An anthropologist's take on Uganda and the Great Lakes region...

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014

On Monday 24th February, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni signed into law the long-debated Anti-Homosexuality Act. The act introduces new offences and extended sentences for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people (see the All Out poster, below). The passing of the law drew immediate criticism from the international community, with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHR) Navi Pillay describing it as ‘deeply concerning’, US Secretary of State John Kerry comparing it to anti-Semitic legislation passed by the Nazis in the 1930s, and rights groups such as New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) observing that it is a violation of fundamental human rights.

Following the signing, a number of Uganda’s largest donors placed their aid programmes under immediate review. White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the US – which is one of Uganda’s largest donors, with a programme worth more than US$400 million per year – was reviewing its assistance to the country. Denmark immediately withheld US$9 million from its aid programme, and Norway cancelled US$8 million of its support for Uganda. The World Bank also withheld a US$90 million loan package. The passing of the law also produced other economic effects as well, including a drop in value of the Ugandan Shilling - which fell 2.9% against the US dollar - and a call from some business leaders, led by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, for investors to boycott the country. 

Although in the period following the act’s signing, Museveni has attempted to present the new law as a great show of strength, and as an example of his government's independent-mindedness from ‘western’ influences – for example, during an extended interview that he gave to CNN on 24th itself (available here) – in reality the new bill, and the manner in which it was passed, highlight growing weaknesses within his presidency, as well as the increasing disconnect between his executive and the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM)’s parliamentary caucus.

These weaknesses have in fact been evident ever since the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was first introduced, in 2009. Although the original draft was tabled as a private members bill – by David Bahati, MP for Ndorwa West – it quickly became a cause celebre of a group of younger NRM MPs who, distrustful both of the president and of his executive, have made it their political project to check Museveni’s powers. From the outset, this group of ‘young turks’ recognized that if this new law could be passed, then it would draw a strong reaction from donors, and lead to significant aid suspensions, and that this would be in turn be a huge blow for Museveni. This is because, despite all of the recent talk of imminent new petrodollars, the president remains largely dependent on foreign aid to fund the enormous networks of political sponsorship that he has used, since seizing power in 1986, to extend his influence throughout the country (especially in the rural areas). As of 2012, foreign aid still accounts for 20% of Uganda's entire budget, with a value of around US$1.6 billion. 

Thus, although Museveni’s personal views are themselves certainly homophobic – a US embassy cable released by Wikileaks in 2009 described his opinions regarding homosexuality as ‘quite intemperate’, and as influenced by those of his wife Janet (who is a born-again Christian), while in the CNN interview referred to above, he called homosexuals ‘disgusting’ – he nevertheless recognized the potential threat that the bill posed to him, and he therefore moved quickly to quash it. In late 2009, the president issued an executive order against the bill, and he set up a special parliamentary committee that found the draft legislation to be legally unsound. When this didn’t work, and the bill was reintroduced again, in February 2012 (albeit with its former provision for the death penalty – for acts of ‘aggravated homosexuality’ – removed), he then directed the executive both to filibuster its passage through parliament, and to publically condemn it as (again) legally 'redundant'.

However, in the period since early 2012, the group of NRM ‘young turks’ – whose parliamentary numbers significantly increased in the February 2011 general elections – have become greatly emboldened, and have challenged the president on an increasingly wide range of issues and legislation. Ironically, they have received at least some encouragement in these efforts from international rights-based organizations, who have separately come to regard the group as a key constituency for avoiding the emergence of a ‘resource curse’ once Uganda’s new oil comes on-stream in a few years times (in addition to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, oil has been another of the rebel MPs ‘causes celebres’). In addition, though, the group has also received funding and support from a number of (especially US-based) evangelical Christian networks. Most importantly of all, though, during 2012, the young turks have also found a new, and very powerful, de facto leader in the person of Parliamentary Speaker Rebecca Kadaga. Although still the Vice Chairperson of the NRM, in recent months Kadaga has emerged as Museveni’s most significant political rival, and has challenged him directly on a number of issues (for example, on his ongoing attempts to have four members of rebel MPs group – Theodore Ssekikubo, Wilfred Niwagaba, Mohammed Nsereko, and Barnabas Tinkasimire – thrown out of parliament).

