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Can king Mumbere rally votes for Museveni in 2011?

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati

In the 2006 election FDC’s Besigye won 56% of the vote against 43% for Museveni.

October 19 is the day set for the official crowning of Prince Charles Wesley Mumbere Iremangoma as king of Rwenzururu kingdom, the Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu, which is found in the Rwenzori Mountains covering Kasese and parts of Bundibugyo.

Recognition of the Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu brings the number of cultural kingdoms and chiefdoms in the country to at least 12.

The enthronement of their king marks a watershed among the indigenous people living around Rwenzori Mountain, who are called the Banyarwenzururu. Since 1963, they have been demanding to be recognised as a kingdom by the central government of Uganda. When the recognition did not come they waged an armed freedom struggle from 1960s to 1982 against the Kingdom of Toro and government of Uganda.

In 1995, their efforts paid off when the Uganda Constitution that year recognized the two tribes as distinct ethnic groups. But recognition of their kingdom still eluded them.

In June 2005, government instituted a commission of inquiry (an inter ministerial committee consisting of John Nasasira, Betty Akech and Daudi Migereko) into the Obusinga issue headed by deputy prime minister Henry Muganwa Kajura and the findings were that Rwenzururu was overwhelmingly supported with Mumbere as the preferred king.

Later the president asked the NRM leaders in Kasese to assess the situation and make recommendations of which they recommended favourably about the kingdom. It is on this basis that president Museveni accepted to recognize the cultural institution.

Cultural implications

Museveni reportedly surprised the congregation at South Rwenzori Diocese at St Paul’s Cathedral in Kasese during the celebration of the diocese’s 25th anniversary on August 30 when he said: “Am now happy to inform you that I have written information that now you all agree on Obusinga, since you agree, I also agree.” This unexpected comment turned the church into jubilation momentarily bringing the president’s speech to a halt.

The kingdom of Rwenzurruru traces its origins in 1922 when one of its early leaders, Nyamutswa with Isaya Mukirania, and others started demanding for recognition as a distinct ethnic group from the Toro kingdom.

In 1950s, when Uganda was nearing independence, the Bakonzo and Baamba demanded that they be recognised in the Toro kingdom and the 1962 constitution of Uganda as a tribe but the Toro kingdom refused. This sparked the formation of Rwenzururu Freedom Movement.

Culturally, Fort Portal Municipality MP Stephen Kaliba says the government’s recognition of the Rwenzururu kingdom could end the conflict between Toro and Rwenzururu ethnic groups. He says today’s Rwenzururu is modern and reformed and not like the one of 1960s; so recognizing their cultural institution is okay and constitutional. “Culture is culture. When culture is deep rooted in people we need to respect and accommodate them,” he says.

Political implications

On the face of it, President Museveni might have scored a political goal by recognizing the Rwenzururu kingdom but the political opposition party, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), says it is a win-win situation. Â

But the government’s recognition of Obusinga may have implications that might turn out to be better or worse for Museveni and the opposition support in Rwenzori region that comprises Kasese and Toro.

In the 2006 election, FDC’s Besigye defeated Museveni in Kasese scooping 56% of the vote against 43% for president Museveni.

So will this change the voting behavior?

Analysts, in the recent past, have argued that the creation of kingdoms benefit president Museveni as it buys him political support. But some people hailing from Kasese who The Independent spoke to say the government’s recognition of the Obusanga is a welcome idea though has been long overdue and thus does not mean it will sway their voting behaviour very much.

Indeed, Dr Arthur Syahuka Muhindo of Makerere University’s Department of Political Science and Public Administration who has researched and presented papers about the Rwenzururu factor shares this view. He says in the 1980 elections, only Kasese in Western Uganda voted for UPM even when their king had asked them to vote for UPC, and they voted overwhelmingly for FDC in 2001 and 2006 elections. “I don’t think it [recognizing Obusinga] will change the way people have been voting. The people of Kasese vote like rebels. It should not surprise you in the next election if they voted for UPC,” Dr Syahuka said.

Busongora South MP, Christopher Kibanzanga (FDC), is of another view. To him, the central government’s recognition of Obusinga means that both the opposition and NRM party have won as they have brought what people of Rwenzururu have always demanded. He argues that the basis for voting is going to shift to other issues that affect the people of Rwenzori such as unemployment, creating market for their produce and reviving the railway line as well as resolving the land question in Kasese district.

Godfrey Kabyanga, Rwenzururu kingdom spokesman, says people of Rwenzori will vote depending on how the political parties package themselves and says those who have been using Obusinga issue to rally for votes will have to think harder because the issue has been resolved. On the issue of minorities, like the Basongora and Banyabindi, Kabyanga says they are free to join or not to join the institution as it is their constitutional right.

“Now it will be a question of whom do you trust with our affairs. The one who can put people’s voice across and that is FDC. Our views have won as FDC we said the people have a constitutional right to their kingdom and we included it in our manifesto and NRM did not.NRM has recognized the kingdom which is good but FDC stood by the people in the time of demand,” says Kibanzanga. He adds that: “Obusinga has not been the only agenda of the people of Kasese. There are issues like unemployment, land, the railway line and market for their crops which need to be addressed. Let people own land titles and be properly allocated the land. Mubuku Irrigation Scheme has been run down.” Efforts to reach Defence Minister Chrispus Kiyongo who is also NRM chairman were fruitless as his phone was switched off.

Coronation costs Shs 800m

Meanwhile, preparation for the coronation, under the theme of unity and reconciliation, are under way. The event will cost whopping Shs 800 million.

Unlike other areas where, some observers say, the Shs 5 million monthly cheque that the Office of the President gives to each cultural head might has fueled the demand for chiefdoms and kingdoms’ recognition, the Rwenzururu’s demand for their king, the omusinga, to be recognised appears to be a genuine struggle for ethnic identity.

The king-in-waiting Charles Wisley Iremangoma is relatively well-off financially and the area of Kasese is endowed with resources like limestone for making cement, copper, cobalt, national parks, the snow capped Rwenzori Mountain. There is however, resentment that the local people have not benefited from them.  President Museveni is expected to attend the coronation ceremony.

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