The deal that reunited Mufti Shaban Ramadhan Mubajje and some of his rivals looks good on paper, but seems to lack a strong foundation to last and unite Uganda’s Muslim community.
On September 3, the Mufti and his longtime rival Sheikhh Obed Kamulegeya, who was a respected adviser of the Kibuli faction, agreed to work together to promote Muslim unity.
Both parties signed an agreement in a ceremony described as historic in the Muslim community in the presence of other clerics from Kibuli and Old Kampala. This took place at Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC) headquarters, Old Kampala.
Sheikh Kamulegeya said UMSC is now the only recognised Muslim body which manages the affairs of all Muslims in Uganda, and that all other Muslim sects should work under its guidance and consultation.
The meeting also agreed to form a Majlis Al Shura, a body of eminent Sheikhs, to be provided for in the amended UMSC Constitution as a tribunal; and form a property trust to manage all Muslim properties, among others.
But some Muslims have cast doubt about the authenticity and spirit of the new marriage.
Mr Nsereko Mutumba, a former UMSC spokesperson, said although the Muslim community badly needs unity, the Mubajje-Kamulegeya engagement did not follow the right procedures.
“You can’t say Muslim factions ended their grievances when only two prominent individuals were present,” he said during an interview on Friday.
“Every party (Kibuli and Old Kampala) has its own structures and key people from Kibuli were missing. This means they did it under political influence, not the UMSC Constitution. There is no need for rushing. Instead, they had to hold some consultative meetings with different Muslim sects before coming up with that agreement. Even the UMSC general assembly has to sit and seek views of all Muslims in Uganda,” he added.
An inside source from the Kibuli faction, who preferred anonymity, said they are not party to the signed agreement.
The source added that Sheikh Kamulegeya, who purports to represent Kibuli, was dismissed in 2018 over alleged of lack of transparency.
“Kibuli has prominent people who can represent its interests. So, if none of them was present, that engagement was done behind the curtains,” the source said.
During the signing of the agreement, Sheikh Kamulegeya’s team also had other Sheikhs, including Sheikh Hussein Rajab Kakooza, the former Chief Kadhi and Director of Sharia at UMSC, Sheikh Yusuf Byekwaso, a former UMSC secretary general Sheikh Muhammad Kamoga, the principal Bilal Islamic Institute; Mr Farook Kamulegeya, Mr Hamza Sewankambo, a city lawyer, Mr Asadu Ssentongo, Sheikh Sufian Muguluma and Mr Musa Ssebumba, who was Prince Kassim Nakibinge Kakungulu’s right hand man.
“None of the people who accompanied Sheikh Kamulegeya to Old Kampala hold a designated official position at Kibuli,” the source said, adding that while Kibuli embraces unity, it must come with transparency, not selfish interests.
The source said both Mufti Mubajje and Sheikh Kamulegeya want to hoodwink President Museveni that they are implementing the Kabwegyere report, which is not the case.
“There is an element of individual benefits they are targeting, not serving Islam. Some think when Mubajje retires, as he has promised, they can assume top positions at UMSC,” the source added.
In 2012, President Museveni instructed Prof Tarsis Kabwegyere to establish the causes of perennial conflicts and disunity among Muslims, irregular sale of community properties, among other issues.
The committee findings released on June 20, 2014, revealed that 13 prime properties around Kampala and ranches in other parts of the country, such as Nakasongola, Kiryandongo and Masaka, were irregularly sold off in contravention of a 2004 High Court order, blocking any sale or mortgage of UMSC properties without a unanimous resolution of its executive committee.
“Given the acrimony that the sale of Muslim properties has generated, the committee recommends an immediate ban on any further sale, lease, transfer or dealing in any way in property…until this ban is lifted,” the report states.
The same report recommended the establishment of a judicial tribunal to study the facts related to the disposal of those properties. The committee further recommended that the government compensates Muslims for the loss in the interest of peace and security.
“A lasting and sustainable resolution of this division [among Muslims] would be for His Excellency the President in his magnanimity and in the interest of security, public tranquillity and good order, to make good the loss of land and property of the Muslim community in Uganda,” the report adds.
Mr Museveni’s attention was particularly drawn to Plot 30, William Street, that was sold to city businessman Drake Lubega, who the President has since compensated and the property reverted to Muslims.
