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HE IS CALLLED SHEIKH OBED KAMULEGEYA: THE INVISIBLE HAND FERMENTING CHAOS FOR KIBULI MUSLIM FACTION

By Mulengera Reporters 

Formerly a UPC sympathizer, Sheikh Obed Kamulegeya has been an effective power broker in the politics of the Muslim faith in Uganda for decades. He was also a close confidante of Kibuli-based Prince Badru Kakungulu (Jjaja w’Obusiraamu mu Uganda) whose son Prince Kassim Nakibinge currently reigns at the titular head of Muslims in Uganda. When Kakungulu died, Kamulegeya hang around as one of the key patrons and advisors of then much younger Nakibinge.

Renowned for fascination for material things, Sheikh Kamulegeya always influenced the making of important decisions at Kibuli and used to chair the Council of Eminent Sheikhs who are respected for their deep knowledge and understanding of the Islam and Qoranic teachings. He was a key pillar at the time the wrangling with Old Kampala-based UMSC (led by Mufti Shaban Mubajje) peaked precipitating into the decision by Kibuli to cease recognizing Mubajje as their Mufti. He was accused of selfishly selling off Muslim properties and being indifferent about what others thought.

That is how Sheikh Zubair Kayongo, renowned for fiery speeches, came to be selected to become Supreme Mufti, a glamorous title Kibuli believed would eclipse Mubajje into total oblivion.  For all the years he reigned as Supreme Mufti, Kayongo was closely advised by Sheikh Obed Kamulegeya who for long was known for being an anti-Museveni cleric. When Kayongo died in April 2015, Siliman Kasule Ndirangwa, a Sheikh mentored by Kamulegeya, managed to overcome Dr. Annas Kaliisa (who initially was Nakibinge’s choice) to become the next Supreme Mufti.

Then in November 2018, during celebrations to mark Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, Sheikh Nuhu Muzaata as spokesperson for Kibuli Muslim faction unexpectedly announced Kamulegeya had been excommunicated for being a 5th columnist working with Mubajje’s UMSC based at Old Kampala. Kamulegeya, who previously used to be a close spiritual father to Col Kizza Besigye who even donated to him acres of land at Kyankima near Kasangati, was under pressure from Museveni’s State House to use his clout to compel Nakibinge-led Kibuli to consider reconciling and once again coming under UMSC. The idea, as impressed upon Kamulegeya, was that the GoU was willing to contribute money into Muslim welfare programs but the same was being complicated by the endemic wrangling between the two factions.  

The Muzaata pronouncement (unveiling Sheikh Abdulnoor Lunanoba as new chair for Council of Eminent Sheikhs replacing the disgraced Kamulegeya) was preceded by a number of treacherous acts by Kamulegeya which caused him to be perceived as stabbing Prince Nakibinge in the back. Muzaata warned whoever organizes a function and invites the excommunicated Kamulegeya shouldn’t expect Nakibinge or any other big man from Kibuli to grace the same.

This was mutedly opposed by Ndirangwa (who had been Supreme Mufti for 3 years) whose view was that it wasn’t right for the Muslim faithful to be stampeded and conscripted into Prince Nakibinge’s personal proxy wars with Kamulegeya who for long had been demanding separation of powers between the Supreme Mufti and the office of Prince Nakibinge.

Kamulegeya’s argument was that Nakibinge was no doubt a well-respected Prince who must concentrate on his princely duties while leaving the religious business to the deeply knowledgeable Sheikhs coalescing around the office of Supreme Mufti. This caused Kamulegeya, who was already being blacklisted for secretly meeting Gen Museveni without seeking and obtaining consent of Nakibinge, to be branded an insubordinate saboteur.

But at the same time, several things happened clearly distinguishing Kamulegeya as unwilling to bow to Nakibinge’s authority in as far as the conduct of the Kibuli Muslim business was concerned. Firstly, Kamulegeya insisted it was an unfair to make anyone (including his protégé Ndirangwa) Supreme Mufti without the welfare of that office being catered for.

He, for instance, wondered how Nakibinge and other anti-Museveni hardliners inside the Kibuli establishment expected Ndirangwa to excel as Supreme Mufti without being provided a car and fuel to run the consequent official errands. Ndirangwa (aged 60) was expected to be a volunteer working full time without any remuneration yet he has a big family back home in Lwengo and here in Kampala to look after.

The same applied to those working with him in his office as Supreme Mufti. For all the years he has been Supreme Mufti, Ndirangwa, unlike his rival UMSC’s Mubajje who has a budget of billions, has been surviving on handouts from Hotel Africana owner BMK to do basic things such as fueling his car. People invite him to fundraising functions expecting hefty contributions from him.

Kamulegeya’s view was that this enslavement wasn’t right. Neither was it sustainable. He insisted Kibuli must, like the other religious groups, warm up to President YK Museveni since his State House was clearly willing to avail the necessary financing. Nakibinge rejected this tokenism insisting that Kibuli has what it takes to financially sustain itself and all that must happen is for Gen Museveni to implement the recommendations of the Prof Tarsis Kabwegyere report on the Muslim wrangles. Nakibinge, who controls many tycoons in Kampala, insisted whoever meets Gen Museveni on behalf of Kibuli, the agenda should strictly be about the need to urgently implement the Kabwegyere report.

Clearly infected with the defiance approach, Sheikh Obed Kamulegeya overlooked Nakibinge’s reservations and continued relating with Gen Museveni in his individual capacity as an eminent Muslim scholar and opinion leader. He, for instance, has more than 200 Muslim families whose orphans and widows look up to him for spiritual nourishment and guidance-and sometimes material provisions. He believed it was his duty to engage with Gen Museveni to serve the broader Muslim interests beyond just the Kibuli faction interests. He was of the view that it was high time, Kibuli buries hatchet and once again recognize Old Kampala as the supreme Muslim authority in Uganda.

