The Observer (Kampala)

8 August 2013

Uganda: Why Museveni-Mengo Deal Was Kept Secret

When President Museveni called Buganda Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga for the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), in which the central government made major concessions, it took the kingdom by surprise.

According to a well-placed Buganda official the MOU was unexpected both in Mengo and within Museveni's government. The President, according to a State House source, chose to handle the talks with Buganda premier, after realising that some people in his court benefited from the bad relations between his government and Mengo.

"It has taken Buganda this long to get back (those properties) because some people benefitted politically if we maintained a bad relationship with the kingdom," the source told us.

Indeed Museveni alluded to it in his speech during the coronation anniversary at Lubiri.

"That MOU deals with the issues some people, who like to recklessly fish in troubled waters, have been using regarding some issues including the former masaza-magombolola estates as well as the harmonisation of the rights of the indigenous cultural groups in Buganda," Museveni said.

About two days to the signing, Museveni is said to have met the Ssabaruuli, Mwogeza-Butamanya, one of the contested cultural leaders that are largely seen as his creations to undermine the influence of the Kabaka of Buganda. A meeting between the former Katikkiro John Baptist Walusimbi and the Ssabaruuli is reported to have angered the Kabaka to the point of rejecting the earlier MOU. (See: Kabaka turns down Museveni ebyaffe offer). The MOU now subordinates the Ssabaruuli and the Ssabanyala Baker Kimeze to the Kabaka of Buganda.

When the Museveni - Walusimbi talks broke down, two Buganda caucus MPs Vincent Ssempijja (Kalungu East) and Godfrey Kiwanda (Mityana North) worked to repair relations.

With Mayiga's appointment as Katikkiro, the two MPs acted as conduits between Museveni and Mayiga to reignite the talks. However, sources have intimated to us that Museveni and Mayiga did not have many engagements leading to the signing of the MOU.

Buganda question

Reports that the MOU signing was very politically convenient for Museveni are not helped by the series of meetings preceding the signing ceremony. Aware that Mayiga had just launched an anti poverty campaign at former Vice President, Prof Gilbert Bukenya's home in Kakiri last month, Museveni started his tour of Luweero.

During this tour, Museveni was severally confronted about the Buganda question. Bukenya, who has his sights set on the presidency in the 2016 elections, intends to take his poverty alleviation campaign across the country, after bringing on board all Buganda districts.

However, since the signing ceremony, Mayiga has told Buganda caucus MPs that he would campaign against anyone viewed as an enemy to Buganda, in the 2016 elections, at the risk of being seen as a partisan Katikkiro.

"We need to resolve the Buganda question and then concentrate on the issues of development in the country," Mayiga told the Buganda MPs.

And Bukenya is not the only one of Museveni's likely challengers that has been getting closer to Mengo. Fearing for his political ambitions, Museveni established contact with Mayiga through Trade Minister Amelia Kyambadde.

Kyambadde reportedly went to Mengo with a group of traders under the guise of donating Shs 26m towards the reconstruction of Kasubi Royal tombs and the coronation anniversary. She first held a closed-door meeting with Mayiga, during which they agreed terms of engagement. Kyambadde could neither deny nor confirm her role when reached for a comment.

"There are some things I don't want to add my voice to. The good thing is that we have achieved something and I think let us be happy with that at the moment," Kyambadde told us.

A source at Mengo said Mayiga actually met Museveni twice; the first time, to agree on terms and the second for the signing. And Mayiga sounded particularly confident when he spoke about the MOU this week.

"According to the MOU, all counties and the properties there, whether in Buruuli or Bugerere, belong to the Kabaka of Buganda. If some cultural groups (such as) the Nubians in Bombo, the Banyala, Baruuli or Balaalo in Kabula have constructed their own buildings for the exercise of their cultural norms, we shall not interfere, but those that were constructed by the Kabaka's government have all been reverted to Kabaka," Mayiga said.

Information minister Rosemary Namayanja Nsereko told journalists at the Uganda Media Centre that within three days, government and Mengo would set up a committee to expedite the implementation of the MOU.

Disarmed?

Since the MOU majorly dealt with issues that have been a campaign tool for opposition politicians, it appears to have disarmed the opposition, an assertion Masaka municipality MP Mathias Mpuuga downplays.

"The opposition is about good governance, justice, fairness and democracy. The properties (that were reverted to the Kabaka) were confiscated out of misgovernment which has not ended. What is being returned is in recognition that (Museveni) can't sustain an autocracy," Mpuuga argues.

Mpuuga adds that by Museveni moving to forestall individuals that he described as wanting to fish in risky waters, it makes the president a reluctant giver.

"He was ready to continue denying and depriving Buganda of its rightful assets and money if it was not for those people he talked about. In fact, if Buganda knew those individuals, it would be more grateful to them than Museveni," Mpuuga said.

Other opposition Buganda MPs urged Museveni to expedite the process of returning the assets, but also re-echoed calls for federo, as signalling their next rallying point in Buganda.

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