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Ten years later! Recounting the 2009 Buganda riots that threatened NRM rule

The riots, exactly ten years ago, happened when State machinery was deployed to block a Buganda Kingdom delegation led by then Katikkiro (prime minister) JB Walusimbi from visiting Bugerere County. (PHOTO/File)

KAMPALA — Ten years ago, Kampala City was shaken by riots erupted after government banned Ronald Muwenda Mutebi, the king of the Baganda people, Uganda’s largest ethnic group, from travelling to Kayunga district, northeast of the capital, citing fears of violence.

President Yoweri Museveni, said then in a televised address that his government would not give in and allow Kabaka Mutebi into Kayunga county, an area on the edge of his jurisdiction as cultural leader.

Following days of unrest, business returned to normal after up to 15 people were killed during clashes between security forces and supporters of Kabaka Mutebi.

Police would not give details of deaths – reported on various radio stations – but many were said to have died of bullet wounds, amid gunfire and thick clouds of smoke.

Demonstrators – mostly youths from the Baganda tribe – blocked roads, and burnt vehicles and tyres, protesting the decision to block the King’s tour of Kayunga district in the eastern part of Buganda kingdom.

The government deployed soldiers, military police and regular police – some on armoured vehicles – to quell the riots.

The armed men shot mostly in the air, but the protesters replied with stones, before retreating and resurfacing later.

Most businesses in Kampala and major towns in the Buganda area at the time remained closed — with government shutting down major radio stations that were broadcasting news of what was happening in the kingdom.
Some of the radios included CBS FM, Radio Sapientia, Ssuubi FM, Akaboozi among others.

Journalists were detained and beaten by the military police after they took pictures of soldiers near a corpse lying on a Kampala street.

The soldiers deleted the offending pictures.

Museveni had reportedly told Buganda area MPs that before Kabaka Mutebi visits Kayunga, he must get the consent of the hitherto little-known king there.

But critics argued that by propping up such leaders and blocking the Kabaka’s visits, Museveni was trying to divide the kingdom and weaken the popular cultural leader whose strategically-located kingdom refuses to back down on demands for federalism and land.

President Museveni tours Nateete Police Station after it was burnt by rioters in September 2009. (PHOTO/File)

While addressing the MPs from Buganda area, Museveni was reportedly very candid and narrated the history of the friction between Mengo and the Central Government dating back to 1952.

“I have come to address you about the sustained unconstitutional behaviour of His Highness Kabaka Mutebi, the Buganda Kingdom officials and the Kabaka’s Radio, [the CBS FM]” Museveni said.

Museveni then likened the riots to the political situation before independence.

He said while the rest of the country voted for the MPs directly in the lead-up to independence, Buganda MPs were voted by the Lukiiko that constituted itself into an Electoral College.

“The Lukiiko itself was elected under disgusting intimidation,” he said adding that the intimidation included boycotts of businesses, cutting people’s crops, etc.

“It is amazing that CBS, working with the (Betty) Nambooze(s), has revived this. It will not be allowed to continue, you can be sure of this,” an emphatic Museveni was quoted as saying.

He added: “Then, Mengo formed an alliance with UPC (omukago) based on that dishonest formula where UPC believed they were using KY and vice-versa. The federal and semi-federal (federo) arrangements they constructed amounted to having states within states in such a small country like Uganda.”

“It was the paralysis in the constitutional arrangements of the 1962 Ugandan Constitution, plus UPC’s lack of straight forwardness and their double standards that, eventually, caused the 1966 crisis and all the subsequent tragic events. By 1986, about 800,000 Ugandans had died through the extra-judicial violence that followed those mistakes.”

Museveni warned protesters against rioting.

“When an illegal assembly is riotous, those who organise these assemblies or participate in them should know what, not only the law of Uganda says, but also be aware of international practices in the circumstances.”

Museveni then put forward several suggestions to resolve the friction between the Central Government and kingdom authorities.

He proposed strict enforcement of the principle of separating cultural institutions from politics.

In order to do that, he said “we are going to expeditiously bring a law that will operationalise Article 246 in greater detail so that the demarcation of roles is clear.”

“If the problems persist, there are a number of other steps and measures the Government will take to resolve this matter once and for all time.”

Museveni explained that while in the bush, especially during the Kikunyu Conference of 1982, the NRM openly rejected Andrew Kayiira’s position of talking about monarchies.

“We said we were fighting for the freedom of Ugandans; once the Ugandans had got their freedom, they would decide on what to do.

“That was our position. Our major points were captured in the 10-Point Programme. Therefore, those liars who say that we committed ourselves to monarchism in the bush should be disregarded.”

He continued: “Many senior Baganda leaders came to see me about this issue. I sought guarantees from them that the monarchies, when restored, will never meddle in politics again, as happened in the 1960s and before.

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