THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS IN UGANDA
By Paul Ndiho,
The Buganda Kingdom plays a significant role in Uganda. Since the restoration of traditional Kingdoms in 1993, this cultural institution has served as an essential support-base for politicians running for office, spearheading cultural and development programs within the country.
At the top of Mengo Hill in Uganda’s bustling capital Kampala, the Bulange palace – home of the Buganda Kingdom symbolizes the country’s rich history of the monarchy.
The Buganda Kingdom is one of four Ugandan kingdoms and perhaps the most influential politically and strategically. Cultural institutions are not supposed to have any “real” political power — but Buganda, with a population of nearly six million people, is more than a cultural institution – it is a political force.
Buganda has embarked on the social and economic and infrastructure transformation that sets the bar for the rest of the country. Charles Peter Mayiga, the Prime Minister or commonly known as the “Katikiro” has been at the center of development programs.
The Buganda Kingdom boasts of the largest ethnic community “Baganda,” and they pride themselves as having a unique culture, good morals, and close association with the other clans to boot. Margaret Muwonge is one of the 11 representatives of the Kingdom in North America. She explains.
“The Kabaka is what I would call the custodian of the screed trust of Buganda. He does not come in to rule over the people. He comes in to mingle and look at his people and direct them and inspire them. He does not give them orders. What he does is to listen, and that’s why he deploys all of us everywhere in the Diaspora.”
The Katikiro, the Kings representative, is visiting the Washington, D.C. area to meet and mingle with members of the Bugandan ethnic community from different parts of North America. His mission is to meet and listen to the king’s subjects and then report back to the king.
“People look up to him because they revere the trust, they revere him, and that’s why you see them kneeling. They do not kneel to the man; they kneel to that entity of what he represents.”
The Baganda were instrumental in the current Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni’s rise to power 33 years ago. Museveni based his five-year military struggle in the kingdom’s heartland in Luwero. Since then, the Baganda have supported and helped him to stay in power.
But a long-simmering dispute over land and power between President Yoweri Museveni’s government and the Buganda kingdom has persisted for a long time. The Kabaka wants more autonomous control over resources in his kingdom, such as land and taxes, but the government says he is only a cultural figure and must steer clear of politics.
The disputes over land and power with Buganda sparked violent protests in 2009 that killed dozens of people. Demonstrators, mostly youth from the Baganda tribe, blocked roads, and set fire to vehicles and tires, protesting the decision to block the Kabaka, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi, from visiting a part of his kingdom, the Kayunga district in the eastern part of Buganda.
A couple of months later, fire gutted a mausoleum was built in 1860 and destroyed much of the Kasubi Tombs, the final resting place of the kings of Buganda and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The cause of the blaze was never determined and the reconstruction of the tombs is still ongoing.