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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 February, 2004, 16:49 GMT
Bugandan king's healthy message
Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II
Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II is the Kabaka - or traditional king - of Buganda
Traditional leaders in parts of Africa may have an important role in communicating important issues to people, Mulwanyamuli Ssemogerere, the Prime Minister of Uganda's Buganda Kingdom, has said.

Mr Ssemogerere, who runs Buganda's government on behalf of the Kabaka, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II, said that Uganda's government had often used Buganda's government - which is not constitutionally recognised - as a way to help spread essential advice on health and citizenship.

He stated that one example was immunisation against a number of prevalent diseases in the country.

"Immunisation had stalled. People had refused to be immunised because they suspected the drugs," Mr Ssemogerere told BBC World Service's Africa Live programme.

"But when the king came out and said, 'My people, go and immunise,' everybody immunised."

Traditions

He also claimed that perhaps paradoxically, the king had been a great aid to democracy in the country.

"When people registered for voting, the Kabaka came back from London and said, 'My people, register to vote.'

"About three quarters of the nation went and registered in one week - when after one and a half months, only one quarter had registered.

"So you see the immense power and influence that the king can have in terms of development."

The argument about the place of traditional leaders is one of the biggest ongoing debates throughout Africa.

On one hand, democrats argue there is no place at all for them and that they hold Africa back.

But others argue that democracy is a Western concept that cannot simply be imposed on a continent with traditions that date back far into the past.

Traditional leaders still have a significant role in governance of rural set-ups and are popular amongst various societies
Yitatek Yitbarek, Ethiopian/South Africa

Professor Tom Lodge, an expert in African Affairs at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, told Africa Live that it could sometimes be beneficial to live under a traditional leader.

"The point about Africa is that in many parts of Africa, modern elected governments have very little authority," he explained.

"You might have an elected government in a small country, where the bureaucracy that that government controls has virtually no presence in the countryside.

"If in that context you say, that the traditional leaders, kings, paramount chiefs, or whatever, should have no political authority, it often means that you have authority at all in the countryside.

"You've got to recognise the weakness of many governments in Africa."

However he warned that in some countries, such as Swaziland, the king did have too much power.

"You have a traditional leader presiding over a modern government.

"Partly because the government that he presides over is modern - it has a national police force, a national army, it commands a modern industrial economy - that traditional leader has much greater powers than might have been sanctioned by tradition.

"By claiming a monopoly of power, he is sometimes claiming greater things than maybe custom or convention might have allowed him."



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