What will define Kabaka Mutebi – Museveni Relations in the aftermath of concluded elections?

Justice Simon Mugenyi Byabakama, chair of the Electoral Commission, declared Museveni the winner of the Uganda presidential election held on 14 January 2021, stating that he won 59% of the vote, with his main challenger Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine taking 35%. Voter turnout was 57%. Byabakama said that it had been a peaceful election. Speaking before the results were announced, Wine told reporters that it was “the most fraudulent election in the history of Uganda” and also accused Museveni of putting him “under siege”, as security forces surrounded his home.

Museveni denied these claims in a televised address after being proclaimed the winner, saying that the votes had been machine-counted and that it “may turn out to be the most cheating-free election since 1962”. Byabakama challenged Wine to provide evidence for his allegations of fraud.

The US State Department qualified the electoral process as “fundamentally flawed” and The Africa Elections Watch coalition said they observed irregularities. 

In spite of Bobi Wine’s defeat in the general elections, results indicate that he won the Buganda vote.

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On the evening of 16 January, a few hours after being declared the winner of Uganda’s presidential election, Yoweri Museveni addressed the nation. Many analysts had framed the poll as a generational struggle between the 76-year-old strongman and his 38-year-old rival, popstar-turned-politician Bobi Wine, who galvanised young people with his promise of a “new Uganda”. But Museveni was having none of it.

“Shallow! Shallow! Shallow!” he harrumphed from his cattle ranch in Rwakitura. He claimed that “the majority of the youth” supported his party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), and that the opposition’s talk of change masked their divisive agenda.

“They were talking of a new Uganda. But actually, they wanted to bring back the old Uganda that failed. That is what they wanted to bring back: the old way of sectarianism,” he declared.

It was classic Museveni. Ever since his upbringing in Ankole* in the 1960s, he had diagnosed Uganda’s central problem as that of “sectarianism”. He believed that the fractures of region, religion and ethnicity had opened the door to imperialists and dictators. After fighting his way to power in 1986 therefore, he promised to establish a “broad-based” government in which all Ugandans could find a home.

The 2021 election exposed the fact that these regional faultlines have endured his 35-year reign. According to official results, which the opposition reject, Wine won more than half of his votes in his native Buganda region, where he took 64% of ballots cast. Elsewhere, says the Electoral Commission, he polled at an average of just 22%. His party, the National Unity Platform (NUP), won 56 of its 58 seats in Buganda.

This explains why some NRM leaders attributed Wine’s successes to “tribalism”. However, it is difficult to gauge the true spread of the opposition’s support due to allegations of intimidation and ballot-stuffing, which are especially prevalent outside the central region. And the same accusation could be directed at the ruling party too. In Museveni’s home region of the west, he officially won 81% of the vote; even in small-scale WhatsApp surveys organised by Wine’s supporters the president outpolls his rival by nearly two-to-one in the west.

These divisions should not be overstated. Ethnic identity plays a less incendiary role in Ugandan elections than it does in neighbouring Kenya or the US. But one consequence of the 2021 election is that the language of tribalism will become increasingly available to unscrupulous leaders, in ways that are inseparable from the contradictions of Museveni’s rule.

NRM leaders accuse the opposition of “tribalism” based on the official results as presented by the Electoral Commission (above), which are rejected as fraudulent by the opposition”. Credit: Melina R. Platas.

Museveni and the west

On 29 January 1986, Museveni was sworn in as president of Uganda. Still dressed in his combat fatigues, he gestured at the potholes in the nearby road. “Does the road harm only Catholics and spare Protestants?” he asked. “Is it a bad road only for Muslims and not for Christians, or for Acholi and not Baganda?”

He urged his audience to ignore the “opportunists” who preached the politics of religion and ethnicity. “All they do is work on cheap platforms of division because they have nothing constructive to offer the people.”

In office, Museveni was careful to distribute positions to different areas of the country. But in private, he admitted that many appointees were powerless figureheads, according to former NRM minister Miria Matembe’s memoirs. By the early 2000s, as the ruling coalition fractured, Museveni increasingly fell back on those he could trust. That often meant the security forces, with leadership dominated by people from the west.

“All these autocrats read from the same text,” says Mugisha Muntu, a westerner and former army commander who ran against Museveni in the recent election. “The base keeps on narrowing. So it moves from a region, many times to a closer group, maybe a district, or to a clan, and it always ends up around family.”