It was through the direct intervention of Rebecca Kadaga that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill finally got through parliament. On 20th December last year, Kadaga allowed the bill to be tabled for a third time – even though it was not on the order papers for that week – and having packed the house with their supporters, the rebels finally managed to pass the bill. Yet even after that, the executive continued to fight the bill, for example on 28th December when Museveni wrote a 28-page letter to Kadaga, and to all MPs, claiming that the vote was illegal, because the house lacked a quorum when it was taken (by 20th December, most MPs had already left for their Christmas vacations). Later, the president went on to say that he would delay signing the bill into law until he had consulted with the scientific community over whether homosexuality was an outcome of genetic predispositions, or socialization. However, on 24th February, following growing pressure from the popular press – which was also responsible for generating the major 'moral panic' over homosexuality that followed the first tabling of the bill, in 2009 – Museveni finally gave up, and signed the bill into law.

Looking ahead, the passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill will almost certainly have at least three major effects. Firstly, it will result in further significant aid cancellations, of the sort that have already begun. Even though some of these monies will doubtless eventually be restored, following the passing of this new law, all donors will be under huge pressure (from their own domestic constituencies) to follow the UK's lead in shifting their support away from 'direct aid' - i.e. money which is given directly to the state itself -  towards more 'indirect' forms of assistance - through which funds are funnelled directly to civil society organisations. The UK have already made this shift following a corruption scandal in November 2012. Such a shift would revert back to 1990s-era approaches, which were later rejected for undermining state legitimacy and capacity.

Any major move towards indirect aid would have huge repercussions for Museveni himself, who is heavily dependent on direct foreign aid to fund his networks of political sponsorship. Ever since he came to power, Museveni has used decentralisation - and the proliferation of local administrative structures that this has generated - to deepen his influence throughout the country, especially in the rural areas. Without direct aid, the president will instead become more reliant on the military to extend his power. These current developments are unlikely to have any effect at all on Uganda's receipt of large levels of 'strategic aid' (i.e. military aid), especially from the US - given what America perceives to be its key regional strategic importance, and the fact that it still provides the majority of the troops for the African Union mission in Somalia (AMISOM) - and Uganda is also now playing a peacekeeping role in South Sudan. In other words, the reaction to this law will likely accelerate current politic trends, which have already seen Museveni making moves to extend the army's role in domestic affairs. For example, during his recent 'anti-poverty campaign' - which unofficially inaugurated his reelection campaign - the president announced plans to set up a military barracks in ever county throughout the country, to oversee 'new initiatives'. The commander of each of these barracks will allegedly report directly to Museveni's brother, Gen. Salim Saleh.
Secondly, the passing of this new law will greatly embolden the group of rebel NRM MPs, and especially their leader, Mary Kadaga. Indeed, although Museveni will continue to try to check her powers over the coming period, it is now almost inconceivable to think that she will not end up running against him – in some capacity – in the next presidential election (in 2016). Thirdly, and perhaps ironically, the passing of this law may in fact increase Museveni’s general standing within the wider pan-African community. In recent years, homophobic sentiment has been harnessed, and encouraged, by an increasing number of African governments, who have used it as a vehicle for promoting African ‘sovereignty’ in the face of (what is perceived to be) increasing outside influence on the continent. In a context in which Museveni has already indicated his plans to run for a senior regional role if and when he does step down as Uganda’s president, his signing this bill into law may therefore improve his chances. 

However, what remains unclear at this stage is what effect the next law will have on the people it most effects: i.e. Uganda’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community? In the days since the law has been passed, the community has come in for greatly increased vitriol in the press, with the tabloid Red Pepper, for example, publishing the names of Uganda’s ‘Top 200 Gays’ - in a move which has frightening echoes of Rolling Stone’s 2010 publication of the photographs of 100 gay people, alongside a banner headline reading ‘Hang Them!’ That publication was shortly followed by the brutal murder of gay-rights activist David Kato. 

However, whether this current wave of homophobia is sustained into the longer term will depend very much on how the new law is implemented. Although the death penalty has been removed, the new law amongst other things still increases penalties for some forms of same-sex conduct between adults; outlaws lesbianism for the first time, and; introduces new offenses of ‘promoting homosexuality’ (which could include offering legal advice to gay people, and/or offering health services). Yet how many of these new and increased offenses will be actually enforced by the courts remains to be seen. In the only positive development this week, the Minister of Health, Ruhakana Rugunda, has already said that all health services will continue to be provided in an equitable manner, regardless of patients’ sexual orientation.

