Flash back: Harnessing the Ancient to build the new, the Nnabagereka leads the way.
Begun as an investment and development conference to encourage the Ugandan Diaspora to play a fuller role in the development of their country of origin, now in its fifth year, the Uganda Convention has grown to become a forum not only for its original aims, but, for exploring wider questions of the nature of development and policy.
This was the theme to which the Nnabagereka of Buganda Her Royal Highness Sylvia Nagginda Luswata addressed herself. Although without administrative or legislative powers since its restoration by the National Resistance Movement (NRM), following the conflict years of Idi Amin and Milton Obote, the ancient once powerful Kingdom of Buganda still retains great influence over the six million or so Baganda, or people of Buganda.
Although an embodiment of an ancient institution, the Nnabagereka is also a thoroughly modern woman who has sought to advance the role of women in today’s Uganda, by leveraging the influence that Kinganda (Bugandan) culture has always accorded to women leaders. “Ancient cultural institutions such as the kingdom of Buganda have a role to play in helping women to achieve sustainable development in Uganda.”
She is redefining her role to include nudging the national government to put women at the centre of development policy. As the Nnabagereka, she believes that she can play a significant role by championing women’s struggle around issues of land tenure in their own right, infant and maternal mortality, girls’ education, all gender inequalities, including employment rights. Of course since many of the traditions around land tenure developed within Buganda culture, her efforts to modernise these traditions have particular resonance.
The Nnabagereka foundation is one of the vehicles through which her efforts are channelled. Set up in 2000, the foundation according to the Nnabagereka, “aspires to be a leading cultural foundation that uses culture as a development tool in contemporary society.” Her vision for development through cultural awareness extends beyond Buganda, to other cultures in Uganda.
“We believe that the most successful programmes will be those that not only understand the nuances that exist within different cultures, but, those that integrate positive elements within cultural institutions and work, and work with cultural leaders as equal partners, recognise positive cultural contexts, and culture as a key framework that defines our choices, opportunities and abilities.”
Many of the programmes initiated by the Nnabagereka foundation draw on this belief, and include bursary schemes for primary school girls, scholarships for Secondary and higher education and sexual reproductive health workshops for both men and women.
Arguably one of the Nnabagereka’s most significant projects is the Ekisaakaate, a traditional form of training for young people to equip them to be useful members of their society. Traditionally the Ekisaakaate was open only to young courtiers to be trained into position of leadership. The model has been modernised to include young people of both genders and from all parts of Uganda, not just from the Kingdom of Buganda.
The success of the initiative has been such that other ethnic groups in Uganda have asked to have it adapted to their culture. Accordingly as it is rolled out to other ethnic groups, care is taken to ensure that it enhances the culture of the particular ethnic group including language. According to the Nnabagereka, “as a result of training, children not only know their language but acquire leadership, entrepreneurship, etiquette, personal and spiritual development.”
The Ekisaakaate has now been extended to Ugandans in the Diaspora, and by attending the Uganda Convention in the United Kingdom the Nnabagereka honoured the Diaspora community in Britain, by launching the Ekisaakaate initiative herself.
Given the cultural diversity of most if not all African societies, the adaption of the Ekisaakaate to respect all of Uganda’s culture is arguably an example not only to Uganda, but, to other African countries in how to work within culture for sustainable development. The Nnabagereka’s approach too promises to be a pointer of how ancient African institutions can be harnessed for the continent’s self realisation in a modern, globalised world.
As certainly the largest of the major four Kingdoms in Uganda, Buganda may also be a torch bearer for other countries across Africa in how the modern state can work harmoniously with ancient institutions which though now mostly ceremonial continue to exercise great influence over many societies.
For the Nnabagereka, harmonising the new with the old for the national good is life time’s work. “I commit myself to continue to work tirelessly on these efforts for while much has been done, much more remains to be done.”
Producer and writer