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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Buganda kings are Luo, says Museveni

KAMPALA - President Yoweri Museveni yesterday put the royal lineage of traditional leaders in Uganda at the forefront of his submissions to a debate on land in Munyonyo - concluding that Buganda, Bunyoro and Tooro kings are largely of Luo origin.

The President was speaking to some 600 delegates attending a conference on Land Conflicts and Mitigation measures in the country. Museveni talked predominantly about the current debate on land in the country that has sparked tribal emotion. At the conference, he chose to lecture delegates about the history of tribal settlements in East Africa, stating that the ancestry of the kings of Buganda, Bunyoro and Tooro is rooted in the Luo dynasty, before sounding a warning to those he said are inciting tribalism as the debate to amend the 1998 Land Act rages. Museveni said the Luo, who are largely settled in northern Uganda and western Kenya, governed the three kingdoms, leaving descendants behind, who today, are the current rulers. "The kings of Bunyoro, Buganda and Tooro are Luos," he said. "It's only in Ankole that we stopped the Luo expansion. How can you have a Bantu name like Oyo, like this young boy (the King of Tooro) and Olimi the king of Bunyoro?" Further drawing a link between the king of Buganda and the Luos, Museveni cited a Luganda word "Wankaaki", which means main gate, one he claims originated from the Luo. "If you ask any Muganda that what is Wankaaki, they will tell you 'Lubiri lwa kabaka' (Kabaka's palace). But we have to excuse them because they don't know history. This is a Luo word," said the President.

Delving into his favourite subject of history, Museveni said the three kingdoms were conquered and ruled by the Luo from 900 to 1500 AD. His historical opinion was corroborated by Makerere University political historian Mwambutsya Ndebesa. "About 600 years ago, the Jo-bito (Luo) attacked the Chwezi dynasty and formed the Babito dynasty whose descendants are Baganda and Banyoro," said Ndebesa, adding that the founder of Buganda kingdom, Kato Kimera, was a descendant of King Rukidi Mpuga of Bunyoro. He said Tooro was formed in 1830 out of Bunyoro kingdom.

In what has now come to characterise the President's speeches on the land question in the country, Museveni took another swipe at Mengo, the seat of Buganda Kingdom, describing officials pushing for the return of the now obscure 9,000sq miles of land, as opportunists. "I normally tune in to CBS (Buganda's radio -Central Broadcasting Service) when I have time. And you hear all this trash. They are just opportunists whose intention is only 'naalira wa?' (What is in it for me?)," he said. Museveni took time off to remind delegates that his administration reinstated traditional and cultural institutions in the country, with the sole aim of reviving lost glory and custom, before concluding that the traditional leaders have failed "and I will oppose them because I am still here."

He described as "absolute rubbish" calls by some people who have been agitating for a north-south divide in the country, saying Uganda is a cohesive nation "and no one should talk about dividing it." And although it would seem Museveni's remarks were a direct response to recent claims by Gulu LC 5 chairman Nobert Mao that northern Uganda was willing to secede from the rest of the country due to uneven distribution of the national cake, it isn't in doubt that the current land debate in the country has driven a sharp wedge in Parliament, just as it has in the public domain.

Only last week, the Coordinator of Security Services in the country, Gen. David Tinyefuza, told Parliament that the army will not hesitate to intervene in settling civil strife in the country, a proclamation that has now been understood as a warning to anyone who stokes tribal hatred over the land debate. Already, Buganda and the central government have locked horns over the proposals which the latter believes will help curb incessant illegal evictions in the country. Mengo insists it will only legitimise land grabbing. Commenting on the land debate, Museveni said "the talk about tribalism and division is absolute nonsense and we shall oppose them."

The conference, organised by Jamii Yakupatanisha, a local NGO and the Makerere University Department of Peace and Conflict Resolution, with the support of the Canadian government, presented a report on the causes of land conflicts in Uganda. According to the report, a copy of which Siasa Duni has seen, unclear land demarcations in northern Uganda and massive evictions in central Uganda are the major causes of land conflicts in the country. The report also concluded, based on a survey carried out between October 2007 and February 2008, that the land question in the country has become a tribal issue. "In the recent months, land has often become a tribal question fuelled by debate by special interests to 'protect tribal land'," the report reads in part. "The current rhetoric demanding that 'other' people (i.e. non-tribesmen/women) keep off 'our' land is sowing the seeds for a continuing and growing politicised conflict."

It is an opinion that was also shared by Lands Minister Daniel Omara Atubo who concurred that the debate on land "has become emotional, sensitive and political." The report recommends, under the customary land tenure system, that the role of elders and traditional elders on land matters be strengthened. It also calls for systematic land demarcation across the country in order to reduce conflicts, especially in northern Uganda.

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