By Faruk Kirunda
This year marks 27 years since the restoration of cultural institutions in Uganda. It was a fulfillment of the pledge made by liberation fighter, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, to bring back those institutions that had been abolished in 1967 by Dr. Apollo Milton Obote at the height of his confrontation with the influential and centrally position Buganda kingdom.
That sad story of how the over 400 year old kingdom was suddenly desecrated and turned into a ruin of mourning and self-pity amidst a hail of bullets and showers of blood has been told many times and need not be retold here. Worse, Kabaka Mutesa was to die in isolation in London soon after yet he could have lived a normal full life in his motherland, but he was forced into exile. Today, nobody is forced into exile.
It was not until 1993 that Buganda’s glory was restored and the tears of the Baganda were wiped away.
Buganda’s destruction had taken along with it other traditional institutions (Busoga, Tooro, Ankole, Bunyoro); they were also glad to have their monarchies reinstated.
Despite challenges which have come up along the way, more benefits have been had from the presence of these institutions. The people’s cultural prestige amidst the push of modernity is alive; the cultural institutions are involved in uniting their people and working with Government and other stakeholders to uplift their lives. The institutions, though with measured powers within the Constitutional framework, are contributing a lot to national development, moreover promoting harmonious co-existence across tribal lines.
Against the wishes of some high placed and influential figures in the system who were of the view that cultural institutions would bring problems to the system by creating parallel power centres in the country, Museveni risked all to see that Ugandans enjoyed their culture to deepen authenticity and togetherness based first on ancestral attachment and then on collective nationalism. Being able to awaken the cultural attachment of a person yet keep them committed to nationalism is not a simple task.
It takes a statesman on great artistry who can balance the interests of people with dual allegiances. This is one other reason why Museveni has had to stay on for long and should stay on some more because he has to accomplish the task of building Uganda as a unitary state but with functional monarchies within it without them clashing.
Obote failed to balance those interests; instead, he made false promises to Buganda not knowing that the lies would catch up with him. Museveni, on the other hand, has been honest with everybody. Had he refused to reinstate them like Amin who brought back Mutesa’s body and dashed the hopes of Baganda who hoped that he would take the next step, he would have proven Obote correct in his highhanded actions. He would have paved the way for foreign cultures to take root in the absence of authorities to deepen indigenous norms and traditions.
In reinstating the kingdoms, he recognised their true value in providing an additional layer of leadership and representation which is part of the grand democratisation programme under NRM. Most of the kingships are hereditary but in some establishments, the monarchs and their councils are elected popularly. This means that there is so much democracy that even cultural institutions do not exert unfettered powers over the people.
The immediate danger now is the attempt by self-seekers to use the institutions to benefit their interests by dividing children of the same clan streams along political lines and using them against each other. This must be resisted strongly. It goes against the spirit in which the existence of these institutions was reconsidered and is a recipe for disaster. If there is anybody who should benefit from the cultural institutions, it is Museveni because he understands their purpose more than most. Not only did he reinstate them but he expanded them and integrated them in the national conscience as vehicles of transformation. They are everybody’s pride and despite standing aside from partisan affairs, they hold sway in many issues.
Wherever these institutions exist, mistakes of the past must never be tolerated. The law regarding their involvement in public affairs must be adhered to to prevent a reoccurrence of the old troubles.
Museveni is the chief guarantor of these institutions and their value in Uganda’s struggle of progress. He has empowered them as active agents of transformation and has been there in person during times of need as with King Oyo when he was still a toddler and with late King Wako Muloki, Kyabazinga of Busoga, whom he personally took care of during his time of illness.
Museveni deserves due recognition and a medal for risking his own control of state affairs to “share” power and resources with them. By ensuring stability for the whole of Uganda, he is the shield against local and foreign forces that have no attachment to Uganda’s history and very eager to rewrite it by erasing the story of Uganda’s recovery with Museveni in charge.
To ask that Museveni be awarded and rewarded is not asking for too much considering his great investment on behalf of cultural enthusiasts.
The author is a Presidential Assistant in Charge of Media Management
0776980486 or 0702980486