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Baganda Fight for Their Heritage

 IPS 27 May 2019

(Originally published: 11/2009) CBS, which is also known as ‘The Kabaka’s (King’s) radio’, is one of four Luganda radio stations the government shut down, accused of inciting violence, following riots that recently rocked the city and its suburbs. Only one, Catholic Radio Sapientia, has since been reopened. The clamp-down occurred after a stand-off between the Ugandan Government and the largest ethnic group, the Kingdom of Buganda, which culminated in city riots that saw dozens lose their lives, and property worth more than 250,000 dollars destroyed. Evelyn Matsamura Kiapi reports.  - Evelyn Matsamura Kiapi

KAMPALA, Uganda - Specioza Nakabugo (63) sits on a mat under a mango tree on a well-mowed grass patch, her expression a blend of boredom and gloom.

The elderly woman stares into space as her two grandchildren noisily play a game of ball under the scorching midday sun at her son's home in the residential suburb of Lungujja, 10 minutes' drive south of the Ugandan capital. Nakabugo's not particularly happy, despite having her grandchildren around her.

But she was a happy woman until a few weeks ago, when her favourite local radio station, Central Broadcasting Service (CBS), was shut down by the state.

For an ageing woman with no formal education, CBS - which broadcast in Luganda, a local language - had been her only source of information, entertainment and companionship since she moved to the city to live with her son a couple of years ago.

Now Nakabugo wants to return to her home in Mityana village in central Uganda, as she says her only companion is gone.

"I enjoyed all the programmes on the radio because they were in the only language I understand - Luganda. I especially enjoyed listening to the news and Birango (personal announcements), because that is how I knew what was happening around me," she tells IPS.

Shut down

CBS, which is also known as 'The Kabaka's (King's) radio', is one of four Luganda radio stations the government shut down, accused of inciting violence, following riots that recently rocked the city and its suburbs. Only one, Catholic Radio Sapientia, has since been reopened.

The clamp-down occurred after a stand-off between the Ugandan Government and the largest ethnic group, the Kingdom of Buganda, which culminated in city riots that saw dozens lose their lives, and property worth more than 250,000 dollars destroyed.

The riots were sparked off when the government prevented Kabaka (King) Ronald Mutebi, the King of Buganda, from travelling to Kayunga to address his subjects on National Youth Day. Since then more than 200 radio workers have lost their jobs, and thousands of dollars in advertising revenue have gone begging.

But the closure of the radio station has meant something more to the Baganda (people of the Buganda Kingdom). For some it has felt like a loss of their heritage.

Seventy-eight-year-old Mary Ndagire, a banana seller in Mengo market says the link to her culture is gone with the closure of the radio stations.

"It's so disappointing for someone who loves her country, culture and local language that our favourite radio should be shut down," she tells IPS as she peels a pile of green bananas. The influence and subtle assimilation of the Baganda culture into other Ugandan communities is clearly visible across the country.

The Baganda traditional wear - the Kanzu (tunic) for men and Gomasi (flowing gown) for women - are traditional wear in many regions. The Baganda cultural styles such as in cooking using banana leaves, and traditional marriage ceremonies (Kwanjula), have been copied by other clans.

And although the Constitution does not recognise Luganda as a national language, it is universally used by all ethnic groups as a business lingo.

Ndagire says she does not listen to other radio stations since CBS was closed, fondly describing the station as 'family radio.' "One would sit and listen with your family without fear of hearing 'heavy' (difficult) language," she said.

"If there was something that went wrong between the radio and the government, there is need for understanding and forgiveness on both sides. I just request that our radio is turned back on."

She said in the meantime government had only succeeded in punishing fans of CBS and not the station. "They (the state) are not punishing the radio owners; they are punishing us, the listeners. We, the listeners, are the ones suffering."

Rights groups described the closure as a violation of the right to information and self-expression. But the closure of the Luganda radio stations is also being interpreted as an attack on the historic and cultural heritage of the Baganda people.

It has rekindled a historical rift between the state and the kingdom that goes back to 1966, when the then Prime Minister of Uganda, Dr Apollo Milton Obote, stormed the palace in Lubiri and exiled Kabaka Muteesa II, the then King of Buganda.

