Coffee and bananas: The end of Buganda, rise of Kampala City State - Daily MonitorSince the column last week "Ahead of big refugee meet, we go back to old Buganda and Ankole", I have been inundated by questions about Uganda's past – and future. Made me realise that there is a lot, an incredible lot, of interest in both our history and future, but we need to find new sources of knowledge and answers for it.
We had planned to move on and say something about the "new world order", but an unrelated question on social media about bananas (matooke) in Uganda, and Buganda in particular, by a Kenyan friend convinced me to return to the soil. He wanted to know whether coffee will displace bananas as the main cash crop in Buganda. Of course the bulk of both Ugandan coffee and bananas were grown in Buganda, but that started changing dramatically from about 35 years ago.
Most of the bananas, at least those eaten in Kampala, now come from the wider Ankole region. I am aware that this matter is a point of despair for some Buganda nationalists and some of my friends, who see it as a sign of "decline", and even "sabotage".
However, if I were Kabaka Muwenda Mutebi (thankfully I am not and you will soon see clearly why), I would tell Baganda farmers to stop thinking of bananas and begin dreaming of other things.
That is because, given the price of land in Buganda, it does not make much economic sense to grow bananas, except for those farmers who can do it to scale and as part of an expansive mixed farm.
But the deeper reason has to do with why the price of land in rural Buganda is skyrocketing. It is because of urbanisation. Uganda's urban population, which was 6 million in 2013, is projected to increase to more than 20 million in 2040. Most of them will live in and around Kampala. And "around Kampala" means virtually most of Buganda.
The change can be very rapid as the last 10 years in Kenya have shown. Indeed look at what happened when the Northern By-pass was constructed. Within five years, sleepy villages became overrun by apartment blocks.
There is now a race to build these by-passes and roads to cope with Kampala's exploding population and its traffic, but every time a by-pass is built, the "villages" 15 kilometres from it become part of the city, effectively. Wait and see what dramatic changes the Entebbe Expressway will bring by just 2020. Then more expressways and by-passes will be built.
Basically, there is a giant cross that cuts through the heart of Buganda, beginning from Kampala. First eastwards to Owen Falls Dam. Then northwards to Karuma. Westwards to just beyond Masaka. And southwards to Entebbe. Already, we are close to a point where these are just streets with continuous settlements, not highways. Apart from a few wetlands, and forests, all these are built corridors. Very soon Mabira will not be a forest. It will be a city park.
So what is the REAL thing that's happening in Buganda? Well, Buganda is becoming a city-state, in much the same way Nairobi is transforming into one. Like in most of Africa, we don't have the enlightened vision that matches this new reality. It would begin with redistricting and creating new constituencies.
Ideally 20 per cent of constituencies in Uganda should soon be in and around Kampala by the 2026 election. Also, to ease transport – including to Entebbe – the government should be concessioning new private small airports around Kampala. And, finally, seriously thinking of licencing an express rail to Jinja and Entebbe.
If President Yoweri Museveni's government doesn't do, it will be the first thing that the next leadership will do. And so you see where this is leading. If you live 150 kilometres away from Kampala, now is the time to begin planning and properly titling your land and building a road – and if you can - a water dam on it.
But look ahead 10 years, and imagine the government will come wanting to build a by-pass or express train line through, or a developer seeking to buy it to erect apartments, or some investors wanting it for an airstrip.
If you take your interests and your family's and grandchildren's seriously, you should think of land like it were on a stock exchange. You are likely to get more money for it if it has a basic road on it, than if you have it all enveloped by a banana plantation.
Now imagine you also have some straight proud trees standing tall on it. The price more than doubles right there.
There is the downside; the social and cultural price Buganda will pay. But also, if it transforms in interesting dynamic ways, it could be a source of new forces that refashion Uganda. Whatever happens, Buganda as we knew it, is in its last days.
Sent from Gook's iPatch!
"What you are we once were, what we are you shall be!"
An inscription on the walls of a Roman catacomb.