A few years ago, Uganda was facing a serious health crisis. The government had started immunizing children but parents were keeping the children away.
Rumours swirled that the vaccines had serious side effects and the enemies of Africa were bent on eliminating the black race or something like that. No matter how much sensitization was being made, the parents were keeping away until Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II showed up in Mawokota and immunized a child. The populace believed that their Kabaka wouldn't be administering drugs with side effects meant to kill his people.
It is no coincidence that as Kabaka Mutebi is lifted shoulder high by members of the Mbogo Clan to mark his 26th anniversary on the throne today, health and education are the main focus of this year's theme: the role of cultural leaders in the promotion of education and health.
Kabaka Mutebi and indeed most of his advisors believe that Buganda to reclaim its glory, it must emphasize health and education. A Kingdom and a civilization like Buganda only grows and enjoys influence if its people are healthy and educated. It is also important to note that Buganda suffered the scourge of HIV/Aids that killed millions of Kabaka's subjects. Kabaka Mutebi accepted to be a UNAIDS Goodwill ambassador on Male Involvement in the fight against HIV/Aids in Africa.
Most of the diseases that kill people in Uganda are preventable. Prevention starts with people having knowledge about a particular disease. Kabaka Mutebi has worked hard on that front. Whenever he tours the counties, he starts the day by doing physical exercises, a reminder that people need to keep a healthy body.
His now popular Kabaka Birthday Run that attracts 50,000 participants annually is dedicated to particular diseases. It started with fistula by creating awareness and providing funding and then moved to sickle cell anemia. A lot of people in Buganda had previously shied away from seeking fistula treatment and lived in isolation in their communities while others thought sickle cell was witchcraft.
At almost all his county tours, health camps are organized to create awareness on specific diseases, immunize children and treat people. Thousands of people throng Bulange and county headquarters regularly to receive Hepatitis B vaccines.
Kabaka's special guest today is Muhammadu Sa'ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto in Nigeria. One of the reasons the Sultan is here is to understand how Buganda has managed to educate its people especially the girl child. As you might know, Boko Haram, a terrorist group in Nigeria opposes education to the extent of abducting and killing girls it finds in schools.
In Sokoto, education of the girl child is a challenge that the Sultan is seeking to address by learning from his host, Kabaka Mutebi. He will visit Lubiri High, Buloba campus for a familiarization tour and spend time learning from Kabaka's education officials.
At the start of his reign, Mutebi instituted the Kabaka's Education Fund, which has provided bursaries to over 20,000 people to date. At his Mutesa I Royal University, he provides bursaries for at least two students per district not only from Buganda but also across the country.
The Nnabagereka's Ekisaakate has been able to institute morals into children and the much important informal education that enables the participants play a meaningful role in society as they grow up.
The Kabaka preaches what he practices. He has started schools and revived others from primary, secondary, to post tertiary institutions. At almost all his public speeches, the Kabaka talks about education and how important it is for his Kingdom. However, in that regard, he is fulfilling a dream started by his grandparents.
The role of Mutesa I in educating his people cannot be overemphasized. His so called collaboration with the whites in the 19th century was selfish on his part -- to ensure his people learnt to read and write. Makerere University stands on land donated by the Kingdom. For many years, Buganda has understood that to remain relevant, it must emphasize education.
An educated populace will be healthy and their social life will change. But there are also people whose lives might be changed in other ways. Abubakar Ssentongo lives in Katabi subcounty near Entebe. He is an old man suffering from a broken spinal chord yet he has 10 children and a wife.
He is a destitute by any definition one may use. Yesterday, Kabaka Mutebi handed him a new four-room house -- the first of 20 he will build for such people in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity as part of celebrations to mark his 26th Coronation Anniversary. The houses will be spread across all the 18 counties of Buganda.
It won't stop at houses. One member of the family will be skilled in a profession of their choice so that there is sustainability. The materials and workers will be from the community so that people can acquire the skills to build such houses. And if somebody who is not on the programme can raise Shs 10m, the Kingdom and Habitat will build for them a similar house.
And, if education and health are achieved as he has envisioned, Buganda and indeed Uganda will be able to restore its glory. The modernity that saw colonialists descend on the Kingdom now sees other leaders like the Sultan of Sokoto visit to learn a thing or two. It is a remarkable achievement for a Kingdom that was abolished for 27 years before Kabaka Mutebi restored it.