Kings, Adapt or die!
Many African states – from Morocco to South Africa – provide a role for traditional rulers. Just two kings run countries but countless others manage access to land, promote investment and attempt to preserve cultural traditions on the regional level.
Africa’s history is littered with monarchs who fought civilian authorities and lost. Now, chiefs and kings must adapt to changing circumstances that could weaken their power, such as high rates of urbanisation, a rise in interest in large-scale agricultural projects and civilian authorities seeking to extend state power to all corners and sectors of the country.
It was Ghana’s independence leader Kwame Nkrumah who summed up the nationalist view of traditional rulers in 1950: “Those of our chiefs who are with us, we do honour. Those who join forces with the imperialists, there shall come a time when they will run and leave their sandals behind them.”
After gaining presidential power, Nkrumah hardened his position further, often seeing traditional rulers as a focus for regional opposition and reaction.
Africa’s recent wave of republicanism began in Egypt when the Free Officers Movement forced King Farouk to abdicate in 1952, launching a period of military rule, occasionally legitimised by staged elections, that lasted until February 2011. Nationalists ousted all of North Africa’s kings, save Morocco’s, between 1952 and 1969. Habib Bourguiba deposed Bey Muhammad VIII al-Amin, declaring Tunisia a republic on 25 July 1957; and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi overthrew King Idris on 1 September 1969.
Republics go it alone
Elsewhere in Africa in the same period, kings struggled to adjust to new realities where they were sometimes seen as threatening the shaky post-independence regimes. Burundi’s first president, Michel Micombero, deposed King Ntare V Ndizeye and declared a republic in 1966. In neighbouring Rwanda, a referendum led to the deposing of King Kigeli V Ndahindurwa in 25 September 1961.
Africa’s constitutional monarchs have fared better than their regional counterparts since independence, but no condition is permanent. It was not until 2011 that a major protest group, the Mouvement du 20 Février, targeted the Moroccan kingdom, mainly because of the draconian rule of King Hassan II.
Even those who protested against the government of Mohammed VI were careful not to question the monarchy as an institution. They wanted “constitutional reforms”: specifically the removal of Article 16 that defined the king as sacred. Despite initial scepticism about his abilities, Mohammed VI is proving to be skilful and pragmatic: the new constitution, adopted by referendum in July 2011, distinguished more clearly between religion and the monarchy and delegated more of the king’s powers to the government.
By contrast, Swaziland’s King Mswati III has clung on to his absolute powers, maintaining a 40-year state of emergency to shut down democracy protests that are
often backed by the Congress of South African Trade Unions. Mswati has used reforms to try to entrench his powers, such as a constitution in 2005 ruling that any citizen seeking constitutional change is guilty of treason. Through a royal holding company, the Swazi monarchy controls substantial stakes in joint venture projects with international investors.
Although Lesotho also has a constitutional monarch, his role is wholly ceremonial. King Moshoeshoe II, who steered the country into independence in 1966, was twice forced into exile, then stripped of his powers to be replaced by his son, Letsie III in 1996. Now Letsie III promotes trade and is the University of Lesotho’s chancellor.
Regional kings and queens and paramount chiefs make up a network of traditional power and authority that stretches across Africa. Some enjoy popular support as a counterweight to elected politicians and as community and cultural representatives. Some are doing the bidding of those politicians who protect and pay them.
In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni is facing growing opposition to his rule and so is trying to resolve disagreements with the King of Bunyoro and the Kabaka of Buganda.
“You have to understand that this was a very wealthy kingdom. We had land and holdings both in Uganda and abroad including a building in central London that was confiscated from us by the Obote government in 1966. We had invested shares in many companies around the world. We had foreign re- serves,” says the Buganda information minister Dennis Walusimbi.
Now Museveni is offering to return some of the assets to the Buganda, presumably in the hope of regaining the people’s electoral support. But there is scepticism. “Putting pen to paper is one thing. The actual return of the properties is another entirely,” says Walusimbi. “The president agreed to return some of the kingdom’s lost properties as well as rent arrears amounting to USh20bn (about $78m). They have so far paid out USh2bn.”