He says that the resulting imbalances favour well-connected elites, rather than people from the western region as a whole. “It’s not an issue of ethnicity or sectarianism, it’s an issue of how power is managed.”

In popular discourse, these subtleties are often lost. In the ethnic melting pot of Kampala, it is common to hear people blame westerners for monopolising jobs. Then there are the conspiracy theories, such as that Museveni is “really a Rwandan” or that opposition stalwart Kizza Besigye – also a westerner but not a Munyankore like Museveni – was secretly working for the president all along.

The ruling elite, in turn, is prickly and defensive about the issue. Last year, a group of comedians were charged with “promoting sectarianism” after releasing a skit in which they listed powerful westerners, such as the central bank governor and intelligence chiefs.

This sense of ethnic exclusion animates opposition politics in much of the country, as we discovered in interviews over the past year. In West Nile, for example, Wine’s supporters look back nostalgically to the rule of local boy Idi Amin as a rare moment of equal recognition. “Now things are different,” said one activist in Arua, claiming that “people from President Museveni’s tribe” take all the good jobs. “We are mainly doing the donkey work, we remain sweeping compounds and drivers.”

Across the Nile, an Acholi activist told a similar story. “I think Uganda just happened by accident,” he said. “We are not a nation. We are just small, small states which have been thugged by a clique of mafias that have started a cartel.”

Even in Mbarara, the largest city in the Ankole region, NUP activists describe their frustrations in ethnic terms – except here their grievances are directed only at the Bahima, the cattle-keeping stratum of Ankole society to which Museveni belongs. “If there is any nation in the world where people are tribalistic, it is here in Ankole,” said Jolly Mugisha, a longtime NRM activist who is now the NUP vice-president for the western region.  Speaking just before the election, she described the Bahima as the descendants of “Hamitic” herdsmen, “who came here as imperialists”, “still keep to themselves” and “almost behave like Jews or Indians”. This rhetoric carries troubling echoes of anti-Tutsi discourse in neighbouring Rwanda and overlooks the Bahima who have challenged Museveni.

Bobi Wine and Buganda

By far the most organised counterweight to western dominance is Buganda, the central kingdom within which Kampala lies. It was the region most deeply penetrated by British colonialism, and in turn, provided many of the administrators of the new state bureaucracy. At independence in 1962 the kabaka (king), Edward Muteesa II, became Uganda’s first president before being deposed four years later. The kingdom was only restored in 1993, with the proviso that it keep out of politics.

The Baganda constitute a sixth of Uganda’s population, making them the country’s largest ethnic group. The Buganda kingdom is wealthier and more powerful than any other cultural institution in the country, owning businesses, TV and radio stations, and large tracts of land. It also has an uneasy relationship with the central government. In 2009, these tensions exploded into riots in which the state shot at least 40 people dead.

Politically, prominent Baganda have played important roles in opposition politics. Many have become estranged from the Democratic Party, their natural political home, but seemed to have found a new one in Wine’s party. For instance, Mathias Mpuuga, who cut his political teeth as youth minister in the Buganda kingdom, is NUP’s vice president for the central region. Medard Sseggonna, a former spokesman for the kingdom, was the lawyer leading Wine’s aborted court challenge to the election result. Both are also MPs in the running to become the leader of the opposition in parliament.

Such politicians are neither unthinking mouthpieces of the kingdom nor starry-eyed devotees of Wine. (“There are people who think that NUP is a Buganda affair – no!” said Sseggonna when we met him in October). But their prominence makes it easier for others to paint NUP as a narrow Buganda party. Before the elections, we asked Apollo Lee Kakonge, a civil society activist in Ankole, whether Wine’s party could do well there. He burst into laughter. “They are Baganda radicals and I think they will just melt in their own heat,” he said.

That is an odd description of Wine, who is a proud Muganda but no ethnic chauvinist. The singer once styled himself as “omubanda wa kabaka” (the king’s gangster), but his urban upbringing gives him a cosmopolitan outlook, as even his fiercest critics acknowledge.

“Museveni’s nationalism is intellectual, but his instincts are tribal,” says Andrew Mwenda, a journalist who knows the president well and is close friends with his son. “Bobi Wine’s both instincts and intellectual bent are detribalised… His tribe is urban unemployed.”

In fact, Wine often deploys the language of tribalism against Museveni’s government, which he describes as “the most tribalistic regime I’ve seen in Africa”. He portrays his own politics as the antidote.

