Sunday May 12 marked exactly six years since the appointment of Charles Peter Mayiga as Buganda kingdom katikkiro. Since then, he has been on a rollercoaster ride in the hot seat that entails unending negotiations with government as well as fending off land grabbers.
Denis Jjuuko tracks down his journey for the last six years that has involved dining with the high and mighty and getting his hands dirty. In the early nineties, Charles Peter Mayiga was a budding advocate eager to make it in life. From the onset, however, he was a go-getter and the lure of success prompted him to swap his necktie and suits for the world of a Kikuubo trader — something that didn’t go down well with his ‘learned’ friends.
Unlike today, Kikuubo at the time was dominated by a certain group of people and Mayiga had been considered by his friends to be so sophisticated to trade rice and sugar at the time. But when his friend, Francis Buwule, was tasked by senior lawyer John Katende to identify young smart lawyers for interviews for the post of administrative secretary for the Ssaabataka Supreme Council (SSC), Buwule submitted a list with only one name — Charles Peter Mayiga.
SSC is the precursor to the restored Buganda Lukiiko. At first, Mayiga was reluctant to go for the interview but saw no reason not to attend, perhaps as a way to have Buwule, who would later become his partner at Buwule, Mayiga and company advocates, off his back.
Katende and his colleagues who interviewed him were left with one option — to give him the job. Unknowingly, by accepting to sit the interview, Mayiga had signed on the dotted line for a lifetime contract to serve Buganda.
Although he had thought of becoming a rich trader and perhaps own arcades in downtown Kampala, in Buganda, he saw an opportunity to be part of history. He had grown up with a father who from time to time talked about Buganda’s heritage and how the 1966 crisis that exiled Kabaka Edward Muteesa II had taken something so special away from the Baganda.
Mayiga now had an opportunity to play a significant role in the restoration of the kingdom. Given the way things have turned out, his father must be smiling from heaven!
The role of the administrative secretary was a big one and gave Mayiga a platform to learn, unlearn, and re-learn Buganda issues.
His smartness endeared him to his elders including the future Kabaka, Prince Ronald Mutebi. Within no time, he was being involved in the key decision-making processes for the kingdom. And when the kingdom was restored, Mayiga worked in several key positions until May 12, 2013 when Kabaka Mutebi appointed him katikkiro — the highest office in Buganda besides that of the Kabaka.
Because of the institutional memory that Mayiga possesses as one of the first persons to work in Bulange when the government returned it in 1991, he had somewhat known what works and what doesn’t.
He knew which buttons to touch and which ones should be left as is and most importantly those that needed to be plucked out. So, when he assumed office, he started with issues that would give him a quick start.
The katikkiroship is a cultural, political, administrative, and perhaps religious role and he endeared himself to many by holding thanksgiving services not just in his Catholic church but across all religions. He even went to pastors who anointed him with some ‘holy’ stuff!
Secondly, he returned to Kikuubo not as a trader but to ask his old friends to support his causes. He wanted to restore the Kasubi tombs that had been burnt in March 2010 and without money for the tedious job, the only way was to mobilise.
Traders through their businesses build good networks and he tapped into them by asking them to lead Ettoffaali — a fundraising drive that raised billions used to build a perimeter wall on 64 acres of the Kasubi tombs compound, work on the main mausoleum (Muzibu Azaala Mpanga), and build decent houses for the caretakers.
The cultural norms involved and the difficulty of the tasks at hand have connived to delay the completion.
“In the past six years, we have embarked on a number of projects, key among which is the restoration of Kasubi royal tombs. The mausoleum, Muzibu Azaala Mpanga, in which lies four of our former kings, is not fully restored yet, but the progress is good given the cultural mores that come with the works at this architectural wonder,” he says.
From there, he worked on Masengere — a building beside Bulange, which had been incomplete for over four decades.
Kabaka Mutebi was to receive it as his birthday gift when he turned 60, thereby creating a new tradition in Buganda — Kabaka opening something big either on his birthday or coronation anniversary. If it is not Namasole Sarah Nalule house in Lubiri High School that is the size of Bulange, he is opening Kabaka Mulondo house at Buganda Royal Technical Institute.
Today, some of Buganda’s three significant platforms are headquartered in Masengere. These are Buganda Land Board, CBS Radio, and BBS Terefayina.
In fact the television was another result of Ettoffaali as people demanded it like their lives depended on it. It was also his birthday gift on the Kabaka’s 61st birthday.
Besides the shiny buildings and fancy TV studios, Mayiga with his team have worked hard to change the way work is done in Mengo. Previously, Mengo had been somewhat looked at as a political activist group where whoever had political ambitions first appeared, claiming allegiance to the Kabaka before launching their political careers.
