museveni said, are “a blessing in disguise” and the beginning of an urban working class. “This is the beginning of industrialisation,” Mr Museveni said.

There was a mixed response from MPs to the President’s two-and-a-half hour speech. While opposition MPs generally described it as “diversionary”, several MPs from the ruling NRM spoken out in support of the President.
Speaker Edward Ssekandi said he agreed with the President’s idea on the need for the Kabaka to accept talks with Mr Museveni “to sort out” the impasse; Kibuku MP Saleh Kamba (NRM) said he “entirely” agrees with Mr Museveni’s proposals to pass a law to “tame” cultural leaders while Kooki MP Erasmus Magulumali (NRM) described Mr Museveni’s speech as “positive” and said the proposals “enhance an amiable solution to the Buganda-central government relations.”

MPs’ take

However, Lwemiyaga MP Theodore Ssekikubo (NRM) said Mr Museveni had “failed to tackle the real issues Buganda wants addressed”, and added that it was “wrong” for the President to argue that people should be shot because they are rioting. “He is just trying to look for excuses,” added Tororo MP Geoffrey Ekanya (FDC). “It was the police that killed our people and he should take responsibility.”

Masaka Municipality MP John Kawanga (DP) said: “Apart from asking that all clan heads and the political leaders in Buganda meet, the rest was a State of the Nation address.” Budadiri MP Nandala Mafabi said the President “should go slow” on the Buganda question. “Buganda has issues which must be addressed before ordering the police to shot rioters. He has not offered any solution to the standoff.”

The President said the government would compensate those who lost their property in last week’s riots and “assist” the families of those who lost dear ones, but made a plea to the judiciary “to give priority” to cases against those charged in connection with the riots.

Four days of clashes last week between Buganda youth activists and the police claimed the lives of several people and unprecedented destruction of property. At least 500 people were arrested with several charged in court.