“I’m very glad that in our generation we are already united by circumstances,” he told African Arguments in October. “My wife comes from the same village as Museveni. My closest friend comes from northern Uganda. Our leaders come from far east, from far north, from far west. So for us as a generation, we are already a rainbow generation.”

Indeed, many voters in Buganda, and especially in Kampala, are not ethnic Baganda. According to Julius Kiiza, a political economist at Makerere University, their support for Wine may instead reflect the character of urban populations. “Tribalism is invoked more by political elites than the ordinary people,” he says. “The elites are using tribalism, just like the colonisers, to serve their vested interests.”

Looking ahead

In November 2020, Wine went to launch his manifesto in Mbarara, in the heart of Ankole. His supporters gave him a stool and a spear and christened him “Musinguzi” (victor).

Ugandan politics is not uniquely divided by ethnicity. Nor is there anything illegitimate about local demands for autonomy from a state that was created by colonial violence. But the country has perhaps been fortunate that in the last four elections the main challenger has been Besigye, a westerner, thus muting the role of ethnicity in winner-takes-all presidential contests.

The rise of Wine and NUP changes that. The new party will have to constantly reiterate that it is not a Buganda outfit, even though its parliamentary base – and hence its financial and institutional heft – is concentrated in the central region. Museveni will continue to accuse his opponents of “sectarianism” while investing power in his own extended family networks. The majority of Ugandans, who are neither Baganda nor Banyankore, are spectators to this tussle.

“People need to understand the history of this country,” says Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, a Muganda MP and spokesperson for the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party. “These entities now making Uganda were independent entities just put together by the arrangements of 1961/62…So we are only together because of the law, but we are separate people with different interests.”

President Museveni visits Kabaka Mutebi at Banda Palace

Museveni Kabaka Mutebi Relations

On 18th November 2019, President Museveni honoured Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi and his late father Sir Edward Fredrick Muteesa II for their contribution towards the restoration of peace in the country.

The President lauded the two kings during the commemoration lecture of Sir Edward Muteesa II for their support towards the National Resistance Army in restoring peace in the country.

“When they were arranging for the medal to recogonise Muteesa, I said what about Mutebi. I know him as one of the people that supported us in restoring peace in this country,” Mr Museveni said.

The Kabaka was not present to receive the Nalubaale medal, but his brother Prince David Wasajja received it on his behalf.
Buganda was celebrating the legacy of Muteesa, who was the 35th Kabaka and the first president of Uganda.

Mr Museveni recollected the moments when he met Kabaka Mutebi, then a prince at Hilton Hotel where he (Mutebi) requested to join Mr Museveni in the bush.

“When I came back from my trip in Libya, I found Prince Mutebi, we made an appointment to meet at Hilton Hotel and he said he wanted to come to the bush and I said no. ‘I don’t want you to come. Going to the bush is not like going for a tea party’. I did not want to bring trouble in the kingdom because if he had died from there, then they would have to look for someone in the line of his blood to replace him and by then, he had not yet multiplied,” he said.

Kabaka’s 66 Birth Day celebrations in Lubiri-Photo by VG- Tuesday 13th April 2021

Mr Museveni also contributed Shs300m towards the renovation of Kasubi Tombs.

Muteesa was praised for his outstanding leadership and contribution to the development of the country.

Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga hailed Muteesa for loving truth and justice during his reign.

“From this lecture, we have seen what Muteesa had done included justice and truth. We need to learn from this history so that we can become better citizens,” Mr Mayiga said.

Highlights of Buganda- Museveni relationship
1985: The NRA/M took Kabaka Muwenda Mutebi to liberated areas in Buganda to drum up support for President Museveni’s rebel movement.

In 1992: Museveni chairs High Command meeting in Gulu which endorsed restoration of kingdoms.

July 1993: Buganda Kingdom is restored and Kabaka Muwenda Mutebi is crowned as the 36th king of Buganda at Nagalabi-Budo in Wakiso District.

1994: government hands the Lubiri and Bulange (formerly Basima House) back to Buganda kingdom. But Buganda continues to agitate for the return of more kingdom assets.

1995: (Chief Prince) Ssabalangira Besweri Mulondo opposes Buganda’s demand for a federal system during the Constituent Assembly. As a result, the motion is defeated but Buganda continues pressing for federo.

