By Denis Jjuuko

Last Sunday, there was a heavy downpour in Kampala that started around 4.30am. It was probably a blessing for those planning to participate in the annual Kabaka Birthday Run if you believe in some African traditions. Although by 6.30am, the sky was clear, the blessing easily turned into a nightmare once one arrived at the Lubiri grounds.

From the parking area up to the vast grounds of the Mengo Palace, it was muddy that I considered ditching my sneakers for gumboots. But like thousands of other runners, I soldiered on. The extremely muddy ground was not going to stop us from raising funds for sickle cell anemia awareness and treatment. The run, which has been re-energised since 2014 attracted one of the biggest crowds ever seen in Kampala. The royal mile from Twekobe to Bulange and beyond was a sea of people in red sweating it out.

Kabaka Mutebi was born in April, which is the middle of one of Uganda wet seasons (March to May) so it wasn’t really the first time runners were experiencing this kind of weather. I have participated in the run every year since 2014 but this was the first time I wanted to curse the muddy grounds. However, I didn’t do that because I know that every single effort to redevelop the palace has been met with unreasonable excuses. And on reflection, I became happy that people experienced this kind of inconvenience especially those who oppose the redevelopment of the Lubiri. The reasons they usually give are archaic. They usually refer to norms, which don’t exist. Even if they existed, any culture that doesn’t evolve with the times becomes extinct. Ask the Bachwezi.

The truth is, Buganda Kingdom should not continue to have 560 acres of prime land in the middle of Kampala in the state the palace is today. Apart from the Twekobe area, which is well maintained, about 80% or more of the palace is a bush and muddy. If it doesn’t rain, it is the dust of unimaginable proportions. Buganda is the largest Kingdom in the region with a population of more than 10 million people. The state of the palace, the office and main residence of the Kabaka, is a shame — for lack of a better word.

The palace was originally built by Ssekabaka Mwanga II in 1885. Mutebi’s father, Ssekabaka Muteesa II built a perimeter wall around it that stands up to today. As we mark 25 years of Kabaka Mutebi this July, there is need to do something to restore this palace.

To be fair, Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga has tried to redevelop it. However, every time a draft proposal is presented, some influential Baganda call him names masking their lack of vision with reference to obscure norms. There is no Kiganda norm that dictates that a palace can’t be redeveloped otherwise it wouldn’t have a Twekobe as it is today or even a perimeter fence.

The Kingdom can start with finalizing the Lubiri Redevelopment Masterplan. A committee headed by Francis Kamulegeya has been tasked to do this and it should now present final proposals. That plan should include as a priority the development of grounds where the Kabaka Birthday Run and Nkuuka events among others are held. If the Baganda are unhappy with palace redevelopment, a perimeter wall dividing the 560 acres should be built leaving the Twekobe area with about 60 acres, which is more than 10% of the total area. About 100 acres could be dedicated to these grounds for ceremonies. A pavilion could be built, gardens planted and other parts tarmacked or paved. This would actually increase the income of the Kingdom. It would also unburden the Kingdom from not generating income out of it by people who claim that certain functions can’t be held inside a palace.

Today, the government of Uganda earns a lot of money from Kololo Ceremonial Grounds from companies like MTN that hold their marathons from there. Those opposed to this move, should actually try and request for permission from Ministry of Defense and see the bill that they will be given. That may help change their minds.

But also if we want the dignity of the Kabaka and indeed restore Buganda’s glory, it won’t be done by simply talking or reverting to norms of 800 years ago. The glory of anybody today including Kingdoms comes from partly their financial strength. The Baganda have a saying that a poor man doesn’t go on dates with damsels. There is a so-called traditional chief who was taken to court for failure to pay bills for meals he was enjoying in a dingy restaurant in Nakasongola. Would people in Nakasongola trust such a ‘chief’? How then can we allow our Kabaka to gladly wave off runners in a place as muddy as the Lubiri was on Sunday?

So the heavy downpour on Sunday that turned the Lubiri grounds into such a mess is a wake up call for all those opposed to the redevelopment of the palace. It is high time Baganda rallied behind Katikkiro Mayiga’s efforts to redevelop the palace and ensure that the Kingdom can earn some money from which it can use to offer services to its people such as health and education.

The author is a media consultant and businessman.

*Photo of a mammoth crowd that turned up at Lubiri