Having perhaps grown up with a father unhappy about the politics of the 1960s, he understood that Mengo’s power lied in not aligning themselves with anyone. Mengo today is neither pro-opposition nor pro-NRM. It is neither anti-NRM nor anti-opposition.
Everyone is welcome
He understood from day one that he hadn’t been appointed to use the katikkiroship for personal gain or actually settle grudges with the government that had abducted him and kept him incommunicado for days just because he served his king.
His vision is a Buganda rightfully at the summit as it was before.
“To me, it looks like a time of re-awakening, with especially the youth in Buganda rising up to participate in the activities that have been initiated to take the kingdom to its rightful place — the summit of social and economic progress, with the Baganda and, indeed other citizens, enjoying their cultural freedoms,” he says.
The result of this has been a brand corporates, ambassadors and all people love to work with. Bulange is now a Mecca or preferred destination for whoever wants to do business in Uganda — the country’s most important region as 70 per cent of Uganda’s economy is in Buganda, with a population that reveres its king and traditions.
That has led to partnerships that enable Kabaka deliver services to his people. The Kabaka’s birthday run is now one of the biggest in the country, addressing neglected diseases such as fistula and sickle cell anaemia.
The Masaza Cup creates a nightmare for the Namboole stadium management as they have to turn people away to avoid deadly stampedes that may result due to overcrowding.
Kingdoms somewhat survive on symbolism and being the custodians of our heritage, the katikkiro and his team have worked hard on that front. The Twekobe, Kabaka’s main residence and office, has been renovated and furnished, enabling the king to use it as he wishes. And for the first time in 52 years, a katikkiro is happily residing in Butikkiro — his official residence.
Culture is being promoted by encouraging clans to turn their ancestral sites into tourism attractions so that young people especially those growing up in cosmopolitan areas like Kampala learn more about their culture. And Kabaka Anjagala road is now full of monuments that explain Buganda’s heritage.
However, one of the things Mayiga and his team are emphasizing is poverty alleviation.
The kingdom and indeed the Kabaka can’t look on when the masses are wallowing in extreme poverty. There has been need to galvanize people to get themselves out of poverty through agriculture and animal husbandry.
With a growing population, food will always be needed and no area is going to urbanize like Buganda in the next few years. Food grown in Buganda provides better returns on investment than that grown hundreds of miles away.
Having grown up in Buddu, Mayiga had seen how coffee had turned ordinary people into well-off households yet young people were selling their land for menial jobs in the city and the Middle East. He launched Emmwanyi Terimba and traverses the vast kingdom telling Kabaka’s subjects that coffee farming is profitable. Young people are starting to heed to his message.
To be able to succeed, Mayiga had to give certain things away. He used to love hanging out with his friends previously at his own now defunct Ekitobeero restaurant and then to a hotel in Kololo where his friends used to gather on weekends to watch soccer and taunt him whenever his beloved Arsenal lost.
He would return the same favour whenever Liverpool or Manchester United lost. He loved to take his wife, Margaret, out to dance to Afrigo, Club Silk or Ange Noir or even chill out at his friend Hope Mukasa’s Sabrina’s pub and even sing Frank Mbalire’s Bamuleete.
Today, he still attends a show or two but not in the way he was before as almost all eyes are on him and the inconvenience that comes with a huge security detail. However, his music taste buds are still as strong as ever.
He loves inspirational songs like Mowzey Radio’s Tukikole Neera, which had become his unofficial Ettoffaali anthem and some other contemporary ones that may have no meaning like his current favourite — Chips and Ketchup by Vinka. He considers himself a great dancer though the jury is still out there on that.
Without much time to socialize because of his status, he spends most of his time in his private study reading or writing. There is probably nothing that excites him than a good book, a habit he picked from his father who always read the Munno newspaper cover to cover.
He has so far authored three books: King on the Throne; the Story of the Restoration of the Kingdom of Buganda; Buganda ku Ntikko; and Uganda: 7-Key Transformation Idea. And, he is working on his forth book titled Ettoffaali.
Talking of habits, he is a perpetual timekeeper and loves to keep his word. When he agrees to something, he sticks to it. And when he makes a decision, he lives with it.
That has endeared him to people because he practices what he preaches. And when it comes to speeches, he is blessed with a silver tongue with a natural ability to create new or popularize words that get used in everyday language. His ability to wow crowds in whatever language he decides to use has endeared him to many.
As Mayiga marks six years in office this week, we can only hope that the reawakening of the kingdom can only continue.