By Badru Ssejjombwe
Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga celebrated his fifth anniversary in that position by writing an article in Saturday Monitor. Typical of him, he deflected attention and self praise from himself saying whatever ‘modest achievements’ registered has been because of the team Kabaka gave him. He quickly, without elaborating, owned up to the failures of his reign.
One of the significant failures of Mayiga’s reign has been the slow progress of the reconstruction of the Kasubi Royal Tombs. When he assumed office, he promised to have them done within six months. He embarked on a campaign that saw people contribute money for the restoration of the heritage treasure, which was burnt in 2010. When Kabaka Ronald Mutebi dispensed with tradition and visited Kasubi immediately after the fire, he was seen crying in public. The Kabaka isn’t supposed to do that so it shows the extent of the destruction on his part — he is human after all.
Of course a perimeter wall on 64 acres at Kasubi was built in a record time and on budget. The main mausoleum, Muzibu Azaala Mpanga, however hasn’t been done yet. To be fair, there has been good progress since the ceiling is hand-woven by people from certain clans. And not by commercial workers that are hired to do such work in some hotels or public places. What we may also easily forget is that Kasubi Tombs needed to be restored so it wasn’t just a simple repair job. Also, until Kabaka Mutebi chased away Nnaalinya Beatrice Namikka and administrator George Mulumba, work had completely stalled. Namikka and Mulumba had turned the reconstruction into their personal garden from which to harvest ready to eat fruits. That explains why months after Namikka had been relieved of her duties, she was sent to Luzira Prison for obtaining money by false pretense. Kabaka Mutebi would pay the money so she could gain her freedom. Mayiga’s main problem with the tombs was to probably not fully assess the work that was supposed to be done and give a timeframe that wouldn’t come to bite him.
The same issue would surface again with the Kabaka’s Lake in Mengo. After the completion of Masengere, Mayiga announced that the campaign drive commonly known as Ettoffaali was to restore the Kabaka’s Lake. And indeed work had started only to stall because the environmental experts advised that a full study be carried out to determine the depth of the lake, the location of the springs and such other stuff. Air, Water, and Earth (AWE), a reputable consultancy firm was hired to do the job. At the moment, it is working with the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and other relevant government agencies and ministries to ensure that if work progresses, nothing that isn’t planned happens. Again one can say that Mayiga’s failure was to do this before he started.
Today, Mayiga seems to have learnt his lessons hence the delay to start on the affordable housing project in Sentema, Busiro. The Kingdom identified land for this purpose and reliable sources say nothing will start until a detailed study on the project is done. The Katikkiro no longer wants to do things that might be popular but without fully studying them. He said as much when giving the State of Kingdom Address to the Buganda Lukiiko on Monday May 14 this year. He said he must study fully all the issues before taking them to his boss, Ssaabasajja Kabaka, for approval.
It is that new approach to detailed studies that has also affected K2 Telecom, the Kingdom’s mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that owns the 073 code. K2’s problems arise from the kind of company it is. It doesn’t own a network so it was using Africell’s infrastructure. However, the contract with Africell was terminated because the Labenese network is alleged to have refused K2 access to its backend so it can verify how much money they were owed. Africell, it is alleged, simply used to invoice K2 without giving it a detailed explanation of how fees they were invoicing were arising. This is contrary to most MVNO agreements the world over. Efforts to reach Africell’s CEO were futile. K2 then moved to use Smart’s infrastructure which relationship also didn’t work. My sources says K2 is now negotiating with two other networks for a better deal and one was secured only that Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) is delaying to give Kabaka’s telecom a go ahead. With Kabaka’s directive to have it on air and Katikkiro’s committed leadership, K2 should be back on air in one form or another.
There have been rumours that Masengere was mortgaged to finance K2 Telecom, which are just rubbish. In order to finish Masengere on time before Kabaka celebrated his 60 birthday, some suppliers of materials were asked to supply them on credit, which they did. This is a normal procedure in any institution including the central government that corrects billions in taxes. As we speak now, they have all been paid and Masengere is debt free. Issues regarding peeling off tiles as highlighted by perennial Kingdom enemies were just exaggerated. It is standard procedure that contractors take a given period of time after the building has been occupied to rectify any problem that might arise. Anybody who has ever built knows that. These floor tiles have since been fixed.
