About me.

Andrew M. Mwenda is the founding Managing Editor of The Independent, Uganda’s premier current affairs newsmagazine. One of Foreign Policy magazine 's top 100 Global Thinkers, TED Speaker and Foreign aid Critic

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The attempted coup against Oyo

What Batooro have failed to do about the kingdom and how it forced the king to live in Buganda

In early March, David Kijanangoma, a grandson of King George Rukidi III announced that he had overthrown King Oyo Nyimba Kabamba’Iguru Rukiidi IV of the great Kingdom of Toro. He said he had decided on this coup in large part because his cousin; Oyo, has abdicated his duties as king. He charged that Oyo is an absentee king who lives in another kingdom, Buganda, only going to Toro as a visitor.

Kijanangoma, with an eye to history, also said that in Toro tradition, when a king fails to perform his duties, his brothers (certainly not his cousins) are entitled to challenge him for the throne. It happened when Toro’s second king, Kazana Ruhaga, spent most of his time in bed and failed to attend to his duties. His brother Nyaika plotted and through deceit deposed him.

I am a cousin and strong supporter of Oyo. I also agree that, theoretically, every king should be resident in his kingdom. But we need to understand why Oyo lives in Kampala.

Previously it was explained that he was studying and Fort Portal lacked good schools for him. But now that he is no longer at school, why does Oyo still live in Kampala? This issue raises fundamental questions about the monarchs that the NRM government “restored.”

Oyo’s grandfather, Rukidi IV was a king in the real sense of the word. He was the head the local administration, which was charged with collection of graduated tax, issuing licenses to businesses, and collecting market dues. The revenues so collected were used to build roads, schools, clinics and community centres. All the arms of the local administration were directly or indirectly answerable to him – the executive, the Rukurato (parliament), and the customary courts. The king had power to appoint and fire chiefs.

More critically, kingdoms in Uganda had resources; a factor that gave kings real power. Rukidi IV earned royalties from the natural wealth of the kingdom (like Uganda is going to be earning royalties from oil).

So Rukidi IV used to earn royalties from Katwe Salt Lake, Kilembe Mines, Hima Cement, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Semliki National Park and other treasures that make Toro Kingdom the tourist capital of Uganda. Indeed, Rukidi IV owned shares in Katwe and Kilembe and earned dividends.

Therefore, being king and resident in your kingdom made a lot of sense those days. People with problems would come and prostrate or kneel before the king and he had the resources to address their problems.

He paid fees for orphans, gave cows to the poor (entandikwa), gave jobs in the local administration to loyalists and courtiers (patronage), and allocated land to subjects and investors. This meant that locals and foreigners, churches and businesses, the poor and the rich etc. venerated him. These factors gave the king considerable prestige.

It is a mark of President Yoweri Museveni’s political brinkmanship (and his critics would say “cunning”) that he criticised the late former president Milton Obote for abolishing kingdoms but when he restored them, he stripped them of their power and prestige. Many at Mengo saw through this and said they got bwoya bwanswa i.e. hot air.  But this meant that Museveni was able to symbolically satisfy monarchists without re-creating the rival centres of power that had fought Obote.

This brings us back to Oyo’s absence from Toro. 

Fort Portal is a small town incapable of offering Oyo the entertainment, exposure and network of peers to keep him engaged and motivated. The counter argument to this is that as King, Oyo should find things to do for his community that can keep him busy. He could visit Kampala occasionally. This means Oyo, at 23 years, is being asked to re-create a kingdom. But even if he was able to create such activities, where is the budget to fund them? This cannot be blamed on him but Batooro monarchists and elites.

When Museveni restored the kingdom without the power and resources it had in the 1960s, it was vital for monarchists to address the following: What would be the role of this reconstituted kingdom and its king? What would be the necessary resources to facilitate that role? Where would these resources come from? This was not done.

The only person who tried to create meaning out of the kingdom was the former Muhikirwa (prime minister) now on death row in Luzira; John Katuramu. His fall dealt a death sentence to any project of creating a new meaning for the kingdom. When Oyo’s father, King David Olimi Kaboyo died, Botoro left Katuramu – alone - to handle kingdom matters; and the Queen Mother, Best Kemigisa, to bring up the children single handedly. When Katuramu was imprisoned, Kemigisa literally took over as king.

Kemigisa had to find a house (palace) where to bring up this young family. She chose Kampala. She was never helped to raise money to pay rent, feed the king and his siblings, take care of their medical bills, and pay for their education. Museveni offered help but it was never sufficient. Most (if not all) Batooro ignored the plight of the young family.

In fact, it is Sudhir Ruparelia and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda (both of whom grew up in Toro) who offered a helping hand to educate the king and his sister. It is a mark of her excellent social networking skills that Kemigisa mobilised people like former Libyan ruler, Maummar Gadhafi, to support the kingdom. And even in this, many Batooro elites gossiped in criticism of her efforts. In fact after Katuramu, the kingdom would have collapsed had Kemigisa not stepped onto the plate.

Therefore, Oyo lives in Kampala with his mother because it is Kemigisa who calls the shots. And the Queen mother does this because she is the power behind the throne. By leaving her alone to fend for herself and the king, Botoro actually abdicated kingship to Kemigisa, a job she has executed well (in the circumstances) and in spite of her many weaknesses. Because of this, the king and his kingdom are always where Kemigisa takes them. If Batooro want a king resident in the kingdom, let them create it first, define its role and provide resources for it the way the Baganda do. Then they can ask Oyo to come and reign over it.


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