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Africa
Feb 17 2011 11:01AM
 
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Relations between President Yoweri Museveni and Uganda's largest tribal monarchy, his erstwhile ally, have gone from bad to worse ahead of Friday's presidential poll.

Museveni has downplayed reports of bad blood between him and the Kingdom of Buganda, putting it down to an opposition smear campaign, but the Buganda monarchy has accused Museveni of seeking to antagonise the kingdom.

"There was a campaign being done by those useless opposition groups (saying) that we were against the kings," Museveni told journalists on the last day of election campaigning Wednesday.

But the Buganda attorney general Apollo Makubuya said: "We don’t understand why, but as the election has drawn nearer and nearer, the government has tended to antagonise the kingdom."

Friction between Museveni and the Buganda monarchy, which includes the capital Kampala, has sparked violence in the past, and some fear temperatures have raised dangerously high ahead of the vote.

The Baganda, who dominate Uganda's central region and represent around one-sixth of the country's 33 million people, played a crucially supportive role in the rebellion that brought Museveni to power in 1986.

Museveni based his rebellion in Buganda and relied on its people for protection, intelligence and new recruits. Their king Edward Mutesa had been forced into exile in London two decades earlier by Milton Obote, the leader Museveni was seeking to overthrow.

Kingdom officials say Buganda only supported Museveni's revolt because he promised to reverse several injustices committed against the kingdom by previous governments and that, 25 years later, the president has failed to deliver.

High-ranking kingdom officials have all but endorsed the opposition in the February 18 vote, and some argue the monarchy could mobilise its subjects against Museveni if the results of the poll are disputed.

"When the Buganda hid (Museveni) for five years it was our hope that he would take care of (our) historic concerns," former kingdom Prime Minister Mulwanyamuli Ssemogerere told journalists this week.

The monarchy believes Buganda should be granted federal status and says its confiscated land should be returned, but Museveni has consistently rejected both demands.

In 2009 violence flared when state security blocked the Buganda king, or Kabaka, from visiting an area historically considered part of his kingdom. The kingdom labeled this a hideous insult and riots broke out in Kampala where at least 27 were killed.

A law passed by parliament last month that blocks the king from saying anything political in public is part of a "sustained (government) strategy to frustrate to weaken, disempower, alienate the kingdom," said Makubuya.

Following this series of insults, the Baganda are now "united" behind Kizza Besigye, Museveni's strongest election rival, according to Ssemogerere.

At a packed campaign rally in central Kampala on Monday, some Besigye supporters also hoisted pictures of the Kabaka, a trend that has run through the campaign, suggesting pro-monarchy voters may ditch Museveni for whom the majority voted in the past.

Besigye told AFP last week that Uganda is ripe for an Egypt-style uprising and said if Friday's vote was again marred by rigging, his supporters might lash out.

The kingdom, Makubuya said, would never call for violence, but he added that while the Kabaka maintains public silence, his frustrations with the current government "are very well known."

"There is no doubt that the majority of people in Buganda are firmly behind the Kabaka and the kingdom," he said. "This is not an elitist issue."  -Sapa-AFP

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