The position of the Bunyoro Omukama (king) at the epicentre of Uganda’s oil industry is even more problematic. “This palace was a mess before the restoration in 1993. The army had tried to occupy it and failed. There were people growing sweet potatoes on its grounds. The royal family was in disarray,” recalls Yolamu Nsamba, a retired historian who acts as the Omukama’s principal private secretary.
Envelopes of money
Unlike Buganda, which hosts the national capital, the Bunyoro and Omukama Rukirabasaija Agutamba Solomon Gafabusa Iguru I enjoy no such advantages despite of their hopes about oil revenues. “The public maintains the king. People come here with envelopes – the same way bishops are maintained by their congregations,” says Nsamba.
“We are told that the 3.6bn barrels will make Uganda a mid-league player in the global oil industry. But it is the government and private companies that are locked in discussions. Our people are disappointed that the government has not offered to share the oil with the local people,” says Henry Ford Mirima, the Bunyoro kingdom’s spokesman-at-large.
Despite the political changes and development of pluralistic politics since the 1960s, traditional rulers have maintained a high level of popular support, especially in rural areas. They are often seen as closest to the grassroots. For George Ayittey, a Ghanaian economist, many traditional rulers have an established authority: “If the chief and his councillors could not reach a decision on an issue, a village meeting would be called and the issue put before the people. They would debate it until a consensus was reached. Once reached, all, including the chief, were required to abide by it.”
An Afrobarometer survey that interviewed 26,000 people in 19 African countries in 2008 and 2009 showed the traditional rulers’ continued importance. People said they supported the kings – despite their not being elected and their more conservative views.
Responses to questions about the role of traditional authorities varied widely. Some 49% of all respondents said traditional leaders had some or a great deal of influence over local governance. In Malawi 74% of those surveyed said traditional authorities have an important role in local affairs, as did 73% in Zimbabwe and 71% in Botswana. Madagascar had the lowest score, 13%; it was 20% in Tanzania.
More power to the chiefs
The survey found that chiefs have the largest role in land allocation in Ghana, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Only in Lesotho did many – 29% – say that traditional authorities played a primary role in maintaining law and order.
Across the 19 countries surveyed, 58% wanted traditional leaders to have more responsibility. More than 70% in Botswana, Lesotho and Mali said traditional power should increase; less than a third of those surveyed in South Africa and Madagascar agreed with that position.
Political change – firstly colonialism and then the independence struggle – has badly eroded the economies of the kingdoms. The starkest example is in Bunyoro-Kitara, Uganda, which was once a riparian empire from which Buganda was created in the 17th century.
At Mubende, two hours west of Kampala and an entry into Bunyoro, the tarmac ends and a laterite road leads to the kingdom’s capital in Hoima, a frontier-like town of low-rise buildings and dusty roads. It shows how far this once-mighty kingdom has fallen.
But today, Hoima is at the centre of the latest scramble for Bunyoro’s resources. Soon, oil wells on its outskirts will begin pumping. Ireland’s Tullow, China National Offshore Oil Corporation, France’s Total and others are firing up a construction boom there.
By contrast, the Bunyoro Kingdom is poor and dependent on central government. The Omukama’s palace on the outskirts of town was restored after 1993. By the entrance, the palace guard is composed of soldiers of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces.
The king may be in his palace, but he seems to serve at the behest of State House, Kampala. Much of the lubiri (palace) budget is underwritten by the central government. And even then, it barely covers costs: most of the palace staff are volunteers.
In South Africa, the state subsidises the activities of 10 kings and some 6,000 chiefs. It reported in January 2013 that the 2012 budget included $74m for traditional leaders, including a R927,000 ($108,000) salary for the 10 kings. However, the nine provincial governments can also contribute some of their budgets to the kingdoms.
Controversially, the Zulu king Goodwill Zwelethini received an extra R59m and a R18m palace for his sixth wife from KwaZulu-Natal Province in 2012. Zwelethini’s adviser Albert Mncwango justified such treatment on cultural grounds: “Zulus have a distinct history and pure bloodline and cannot be compared to other kings.” Perhaps significantly, Zulus are also the biggest voting bloc in the country.