August 27, 1999: President Museveni attends Kabaka Mutebi’s wedding and donates 100 cows to the royal family.

1996: Buganda starts asking the government to hand over all the kingdom property appropriated by President Milton Obote’s government in 1966.

February 1998: Buganda officials and some opposition MPs start campaigning against the Land Bill 1998.

May 1998: The Buganda parliament (Lukiiko) rejects the Land Bill, saying it would dispossess the Baganda of their land.

July 1998: Parliament passes the Land Bill into an Act. Buganda suspends the Kabaka’s 5th coronation anniversary in protest against the Land Act. Buganda’s Katikkiro Joseph Ssemwogerere declares a mourning over the Land Act. He accuses President Museveni of failing to recognise the key role Buganda played in bringing him to power.

January 2001: Kabaka sacks kingdom ministers believed to be supporters of opposition presidential candidate Dr Kizza Besigye after government accused Mengo of being partisan.

December 2004: The Baruli say they cannot subject themselves to Buganda’s hegemony. Mwogeza Butamanya is installed the Buruuli cultural leader. President Museveni pledges to give him an official car.

March 2005: The central government and Mengo start talks over the return of the kingdom property and the federal system.

May 2005: Government proposes the alternative ‘Regional Tier’ system.June 2005: Lukiiko rejects the Regional Tier.

April 2006: Police deploy at Nakasongola District headquarters after Baruuli threatened to block Kabaka Mutebi from presiding over the launch of Bika bya Baganda Football tournament.

April  2007: Mengo opposes government’s move to give away Mabira Forest to the Mehta Group for sugarcane growing. The Kabaka offers his land in Kyaggwe, Mukono, to save the natural forest.

May 20, 2007: Buganda Lukiiko opposes direct talks between Museveni and the Kabaka about the federal system. Lands Minister Omara Atubo says Buganda will not repossess her 9,000 square miles unless the Constitution and the Land Act are amended.

April 2007: Leaders from Buganda’s 18 counties petition President Museveni to abandon the giveaway of Mabira Forest.

April 20 2007: Mengo vows to fight the application of DDT by government to fight mosquitoes saying the chemical causes detrimental effects on human beings.

July 2007: The Lukiiko resolves to oppose the resettlement of Balaalo (nomadic cattle keepers) in Kyankwazi in Kiboga District.

October 2007: The Lukiiko rejects the Land Act Amendment Bill.  Mengo says the amendments are intended to deprive the Kabaka and landlords of their rights over land.

November 2007: Kabaka sets up the Central Civic Education Committee to sensitise Baganda about the potential effects of the Land Act Amendment Bill.

December 2007: The CCEC intensifies its campaign against the land reforms across the kingdom. Museveni is revolted. He writes a letter to the Kabaka over what he called ‘growing intrigue, bad faith and seditious tendencies’ at Mengo. Mengo administration replies to Museveni denying any wrongdoing. Police summon three kingdom officials David Mpanga, Daudi Zziwa and Meddie Nsereko for allegedly inciting violence and promoting hatred against the government.

December 31, 2007: Kabaka reshuffles cabinet and appoints youthful ministers, indicating a shift from the conservative old guard.

February 2008: Mengo threatens to sue the central government over the controversial land reforms and delayed return of Buganda’s property.

July 2008: Lukiiko protests against Museveni’s call for Bibanja holders to form associations.

On July 18 2008: The government arrests Buganda’s Minister of Information and Cabinet Affairs Charles Peter Mayiga, his deputy Medard Lubega, and Betty Nambooze, the head of Central Civic Education Committee for undermining proposed changes to the 1998 Land Act.

May 2009: President Museveni tries to call the Kabaka to discuss the growing friction between Buganda and the Banyala in Kayunga. The Kabaka refuses to answer Museveni’s telephone calls.

July 19, 2009: Lukiiko tells government to relocate the capital city from Kampala to another area within or outside Buganda.

June 2009: The central government tables in Parliament the Kampala Capital City Bill 2009 which seeks expansion of the city’s boundaries to include parts of Wakiso, Mpigi and Mukono districts. Buganda opposes the Bill.

Following the concluded elections, analysts believe President Museveni will come back on table with Kabaka Mutebi to win back the support of Buganda. Museveni will continue to return several kingdom properties, offer juicy positions to Baganda in Cabinet, release political prisoners most of them are Buganda youth and compensate the kingdom over several demands.

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