The committee also suggested amendments to the UMSC Constitution and that both the current Muslim leaders (Mufti Mubajje and Kibuli Supreme Mufti) step aside to allow reconciliation and election of a unifying Mufti.
Establishing a UMSC Property Trust comprising Muslims of impeccable character was also commended. Such a trust would operate independent of the UMSC administration, the committee advised.
Sheikh Mubajje vehemently dismissed all these resolutions as a ‘waste of time,’ even though members of his team were part of the committee.
“UMSC cannot bend its rules to appease a few individuals who are seeking cheap popularity,” he said, according to the New Vision June 15, 2014.
Seven years later, Sheikh Mubajje has backtracked, welcoming constitutional amendments and promising to furnish President Museveni with the resolutions of the reunion.
Sources say Sheikh Mubajje and Sheikh Kamulegeya are also preparing to meet Kabaka Ronald Mutebi, on the matter.
Prince Nakibinge, the titular head of the Kibuli Muslims, is a paternal uncle to the Kabaka.
But Mr Mutumba said Muslim issues are supposed to be resolved internally, not by the President.
“The President has been intervening in these matters since 1990s, but divisions have persisted. We need to work out our own solution as Muslims,” he said.
Faction after faction
Sheikh Kamulegeya has been at the centre of the Uganda Muslim story. So, he is very familiar with wrangles and reunifications. While former president Idi Amin is credited for uniting all Muslim factions and creating the UMSC in his first year of presidency, some historians fault him for failing to create a strong foundation, according to Badru Kateregga, a professor of Islamic Studies.
His research paper presented to the Uganda Muslim Youth Assembly Ramadan Seminar on Sunday August 12, 2012, at Kibuli Primary Teachers College in Kampala, and published by the Campus Journal, Prof Kateregga summarised the 180-year history of Uganda Muslim divisions.
Despite being a religious organisation, the UMSC is governed by a secular constitution. Amin also fired Sheikh Abdulrazak Matovu, the first Chief Kadhi, and his successor Sheikh Silman Matovu, and UMSC leadership ended in the hands of Amin’s secretary for defense, Col Emilio Mondo, a non-Muslim.
When Sheikh Kassim Mulumba was appointed as interim Mufti during Paul Muwanga’s short-lived government, he was supposed to serve for six months.
But he exceeded his term, which led to a parallel UMSC administration in 1980, which elected Sheikh Kamulegeya as the rival Mufti and Prince Badru Kakungulu, the father of Prince Nakibinge, as chairperson.
Prince Kakungulu would later unite the muftis and Sheikh Kamulegeya agreed to become Sheikh Mulumba’s deputy.
But truce didn’t last as Sheikh Mulumba resigned, allegedly under pressure from Sheikh Kamulegeya, and the latter became Mufti at Old Kampala.
Sheikh Mulumba, however, shortly after, renewed his claim to muftiship and pitched camp at Masjid Noor on William Street.
Sheikh Kamulegeya used the police to drive his rival from William Street and confined him to a small mosque at Rubaga Road, popularly known as Kabalaza.
Sheikh Mulumba continued challenging the UMSC leadership from his Kabalaza base.
His defiance paid off in 1985 when he unseated Sheikh Kamulegeya from Old Kampala.
The Mecca Agreement in 1986 convinced the two (Sheikh Kamulegeya and Sheikh Mulumba) to step down, paving way for Sheikh Rajab Kakooza as Chief Kadhi, and Sheikh Ibrahim Saad Luwemba as his deputy.
Return to bloodshed
Fortunately, the aforementioned bickering, coups and counter-coups were never physical. But from the late 1980s, the battles started to spill some blood, with the emergency of the Tabliq, a youthful and radical faction. In 1991, the faction stormed the Old Kampala mosque to halt Sheikh Luwemba’s elevation as Mufti. When the military police responded, it ended in bloodshed: deaths, detentions and more divisions.
The Mbarara Proclamation of 1993 spearhead by Prof George Kanyeihamba resolved to drop the warring Luwemba and Kakooza to replace them with Sheikh Ahmad Mukasa as mufti, and Sheikh Zubair Kayongo as his deputy. Both belonged to the Kibuli faction.
President Museveni rejected the elections, which left Sheikh Luwemba as mufti. Nevertheless, the new leaders were sworn in at Wandegeya Mosque, and established their base at Kibuli.
Sheikh Luwemba died in 1997, but his deputy, Sheikh Muhammad Ssemakula, was too old to succeed him. And in the 2,000 elections, Sheikh Mubajje became mufti, beating Sheikh Kakooza to the seat.