In Ghana, some kings have been reforming their finances under post-independence governments. Their position was improved in the 1980s when many professionals decided to take up traditional posts, sometimes encouraged by government, and to use them as a base to raise funds for community projects. Some objected, arguing it would make the country’s politics more parochial and ethnocentric.
Others want the right of the regional kings restored and enhanced: “It was a mistake for [Kwame] Nkrumah to nationalise gold. I also think it was a mistake for the [Jerry John] Rawlings government in 1986 to do the same thing because it was not in accordance with our customs, traditions and history” says Nana Asante Bediatuo, the Apagyahene or chief of the Apagya in the Akyem Kingdom.
“In the past, the selection process would consider someone with character and judgement, and who understood statecraft. Today, money is an important factor because in order to sustain oneself as a king or chief one has to resort to personal resources and not just resources from the traditional state,” adds the Apagyahene.
Most controversially in Ghana and other countries, the local chiefs have been able to control access to land, which has prompted clashes and sometimes a market that spins out of control.
Ayittey argues that African and European ideas over land settlements have been conflated: “By regarding chiefs and kings as ‘owners’ of tribal land, the colonialists conferred upon rulers powers and authority they did not have in the traditional system.”
Kings are important in proposals for devolution or federal rule because the new structures are often based on historically established boundaries and structures.
Zambia’s government is examining constitutional changes and demands to devolve power to Barotse land. Covering Western Province, Barotseland has tried to maintain an independent identity since it signed agreements with Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company.
Litunga Lubosi Imwiko II has not agitated for independence in recent times, but several radical parties in Barotse land support such a move. Founding president Kenneth Kaunda signed the 1964 Barotseland Agreement enshrining limited local selfgovernment there.
An Afrobarometer survey this year found that 71% of Zambians from its sample population do not think that the Lusaka government should honour the 1964 Barotseland Agreement. As it stands, the agreement is not reconsigned in the current draft constitution.
Oil and mineral resources in kingdoms can also concentrate minds. Ghana’s traditional rulers have been called in to mediate in some resource disputes in the traditional gold mining areas, especially those hosting informal miners. A similar pattern is emerging in Ghana’s oilproducing Western Region, where local chiefs are demanding – as in Nigeria’s Niger Delta – a special regional levy from oil earnings to pay for social investment programmes in the area. That may prove a better investment than running a costly and corrupt fuel subsidy scheme.
Although the oil is yet to flow in Uganda’s Bunyoro region, the demands for federalism and hypothecated budgets for local social needs have already started. The historical neglect of Bunyoro has its people ill-prepared to manage the coming oil boom. Less than half the population is literate. Of those, says Mirima, only perhaps 10% are more than functionally literate.
Unlike many African states that established republican rule at independence and subsumed traditional cultural institutions, Buganda’s monarchist state stoutly resisted such co-option. The Buganda monarchy and state pre- dated colonialism and due to a negotiated treaty – the Anglo-Buganda Agreement of 1900 – won special status during colonial rule.
“The problem today is one of sharing power. We would wish for a federal arrangement so that we can better deliver services to our people. In the past we used to build schools, hospitals and roads. Students used to get scholarships from the kingdom. And it is possible for Buganda to exist in Uganda. The federal arrangement can work in which the state government would complement the work of the central government,” says Walusimbi.
Where kings represent regional and ethnic interests, governments often question their political allegiance and even motivation. In Ghana, the Asantehene had a difficult relationship with Nkrumah and other radical nationalists, despite previous kings’ highly principled opposition to colonial rule.
Constitutionally, the Asantehene must be above partisan politics, but politicians of all stripes have tried to establish special ties to the Ashanti Kingdom. The Asantehene is seen as having a special relationship with the New Patriotic Party (NPP) because former president John Kufuor is related by marriage to the royal family. In 2008, unsuccessful presidential candidate Nana Akufo-Addo attended a rally in Kumasi, the Ashanti capital, and proclaimed: “I respect Otumfuo [Osei Tutu II] and I can never do anything without first receiving his blessing.”
