The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: Masaka Leaders Fight for the Right to Speak

President Museveni is not known for keeping time, and when he was invited to a church fundraising function in Masaka this month, he arrived three hours late. By then, after 5pm, the crowd at Butale, Kabonera sub-county, Masaka district, was already becoming restless having been in the scorching sun.

But Museveni's delay gave organizers a chance to address protocol issues that matter a lot in rural politics. Although a number of people including the Muslim and traditional leaders had been officially invited, they were not included on the tight schedule of speeches.

Masaka district Kadhi Sheik Swaibu Ndugga and the pokino (Kabaka's chief in Buddu) Charles Kiyimba Kwewayo and his deputy Hajji Bbuulu Katale were among the invited guests that had not been allotted time to 'greet' the large gathering.

Surprisingly, Kaggo Tofiri Kivumbi Malwokweza the Kabaka's chief in Kyadondo, was invited as a special guest and he was given the opportunity to address the gathering although this happened before President Museveni who was the chief guest had arrived but at least area MP and Vice-President Edward Ssekandi was already at the function.

This did not please the other guests, who accused the organizers of undermining them, the pokino and the kadhi, in particular, threatened to snub any future invitations by the church.

However, some people quickly read the situation that was becoming more and more tense and informed Masaka Woman MP Freda Nanziri Kase Mubanda, the MC, and advised her to give them a chance to address the gathering.

After everyone who was supposed to address the gathering had done so, the pokino was invited to speak and he did not hold back.

"It is unbelievable that the pokino can be invited and he is treated the way I have been treated. Next time the organizers of such functions should know the people who matter and give them the due respect they deserve. I was even shocked when one of the guards tried to block me from accessing some areas when I have an invitation card," Kwewayo told Ssekandi.

He asked the VP for a special arrangement to meet President Museveni together with other farmers in Masaka and discuss important issues with him in the sector a request that Ssekandi delivered to the president when he arrived. It appeared as if all the people who mattered had had their say, but Mubanda realized that the district kadhi was still aggrieved.

'The district kadhi is our friend who must say a word to this gathering and I hereby invite him to come and deliver his message," Mubanda said.

Like the pokino had done, Ndugga also started by saying that he had been "annoyed" not to be allowed to speak.

"The Arabs say that actions speak more than words but as the district kadhi for greater Masaka who leads more than five districts, if I am invited to attend such a function and I am not given the chance to address the gathering, it would mean that all the Muslims I lead have not been respected," he said before thanking Bishop John Baptist Kaggwa of Masaka diocese and the Vice President whom he believed had influenced his chance to come to the microphone.

Ndugga attacked religious extremists who insult other people's religions, creating an impression that their religion was the only true faith in the world.

"It is on this note that I call upon Muslims to stop hating their neighbours belonging to other religions because pigs have gone to their gardens," Ndugga said amidst cheers from the gathering.

By the time Museveni arrived for the function, it was getting late and he turned to be the 'chief fundraiser', giving the church Shs 70m.

"My lord the bishop has said that he needs Shs 32m to purchase seats for the church and I'll contribute Shs 20m. For the vocational secondary school you are intending to renovate at a cost of Shs 80m, I'll give you Shs 50m," Museveni said as he handed cash to Bishop Kaggwa.

The President also gave Shs 20m to Masaka diocesan teachers' savings and credit cooperative, and warned the teachers against staging demonstrations that would result into making pupils and students lose.

Vice-President Ssekandi advised the church to start income-generating activities to support the believers' donations during Sunday Mass. The headmistress of Blessed Sacrament Kimaanya SS, Babirye Kabanda, represented Buganda Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga, who contributed Shs 1m for the fundraising.

Although relatively little-known, Kabanda had earlier been invited to speak, something that had forced other guests to demand their right to speak, after which everyone left happy.

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