However, Sheikh Kayongo and Sheikh Kamulegeya led other Sheikhs from Kibuli to denounce Sheikh Mubajje’s victory and vowed never to be loyal to him.
But the first six years of Sheikh Mubajje’s reign saw the longest period of unity in the history of Uganda’s Muslim leadership until 2006, when he was accused and later charged for illegally disposing of Muslim property.
Prof Kateregga says the unity could have lasted longer if the issue was “handled technically, professionally and ethically by the stakeholders at Old Kampala.”
He blames the impasse on running a spiritual body on secular laws that treat the Mufti as a company general manager, who can sue and be sued.
The Mufti and the then UMSC chairperson, Mr Hassan Basajjabalaba, were acquitted, but the court found out that they had endorsed the property’s change of hands.
The case just opened old wounds and divided the Muslim community further. This time, the Kibuli faction declared Sheikh Kayongo as Supreme Mufti—the first time that title was heard of in Uganda.
And it enjoyed the backing of, among others, the revered Prince Nakibinge, and vocal Sheikh Nuhu Muzaata Batte, who had defected from the Old Kampala camp, and of course, Kamulegeya.
Both Sheikhs Kayongo and Muzaata have since died, Kamulegeya fell out with Nakibinge and Kibuli. Sheikh Silman Kasule Ndirangwa, who succeeded Sheikh Kayongo as Supreme Mufti, resigned in April. And of these, only Sheikh Kamulegeya made peace with Mubajje.
But the most worrying detail in the ongoing divisions is the bloodshed that has left the Muslim fraternity in a tricky reputational game. Sheikhs have been murdered, others arrested and tortured for the murders.
Of course, the death toll does not compare to that of the late 19th Century, when Kabaka Mutesa I, a so-called Muslim, ordered the killing of more than 200 Muslims dissidents at Namugongo, Wakiso District.
But there’s huge concern that many Muslims are being suspected, some convicted of terrorism and murder, but even when Muslim leaders task security agencies for fairness, their lack of a strong and unified voice has failed such efforts.
This, however, is not Sheikh Mubajje’s first attempt at peace with his rivals. He tried to unite with the Tabliq faction and SPIDIQ Foundation in 2015, but they later split over management of Masjid Noor on William Street in Kampala.
Prof Kateregga advised that the Tripartite Committee comprising of the government, Old Kampala and Kibuli groups should be given chance to contribute to finding solutions to Muslim wrangles.
But he warned: “Its success will depend on the seriousness of the parties involved.”
Who is Mufti Shaban Ramadhan Mubajje?
Mufti Mubajje, a former district Kadhi for Mbale, assumed office on December 10, 2000, and his tenure has been characterised by leadership wrangles, which led to the resignation of several officials.
He has severally dismissed the rival Muslims as an illegitimate and unconstitutional group that lacks moral standing. He insists his opponents are opportunists, who are using the sale of Muslim property as an excuse to bring him down. Several groups, including President Museveni, Prince Kassim Nakibinge and Muslim MPs have in the past tried to mediate in vain.
Mufti Mubajje has on several occasions said he wanted to serve as mufti for a short time, but continuous court and internal UMSC wrangles have forced him to stay longer in office. Under the Muslim Constitution, Mufti Mubajje, 64, has a leeway to hold the office for another five years until he clocks 70. However, insiders at Old Kampala say he is likely to relinquish office sooner than expected to allow a new leader to take over. Currently, UMSC is in the process of amending the current constitution, which will be used in the next elections, whose date is yet to be announced.
Muslim leaders since 1844
Kabaka Mutesa I
Prince Nooh Mbogo
Prince Badru Kakungulu
Sheikh Swaibu Ssemakula
Sheikh Abadulrazak Matovu
Sheikh Kassim Mulumba
Sheikh Abdul Obeid Kamulegeya
Sheikh Hussein Rajab Kakooza
Sheikh Saad Ibrahim Luwemba
Sheikh Muhammad Ssemakula
Sheikh Ahmed Mukasa
Sheikh Shaban Mubajje
Sheikh Zubair Kayongo (Kibuli)
Sheikh Silman Kasule Ndirangwa (Kibuli)
Sheikh Muhamood Kibatte (Ag – Kibuli)
Additional reporting by Al Mahdi Ssenkabirwa