Some conspiracy theorists have even suggested that the Asantehene may have tried to intervene in support of Mahama during the Supreme Court battle over the 2012 elections. Significantly, both the NPP and the governing National Democratic Congress dismiss such claims out of hand as sullying the name and repu- tation of the Ashanti king.
Although South Africa’s kings are largely ceremonial, Zwelethini launched a mediation to calm political violence in KwaZulu-Natal by meeting with lead- ers of the IFP and the National Freedom Party a year ago.
The politics of South African’s Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo, king of the abaThembu, are more controversial. He joined the opposition Democratic Alliance in July after clashes with President Jacob Zuma.
The Mthatha High Court sentenced Dalindyebo to 15 years in prison on charges of culpable homicide and kidnapping in 2009, although he has filed an appeal to the decision. After the guilty verdict, Dalindyebo threatened to secede. Now his family argue that he is not fit to be king.
Backers of Rwanda’s King Kigeli V Ndahindurwa believe he could help liberalise the country’s politics. He went into exile in 1961 and now lives outside Washington DC.
He would like to return to Rwanda as king, but President Paul Kagame told him that he would only be allowed in as a normal citizen. Kagame may see King Kigeli as a political challenge or someone who could widen the ethnic fissures that he says his government is determined to heal. Let the people decide, says Kigeli V. But in Rwanda’s tightly controlled political theatre, that is unlikely to be allowed.
In Africa’s smallest and its biggest countries, the relations between kings and elected leaders remains chronically awkward, with intense suspicions on both sides, if not outright hostility, forcing traditional rulers constantly to adapt to the time or end up falling by the wayside. ●
King Mswati III
Swaziland’s absolute monarch
In early September King Mswati III announced that he had received a message from God during a storm and decided that the country’s system of government should be called a “monarchical democracy”. All the same, Swaziland is Africa’s sole absolute monarchy and the 2005 constitution does not allow for the existence of political parties. The king is actually a co-monarch with Queen Mother Ntombi. King Mswati III has a dominant role in the national economy through Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, a royal company set up by King Sobhuza II in 1968. Tibiyo owns the Swazi Observer newspaper, a 40 per cent stake in Ubombo Sugar and a 50 per cent share of Dvokolwako Diamond Mines. Tibiyo earned e148.8m ($15 million) in revenue in 2011. the constitution says the king’s revenue is not to be taxed. Mswati III also has vast influence over land, as all Swazi nation land – about 60 per cent of the country’s territory – is held in trust by the king. The International Monetary fund (IMf) has recommended the government liberalise land ownership policies to encourage investment, but doing so could weaken the chiefs and the monarchy too. Pro-democracy activists attempted to push the regime to liberalise during a financial crisis in 2011 where the state had difficulty paying civil servants. The government refused help from the South African government and the IMf because of the conditions they sought to impose. Unlike other kings in the region, Mswati III does not support progressive social policies. At the World economic forum in May 2013, he said: “When God created the world he also created mankind, and he also created the identity of the person […]. tradition doesn’t teach you to be backward, it teaches you to be humble, respectful, obedient and live happily with your neighbours.” Under King Mswati III, Swaziland hosts just five embassies in Mbabane. It is one of taiwan’s few remaining allies in Africa. ●
Marshall Van Valen
King Mohammed VI
Morocco’s reformer king
In the stormy waters of north Africa’s uprisings, Morocco’s monarchy has been an island of stability. After 14 years on the throne, King Mohammed Vi has used his unrivalled powers as constitutional monarch to promote Morocco as a business-focused country. A pushy entrepreneurial class is replacing the old-school business types who grew fat on protected markets. Qualified Moroccans from the diaspora are returning home to new jobs generated by infrastructure and industrialisation projects driven by the king. the youth rock out at festivals supported by state investment and corporate sponsorship. Still, this has not dampened demands for more inclusive government. Generally, the king stays popular. During the 20 february protests in 2011, Mohammed Vi was largely spared: the barbs were thrown at his close associates such as fouad Ali el Himma and Mounir Majidi. Some claim the electoral victory of the islamist Parti de la Justice et du Développement is a step towards a turkish model of governance. others