Ndirangwa, who felt it unwise to compel all Muslims to boycott Kamulegeya simply because Nakibinge didn’t want him anymore, believed the old man from Butambala was right. He insisted it was impractable to expect the more than 200 families he was looking after and the many ordinary Muslims looking at him as a father figure to turn their back on the old cleric simply because Nakibinge considered him a total sellout.

Kamulegeya went ahead to negotiate with Gen Museveni who eventually agreed to refund city tycoon Drake Lubega’s money so that the William Street Mosque ownership would be rescued back to the Muslim faith. This mosque was one of the many Muslim properties Mubajje’s Muslim Supreme Council had controversially sold off. At the instigation of Gen Museveni, the title to the rescued William Street property was returned and surrendered to Kibuli faction.

This was in 2015 on the eve of 2016 general elections. Kamulegeya suggested a grand ceremony be organized at Kibuli where Gen Museveni would publicly hand over the title but the same was rejected by Nakibinge arguing he didn’t want to be perceived as advantaging the veteran leader’s reelection. Kamulegeya got stuck and in the end had the function at Kakiri where Nakibinge nor any of his close acquaintances didn’t go. This deflated what Kamulegeya had planned to be a huge PR ceremony for Gen Museveni and his NRM.

Then came the Shs400m Gen Museveni donated to House of Zakat at the instigation of its chairman Sheikh Obed Kamulegeya. Despite being the patron of this House of Zakat, Prince Nakibinge stayed away from the Hotel Africana ceremony at which a financially very grateful Kamulegeya smiled from ear to ear as Gen Museveni handed over the money. Then Kamulegeya fell sick and had to be evacuated to Nairobi for more specialized treatment but to his dismay the Kibuli-based Nakibinge protégés didn’t show any solidarity.

This made Kamulegeya to realize that indeed the battle lines had been drawn and from then on, he began looking at Mubajje’s UMSC for solidarity more having realized the direct relationship between him and Nakibinge had irretrievably broken down. Prince Nakibinge’s protégés despise Kamulegeya who they see as nothing but a money-minded old man who has always survived by being a sycophant to sitting governments since the days of Obote I.

When Ndirangwa and other financially-struggling Kibuli officials desired to improve their welfare by at least having vehicles to ease their movements, Kamulegeya lent a hand linking them up to Gen Museveni’s handlers at State House. Their eventual plea for vehicles was entertained by a triumphant Gen Museveni who had already been approached for the same assistance by Mubajje’s group from Old Kampala. He offered to treat both equally and thanked Sheikh Kamulegeya for his relentless efforts to forge some unity between the two factions. The vehicles (10 of them) came December last year and had to be stationed at BMK’s Hotel Africana after Nakibinge denying them permission to be delivered at Kibuli. The Ndirangwas were blacklisted as disobedient by Nakibinge because, just like Kamulegeya, they never consulted him about their dealings with Museveni’s State House through which the 10 vehicles were procured. 

As earlier reported (hereunder https://mulengeranews.com/supreme-mufti-ndirangwa-collapses-in-his-own-car-refuses-talks-with-kibuli/), it’s these vehicles more than anything else that sealed Ndirangwa’s fate prompting him to pre-emptively resign late last week. The resultant fallout has precipitated a purge under which whoever was linked to the car deal has had to be (or will have to be) sanctioned in some way. Besides Ndirangwa who was going to be humiliatingly booted anytime by Nakibinge through the Council of Eminent Sheikhs, Sheikh Mahmood Setyabule who has been Secretary General under Ndirangwa, has already been replaced by Sheikh Twaha Kezaala Mubiru whose very first assignment will be organizing the Tuesday 6th March retreat of eminent sheikhs at Kibuli where a new Supreme Mufti, replacing Ndirangwa, will be unveiled to the public.         

But many knowledgeable observers including Nsereko Mutumba, the former UMSC publicist who addressed reporters on Friday, are of the view that mere change of guard won’t solve the anxiety and leadership wrangles plaguing the Kibuli faction. That the best way forward is to infuse formality into the way Supreme Muftis and other officials get appointed to office and remunerated at Kibuli because no serious person is going to allow dancing to Nakibinge’s tunes all the time while working without pay.

A monthly salary of Shs30m is being proposed for the Supreme Mufti and appointment letters for all the other officials are some of the things being proposed as part of the broader reforms Kibuli badly needs. There must also be corporate governance too because even some of those being considered for roles in the post-Ndirangwa Kibuli are unexpected to be comfortable with the adhoc arrangement of people serving merely at the pleasure of Kassim Nakibinge simply because he is Prince Badru Kakungulu’s son. 

Indeed, there won’t be short cuts to some of these proposals because some of those being proposed for Ndirangwa successor will have to resign well-paying jobs in well-structured formal work environments. Examples include Dr. Abdul Hafiz Walusimbi (a Theology Professor at IUIU) who will have to resign his well-paying professorship job if he is to come full time and take up any role at the post-Ndirangwa Kibuli. Others are Kawempe-based Sheikh Abdulnoor Kunanoba, 50-year old Dr. Yahaya Semudu (a moderate scholar who has lately been lobbying Gen Museveni for a job), elderly Sheikh Abdulnoor Kakande (was close to Nakibinge’s dad Kakungulu) and the Tablique-leaning Sheikh Mahmood Kibaate who has been deputizing Ndirangwa. (For comments on this story, call, text or whatsapp us on 0705579994, 0779411734, 0200900416 or email us at mulengera2040@gmail.com).

Sheikh Kamulegeya in this group photo with Prince Nakibinge before they fell out.

Sheikh Obed Kamulegeya engages Gen Museveni

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