Humbug for Nabongo Ranneberger

Published on 25/05/2009

By Ibrahim Ndamwe

US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger is now a Wanga elder. For those not in the know, the Wanga, a sub-tribe of the Luhya community in western Kenya, are not your average little tribal grouping. They are the scions of kings.

But then what exactly is a Wanga elder? During the ‘coronation’, Ranneberger was given a walking stick more synonymous with fat Kenya politicians than traditional African elders. Also, like the reigning Wanga King, Nabongo Shitawa, Ranneberger wore a Muslim kanzu or kaftan, a form of dress whose origin is Persia.

And to cap it all, his head was decorated in a red fez, a cap synonymous with Indonesia, which Ugandans also consider to be part of their national dress.

It should not be forgotten that last year, the Prime Minister was chief guest when the Nabongo unveiled a cultural museum in honour of departed kings. Curiously, the royal tomb was all modern, with red clay tiles — not traditional thatch — on the roof while the graves of historical leaders were covered with shiny bathroom tiles.

So who exactly are the Wanga? What qualities are demanded of their own before they are elevated to elder status? Why would they want to recognise Ranneberger as an elder? Indeed, when was the last time that a Wanga common man of exceptional qualities — knowledge, leadership and integrity — but not rich, famous or powerful made an elder?

Like national awards, where you have to be a political kingpin to win recognition, these tribal coronations are just a political and theatrical farce without any value for cultural integration or preservation.

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