King Mutebi II and the future of the Kingdom of Buganda in Uganda

John Otim
John Otim is the Editor of Nile Journal



Had the twentieth century been an African century, the kingdom of Buganda and its centuries-old monarchy located in present day Uganda might have loomed large on the world stage. Africa had seen some powerful kingdoms and empires. Who can or what can rival Mensa Musa and his Malian Empire of the 14th century?

We are not pretending that Buganda ever rose to match the power and the prestige commanded by Ethiopia and its Emperor Haile Selassie, who even today is revered as godhead by the Rastafarians. But in the late 19th century Buganda as a kingdom was a rising star on the African continent. Its king was universally adored within the kingdom. Its power and prestige had just surpassed those of the more ancient and better renowned kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara bordering it to the west.

But Africa started the century badly, overrun by European colonial powers. Although like the strong man Africa soon stood up and began the mammoth task of rolling back the invaders such that by the close of the century no European colony remained standing on the continent. But by then it was too late. Africa had sustained acute damage to the tapestry of its social fabrics and body politics. From this point on the African dream of glories and world power would prove elusive.

Africa descended into coups, military rule, and civil strife and here and there even into genocide.  Not all of these were of Africa's doing nor were they the result of some inherent failures as others may want to believe. Many times the hands of departed colonial powers were visible in the tragedies. By the middle of the 1970s it looked as though what had been fought for in Africa was now lost and gone with the wind.

The kingdom of Buganda located in the modern State of Uganda on the shores of Lake Victoria in the heart of Africa found itself thrown right into the eye of the storm. To fully appreciate the tragedy that befell Buganda, one has to understand the land and be familiar with its impassioned and progress loving people.

Kabaka Mutesa I, the nineteenth century king of Buganda, played a critical role in the history of Buganda. Over much of his reign Buganda was stable and growing in prosperity as a result of trade, mainly with the Arabs who came in from the Indian Ocean in the east. Soon the Europeans, the French and the British, followed the Arab trail into the heartland of Africa and Buganda. A fierce competition for influence and ultimately for control over the riches of the land; its trade in ivory, hides and above all the fertility of the rich red soil, ensured among the new foreigners.

Watching it Mutesa realized with horror the kingdom’s relative position of weakness in the face of the machine gun which the foreigners had and he did not. Mutesa understood and feared conquest. He himself had inflicted it on others less fortunate.  To forestall it he resorted to diplomacy and skillfully played off the British, the French and the Arabs against one another. But for how long could this go on.

Mutesa soon died, not entirely satisfied with the new state of affairs in his kingdom. His volatile young son, Mwanga I took over the affairs of the kingdom. Mwanga who hated the growing influence of the British, the French and the Arabs in the Kingdom quickly brought matters to ahead as he forcefully exerted his authority and cut down the influence of the foreigners and their new religions that were eroding the absolute powers of the king. Following a civil war, inspired by foreign interests contending for power in Buganda, the British siezed the upper hand, took control of the kingdom, deposed the young king and replaced him with his four year old son, Daudi Chwa. From this point on Buganda ceased to exist as an independent entity. Its once brilliant star dimmed.

It is this state of affairs in the kingdom that the present King of Buganda, the Cambridge educated Kabaka Mutebi II has inherited and has struggled with all his energies to change since his days as a journalist in London during the early 1980s when he use to pitch battle with the government in Kampla. His late father King Mutesa II had died in exile in London in 1969 when Mutebi was just a boy.

In 1986 following a change of government in Kampala that his own journalism helped to bring about, Mutebi returned from exile to Uganda to a kingdom that officially no longer existed. He had little money, no property of his own and nowhere to live. In a chaotic city that had just witnessed a war and was teaming with guns and any number of fighting groups still at large he badly needed security. But he had the love and the support of the people of Buganda, the constituents of the kingdom that no longer existed, but that remained alive in the minds and hearts of its people despite official ban.

On his return as he stepped on the tarmac that cloud cast morning of November 1986 at Entebbe Airport at the age of 31, Prince Ronald Edward Frederick Kimera Muwenda Mutebi, to give him his full name, had his work cut out for him. It was nothing short of the restoration of his once proud and ancient kingdom to its former glories. With the overwhelming support of the people of Buganda and the good will of the rest of Uganda of which Buganda is a part, his struggles eventually bore fruit and in 1993 Buganda was restored as a Kingdom within the Republic of Uganda. Mutebi was crowned in a colorful ceremony held deep in the woods of Budo hill near Kampala where kings of Buganda are traditionally crowned.

Three weeks ago in Kampala at the vast green grounds of the Lubiri Palace, once raided by Idi Amin on the orders of Milton Obote in a quarrel between Buganda and the Uganda government, Mutebi and the people of Uganda celebrated the 20th anniversary of the restoration. In his speech Mutebi made plain that the struggle for the restoration of the kingdom of Buganda had only just began. Its ultimate aim is to see the re-establishment of the Kingdom as an autonomous federal state within Uganda, with the Kabaka as its constitutional head. Given Mutebi’s coolness of head and his expertise in diplomacy, skills and temperaments Mutesa II his late father lacked, it just might happen, and might do so sooner rather than later.

Buganda is not the only region in Uganda calling for a federal status as the best arrangement for the troubled and divided country.