There is a proverb in Runyankore/Rukiga, 'enjoojo kwirwana obunyansi nubwo bubonabona' - 'when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers'. As Museveni and Kadaga lock horns ahead of 2016, Uganda's LGBT community bears the brunt.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Oil and Aid

Recent weeks have seen a number of significant developments in Uganda’s nascent oil sector, which in combination, may speed up the start of production. The first occurred on 21st March, when President Museveni finally signed into law the Petroleum (Exploration, Development, Production and Value Addition) Bill. The bill – which is designed to be the first of three new pieces of legislation relating to country’s recent oil finds in the Lake Albertine Graeburn – had taken more than two and a half years to get through parliament, following a sustained challenge led by a group of rebel MPs within the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM). Then, on 3rd April, a three-member arbitration panel in London found in favour of the Ugandan government in its long-running legal dispute with Canada’s Heritage Oil (over US$434 million which Kampala claims it is owed in capital gains tax on Heritage’s 2009 sale of its oil rights in Uganda to Ireland’s Tullow Oil). Although the decision does not end the dispute – despite the Ugandan government’s claim to the contrary – it nevertheless significantly strengthens the legal basis for Kampala’s future dealings with international mining companies operating in the country. Finally, on 15th April, the government announced that it had finally reached a decision on the building of a new oil refinery at Kabaale-Biseruka (which is close to the newly discovered fields) – in which the government hopes to retain a 40% stake. On the one hand, the planned refinery is much smaller than the one the government had hoped for: the new plant will have an initial capacity of only 30,000 barrels per day (b/d), which is significantly lower than the 200,000 b/d originally envisaged. Yet on the other, this means that the refinery will be much cheaper to build, and will therefore come on-stream much more quickly.

These potential breakthroughs with the oil sector come at an important time for the Ugandan government, which is still struggling with the fall-out from November’s aid suspensions by many of the country’s main donors. The donors’ coordinated action – which followed allegations that the Office of Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi had embezzled US$13 million of aid meant for the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan for Northern Uganda (PRDP) – involved the freezing of the entire Joint Budget Support Framework (JBSF) for 2013, and has left the government with a shortfall of US$300 million (7.1%) in its annual budget. In response, in early March the Finance Ministry was forced to publish a revised budget which envisaged deep cuts to ministries’ spending, and to social service provision, as well as a reduction in infrastructural investment. Anecdotal evidence suggests that large numbers of civil servants have already gone several months without pay. In addition, the government have also now revised downwards their growth forecasts for 2013, from 5%, to 4.2%. All of this, then, combined with country’s still very high inflation rate, has left the government facing a severe economic crisis.

On the one hand, the donors’ recent actions have once again highlighted the ineffectiveness of aid suspensions as a policy device. As with the similar suspensions that were recently imposed on Rwanda, the donors – even as they were coordinating their actions – don’t seem to have given much thought as to what they were trying to achieve in the process. Certainly, no explicit demands appear to have been made of the Ugandan government, other than by Sweden (which in late November, demanded that Kampala repay in full the US$6.7 million that Stockholm had contributed to the PRDP). As a result, other than impacting the rank and file of civil servants (who have not been paid in 2013) and presumably also those members of the Ugandan public who rely on social services, it is not clear what effects the aid suspensions are likely to achieve. In an attempt to assuage the donors – and to overturn the suspensions – in November, the Ugandan government ordered the office of the Audit-General to begin a ‘forensic audit’ exercise on the accounts of all government departments, to try to identify fraudulent activity. The following month, they also introduced a ‘High Level Government Finance Reform Action Matrix’, as a general measure aimed at improving economic governance in the country. In addition, the Bank of Uganda (BOU) has also now pledged to reform the system through which bank accounts are set up in the country (in an attempt to reduce the number of ‘ghosts accounts’ through which embezzled funds are frequently channelled.

However, none of this is likely to have much impact on the activities of the upper-echelons of the NRM - or those with connections to senior figures. Moreover, pressure on the president to target senior colleagues such as Mbabazi has been further weakened, over the past month or so, by growing divisions within the donor community over when the suspensions should end. Following an early-March meeting of all members of the JBSF in Kampala, it emerged that only Britain (which appears to have been the driving force behind the frieze in the first place), as well as Sweden and Denmark, remain committed to the ongoing aid suspensions. Meanwhile, Germany, Ireland, the EU and others have all now indicated that they favour a resumption of aid to Kampala, probably by the year’s end. Yet unless the donors can present a ‘united front’ to Uganda over the action, it is doubtful that the suspensions – however long they are in effect for – will exert any real political pressure in the country.

