Rakai — Early this month, officials from Kooki chiefdom petitioned Gender, Labour and Social Development minister, who is also charged with overseeing the traditional and cultural institutions, to intervene swiftly in its strained relationship with Buganda Kingdom.
In a letter dated June 2, Kooki prime minister Ahmed Kiwanuka complained to minister Janat Mukwaya about what he called Buganda Kingdom's continuous incitements aimed at undermining Kooki chiefdom and its hereditary cultural leader, Kamuswaga Apollo Ssansa Kabumbuli II.
Mr Kiwanuka says this provocation is in total contravention of an agreement both institutions signed 121 years ago.
But the nearly one century of brotherly relations now seems to have descended into a conflict between the Buganda Kingdom and Kooki chiefdom officials.
"The agreement confers to our hereditary leader (Kamuswaga) certain cultural privileges, including among others, appointing his own sub-county and parish chiefs, but to our disappointment, Mengo has deliberately continued to dismantle his administration by putting in place parallel leadership structures in Kooki," Mr Stanley Ndawula, the Kooki information minister; said during a recent interview.
The semi-autonomous Kooki is one of the 20 counties of Buganda Kingdom that has its headquarters at Mengo.
The petition states that because of continued 'marginalisation' by Mengo, the Kamuswaga had to suspend all official representation of Kooki to Mengo until both parties resolve the disagreement.
"This included not participating in Buganda's Masaza Cup football tournament, among others, but in total disregard, Mengo through their parallel structures, has gone ahead to organise such activities without our approval," the petition reads in part.
Mr Ndawula reveals that besides their petition to the government, the Kooki cabinet is also considering legal redress in the courts of law to stop Mengo from crossing boundaries and to fully recognise Kooki's independence.
The Kamuswaga, who assumed the throne 13 years ago, thinks secession would be the best option for Kooki.
He insists that Buganda has continually denied him respect and status as enshrined in the agreement by his forefathers, leading to intolerable humiliation.
Among Kooki's demands are being accorded a special status, higher than that of other ssaza (county) chiefs, and to have the Kamuswaga's throne inside the Mengo Lukiiko hall.
Addressing a press conference recently at his royal park in Rakai Town Council, the Kamuswaga said: "We have previously lived in a harmonious relationship with our counterparts in Mengo, until recently when they suddenly started turning against our wishes and inherent traditions".
"We have been patient over the years until recently when we demanded amendments in the agreement. But my colleagues at Mengo have deliberately ignored this; sometimes doubting its genuineness, is that fair?" he asked.
Without giving specific clauses he wants to be amended in the 121 years-old agreement, the Kamuswaga only insists that the existing accord does not suit the contemporary era.
Since 2009, reports have been circulating that Kooki is planning to secede from Buganda. The speculation intensified with Kooki composing its own anthem, a flag and also launched a campaign to revive Lukooki, a language widely spoken in the chiefdom.
Later in 2012, the Kamuswaga suspended his attendance at Buganda Lukiiko and also instructed his ministers to stop involving themselves in Buganda Kingdom affairs until the contentious issues are resolved.
But on the other hand, Mengo officials have continued to attend Kamuswaga's functions.
According to Mr Ndawula, the standoff between Kooki and Mengo escalated in the last four years under Charles Peter Mayiga as Buganda Katikkiro (prime minister).
Mr Ndawula claims Mr Mayiga has deliberately frustrated all attempts by Kooki to regain her special status in Buganda, and has appointed parallel chiefs in the chiefdom.
"We formally filed all these issues with him (Mayiga), but to our surprise, he has since declined to offer us a single reply or a chance of dialogue," Mr Ndawula, says.
Mr Sebastian Kitayimbwa, a Kooki prince, says former Kamuswaga Kezekiah Ndawula, when faced with threats of external aggression from Bunyoro Kingdom, which then threatened to overrun his empire, forced Kooki to seek protection from Buganda, which at the time had a stronger army.
"In accordance to the agreement, Kooki was reduced to a county in Buganda Kingdom, and the chiefs comfortably sustained their loyalty to Kabaka, so that is the kind of relationship we think should be invigorated today," he says.
According to Ms Agnes Nalumansi, an aunt of the Kamuswaga, it was this friendship that prompted King Daudi Chwa of Buganda to build a mansion for the Kamuswaga in 1935.
"But today, this long-standing relationship seems to be fading by the day, driving a wedge between the reigning Kamuswaga and Buganda Kingdom. That is not what we want to see," she says.
But Buganda Kingdom spokesperson Noah Kiyimba is quick to dismiss the Kooki officials' claims as rumours meant to derail the ongoing plan to strengthen unity among people in Buganda.
"As Buganda, we believe in negotiations and it has always been our cornerstone. We still tell him (the Kamuswaga) that the door is still open and he is welcome," he says.
When touring parts of Kooki during his fundraising drive dubbed Ettoffali two years ago, Mr Mayiga tactfully avoided commenting on the Kamuswaga, and instead took time to rally people for unity, hard work and education of their children instead of hating one another.
"The Kabaka wants us united such that we can ably preserve our strength. I am yet to lecture this community on the history of Buganda and Kkooki. It could be that some people are not well versed with it, thus causing confusion among Kabaka's subjects," Mayiga said in his speeches then.
History. Until 1896, Kooki was an independent kingdom ruled by Omukama Edward Kezekia Ndahura II, a Munyoro and descendant of Omukama Bwohe, who is said to have founded the kingdom around 1696.
Ndahura died in 1907 and was succeeded by his son George Sefasi Kambumbuli Isansa II until October 5, 1954, when he died and was succeeded by his son Yoweri Kayemba.
Kayemba ruled until 1967 when hereditary and traditional rulers in Uganda were abolished by the Uganda Peoples Congress government led by former president Milton Obote.
The reigning Kamuswaga of Kooki, Apollo Isansa Kabumbuli was enthroned on May 15, 2005.
Agreement with Buganda. In the agreement signed between the then Kooki ruler (Kamuswaga), Kezekiah Ndawura and the late Kabaka Mwanga of Buganda, Kooki was infused into the territories of Buganda Kingdom, but with a special status above other counties.
Kooki, according to the agreement, was also accorded a unique status which provides her a special seat in Mengo Lukiiko, preserving her cultural autonomy, including giving the Babiito clan (royal family) liberty for the continuity of their lineage as hereditary chiefs.