remark on how the palace obliged the islamists to push through unpopular policies such as ending the fuel subsidy and reforming pensions. Mohammed Vi’s position as ‘Commander of the faithful’ and his family’s claim to be descendents of the prophet Mohammed give him special authority and allow the palace to moderate between islamists and progressives. In the 14 years since the young and relatively inexperienced son of Hassan ii took the throne he has surprised his doubters. the 2003 Casablanca bombings marked a turning point in his reign. The islamists responsible for the attack all came from slums in the east of the city. The next year, Mohammed Vi launched his ‘cities without slums’ programme, a vast state-sponsored social housing programme to fight urban poverty. He used the outrage to browbeat conservatives into passing legislation that improved the rights of women in divorce and inheritance affairs. ●
Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II
Bugandan Kabaka (King) restored
The tables were set, and tents prepared for royalty. The ceremony was sponsored by corporate giants like Uganda Breweries. But discontent ran around the crowd gathered for the 20th anniversary of the coronation of Kabaka (king) Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II on 3 August. Why, when Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni had clashed with the Buganda throne, should he now be the guest of honour? what were the contents of the ‘ebyaffe’ (land and properties) deal struck between the monarch and museveni the previous evening? The tensions between State House and Mengo, the Buganda court, had exploded in september 2009 when president Museveni forbade the Kabaka from visiting Kayunga, one of his kingdom’s districts. Riots followed, leaving at least 30 people dead. Months later, the tomb at Kasubi, where past Kabaka are buried, was burned down in suspicious circumstances. The Museveni regime and the Buganda kingdom are lodestars of power in Uganda. The centuries-old kingdom stood up to president Milton Obote in 1966, leading to the exile of Kabaka Mutesa II and the abolition of the kingdom. After overthrowing president Idi Amin, Museveni restored the monarchies in Uganda in 1993, bringing the Buganda back into the forefront of political life. The Lukiiko, or Bugandan parliament, has since managed to create effective financing mechanisms and a full cabinet of ministers, creating a sort of state within a state. There was a caveat to the restitution, however. While Mengo was legally recognised as a cultural institution, it was not allowed to engage in political activity. Today, this argument over the political role of the kingdoms is at the heart of the struggle over a fraught colonial legacy. Can the country sustain a centralised republican status quo or will it cede to the calls for federalism that have become a rallying cry not just in the six-million-strong kingdom of Buganda but in many parts of the country? ●
Asantehene Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II of Ashanti
A development partner
Osei Tutu II, born Nana Barima Kwaku Dua on 6 May 1950, is the 16th Ansantehene or king of the Ashanti people. He took his place on the Golden Stool on 26 April 1999. Conjured from the skies by the legendary Ashanti high priest Okomfo Anokye into the lap of the first king, Osei Tutu, in the 17th century, the Golden Stool is the symbol of the king’s leadership. Osei Tutu II owes his ascendency to his mother Queen Nana Afua Kobi Serwaa Ampem II, as the Ashanti are a matrilineal society. The Asantehene’s policies have focused on issues such as land management and education. Managing access to land is one of the responsibilities of Ghana’s chiefs and kings. In October 2012, the Asantehene launched a project to regularise leases. A study conducted by the land secretariat had found that just 27% of landholders in the Kumasi Traditional area had leases to their land. Osei Tutu II was the first traditional ruler to work with the World Bank. Through the Promoting Partnerships with Traditional Authorities Initiative the Bank provided the Ghanaian government with a $5m loan targeted at health and education programmes in the Ashanti Region in 2003. The Bank judged the programme only “moderately satisfactory”, however. It said that the government in Accra had been reluctant to design the project because of concern about the politics of taking on debt for the benefit of a single traditional authority, and concluded: “The resource base and management skills of the TAS [traditional authorities] was overestimated.” The Asantehene launched the Otumfuo Educational Fund in 1999, which provides supplies for school construction and has awarded scholarships to more than 5,000 students. In 2006, he became the first chancellor of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology who was not the President of Ghana. ●
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