Opening of the Queens of Africa Meeting at Speke Resort - Munyonyo

Wednesday 4th September 2013
H.E. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni President of the Republic of Uganda

The Co-hosts of this Forum – HRH Best Kemigisa and HRH Nnabagereka,

Your Royal Highnesses, the Queens of Africa,

Their Royal Highness from Uganda,

Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Distinguished Invited guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen.


I greet you.  You are most welcome to Uganda.

Africa, our motherland, is fortunate in terms of having a big land area (11.7 million sq. miles) and having a lot of natural resources (water, forests, agricultural land, minerals, rivers, petroleum and gas, oceans, sun-shine all the year round, etc.) and having a dynamic human resource ─ now numbering one billion people (although this population of Africa is still smaller than either China’s population of 1.3 billion or India’s population of 1.2 billion people).  Africa’s population, however, will be 2 billion people by 2050.  It will, therefore, be, at that time, bigger than either China’s population or that of India.

We are also fortunate that this African population is fairly homogeneous.  In terms of linguistic classification, the African population is divided into just four groups: the Niger-Congo group of languages, including the Bantu and the Kwa dialects; the Nilo-Saharan group of languages, including the Nilotic and the Hamitic dialects; the Afro-Asiatic group of languages, including the Arabic and the Semitic languages of Ethiopia; and the Khoisan (the so-called bushmen) group of languages of Southern Africa.  Therefore, the African peoples are not as disparate as they were made to appear by the colonialists or by the African reactionaries.

The major weakness we had and still have as Africans was the low-level of political integration.  Africa was organized, politically, in clans, chiefdoms and small kingdoms by the time the Europeans started arriving on the scene, starting with 1462 when the Portuguese approached West African coast. Even when the Europeans arrived in Uganda in 1864 (John Hannington Speke) about 392 years later, that was still the problem.  If the kingdoms and chiefdoms of Uganda had united, our ancestors would have defeated the invaders.  The guns of those days were not very much different from the spears and arrows.  The main weakness was disunity, a consequence of the low-level of political integration.

Yet, the kingdoms had separately tried to unite the clans and even the tribes.  If you take the kingdom of Buganda, for instance, before the coming of the Europeans, they had succeeded in uniting 52 clans, having started with only 5 clans and had also incorporated other non-Baganda peoples such as the Bakooki, Bassesse and Bavuma.  They also had some relationships with other chiefdoms like some in Busoga and others in Tanzania such as Kiziba.  The kingdom of Bunyoro had, not only the Banyoro clans, but also other non-Banyoro tribes like the Chope, the Baguungu, the Baruuli, the Batooro, the Hemas of Congo, the Banyala, the Basongora and some association with some of the chiefdoms of Busoga as well as Lango and Acholi.

However, this level of integration was not enough to guarantee our sovereignty vis-à-vis colonialism.  As a consequence, by 1900, the whole of Africa, except for Ethiopia, had been colonized. Ethiopia was able to defeat the European invaders, not only because of the difficult terrain (mountains), but also the scale of integration.  Ethiopia had succeeded in uniting the big nationalities of the Amhara, the Tigray, the Oromos, the Somalis, the Nilotic tribes, etc.  The land area of Ethiopia, even after the secession of Eritrea, is 435,186 sq. miles (1.127 million sq. kms).  No other kingdom or chiefdom of Africa, apart from Egypt, approached this scale of political organization. 

China and Japan were also technologically backward in comparison with Europe.  However, on account of the scale of integration, they were able to defeat the invaders after a protracted struggle lasting over 100 years, from the time of the opium war in 1839 to the time of Mao Tse Tung’s victory in 1949.

The kingdoms had tried to unite the clans and the chiefdoms before colonialism set in.  The Zulu Kingdom is another good example.  King Shaka had amalgamated some of the Ngoni clans into the Zulu people.  However, there were many of the Bantu peoples of that area, including other Ngoni clans, that were not part of the Zulu kingdom – the Xhosa, the Sothos, the Tswanas, the Khoisan, the Ndebeles, the Shonas, the Swazis, the Shangaan in Mozambique, etc.  Apart from some mistakes in strategy and tactics, although king Cetshwayo won a great military victory against the British army at Isandlwana in 1879, he was in the end defeated because his resistance was not a Pan-Southern African resistance. The African National Congress (ANC), much much later, won because it organized on a Pan-South African basis, in fact on a Pan-African basis because the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was in total support of the ANC and the other Liberation Movements.

While, therefore, we salute the efforts of the pre-colonial kingdoms and chiefdoms in terms of integration, those efforts were clearly not enough.  Yet the kingdoms, obviously, wanted integration.  The only problem was that they tried to use conquest to do so rather than using dialogue.  Therefore, as I always say, the real traditionalists and the real patriots and Pan-Africanists should not have a difference.  The Pan-Africanists should be able to salute the traditionalists for the integration levels they achieved but point out that more integration was needed in order to create credible power that can guarantee our people’s future and sovereignty.  The traditionalists, on the other hand, should be able to be proud of the integration levels our ancestors achieved but not obstruct the further integration that could not be achieved in the past.

The basis for integration, apart from the imperatives of economics and the need for a common defence to guarantee our sovereignty, are the linguistic and cultural similarities or linkages of our people.  It is uncontestable and self-evident that our peoples are similar or linked in terms of dialects and culture.  Why do we not emphasize this advantage bequeathed to us by our ancestors?  Why do some actors, instead, emphasize the minor divergences among our people and ignore the major convergences?  Unity of our peoples is not a luxury.  It is a necessity for survival in the modern world.

