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Govt route in Bunyoro conflict is a dead end

By Ashad Sentongo

The apparent route President Yoweri Museveni has taken in Banyoro tribal conflict is a dead end yet the solution may be within his very government that now appears divisive.

As quoted in the Daily Monitor newspaper of August 11, 2009, the suggestion by the Minister of State for Internal Affairs Matia Kasaija that all land should be given back to Banyoro and the Bafuruki (migrants) should lease it is catastrophic to the region and the country. This may well be a touchdown for Buganda if implemented, but also strengthens the kingdom’s case in the demand for the 9000sq miles which were taken away by the colonial government. This may well mean the government should vacate the land Buganda in claiming or instead lease it from the Buganda Kingdom. By extension, there are enough of these claims in each region to draw the rest of the country into turmoil.

The minister also seeks a ‘political formula indicating where each community, (Banyoro or indigenous and Bafuruki or begins from and where it ends.’ The president then provided one that involves

Ethnically qualified criteria to ‘ring-fence’ some electoral posts for only Banyoro. This is impractical. Even if it was for Bunyoro sub-region alone, it is not easy to align it in the constitution of the country unless the president himself is the law, and the Electoral Commission will have to devise a system to determine who is a Munyoro or Mufuruki. Yet if political posts have to be ethnically qualified, we may also ask ‘what ethnically qualifies Mr Yoweri Kaguta to be the president or his ethnic kinsmen to stand for elections in other parts of the country other than their original home region of Ankole.’

The other assumption here is that all other regions will ignore such ethnic differentiation simply as a Banyoro problem. But this is one of the policies that set Serbs, Muslims, Croats and Albanians into a conflict that later exacerbated to disintegrate the former Yugoslavia. By historical inference, policies that bifurcate communities into citizens and subjects are colonial (read Prof. Mahmood Mamdani’s Citizen and Subject, 1996).

The President announced on WBS television in July that the debate over a federal system of government in Uganda is closed. But his ‘ring-fencing’ suggestion, his minister’s suggestion on land and control of migrants into Bunyoro all mean one thing- ‘a federal state capable of enforcing self-rule’.

Political formulae are often rigid and no formula can determine or sustain the ‘beginning and end’ of tribal, communal or ethnic boundaries as the minister suggests especially if it is a political one against a history like ours. Even if it did today, there are no guarantees that it would remain relevant for long, since communities evolve and resource dynamics change over time to challenge such rigid solutions to communal conflicts. Today’s oil question or land ownership in Bunyoro will be something else in Busoga and elsewhere yet no tribe in Uganda can exist without the other, even with monopoly in the military, politics and economy. Under consociation democracy (by Arend Lijphart 1999, 1977), some Scandinavian countries have well developed formulae for ethnic representation in power-sharing governments. But the processes of state formation and inter-ethnic dynamics are completely different to make their formulae transferable to Uganda or Bunyoro in particular. Yet the need to protect these rigid formulae hampers the required flexibility in decision-making and consensus-building towards reforms necessary in some of these countries to cope with downturns during crises. (Read Jon Pierre and B. Guy Peters. Governance, Politics and the State). The Oil Question now appears to have heightened inter-tribal negative estimations, tensions and hostilities- exacerbated by the claim that Bafuruki are more successful or dominating the indigenous Banyoro.

It is unfortunate that the government has not taken a conflict-sensitive approach to this exploration in spite of similar examples in the Niger Delta in Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Iraq or the Democratic Republic of Congo. Where oil and other forms of mineral wealth shape and perpetuate ‘greed and grievance’ scenarios, and account for inter-ethnic strife, violence and civil wars. A study from this perspective would help reveal what opportunities exist for local peace in Uganda and what can be learnt from our other African friends.

There should be a renewed government approach that bridges ethnic divides, supports communities with projects that exclude elite influence and manipulation and increase incomes for families, expand education facilities and opportunities in Bunyoro. This provides new stakes in peoples’ lives, generates interdependence and expands avenues for cooperation than the narrow-traditional communal relations influenced by everyday forms of inter-ethnic comparison.

Government policies that allocate blame are not new to this protracted conflict, and the NRM has now fallen in the same trap. Botswana presents good natural resource management and stable governance lessons in this case. Ethnic-arithmetic for political calculation and gain explains our violent history as a country, and suggest a leadership that is gambling for survival.

I am also inclined to suggest that this was the context of the 2008 Kenya and Zimbabwe post-electoral crises, but also sustains ethnic conflicts in northern Ghana in spite of progress in democratic governance. All tribes and communities need each other and if Bafuruki left Bunyoro today, all their success would not go to Banyoro but they will just take it with them elsewhere. The precedent could result in such skepticism that will not only discourage development partnerships and cooperation between co-ethnics and ethnic-others in the sub-region, but also further differentiation and alienation of some groups as unreliable. In Africa the state retains monopoly of the means and control over processes that occasion peace or conflict and this situation is well within the means and capacity of the Uganda government to resolve but not to exacerbate.

Ashad Sentongo is a PhD student at the Institute of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University USA

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