The Grave Perils Of Buganda Secession From The Republic of Uganda

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Heil! Ugandan dictator Museveni -- combined with political woes since independence, his 28 years dictatorship has heightened talk of Buganda secession


Given the tortured nature of Uganda's 52 years history as an independent nation it should not be surprising that secession is widely discussed in some circles.

Some Baganda – probably a few but very vocal – are calling for an independent kingdom for Baganda only. They argue that non-Baganda have devalued their culture, impoverished Baganda economically, socially and environmentally and dispossessed them of their assets and that there are some non-Baganda who are confusing Baganda.

For example, a friend contacted and told me that around 12:15 pm on Sunday, September 14, 2014 London-based Michael Mutagubya stated that he is on radio munansi to make sure that people like Kashambuzi (referring to yours truly) do not confuse Baganda.

Apparently he did not elaborate which he should be asked to do. Mutagubya is focusing his sessions on Baganda culture presumably preparing Baganda to demand a return to their pure traditions as the rapidly globalizing world is adversely affecting Buganda culture. One would like to know what Mutagubya advised the Katikiro (the prime minister of Buganda kingdom) regarding Buganda independence during the latter’s recent tour.  

This group of Baganda is demanding that non-Baganda must quit Buganda soil and go back to their areas (every goat must return to its peg) and has divided Baganda. This is reminiscent of what three Saza chiefs in Lukiiko (the Parliament of Buganda kingdom) forced on other members of the Lukiiko to demand in 1966; that the central government of Milton Obote quit Buganda soil within 9 days.

Here is what happened. “On the 20th May, three saza chiefs – two of them, Lameka Sebanakitta of Kyaggwe, and James Lutaya of Ssingo, close associates of the Kabaka (the third being the saza chief of Buddu) – proposed a radical motion in the Lukiiko which was unanimously carried. The Lukiiko thereupon served an ultimatum on the central government which was asked ‘to remove itself from the soil of Buganda before 30th May 1966. … On the 28th May, five of the Kabaka’s ministers, obviously unhappy with the Lukiiko resolution of the previous week broadcast a message from Kampala appealing for calm and an end to the fighting. It was clear that though the embattled and embittered Kabaka was in favor of the Lukiiko motion, his Katikiro was opposed to it." (T.V.Sathyamurthy 1986).

Similarly Baganda are again divided on the issue of secession.

Secession alone is a complex matter. Baganda only secession and independence is even more complex. Who is a Muganda? How did Buganda acquire its territories? Has self-determination been fully exercised in Buganda by communities and individuals? If not, should secession allow individuals and communities to exercise their right to self-determination and decide whether to remain part of Buganda or drift away? What will happen to territories that have more non-Baganda than Baganda as happened in Kosovo where Albanians exceeded Serbians and demanded independence?

It must be understood by Baganda and non-Baganda alike that the location of the central government and implicitly the massive attraction of non-Baganda to Buganda was dictated by Baganda. The Kabaka Yekka Movement issued a public statement which reads:

“As from 1st March, 1962, the seat of Uganda Prime Minister will be in Buganda at Entebbe, and the National Assembly of Uganda will also be in Buganda in Kampala. We of the Kabaka Yekka cannot hesitate to state that  if Uganda is ever to be a prosperous and peaceful country, the Prime Minister must always be subordinate to the Kabaka and other hereditary rulers as shown by the Kabaka in the picture opposite.”(Onyango Odongo 1993).

What are the legal implications, if any, should the central government and non-Baganda be forced out of Buganda?

The first problem Baganda will face is to define who a Muganda is and who is not. The second is what to do with all the non-Baganda in Buganda that demographically exceed those who consider themselves Baganda. In a democratic society this matter should be voted on. In the unlikely event that non-Baganda quit Buganda how will compensation be handled? Furthermore, Baganda and non-Baganda alike need to know that there are many Baganda living outside Buganda in virtually all parts of Uganda. What will happen to those who may not want to relocate to Buganda?

A settlement that will result in people being relocated will lead to serious humanitarian challenges as happened when India and Pakistan split in 1947. The split between India and Pakistan was agreed upon by all parties but was immediately torn apart by the bloodshed of partition. “This led to a bitter religious war and mass migrations as over 15 million people moved between the two new states.”(Neil Morris et al 2001). “The rioting and dislocation associated with the partition led to horrendous inter-communal violence between Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims, with the death of between two hundred thousand and one million people. Since then, India and Pakistan have gone to war three times over control of the Kashmir region (1947, 1965, and 1999) and once over East Pakistan’s (now Bangladesh) secession from Pakistan (1971). Tensions between the two nuclear-armed countries remain high and further conflict is always a possibility – a situation exacerbated by fundamentalists on both sides.”(Chris Abbot 2012).

The split of India and Pakistan resulted in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi considered the father of India,  “On 30 January 1948 he was shot and killed by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist who held him [Gandhi] responsible for weakening India.”(Chris Abbot 2012).

The civil war in Nigeria from 1967 to 1970 might also give a hint about what might happen in Uganda should Buganda insist on secession. Nigeria became independent on October 1, 1960. The elections leading to independence were contested at regional and national levels. Ethnic rivalries were also reflected in the national armed forces, resulting in coups and counter-coups. At that time many Ibos were serving in the north as civil servants. The January 1966 coup was led by Ibo junior officers. The coup was followed by anti-Ibo riots and many people were killed. The disturbances demonstrated Hausa dissatisfaction with Ibo dominance at the federal level that was seen to exclude northerners. In July there was a counter-coup and General Aguiyi Ironsi, an Ibo, was killed and was followed by massacring of Ibos that were still in the north.

The military governor of the Eastern Region, Lt-Col Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu declared that the region had seceded into an independent Ibo state known as the “Republic of Biafra”. This announcement was followed by a brutal civil war from 1967 to 1970. The federal troops won. In January 1970 Biafran forces surrendered. During the war military casualties reached 100,000. However, between 500,000 and two million Biafrans lost their lives largely from starvation (Europa Publication 1998).

The two examples should make Baganda, their friends and well-wishers and indeed the rest of Ugandans to take another and possibly a harder look at the likely impact secession of one group or another would cause. To avoid the likely catastrophe, let us keep Uganda together, imperfect as it is, and debate and decide how Ugandans wish to be governed.

To do this, we need patriotic and visionary leaders willing and ready to cede powers to the regions except defense, security, foreign affairs and national currency. This would require abroad-based post-NRM transitional government managed by a presidential team to conduct a comprehensive population census and organize a national convention to debate and decide how Ugandans wish to be governed.


Eric Kashambuzi is an international consultant on development issues. He lives in New York.  

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