On the other hand, though, the recent aid suspensions have had a marked effect in accelerating the government’s current drift towards ‘economic nationalism’. Museveni’s desire to move in this direction has been evident at least since the publication of the recent National Development Plan (NDP), in April 2010. Whilst not advocating full-blown protectionism, the NDP certainly envisages the government exerting much greater control over its own economy. The current aid suspensions have then further accelerated the government’s moves down this line, as evidenced both by their recent moves aimed at getting oil production on-stream as quickly as possible, and by their related shift towards China as a source for development finance. In addition to being heavily involved in Uganda’s oil plans – through the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) – in mid-April Beijing agreed a new US$9.8 million loan to Kampala. Crucially, the new loan, which is part of the US$20 billion that China pledged to Africa in July, appears to have no conditionalities whatsoever attached to it, and the money can therefore be spent entirely at the Ugandan government’s discretion. It also follows another loan, of US$350 million, that China Exim Bank gave to Uganda last year, which the government is planning to spend on a new Entebbe-Kampala road. In these ways, then, Kampala appears to have much greater control over the new Chinese aid than it ever has with monies provided by the ‘traditional donors’.

However, despite the recent progress that has been made with oil, President Museveni now faces a number of serious obstacle in his plans to further develop the nascent sector, and to use this to further his grip on the domestic economy. In particular, a group of young rebel MPs within the ruling party have vowed to block the presidents moves at every turn. The group has become particularly emboldened since the election of the current (ninth) parliament, in February 2011, during which they have also made oil issues their particular cause celebre. It is this group that was primarily responsible for delaying the first Petroleum bill for so long, and they are now gearing up for a serious fight over thelast piece of planned oil-related legislation: the Public Finance Bill 2012 (which includes an extended section on ‘Petroleum Revenue Management’). Although Museveni has expressed a desire to have this new law passed within the next few months, the ‘young turks’ – supported by the large sections of the media – have vowed to side with the parliamentary opposition in order to defeat it.

In response to the growing threat posed by these rebel MPs, in January, Museveni briefly vowed to suspend parliament, and to impose martial law on the county – a threat that was later repeated by the head of the army, General Aronda Nyakairima. However, if the aim of the threat was to silence the young turks, then it backfired spectacularly, because it galvanized support for the group not only in parliament, but among the wider population as well. In addition, Museveni’s threat of a ‘palace coup’ also drew a strong reaction from the international community. Nevertheless, over recent months the executive has continuously targeted individual rebels. In December, one of the group’s most outspoken members, Cerinah Nebanda (former MP for Butaleja District), was found dead at a clinic in Kampala, in apparently mysterious circumstances. The government initially claimed that she had been the victim of a drug overdose. However, following apparent discrepancies with the autopsy results, Museveni himself was forced to give two press conferences denying official involvement. 

Then, in January, another leading rebel figure, Theodore Ssekikubo (MP for Lwemiyaga) was arrested on charges of ‘inciting violence’, for a speech he made at Nebanda’s funeral. Although he was later released without charge, in early April, Ssekikubo, along with three other members sitting MPs (Wilfred Niwagaba, Muhammed Nsereko and Barnabas Tinkasiimire), were officially expelled from the NRM. The expulsions have set up a potential constitutional crisis, in that being expelled from the party does not necessarily require the four MPs to stand down from parliament – even though this is the president’s obvious wish. Interestingly, the person who will now have to deliberate on the matter in non other than Speaker of the House Rebecca Kadaga who, although the Vice Chairperson of the NRM, is  also the de facto leader of the rebel group, and is one of Museveni’s most outspoken critics. As if all of this doesn’t make the president’s task of silencing parliamentary criticism over oil difficult enough, Museveni is also faced with a resurgent opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), who have been galvanized by the recent election of their new leader, Mugisha Muntu.

