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King Mumbere walks tight rope in Rwenzori

By Patrick Matsiko wa Mucoori

The National Resistance Movement had no difficulty in supporting cultural revival. We had no difficulty because reviving the cultural institutions will address the following very important points’¦

It was of great significance that in the interlacustrine Bantu area, the kingdoms of Buganda, Bunyoro, Ankole and Toro as well as the chiefdoms of Busoga, the kings and chiefs managed to unite scores of clans under single administrations. In the case of Buganda, 52 clans had been progressively united. In Ankole 36 clans had been united. Uniting such a number of clans meant making them work together; meant stopping them from fighting among themselves; meant regulating relationships between them and among individuals. If there had been no such unity, then all the 52 units would have been acting independently and most likely against one another.

It is, therefore, very important to commemorate the fact that our ancestors had attained this level of development in terms of political integration. In the same way our ancestors in Buganda and other kingdoms used all creative means to weave unity among the clans, we should use similar creative measures to unite the different peoples of Uganda and the different religions in order to achieve similar goals (to those of our ancestors) of wider unity that enables us to command (gain access to) greater human and natural resources,’ President Museveni said at the opening of Buganda’s Lukiiko at Bulange on August 2, 1993 after the coronation of Kabaka Muwenda Mutebi.

The perceived critical role of creating social and political integration (unity) was the main reason the kingdoms and traditional institutions were restored beginning 1993. However 15 years later, this theory that cultural institutions breed community integration has developed cracks and is seemingly heading in the opposite direction ‘” community disintegration.

In Buganda, the ‘strongest’ monarchy in Uganda, small communities like Banyala in Kayunga and Baruli in Nakasongola who had been living harmoniously with Baganda previously, have started agitations for secession. The kabaka has been blocked twice from going to Nakasongola and Kayunga for fear of the separatist Baruli and Banyala threat to cause violence. The result has been tragic with riots last month leaving 27 people dead. In Bunyoro there is growing animosity between the Banyoro, the reigning tribe, and the migrant tribes. The cultural institution has become a catalyst for tribal ‘nationalism’ which has widened the gap between the indigenous Banyoro and other tribes instead of integrating them into one unit.

This problem of cultural institutions breeding disintegration rather than integration is not unique to Buganda and Bunyoro. In fact the fear of a cultural institution causing friction and disintegration is the principal reason why Ankole does not have a king today. The Banyankole rejected the crowning of Prince Barigye as king of Ankole in 1993. The anti-monarchists argued that the monarchy would divide Banyankole along ethnic lines rather than unite them.

This fear has been reinforced by the latest fallout between the Bakonjo and Bamba/Babwisi following the decision to coronate Omusinga Wesley Mumbere as the head of the Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu (kingdom).

On October 13, the Bamba/Babwisi met President Museveni at State House to protest the coronation of Mumbere as king of Rwenzururu.In their petition, they asked the president to stop Mumbere from using the name Bamba/Babwisi on the Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu website or in any official references on Obusinga. They say they are not part of the Obusinga and therefore decry their inclusion into the Rwenzururu kingdom.

They also want Mumbere to be referred to as king of Bakonjo, not Rwenzururu and that his ‘operational base’ should be restricted to Kasese, not to extend to Bundibugyo district which they say is for Bamba although there are some Bakonjo inhabitants.

How did Rwenzururu kingdom come about?

There was the Rwenzururu uprising during the 1960s which involved the Bamba/Babwisi and Bakonjo militants. The Bamba say that their common agenda at that time was never to establish a kingdom.’Therefore, the Bamba (which for the avoidance of doubt include the Babwisi) hereby declare that we are not part and parcel or privy at all times to the Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu cultural institution. Any attempt to include us is involuntary, misconceived and must stop forthwith,’ the Bamba petition to the President reads in part.

The Bakonjo/Bamba started the Rwenzururu Movement in 1962 to fight for autonomy from Toro Kingdom. The uprising was led by Peter Muparya, Kawamala and Isaiah Mukirania, the father of Wesley Mumbere. The insurgents mainly wanted autonomous geographical space where they would be in charge of their own service delivery rather than depend on Toro administration.

Kawamala, Muparya and Mukirania were arrested and charged in court for rebelling against the Toro kingdom. However Mukirania jumped bail and fled to the Rwenzori Mountains to continue with the fighting. But this time the objective of the fighting changed from seeking administrative autonomy to something else. Muparya and Kawamala were convicted and sentenced to jail in Morukatipe Prison, in Tororo.

The Bamba under their leader Fulgensio Bamwitirebye say that the objective of the Rwenzururu Movement was achieved when Kasese and Bundibugyo were made into districts after the uprising. They argue that the Rwenzururu movement therefore cannot be used as a platform for achieving a cultural institution.

They also say the Bakonjo have never had a king before and therefore the Obusinga is not hereditary. They describe Mumbere’s claim to kingship as a hoax. The Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu spokesman Godfrey Kabyanga admits that the Rwenzururu is not a hereditary kingdom because it never existed before 1962 like the kingdoms of Buganda, