By Staff writer
While his mates were outside playing, as a child King Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukidi IV was learning how to rule the Ugandan kingdom of Toro. Now 22, he is in the UAE to help boost the economic security of the more than 1.5 million people under his rule.
Like most 22-year-olds, Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukidi IV enjoys watching movies and hanging out with friends in his spare time. The last film he watched was Hollywood blockbuster ‘The Hunger Games’.
He is also a fan of quad biking and other outdoor activities. But unlike other guys his age, Oyo carries a rare title before his name — King. King of Toro to be precise. And he is the youngest ruling monarch in the world.
“I like to have fun but not too much fun because when you have too much fun you start to worry about your image,” King Oyo tells Arabian Business from his plush suite at the Burj Al Arab.
“So I tend to just go to the movies, have lunch or dinner with my friends over the weekend and do a lot of outdoor activities.”
King Oyo is visiting Dubai and Abu Dhabi with his mother, Queen Best Kemigisa Kaboyo, to learn how he can boost the economic credentials of his kingdom and forge stronger ties with the leaders of the UAE, men who helped create successful emirates from bare desert canvases.
It is no wonder King Oyo is concerned about his image; more than 1.5 million people look up to him as the ruler of Toro, one of Uganda’s few remaining kingdoms.
He was crowned king — also known as the Omukama, meaning the greatest of men — at the tender age of three, and earned a title in the book of Guinness World Records as the world’s youngest ruling monarch.
He succeeded his ailing father, Patrick David Mathew Kaboyo Olimi III, who died a year later, to become the 12th king of the 180-year-old kingdom of Toro.
King Oyo says he remembers very little from that time, but recalls being more interested in playing with other children than running a kingdom — a responsibility he then had little understanding of. It was years later that it dawned on him that he was not like any of the other children he played with.
“When I was eight years old that’s when I realised the responsibility I had, who I was and what I had to do,” King Oyo says.
“Everything fell into place; everything clicked. How I was going to do it, I wasn’t sure, but I definitely knew who I was and what I had to do.”
Before King Oyo turned 18 and was considered sufficiently mature to rule the kingdom, it was overseen by a group of regents including his mother and the President of the Republic of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, a close friend of Oyo’s father and the man responsible for the re-emergence of Uganda’s kingdoms.
King Oyo says his mother has been his greatest source of support and guidance over the years, showing him how to be a “proper king”. Queen Best remains an important figure in the kingdom. School years had their challenges, with King Oyo realising he had bigger responsibilities than his peers and he wasn’t an average student. “But I’d always brushed that away,” he says.
“Outside of school is probably when I had to be a bit more serious, but when I was at school it was basically an environment that allowed me to be myself because the students around me treated me like any other student, which allowed me to be like them and to also see another side to me as a person — as a king, an individual and a student. It made me very down to earth, which I am very grateful for.”
Kingdoms in Uganda date back to pre-colonial times. They were effectively shut down in 1966 by the nationalist movement under Milton Obote. But four remained strong: Buganda, Bunyoro-Kitara, Busoga and Toro. They are all ancient territories recognised by law, with populations associating themselves first with their kingdom and secondly with the nation of Uganda.
Toro kingdom is located in western Uganda. As with the other three kingdoms, it was forcefully disbanded in the 1960s by Obote’s regime, before they were completely outlawed by the constitution seven years later. Only once a democratically elected government took power in 1993 were they re-established. While the kingdoms have become re-recognisable by law, they do not enjoy full political sovereignty. Nevertheless, their political influence and ties to government leaders remains considerable.
During his visit to the UAE, King Oyo, his mother and their delegation met with officials to learn about best practices and discuss collaboration and investment opportunities.
“We want to invest into culture because that is what me and the queen represent — we are a symbol of culture and come from a cultural heritage, so we are here to form an alliance, a relationship with the people of the UAE and also on the economic side, as well,” he says.
Queen Best says the goal is to develop the kingdom and attract investors to Toro, with opportunities for investment in healthcare, education, agriculture and food security. Unemployment is a key challenge in the kingdom and Uganda in general, says King Oyo. His goal is to create more jobs for his people, especially the youth population.
By “creating jobs you don’t just save an individual but also that individual’s family because they can afford healthcare for themselves and their families, food on the table and all of those things that we as people need on a daily basis,” Oyo says.
Uganda has a population of about 39 million, with the majority earning low-income salaries, according to the World Bank. A quarter of its population lives at the national poverty line and life expectancy at birth is 59 years. Youth unemployment is among the highest in Africa, estimated at 62 percent by ActionAid and 83 percent by the African Development Bank. The country is home to the world’s largest percentage of people under the age of 30, calculated at close to 78 percent by the UN Population Fund.
King Oyo hopes he can bring about change during his reign.
“It’s straightforward,” he says. “I’d like to empower my people, to see them thriving, to see them out of poverty, to give them that platform or survival kit so they don’t have to struggle to send their kids to school or to get money for transport or to take them to the hospital, while there aren’t that many hospitals as well.”
His focus is on educating the population and providing them with healthcare that can trim the number of infants and young children dying every year. However, this is not an easy task: poverty is rampant and funding is scarce.
While this is an issue facing many African nations, Toro’s population is particularly underprivileged with many in the villages deprived of basic needs, Queen Best says.
“Those are things we need help with from other people, to come and give a hand to the king, and empower those people to come out of poverty,” she adds.
The kingdom has identified several development projects that require immediate attention. These will help increase cultural awareness among the people of Toro, enhance economic, political and health awareness, generate employment opportunities; and alleviate poverty. Targeted areas of development listed on the website include the rehabilitation or reconstruction of the king’s place, which is considered the cultural hub of Toro; the completion of the Cultural Centre, a multipurpose facility for the advancement of the performing and recording arts; reorganisation of the Royal Dance Troupe; implementing and supervising different humanitarian projects; and the restoration of the Royal Tombs.
But amongst the poverty and hardship, Toro is a breath-taking region full of green pastures and wildlife and national parks, helping it to become known as the tourism hub of Uganda. Its tourism sector and fertile soil ideal for agriculture form the backbone of its economy.
It is the king’s third visit to the UAE, a place that for him embodies boundless possibilities and proof of what can be achieved from scratch.
He is learning how Dubai built a successful economic model and attempting to build relationships with the emirate in a bid to follow in its path, at least to some degree.
“That’s why we are [in the UAE] on a cultural visit because we want to show them what our culture is like and what the kingdom has to offer. Not just culture, but also wildlife,” King Oyo says.
The article describes his kingdom "poverty is rampant and funding is scarce."
I'm sure his subjects would therefore be thrilled to know he is staying at a suite in the Burj al Arab.
Too see a young King with only 22 years old taking the responsibility of so many people warms my heart. Many would act as dictators or without care for their people but he seems to really love his people and will be a great leader for Uganda. How many African Kings do we hear about in a positive way? He seems to be following the path of the UAE and creating perhaps what could be a kingdom that could help drive Uganda past its poverty into a strong economy.
With time, we will see