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Recent Clashes Expose Political Dispute in Uganda

  • Michael Onyiego

Tension between the government of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and the country's largest ethnic group, the Buganda, is rising in the aftermath of a fire that destroyed the tombs of former kings of Buganda earlier this month.

Recent violence in the Uganda's capital Kampala has marked the long-standing dispute between the government and the Bugandan Kingdom for political autonomy.

Buganda, the largest of four ancient kingdoms in Uganda, historically encompasses Kampala and central Uganda and is the traditional political authority of the Bugandan ethnic group.

Disputes between the government of President Yoweri Museveni and the Bugandan people have been frequent during the past few months.

At least two people were killed in demonstrations last September after the king, or Kabaka, of Buganda, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II, was barred by the government from visiting Kayunga, a province considered to be within his traditional realm.

Tensions again erupted after a fire destroyed the Bugandan royal tomb, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.

Mr. Museveni, who has denied any government role in the fires, vowed to investigate the destruction.

According to a senior fellow at the Institute of Social Research at Makerere University, Frederick Golooba-Mutebi, the accusations against Mr. Museveni are the result of Bugandan frustration with the government.

"They are angry, first of all, because of torching of the Royal Mausoleum," he said. "There are suspicions lying around that the government was responsible for it. The reason why people think that it is the government that was behind that particular incident is because of the incidents that have accumulated over the last three years, where the central government has been behaving in ways that suggest that it provokes the Kingdom [of Buganda]."

The Bugandan Kingdom, which was abolished by then-president Milton Obote in 1969, was reinstated by Mr. Museveni in 1993. His administration has since faced frequent challenges over political authority in the Buganda region.

In November, a law passed by the Ugandan Parliament to prevent tenant abuse by landowners in Uganda was seen by some as an attack on Kabaka Mutebi's sovereignty over the Kingdom's lands.

According Professor Mutebi, dissatisfaction with the president is not isolated to one ethnic group. Although Mr. Museveni still enjoys wide support, recent deaths caused by Uganda's armed forces have damaged the president's electoral support countrywide

The Buganda comprise more than 15 percent of Uganda's population. Though the group has been a strong ally of the president in the past, they could present a political problem for him in next year's presidential elections.