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Bundibugyo erupts in post-election violence

By Independent Team

13 killed in clashes blamed on EC’s mishandling of results announcement

During the Feb. 24 national local government elections, the returning officer of Bundibugyo Daniel Nayebare appeared determined to run a transparent operation. He allowed the results of the elections to be relayed live on a local FM radio in Bundibugyo town. Initially, it appeared incumbent LC5 chairman Jolly Tibamanya had staved off a stiff challenge from Ronald Mutegeki in the race for the top district job.

A few hours later, however, the returning officer returned with a correction in the results. Apparently, Nayebare said, there had been a mismatch in three polling stations. When that was corrected, Mutegeki emerged winner with 300 votes. The returning officer’s flip-flopping appears to have been the spark that an eruption of violence that was simmering between supporters of the rival camps had been waiting for.

Soon people were being attacked with spears, machetes, bows and arrows, and even guns. In one incident, attackers descended on the home of a prominent medical officer. He had barricaded himself inside and refused to open his door. But the attackers knocked the door down and shot him four times at blank range. He died instantly.

In another incident, a mother pregnant with twins was hacked to death together with her three year old child. By Feb.27, the police who were quickly deployed in the area were speaking of nine dead and several injured. But eyewitnesses claimed the casualty figure could be as high as 13 dead.  It was the latest indication of what the mishandling of an election can spark off. Following the outbreak of violence, commentators have noted that the Electoral Commission should have known better and been better prepared and organised for the Bundibugyo race. The district is in a known politically volatile region.

Troublesome NRM primaries

In October 2015, the district erupted into protests when similar confusion reigned during the ruling NRM party primaries. Both Mutegeki and Tibamanya contested. Mutegeki won and was declared the official party flag-bearer. But Tibamanya protested and opted to contest as an independent in the national race. Tibamanya even sided with and joined protests over a botched election in Bubukwanga Sub County.

Initially, Steven Mugisa was declared winner of the race to be the Sub County chairperson on the NRM party ticket. But the result was later altered and his opponent, George Baluku, declared winner.

Hundreds of NRM supporters in the district took to the streets, gathered at the Bundibugyo Town council offices, and agreed to return their yellow party membership cards to the headquarters in protest. Tibamanya was among those who joined the protesters. He said he would also return his NRM membership card as a sign of denouncing the party.  Following the latest violence, when confronted, Nayebare denied altering the results and said there is a difference between “announcing results and declaring the winner”. “What happened was that there was a mismatch in three polling stations. When that was corrected, Mutegeki won by 300 votes,” he said. “That was when I declared Mutegeki winner.” The violence is said to have acquired tribal overtones as the mainly Bamba tribe of Tibamanya attacked homes of Mutegeki’s tribe, the Bakonzo.

History of clashes

Bundibugyo was in 2014 the epicenter of widespread bloody clashes in the western region in which hundreds were killed, among them soldiers and the police.

Comprising the districts of Kasese, Bundibugyo, and Ntoroko, this area which lies in the oil-rich Albertine region, has a long history of conflict stretching from the 1960s. Between 1996 and 2001 the area witnessed fighting between the rebel Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU), and President Yoweri Museveni’s government.

Many civilians were killed in the fighting and in the most brutal incident, the ADF rebels attacked Kichwamba Technical College and doused the dormitories and lit a fire that burnt over 80 students to ashes.  Before that, in the 1980s, it was the theater of war between the government of then-president Milton Obote and the Rwenzururu rebellion led by the predecessor of the reigning monarch of the Bakonjo, Omusinga Charles Wesley Mumbere Iremangoma.

But the attacks happened just five days after President Museveni had attended the crowning of the Bamba cultural leader, Lt. Col. Martin Ayongi Kamya, on June 30. This event appears to have raised ethnic temperatures in the region. Lt. Col. Kamya is the son of Isaiah Kawamara, one of the three founders of the Rwenzururu Movement and a rival to Mumbere.

The area is, therefore, highly militarised and the Mumbere postures as a military commander. The Bakonjo also boast of prominent soldiers in the Uganda army, including Maj. Gen. Wilson Mbasu Mbadi, the UPDF’s Joint Chief of Staff (JCOS).  Gen. Mbadi spent many years as Museveni’s ADC until November 2012 when he was promoted to Brigadier and was redeployed. He is currently the highest-ranking UPDF officer hailing from the region. But before him, there was former army commander Maj. Gen. James Kazini, a Musongora who died in 2009. Lt. Col.  Dura Muhindo Mawa is another top Mukonjo. Earlier in 2012, tension erupted after Mumbere’s coronation.

It involved the Bakonzo, Basongora and Bamba/Babwisi in Kasese and Bundibugyo districts fighting over the jurisdiction of the Rwenzururu kingdom. A man called Ivan Bwebale Rwigi IV declared himself king of Busongora in an area within Kasese District, which is the seat of Rwenzururu Kingdom. Shortly afterwards, attackers raided his home and escaped with some regalia of his so-called Busongora Kingdom, including the flag and drum.

At the time, The Independent was told that President Museveni had called Mumbere and advised against him hoisting the Rwenzururu kingdom flag in Bundibugyo. Five days later, on July 6, violence had broken out as the Bamba, who wanted to destroy the so-called palace, faced-off with a pro-Mumbere group. Several people sustained injuries, six motor cycles were burnt, property was looted and destroyed, and one man died after being knocked by a car.

The Bakonjo claim ownership of all Rwenzururu, which means people of the ‘snow-capped mountain’. These include Bakonjo, Basongora, Bamba, Babwisi, Batuku, and others who live on or along the edges of Mountain Rwenzori. The other tribes oppose that. It appears, therefore, that the fight between Mutegeki and Tibamanya is the continuation of tribal politics by other means.

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