With real momentum now developing around the nascent oil sector, it is possible that production might now begin sooner rather than later (although exact predictions as to when exactly when this will be remain notoriously difficult to make). But whether this does signal a genuine shift towards economic nationalism in Uganda will depend very much on how the JBSF donors position themselves in the months ahead. Yet with China becoming increasingly influential in the country, and with Beijing increasingly being viewed by the government as their favoured ‘development partner’, a genuine shift in lines of influence is now possible. In the end, it may be an alliance of rebel government MPs and opposition members who are best placed to check the excesses of the Museveni executive for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Rise of the Kingdoms

Since the start of this year, officials from the Kingdom of Bunyoro have been repeating calls for the creation of a ‘regional tier of government’ for their part of Uganda, and also claiming that this should receive up to 12.5% of all revenues from the region’s new oil fields (in the Albertine Graben) – once production starts. The demand is unlikely to be met by President Yoweri Museveni, but it nevertheless demonstrates just how emboldened the kingdom has become in its dealings with central government since major oil discoveries were first made in the area (in 2006). Following the discoveries, the government initially proposed an 80%-20% split in future oil revenues between the state and the districts from which the oil had come. Crucially, though, it was argued that as a ‘cultural institution’, the kingdom itself lay outside the formal structures of district administration, and was therefore initially entitled to nothing. 

However, from that time onwards the kingdom and its allies have mounted a concerted lobbying campaign both in parliament – especially through regional MPs associated with the Bunyoro Parliamentary Caucus and the Greater North Parliamentary Forum – and in the media, and this has latterly forced the government’s hand. From mid-2009 onwards, Museveni has had to consult the kingdom on practically all regional matters, and he was eventually forced to concede on oil revenues as well. Thus, when the first new piece of oil legislation, the Petroleum (Exploration, Development and Production) Bill was finally passed – in December – it included provision for some of the monies to be paid to the kingdom as well.

However, kingdom supporters are now using this newfound political leverage to try to force
The Kingdom of Bunyoro
concessions on various other issues as well, including on some which are not directly related to oil. For example, in April last year, Bunyoro officials lobbied the Ministry of Justice over the establishment of a regional justice centre in Hoima Town. In July, the King of Bunyoro himself, Solomon Gafabusa Iguru, met with the president at his official residence in Kirukura District, during which he pressed Museveni over state investments in regional education, health care, and road building projects. Then in October, kingdom supporters also played a leading part in getting the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA), to release its long proposed plan for an upgrading of the main Kigumba-Masindi-Hoima-Kabwoya Road (one of the main thoroughfares through the region). Yet perhaps the biggest display of the kingdom’s new found confidence occurred in July, when Bunyoro officials sponsored a major fundraising event at the Ndere Centre in Kampala, which was attended by a broad swathe of the capital’s ethnic Banyoro elite. The event was both a celebration of cultural pride, but also an attempt to mobilize support for the kingdom’s ongoing efforts over oil revenues, and regional development in general.

The discovery of such large oil reserves within the kingdom’s historical territory has of course given particular impetus to Bunyoro’s recent political resurgence (current estimates put the reserves at least 3.5 billion barrels). However, jockeying over future petrodollars is only one of the factors that has led to the revival of the kingdom as a political force. Equally, if not more, important has been the effects of the Museveni government’s long-standing policy of ‘decentralization’ – which have fuelled the rise not only of Bunyoro, but of a number of other ‘traditional’ kingdoms (and other traditional authorities) in other parts of Uganda as well.

Decentralization has been the cornerstone of the Museveni government’s internal political policy since it came to power in 1986. Institutionalized through a range of legislation passed between 1987 and 1997, the system claims to increase popular participation, and improve accountability and service delivery. However, in recent years, a growing consensus has emerged that from the 2000s onwards, Museveni has also used decentralization – and the proliferation of local administrative structures that it allows for – as a kind of ‘divide and rule’ strategy, aimed at fragmenting political opposition throughout the country. For example, it is notable that when Museveni came to power, in 1986, Uganda had 22 districts, whereas today, it has 111 and one city (Kampala).

However, effective as this strategy has undoubtedly been in thwarting major opposition parties such as the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), it has also latterly spawned a generation of MPs who are more committed to local issues that to the political centre (for example, all of the younger rebel MPs who have challenged Museveni in recent times began their political careers in the local administration system). More generally, the proliferation of districts has generated more complex sub-national political landscapes. It is in this context, then, that ‘traditional’ authorities have latterly started to thrive. And this revival of kingdoms (and other traditional authorities besides) has been particularly marked in those places where the institutions involved have been able to mobilize local grievances over resource allocation – as Bunyoro has done in relation to oil.