However, we might also need to look at a bigger picture. Masengere had stalled for 40 years. Mayiga came to office in May 2013 and by April 2015, the building was as glittering as those we see in Dubai. One cannot, therefore, highlight a tile that simply needs fixing over a structure that wasn’t done for four decades. And people who say it was supposed to be 15 floors haven’t presented any evidence to that effect and most likely they are just looking for anything to tarnish Mayiga’s name without being fully objective.
Mayiga has also been accused of turning Mengo into an apolitical institution. Buganda is for everyone regardless of their political or religious affiliation. What should matter is whether one respects the Kabaka and the institution not which political party or religious denomination they belong to. The 1966 Crisis that led to Milton Obote attacking the palace was a result of senseless involvement in politics and overreliance on which religion one belonged to. Buganda made an alliance with Milton Obote instead of Ben Kiwanuka purely on religious grounds. The result was an attack that left the Kingdom in tatters. As the Kingdom is being rebuilt, it is important to avoid the previous mistakes. Buganda has been here for many centuries and will continue to exist if those who have power at Mengo learn to play the politics of the day.
At the start of his tenure, there seemed to have been issues with some religions especially the Muslim sect at Kibuli. Mayiga had been wrongly accused of demolishing a Mosque at the Mengo Palace something, which happened when he wasn’t Katikkiro. Some Muslim fanatics like Nuhu Muzaata denounced him and called him names. Mayiga seems to have quietly worked with Muslim leaders at Kibuli to clear his name and Prince Badru Kakungulu seems to have understood that. Kakungulu went to Bulange and offered his support to Mayiga during an Iftar dinner last year and invited him (Mayiga) to his residence at Kibuli for the Eid celebrations. When Muzaata was exposed to have got himself Ekyapa Mu Ngalo (lease title) from Buganda Land Board yet he was the biggest campaigner against it, like the proverbial Ostrich, he started hiding his head in the sand.
Ekyapa Mu Ngalo, which caused a lot of uproar turned up to be a good thing as it gives people uncontestable ownership of their own land. As we speak, over 3,000 people have got their lease titles or have already had their land surveyed and got themselves digital fingerprints that confirm their ownership. Some have been able to go to banks to secure loans to build their businesses, something that wasn’t possible before. With land commissions of inquiry, eventually, people realized that Mayiga was right on land titles.
Although there are many failures and/or misunderstandings over how Mengo operates today, there are many things that have been achieved. The Baganda are more united behind their Kabaka than ever as evidenced in the uptake of Kingdom causes. The Kabaka Birthday Run is no longer a miniature event everyone around Kampala could ignore. As many as 40,000 people turned up this April to participate. That alone shows the confidence people have in Mengo. The run supports good causes such as fistula and sickle cell anemia awareness. The turn up at Villa Maria when Kabaka turned 63 was one of the biggest we have ever seen. A massive crowd is expected in Mengo this July when Kabaka Mutebi marks 25 years on the throne.
In education, Mayiga started with a simple campaign to ensure that parents provide lunch for their kids and shoes as well to avoid contracting some diseases especially in Kiboga. Within the Kingdom’s owned schools, Lubiri High Buloba got a gigantic building the size of Bulange, which is named after Kabaka Mutebi’s mother Namasole Sarah Nalule. Kabaka Mutebi is set to launch Mulondo House at Buganda Royal Institute as part of celebrations to mark his silver jubilee.
With Ngule establishing itself in the market, K2 getting a lease of life soon and CBS launching new modern studios this June, the Kingdom’s coffers must improve so Kabaka can deliver services to his people. His image has also changed. Twekobe in the Mengo Palace is shinning like “a lizard that is swimming in a jar of milk” to use singers Radio and Weasel’s words. Of course I know that Mayiga has been accused of turning Mengo into a corporate body that just wants to make money. Unfair criticism as it might be, what else would he do to deliver all the services people expect him to? Talking of this corporatization of Mengo, at least the workers there look smarter and like they ate a meal the previous night. Before, some Mengo employees looked shabby and hungry.
The involvement in campaigns like Emmwanyi Terimba where people are massively growing coffee to get themselves out of poverty is another indicator that all is well at Mengo. I am a follower of Katikkiro Mayiga on Facebook. He asked people to give him ideas of what he needs to do in the years ahead and most people urged him to resurrect Ettoffaali so that they can contribute to building a hospital at the Mengo palace. Over 80% of the people said they will gladly give money to this cause as well as a bank (perhaps cooperative). Those are people who see that Mayiga has led them well over the past five years and want to see the continuation of such good things. This doesn’t mean that they haven’t been challenges as highlighted at the beginning of this article.
The writer is a social analyst and Buganda critic.