Cablegate: Rumble in Mengo: Ugandan President and Buganda Kingdom

DE RUEHKM #1331/01 2620840
R 180840Z SEP 08




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: Conflict continues between President Museveni and
the Buganda Kingdom over historic grievances and the proposed
amendments to the 1998 Land Act (widely referred to as the Land Bill
amendments). Most of the sparring has taken place in the public
arena, where the lack of a communications strategy and subsequent
Government missteps have resulted in growing suspicion of President
Museveni's intentions. The Buganda Kingdom appears to be winning in
the court of public opinion, but the Government was able to achieve
its primary objective of muting the Kingdom's radio station programs
that were critical of the amendments. The public debate over the
Land Bill amendments is taking on increasingly political overtones
and heightening ethnic and regional divisions. End Summary.

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2. (SBU) The Government of Uganda (GOU) proposed amendments to the
1998 Land Act in October 2007, but failed to carry out public
consultations prior to or immediately after the announcement.
Commissioner for Lands, Sarah Kulata, told Emboffs that the GOU was
preoccupied with preparations for the Commonwealth Heads of
Government Meeting (CHOGM) in late November, 2007, and that no funds
were available for the consultations. Kulata blamed the lack of
consultations and lack of a public relations campaign for the
immediate negative media coverage and public backlash against the

3. (U) After CHOGM, President Museveni went on the offensive,
explaining that the Land Bill amendments were needed for Uganda to
transform from a developing country to an industrialized nation. He
argued that the amendments would protect most Ugandans, who are
tenants, from eviction. In December, 2007, Museveni promised to
initiate dialogue with all stakeholders to reach a consensus on the
way forward. He also stated that he might exercise the option of a
referendum, if he found it necessary to circumvent land reform
opponents or Parliament. The draft bill is in committee and debate
on the floor of Parliament has yet to take place. In the meantime,
public discourse on the land amendments has taken on ethnic and
regional overtones.

4. (U) The Acholi Parliamentary Group, representing the ethnic
Acholi districts of Gulu, Kitgum, Amuru, and Pader in northern
Uganda, was openly critical of the amendments and accused the
Government of planning a land grab in the north. Groups in eastern
Uganda quickly joined the Acholi in opposition to the bill. Both
areas have large anti-government constituencies where accusations of
ethnic and regional marginalization resonate. Northern and eastern
groups agreed to join together to fight the land amendments. (Note:
The majority of opposition parliamentarians hail from the north and
east. End Note.) The Buganda Kingdom, located in the Central Region
around Kampala and representing the country's largest ethnic group,
was less outspoken at first, but no less opposed to the amendments,
and has become a significant opposing force due to its location,
large number of loyal followers, and strained relationship with
President Museveni's southwestern-dominated government. The Baganda
position that the Land Bill amendments amount to a Government land
grab strengthened the chorus of opposition coming from the north and

5. (SBU) Buganda Kingdom officials insist there is a "systematic"
effort by the Government to avoid the return of all land confiscated
in 1967. Moreover, they claim that the Government is trying to
create a situation where Baganda landowners lose their ownership to
bona fide occupants, lawful tenants and peasants. The Baganda
accuse the Government of urging pastoralists to squat on land in the
Central Region so that it can later be purchased by Museveni, his
family members, and others connected to the President. The Baganda
also suspect that the land amendments are aimed at protecting the
minority ethnic Bahiima and Tutsi tribes, who settled on the land
after 1986. (Note: Museveni is a Bahiima and many of the Government
officials who hail from the southwest have ties to Tutsi groups that
originated in Rwanda. End Note.)

6. (U) Museveni restored the Buganda Kingdom and other kingdoms
(Ankole, Bunyaro, Tooro, and the Acholi paramount chief) through the
Traditional Rulers (Restitution of Assets and Properties) Act 1993.
The Act provided for the return of all properties belonging to
kingdoms in Uganda. A condition for the restoration of the kingdoms
was that they do not engage in politics. Since 1993, the Buganda
Kingdom has been negotiating with the central government for the
return of its properties. Only 350 square miles of land has been
returned, which the kingdom claims is a small portion of all the
property confiscated. The Buganda Kingdom demands the return of
10,660 square miles of forest, wetlands, county and sub-county
headquarters in central Uganda. The Baganda claim that safeguarding
their land will preserve the foundation of their cultural identity.

KAMPALA 00001331 002 OF 003

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7. (SBU) Tensions between President Museveni and Robert Mutebi, the
Buganda Kingdom's leader who is referred to as the Kabaka, spilled
into the public domain in December 2007 in a heated exchange of
publicized letters over the proposed land amendments. On December
18, President Museveni wrote to Mutebi warning him to restrain
members of the Central Civic Education Committee (CCEC), the body
spearheading the Buganda Kingdom's campaign against the land
amendments. Museveni accused the group of using the media to spread
lies about the amendments. He complained that the Buganda Kingdom
was using the land debate to aid the opposition and undermine the
Government's relationship with Baganda peasants. Museveni reminded
Mutebi of his constitutional duty to remain non-political.
Museveni's letter, published in the Government-owned New Vision, was
widely perceived as rude and disrespectful. The President also
misjudged the level of distrust of Government intentions among the
general population. Round One thus went to the Kabaka, Robert

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8. (U) Mutebi denied Museveni's accusations that the Buganda
Kingdom was involved in partisan politics because it raised concerns
about the land amendments. Mutebi's response to Museveni, dated
December 29, 2007, explained the activities of the CCEC, which was
mandated to conduct public consultations on the Land Bill
amendments. Mutebi asked the Government to return unconditionally
Kingdom properties that had been seized by previous regimes. This
includes 10,660 square miles of forest, wetlands, county, and
sub-county headquarters in central Uganda. Mutebi stated that the
properties must be vested in the Kingdom to hold in trust for the
people of Buganda in accordance with the 1995 Constitution.

