The East African (Nairobi)
7 September 2008
Posted to the web 8 September 2008
A couple of months ago we explained in this space the way business fads invade Uganda and then fade away, leaving only the fittest operators still standing.
From fast food restaurants to housing estates, Internet cafes to child help NGOs, they all came and shook up town. Now a new one that involves changing one's blood from common to royal has started.
Officially, they are called traditional leaders. We shall not name any names because at the moment there is no universally accepted yardstick to identify the genuine ones from the bogus, and each obviously claims to be genuine.
But there are people, including Members of Parliament, who strongly feel that the proliferation of kingdoms in Uganda is not healthy at all.
While the majority of Ugandan adults did not grow up under kingdoms, they knew that before colonialism, their societies were governed by kings and chiefs, some more powerful and better known than others. The colonialists actually left some of these in place and let them administer their areas.
Notable examples are the kingdoms of Ankole, Bonyoro, Tooro and Buganda. They were abolished by a republican coup in 1966 and restored in 1993.
The three kingdoms of Bunyoro, Buganda and Tooro were restored amid great fanfare with coronation ceremonies that saw the new kings ascend to their thrones.
The quiet coronation of the Ankole king was nullified because, among other things, it was not evident that most of the Ankole people wanted it. So, Prince John Barigye is yet to be declared king while his three colleagues, including the infant King Oyo of Tooro, are clocking one-and-a-half decades on the throne.
Well, as the genuine King Barigye waits for his coronation, he must be watching in amusement as some ordinary folks line up to get themselves recognised by the government as traditional leaders of their communities.
And with the look of things, many more kings are going to be made before the year 2011, when the next general elections will be held.
There are people who argue that the small kingdoms that are coming up are a plot by the government to undermine the large kingdoms.
Initially a strong ally of the state, Buganda's relations with the state have hit rock bottom in recent months over the proposed land law which the kingdom sees as a ploy to grab its territory.
So if some parts started falling off Buganda, the kingdom would become a less formidable opponent.
Then, the Bunyoro kingdom contains all the oil whose commercial drilling starts late next year, and the royals are laying a huge claim to the commodity in royalties.
As for Buganda, it was not always as big as it is today. The kingdom grew, like all others, through bloodshed and conquest. A couple of counties fought their neighbours, conquered, annexed and assimilated them, to create the kingdom that today covers a quarter of the Republic of Uganda.
The territories that were added last are the ones that are most vulnerable to persuasion that they can form their own chiefdoms that can be accorded the status of traditional leaders.
But it is not only in Buganda that not-so-big people are gunning for the revered status of monarchs. All over the country, plans are being made by aspiring leaders to become crowned. And for the state machinery, the more the merrier.
This new era of kingdoms made by disintegrating existing ones and carving some out of districts, could actually present employment opportunities for the quick thinking.
If you are out there suffering irregular employment and dodging immigration authorities in Europe or North America, you could actually avoid this year's winter and it finds you established as a monarch with several thousand subjects prostrating before you.
You start by visiting the nearby theatre's costume maker and they design some impressive royal robes for you.
Then you carefully rebuild your past, showing how you are a descendant of a great chief who died while resisting the establishment of British rule in the 19th century.
A cousin of yours starts arranging the triumphant return of the exiled king and before you know, some government ministry will have become part of the preparations.
That is when you will set conditions -- that you cannot return until the government has built a palace for you, complete with a motorcade and of course, monthly "facilitation." They will comply. Do not leave out the local religious leaders -- they add authenticity to the whole thing.
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