Buganda is another traditional kingdom that has recently revived its political relevance by mobilizing grievances over resources. In one sense, the ‘Buganda question’ – the question of exactly how (by what institutional arrangements) the Kingdom of Buganda is incorporated into the Ugandan nation state, has been a vexed one from colonial times onwards. However, the issue has become politically charged again in recent years, as a result of decentralization. In Buganda’s case, the fragmentation of the kingdom’s historic territory into an ever greater number of separate districts initially weakened the ethnic Baganda elite’s sense of common purpose. In response, both kingdom officials, members of the Buganda parliament (the Lukiiko), and Baganda members of the national parliaments, lobbied intensively for increased powers for the kingdom, as the rightful ‘supra-district’ political entity in the central region. Museveni refused to grant these powers, but he did eventually concede to the creation of a separate ‘Buganda Council’ – to coordinate healthcare, education and infrastructure projects across districts – and he later talked about the creation of a ‘regional tier of government’ for Buganda as well (although to date, this has never been instituted).

However, since the mid-2000s, the kingdom has made its greatest gains over questions of land – gains which have ultimately resulted in Buganda becoming, once again, a key player in the national political landscape. The main catalyst here was Museveni’s new Land Act (which was passed in 1998, although was not implemented until several years later), which devolved all land claims down to newly created District Land Boards (DLBs, one of which was established for each new district in the country). One of the key effects was to divide a number of existing, and in some cases very long-standing, land disputes across multiple DLBs – effectively making it less likely that these claims would ever be settled. The kingdom itself had a particular stake in the problem, given that it is at the centre of the largest land dispute in Uganda (relating to 9000 square miles of land that were taken away from Buganda in 1969, yet which are still claimed by the Kingdom). However, its attempts to challenge the government on the Land Act resonated with a wide range of ethnic Baganda land owners, many of whom found that their claims were similarly divided across different districts (and this situation was relatively common, even for relatively small land owners). More generally, the kingdom’s attempts to present itself as the ‘defender of land’ also resonated with the wider Baganda public – even with those who owned very little, or even no, property at all – in the context of rapid population expansion in Kampala. Following attempts by the kingdom to further provoke the issue through its main radio station, CBS, the issue eventually resulted several days of rioting in and around the capital (in September 2009).

Recent years have also witnessed an attempt by elites associated with the former Kingdom of Ankole to
John Patrick Barigye, self-proclaimed Ntare VI of Ankole before his death in October 2011
re-establish their political relevance by mobilizing over resource issues. Ankole is in many ways the most controversial of Uganda’s former kingdoms, given that it was historically divided into two castes – an elite pastoralist caste (the Bahima), and a ‘commoner’ agricultural caste (the ‘Bairu’) – and was thus, in a sense, always divisive. Indeed, for this reason, it was the only one of the traditional kingdoms to not be reinstated by the Museveni government in 1986, and even today, it is still not officially recognized. Nevertheless, this has not stopped those associated with the current claimant to the Ankole throne, Charles Rwebishengye (son of the late John Patrick Barigye), from attempting to reinsert themselves in the region’s political affairs. In recent years, this group has mobilized under the umbrella of the Ankole Cultural Trust (ACT), which has again gained in popularity by assisting its members with land disputes and, more importantly, by providing a range of education scholarships to supporters’ children – especially in some of the poorer new districts in the Southwest. The success of these initiatives was demonstrated in August, when the ACT staged a huge fundraising event in the region capital, Mbarara, which was attended by all of the 200 most prominent clans in the region.

Recent developments have therefore highlighted the various ways in which Uganda’s ‘traditional kingdoms’ have now become a key part of the country’s increasingly complex national political landscape. Whilst kingdom elites remain unlikely to directly challenge President Museveni’s power in the short term, they may become more important players in the future, especially in the event of any radical shift in Uganda’s governing structures (a prospect that has become more plausible, in recent months, following talk of 'palace coups', and the like). Indeed, it was in order to check this potential rise in their influence that in 2010 the president tabled the Traditional Leaders’ Bill - which aimed to limit the powers of Uganda’s various monarchs (something that Museveni is technically already entitled to do, under article 246 of the constitution). However, as a further sign of the kingdoms’ political force, they were able to mobilize their supporters in parliament to have the more controversial clauses of that bill dropped.