9. (SBU) Mutebi argued that the issue of unlawful and violent
evictions should be tackled through unbiased enforcement of the
existing laws (such as the 1998 Land Act) to ensure security of
tenure, property rights and corruption laws. He proposed that the
government should put in place a transparent national dialogue
mechanism within which communities that aspire to "federo"
(federalism) may negotiate and agree on establishing a federal
system of governance. Mutebi urged Museveni to suspend other
government attempts to weaken the Buganda Kingdom, including a local
government bill that put the administration of Kampala and a
newly-created Mengo Municipality under central government control.
(Note: Mengo refers to the seat of the Buganda Kingdom. End Note.)
The Kabaka was viewed as rising above Museveni's disrespectful
rebuke and upping the ante by raising historic grievances. Round
Two goes to the Kabaka, Robert Mutebi.

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10. (SBU) In July, Museveni ordered the arrest of three Buganda
Kingdom officials (Minister of Information Charles Peter Mayiga,
Minister of State for Information Medard Lubega, and Central
Broadcasting Service (CBS) radio commentator Betty Nambooze) on
dubious charges (reftel). The move was supposed to quiet the
Kingdom's anti-land bill campaign. Instead, the Government's
heavy-handed attempt to negotiate conditions for the officials
release with the Kingdom's Prime Minister John Walusimbi backfired
on Museveni. First, Walusimbi could not persuade Mengo hardliners
or the Kabaka to accept the Government's position that the officials
were engaged in terrorist activities, nor could he convince Mutebi
to call Museveni. Second, most Ugandans faulted the Government for
its failure to charge the officials within 48 hours, its release and
re-charging of the officials outside Kampala, and the poor treatment
the officials received in custody. Negative public perception,
growing tensions within Kampala, international attention, and
emerging divisions with the ruling party forced the Government to
bring the officials to court and release them on bail
unconditionally. Round Three goes to the Kabaka, Robert Mutebi.

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11. (SBU) Photographs of Walusimbi shaking hands with Museveni
after a meeting at State House on July 31 hide a behind-the-scenes
power play, including the GOU's insistence that CBS radio be muted
or shut down. Walusimbi and Museveni reportedly agreed to create a
commission to explore the Buganda Kingdom's immediate and historic
concerns before the Kabaka would agree to meet with Museveni. In

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return, Walusimbi summoned CBS radio's management and radio
presenters and requested that they stop all attacks on the
Government and President Museveni. On August 13, CBS management
informed Betty Nambooze that her shows would be suspended
indefinitely and she was paid to take a hiatus. She was warned not
to participate on programs on independent radio stations. The
Kabaka reportedly is exploring the implications of a meeting with
Museveni. Round Four goes to President Museveni.

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12. (SBU) We do not expect the tensions between Museveni and the
Buganda Kingdom to subside without significant attention to the
ethnic Baganda's historic grievances. The continuing struggle,
however, has serious political implications:

--Growing Ethnic and Regional Tensions: The war of words over land
could quickly degenerate into more serious conflicts, including
street violence, in the short term. Political discourse in Uganda
is increasingly taking on ethnic and regional overtones in reaction
to Government actions and missteps. Over the longer term, it is
deepening rifts between Museveni's southwestern base, which
dominates the Government despite being a minority in number, and the
Central Region, whose acquiescence, historically, has been required
for ruling governments to retain power.

--Ruling Party Divisions: Frustrated, Museveni ordered the National
Resistance Movement (NRM) caucus to pass the Land Bill amendments on
August 1. He allowed no debate of the issue, which further angered
Baganda members and encouraged a group of young turks to also take
up the cause. If the President cannot persuade or coerce his party
into voting the amendments into law, he may resort to a costly
public referendum. Growing parliamentary opposition to Museveni's
tactics could compromise his attempts to amend the Constitution in
the run-up to the 2011 elections.

--Public Fears of Government Land-Grab: Museveni's stand-off with
the Buganda Kingdom exacerbates public suspicions about the
government's rush to table the Land Bill amendments without carrying
out wide consultations and broad discussions. There is a segment of
the public opposed to the Land Bill amendments that support a
referendum. They believe that the ruling party parliamentarians
will cave in to Museveni for short-term political gain rather
protect the long-term public interest in land reform that is
unbiased, protects the poor, and promotes development.

--Continued Media Crackdown: CBS radio has borne the brunt of
Museveni's frustration with his Government's inability to convince
the public to support the land amendments. Other media houses tell
us that they are exercising self-censorship in reporting on the land
issue, but will report on related events, such as government actions
against land reform opponents. End Comment.

© Scoop Media

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