I supported the restoration of kingdoms and cultural leaders in Uganda because of two reasons:  First, I did not see the inevitability of conflicts between my Pan-Africanist life-long commitment and the genuine traditionalist aspirations.  Secondly, I did not want our children to become “Black-Europeans” by allowing our languages and our culture to die.  That is why I recently published, along with others, the Katondoozi of Runyankore-Rukiga (Thesaurus). 

Allowing our languages and cultures to die will not only be a loss to us but to the whole of humanity.  Why?  This is because the African culture is so rich.  This richness is, for example, found in our foods (bananas, millet, maize, milk, meat, fish, rice in some areas, sorghum etc), the strength of the African culture (exogamous, patrilineal, matrilineal, etc), the languages, the economy (agriculture, artisanship, traditional services like herbal medicine), music, poetry, etc.  If you take millet, one of the African foods, it is much richer than rice in terms of nutrition.  It has got carbohydrates, protein and iron unlike rice which has got only carbohydrates.

Only the other day, I was launching the Runyoro-Rutoro dictionary.  As usual, I took the opportunity to illustrate the superiority of the African languages to, for instance, English.  I used two yardsticks:  the ‘human head’ and the English verb: “to cut”.  Starting with the ‘human head’, you can compare the naming of the head parts:

  1.         Hair                         -       Ishokye
  2.         Soft/curly-hair         -       Ekinyiriri
  3.         Hard-hair                 -       Obutirigye
  4.         Hair patches            -       Enshunju
  5.         Big hair patches       -       Ebikuura
  6.         Hair-line                  -       Ebyeyera
  7.         Head-crown             -       Oruhorahoore
  8.         Back of head            -       Enkomo
  9.         Fore-head                        -       Obuso
  10. Temples                   -       Obuhoiho / Obunenero
  11. Eye-brow                 -       Ekitsigye
  12. Hair on eye-brow     -       Bahungu
  13. Bald-head                        -       Oruhara
  14. Part of head from temple to chin – Omushaya/Enshaya (plural)
  15. Side-burns               -       Ebitarira
  16. Moustache               -       Obureju
  17. Beard                       -       Ebireju
  18. Chin                        -       Ekireju
  19. Jaw                          -       Oruba
  20. Eye-lashes               -       Engohe
  21. Skull                                -       Akahanga
  22. Nose                         -       Enyindo
  23. Nostrils                    -       Emihanda y’enyindo
  24. Lower back of head  -       Ekikanu
  25. Cheeks                     -       Amatama
  26. Lip                           -       Omunwa
  27. Ear                           -       Okutu

Out of the 27 head-parts, the English language has no dedicated words for 15 of them.  They just use descriptions.  Runyankore-Rukiga, on the other hand, has unique, non-descriptive words for 26 of the 27 head-parts. 

In some cases they have two unique words for a body part.  They use description for only one part – the nostrils.  Let us take the verb “to cut”.

  1.         To cut with big effort                -       Kutema
  2.         To cut with small effort    -       Kushara
  3.         To cut longitudinally        -       Kushatura
  4.         To cut in a transverse way-      Kuhirimbura
  5.         To chip off the bark of a tree-   Kuharagata
  6.         To cut off the branches    -       Kukongoora
  7.         To cut at multiple points -       Kutematema
  8.         To cut in very many pieces-     Kuchwagachwagura
  9.         To cut in many pieces      -       Kuchwagura
  10.  To cut off the banana leaves of a banana plant (pruning)– Kuhaburira
  1. To cut off the bark of a banana tree (pruning) – Kusharira/Kugogoora

With the above words on cutting, 100% of the Runyankore-Rukiga words are dedicated to the style of cutting and use of unique words while almost the 100% of the English words are descriptive.  How can we lose such a heritage? It would be criminal on our part.

Finally, about the similarities and linkages of our dialects.  When you are in South Africa, the Zulus and Xhosas will greet you: “saubhoona?”  The verb kubona in those dialects means “to see”.  In Runyankore-Rukiga that word is very much there.  It, however, means something slightly different.  It means to find something lost.  Somebody can shout: “Nakibona” ─ “I have found it”.  There is a woman Minister in Nigeria ─ Hon. Ngozi which means love in Ibgo language.  In Runyoro-Rutooro, the word engoonzi means exactly that.  In the Luo language, the word: “pii” means water.  In the Somali language, water means “pio”.  Are these coincidences?

You cannot have an African people, as a united people, without a common language.  We cannot use the tribal languages to unite the African people.  Which language do you use and which one do you leave out?  We are fortunate, however, because we have a de-tribalized dialect – Swahili – which is neutral.  This is the one we can use as a skeleton for an African people’s language.  Swahili, however, does not have enough vocabulary.  We should, therefore, develop the national language in two stages:  Stage one, should be to capture the respective African dialects in writing so that those rich granaries of words are stored.  Stage two should be to infuse these African words into Swahili.  Swahili, under the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, for instance, developed a word for State House.  They used the word “Ikulu”, being a word they borrowed from the, I think, Kinyamweezi language that used to describe the chief’s palace.  They have, however, not yet got a single word for national anthem.  They still use a description: “wimbo wa taifa” – “the song of the country”.  Yet, there are tribal words that are not descriptive.  The word lubaala, means anthem in Acholi.  The Baganda clans also use the word: ‘mubala’ to describe clan anthems.  We could, therefore, borrow either the word ‘lubaala’ or ‘mubala’ to describe the national anthem.

I thank you very much.  It is now my pleasure to declare the Conference open.

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