Wednesday, September 9, 2009



Monday, 5th January, 2009

Former UN diplomat Olara Otunnu took the first step in inviting Buganda for talks, a move that was welcomed by Mengo’s information minister. Obote’s widow, Miria, who now leads the party, announced that UPC was ready to reconcile “without any preconditions”.

UPC knows better than any other party that the ascent to power is not possible without Buganda’s support. At independence in 1962, Obote and UPC beat the Democratic Party by forming an alliance with the Kabaka and his party. But the marriage was short-lived and the divorce left four decades of bitterness and hatred.

Mengo now wants a public apology from UPC over the past. Miria says mistakes were made on both sides.


OLARA Otunnu has initiated a possible end to more than four decades of bitter relations with Buganda. But will it help UPC?

Just days after the career diplomat floated the idea of reconciliation talks with Buganda, Mengo’s information minister publicly welcomed the idea. Quickly picking the olive branch offered, UPC announced that it was “ready to reconcile without any preconditions”.

“We wish to register our sincere appreciation of the fact that the Buganda kingdom is ready to reconcile with UPC,” Miria Obote, the UPC party president, announced.

She added that in 1962, Uganda’s independence was only possible because Buganda kingdom and UPC had closed ranks.

She was referring to the short-lived marriage of convenience UPC entered with Buganda.

In a bid to defeat the Democratic Party during the elections for Uganda’s first post-independent government, UPC and Buganda’s Kabaka Yekka party formed an alliance, which brought them to power.

At that time, Buganda was still clamouring for self-rule and threatening to secede if it was not granted a federal status with a separate court and Police.

They also wanted Buganda’s representatives in the national Parliament elected by the Lukiiko, the kingdom’s parliament, and not universal adult suffrage.

The Democratic Party (DP), then headed by Ben Kiwanuka, was opposed to Buganda’s position, saying it was not right to have another state within Uganda.

The UPC, then headed by Milton Obote, agreed to support Buganda’s position, enabling the kingdom to get a semi-federal status, saying it was necessary to save the country from disintegrating. Obote successfully persuaded his party to give the presidency to Kabaka Muteesa II, then king of Buganda.

“Thereafter, things went sour, as happens every day,” Miria recalls. This might be a euphemism. The power struggle that ensued between Obote and Muteesa led to the biggest political crisis Buganda has known.

According to the independence constitution a referendum would be held to determine if Buyaga and Bugangaizi counties, present-day Kibaale district, which had been given to Buganda by the colonial government, would be returned to Bunyoro.

Against Muteesa’s wish, Obote pushed ahead with the referendum. Those counties voted to go back to Bunyoro, and Buganda lost out.

This set the stage for bad blood and a prolonged power struggle between Obote and Muteesa. Eventually, Obote suspended the constitution and removed Muteesa’s position as president, making his own position as Prime Minister the top executive of the country.

Angered by this action, the Lukiiko resolved to throw the central government off Buganda’s soil. Shaken by this threat, Obote ordered an armed assault on the Kabaka’s palace.

On May 24, 1966 the army, led by Idi Amin, invaded Muteesa’s palace, forcing him into exile where he later died.

Since that day, the Baganda, young and old, hate Obote and his UPC. More than three decades later, when Obote died, the Baganda, many of whom were not politically aware in the 1960s, took to the streets and celebrated.

To this day, UPC has negligible support in the Buganda region.

However, the warring parties seem ready to let go the 43-year-old burden of hatred. “We are all Ugandans working towards building Uganda. We have to reconcile,” says Jimmy Akena, son to Obote and his Muganda wife, Miria.

Even the most passionate of Baganda appear ready to bury the hatchet. “Let us look at the players in that conflict. There was Milton Obote, Muteesa II and Idi Amin. All those are dead men now. Why should their actions continue to haunt us?” asks Betty Nambooze, a Muganda politician who belongs to UPC’s long-time rival, the Democratic Party.

But not every Muganda is keen on reconciling with UPC. Ssebaana Kizito, a member of the Buganda Lukiiko, is less eager.

“I don’t think it is time for us to say we are ready to do one thing or the other. These are very serious issues. We have not even discussed it in the Lukiiko yet.”

As a starting point, the Baganda want immediate apologies from UPC. “UPC should come out and say we are sorry,” says Nambooze.

“They should admit they were wrong to attack the Lubiiri, send the Kabaka to exile where he died, abolish the kingdoms, introduce a republican constitution and confiscate kingdom property.”

However, UPC’s party president fends off demands for an outright apology. “What happened in the past is a long story and the first step is to sit and talk about it,” says Miria Obote.

“Mistakes were not made on only one side. Obote did not just wake up one morning and order the attack of the Lubiiri. We need to find out what led to it. Where we went wrong, we will apologise but they also must accept where they were wrong.”

But the ball has started rolling. Maybe UPC will eat humble pie and apologise at a later stage. “When you are courting a girl, you do not propose to her on the first day. You first slowly woo her day by day until you drop the word,” says Miria.

The reconciliation may eventually come but what is in it for either party? Buganda and UPC say they are only promoting a united Uganda.

On the other hand, independent experts look at it as a political manoeuvre. “Of course, for UPC, as it gropes around politically, it is in its interest to amend relations with Buganda because Buganda is an entity that cannot be ignored in Ugandan politics,” says Muhamed Kulumba, a political science don at Makerere University.

Elijah Mushemeza, also of Makerere University, believes that from the UPC perspective, it is more about being seen to be reconciliatory than appeasing Buganda.

“We are moving towards elections and anyone who preaches a message of disunity will be thrown out because Ugandans are tired of violence. UPC recognises that and is now preaching reconciliation,” he says.

The professor reckons that the same reconciliation-for-mass-appeal strategy is what is driving Buganda’s interest in the apology as well.

“Buganda has been trying to popularise the federo agenda but it has been rejected by the rest of Uganda because of their confrontational conduct. Now they are changing from being confrontational to being reconciliatory.”

His colleague, Kulumba, feels the desire for the apology is just a feel-good quest for the Mengo establishment.

“To them, that apology will be political satisfying. It would show that Buganda is still a factor in Uganda’s political arena,” he reasons, adding that it is a simplistic way for Baganda to look at politics.

Kulumba does not believe that an apology would fetch any political capital for either party.

“The history of what UPC did to the kingdom in 1966 cannot be washed away, not by Otunnu and not by Miria, even if she succeeds in becoming a member of the Lukiiko.”

He notes that the ordinary Muganda might not even be aware about the warm relations that are being built.

“Yet, that ordinary Muganda remembers that in 1966, the Kabaka was driven out of his palace and ended up dying in exile. The apologising and warm handshakes with the Katikiro are politically a non-issue. They will not entrench UPC into the Buganda constituency.”

He, at the other hand, feels the manoeuvre might hurt the Mengo establishment. “Being seen hobnobbing with UPC might annoy many Baganda.”

For now, the wedding bells are tolling – for the second time. Will the two live happily after?