Whenever president Yoweri Museveni touches his famous subject of Bachwezi/Tembuzi; by instinct, the Baganda read between the lines. They read that he is not talking about micro-economics, not macro-economic nor globalization. He is discussing identity to claim a belonging and justify particular actions.
In his writings, the president cites traditional names like Wankachi (main entrance to a Buganda kingdom palace), Oyo (one of the titles of the king of Toro) and Rukiidi (a title to the king of Bunyoro). He uses these terms to explain their origins in the Luo traditions. To him they symbolize evidence that their present bearers are descendants of the Luos who dislocated earlier occupants of the land and water they occupy today. Among earlier occupants and quite remembered for his gallant marine soldiering skills is Mugasha—who according to president Museveni used to rotate between Bigo bya Bahima and Lake Nalubaale—long before the present day traditional leaders arrived around this area. Mugasha is the name from which the Buganda daring marine commander’s name ‘Mukasa’ was derived.
The president is cautious not to mention who, among the present day 56 tribes of Uganda are the true descendants of the Mugashas of more than 800 years ago. And although Baganda know Mukasa to have been their own, they don’t claim to be of Bachwezi dynasty. This identity is more claimed by the president as he often refers to himself as an original settler of where he dwells in Entebbe on the banks of Lake Victory. He says ‘we have been here long ago,’ and here ‘am in my house (state house).’ From such claims of belonging, a phenomenon has emerged in Buganda where large swathes of land around Lake Victoria and the water body itself are being claimed by new settlers—using both carrot and stick or money or coercion.
The call for Ggwanga mujje
The Baganda know their history. They need no special lectures about the significance of relating with other people. This is part of their DNA. It is the source of their historical economic and political strength—that is preserved in the name of their geographical location ‘Obuganda,’ which means one-by-one small community they constituted a strong bundle (Society). This is further supported by well-preserved sayings such as ‘Kitaawo akuzaalanga e Bunyoro nnyoko naakuzaala e Buganda.’ This implies that intermarriages with other communities were officially encouraged and a number of Baganda men married from outside their tribe, a practice prevalent to-date. This expanded relationships leading to assimilation of many other people into the Buganda cultural value systems and civilization. As the community grew spontaneously so was its security consciousness for its territorial integrity. Like today’s modern societies, it became a responsibility of every able bodied man to defend the nation-state from alien attack—hence the call for Ggwanga mujje upon any detected threats.
Today’s increasing Buganda nationalism sentiments are exactly a response to an apparent threat of possible extinction of a community from lands and waters they have occupied for centuries. Whereas the Baganda would welcome everyone into their land (such as my own family from eastern Uganda), they aren’t sure of being welcomed by others as they get evicted and turned into paupers by massive land grabbers. Cases like Lusanja, Kiboga, Lukoola and virtually all areas that constituted the old Buganda masazas (counties) are virtually gone to new Sabatakas. Today when you talk of Bulemezi county, for example, the immediate authority there is not the Kabaka’s representative, but the young brother to president Museveni, Gen Salim Saleh. This is the new reality that is ringing alarm bells in the ears of Baganda. They wouldn’t mind Gen Saleh as a citizen staying in Kapeka. But are alarmed that his being there, entails displacing those found there prior to his arrival and nobody pays attention to the future of the deprived. Therefore, until the president stops the Bachwezi/Tembuzi identity talk, the Buganda nationalism isn’t about to stop, for it is exactly a response in form of Ggwanga mujje to his famous sensitive subject that threatens their future.
Repeal tribal provision from 1995 Constitution
It's ironic that some people appear to be allergic to sounds of tribal sentiments yet the very nation’s constitution backs the reality of tribal existence. The genuine practical steps of eradicating tribal concerns, therefore, must start by advocating the repeal of the Third Schedule from the 1995 Constitution which details the tribes of Uganda. For as long as this provision remains in the constitution, tribal sentiments will always be a public discourse. This is because upon reading it, next is the deep inquiry into details of particular tribes—their common interests and sensitivities. The current issue of common interest for Baganda is land—that they are being deprived of. Apparently, this tribal provision was deliberately promoted as an improvement from earlier ones so that communities, including the Banyarwanda, whose future was thought to be threatened could be protected.
By Simon Kimoyi
PhD Candidate, Kampala International University