Broken promises

The 1995 Uganda Constitution reinstated the kingdoms, and political commentators viewed this as President Yoweri Museveni's way of rewarding the Baganda for helping him in the guerrilla bush war of 1980-1985. The current regime came to power after a long and painful war fought in the Luwero triangle, which is within the Kingdom of Buganda.

The kingdom was reinstated countrywide, but the Baganda say the president has not fulfilled all his promises, as some of the issues concerning the kingdom were not settled. These included giving the Baganda federal status and full control of their land. Federalism is a system of rule where power is divided between a central government and number of regions, which have limited self-governing authority. In addressing Members of Parliament shortly after the recent Buganda riots, Museveni claimed that the Kabaka had refused to answer his phone calls for two years, exacerbating the unfriendly relations between Buganda and the state.

"This (misunderstanding) is not about failure to pick up calls," says Buganda spokesman Charles Peter Mayiga. "This is about the disappointments that the kingdom has suffered at the hands of the people in the centre (state). When the guerrilla war was won, one would have expected that the issues concerning the kingdom were going to be conclusively settled," he told IPS in an interview.

"This talk of failure to pick up phones is just a simple way of putting it. It's a collection of so many disappointments. We should look at the genesis of the unfriendly environment. It's got a long history of disappointments."


Feudalism Vs Capitalism

But some analysts think Buganda's demands for federal status are unrealistic, as they could create a 'pseudo state-within-a-state' situation.

"A monarch can exist within a state, but there is no need. Kingdoms are institutions that have lost their usefulness," says political scientist Professor Rutanga Murindwa, of the School of Politics at Makerere University.

"The collapse of many great empires in Africa gives you a sense that the time of kings and empires has gone, and we have reached a new stage of capitalism. The existing way of production reflects the type of politics at the time. You cannot have a king in a capitalist era," Murindwa told IPS.

He says as the impact of globalisation builds up, feudalism cannot thrive under capitalism, and monarchs are bound to be phased out.

"In a capitalist society monarchs have lost their usefulness. They are just like any fossilised institution. They are just monuments, and parasitic because they are not productive. So we have to learn from history that capitalism cannot allow the archaic and obsolete forms of production to be dominant. You cannot bring them to the centre of politics."

But Mayiga does not agree. He believes suppression of their heritage is only because political leaders do not want to cede power: "Why is the state not comfortable with that (federal) arrangement? It's because federalism thrives under a democratic system, and curtails the power of the people at the centre.

"Federalism is about handling your internal affairs in a constitutionally agreed manner. Buganda does not intend to run as an independent state. It wants to have a government to manage its heritage."

The demands

The Baganda have since rejected a law passed in 2005, introducing a regional tier system of administration, claiming that the system does not give power to the regions in meaningful terms, as districts will continue to report to the central government administration.

Furthermore, the Baganda are not comfortable with the 2007 Land (Amendment) Bill transferring control of land from the Kabaka to the central government.

"Our original homes are situated on land in certain geographical areas. Buganda is not a concept. It is a geographical expression. If the central government is in charge of land and they come and take over my ancestral home, then the whole essence of my clan will be swept away. Our heritage rotates around a number of things, and land is one of them. We are not going to give this up," Mayiga says.

But Murindwa says the Buganda demand for land in an independent country is unrealistic.

"Once a state has come into existence no ethnic grouping or individual can claim land, because it becomes a national project, a formation of the nation. Land belongs to the population, present and future," Murindwa says.

Preserving Heritage

While the fight for federal status and control of their lands continue, the Baganda still hang onto their culture.

The kingdom boasts several tourist sites, including the Kasubi Tombs, where four Buganda kings are buried. The Baganda think the only way they can continue to preserve that rich heritage is through self rule in a federal system.

"When we were approaching independence, Buganda was adamant about preserving her heritage. They said they either got a federal system of governance - where Buganda would continue managing their own internal affairs - or Buganda would become a sovereign state once again," Mayiga says.

"And the Baganda are saying they are not going to sacrifice their history of 1,000 years. We want to preserve our heritage. That's what defines who we are.

"Who is going to protect our heritage for us? We must protect it ourselves. That is the basis," Mayiga says.

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