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Kampala returns to normalcy after days of ethnic tension

15 September 2009

Uganda’s capital city, Kampala, was calm on Monday following days of ethnic tension and rioting that left at least 11 people killed last week. MRG’s Africa Regional Information Officer, Mohamed Matovu reports.

Business came to a standstill in the central district of Uganda’s capital city, Kampala, last Thursday, when President Yoweri Museveni’s government stopped Ronald Muwenda Mutebi, the King of the Baganda, Uganda’s largest ethnic group, from visiting one of the counties in his kingdom, namely in Kayunga district.

The tensions began when, as the Buganda Kingdom prepared to celebrate Youth Day in Kayunga, the Banyala – a minority group previously part of Buganda – threatened to organise a demonstration objecting to the Buganda King’s visit. The spokesperson for Banyala Cultural Trust, Mr. James Rwebikire, told the local media that they wanted to secede from the Buganda Kingdom, because they felt that they had gained little support for development.

In a statement read on national radio and television on Friday, President Museveni stated that the King would not be allowed to set foot in Kayunga, unless he got the consent of the local leaders of the Banyala community. Buganda Kingdom officials insisted that the King did not need permission from any individual or government entity to travel to any part of the country, more so to an area which is part of his Kingdom.

In a rare show of defiance, Buganda Kingdom pressed on with the planned visit to Kayunga district despite the government’s directive not to do so. This showdown set the stage for a battle pitting the government against the Baganda, who comprise about six million of Uganda’s estimated population of 30 million, according to figures obtained from the National Bureau of Statistics.
From Thursday through Saturday – the supposed day of the visit – the King’s supporters set up barricades and confronted police. Shops were closed. At least 11 people were killed and an estimated 500 people were arrested during the ensuing street battles, which took place in several major towns in Buganda. The government also clamped down on several media houses for allegedly inciting tribal and ethnic violence.

Ms. Jolly Kemigabo, the Head of Minority Rights Group’s Africa Office, said: “There is a clear risk that these clashes may lead to a longstanding conflict, not only between the Baganda and the Banyala, but also among other ethnic groups. The Ugandan government should move very fast to recognise through proper legislation the status of several minority groups that find themselves involuntarily co-opted into bigger ethnic groups.”

Lately, several chiefdoms including the Banyala and the Baruuli, which were previously under the Buganda Kingdom, have been pressing the government to recognise them as minorities and allow them to secede from Buganda, a move that the Buganda Kingdom opposes. Sections of the Baganda have in turn accused the government of being behind the creation of these breakaway chiefdoms.

Buganda is one of Uganda’s four ancient kingdoms. The traditional kingdoms were abolished in 1966 but reinstated by President Museveni in 1993. The Baganda have for a long time been agitating for the restoration of a federal system of administration that would give their king political power, which he does not have in his current ceremonial role.

The Banyala, who migrated from Bunyoro, in south-eastern Uganda, and settled in Kayunga district, claim to be the indigenous inhabitants of Kayunga. However, not all Banyala share this position, and some do still express loyalty to the Buganda King. Kayunga district has over time grown into a multicultural region with settled migrants from most Ugandan ethnic groups.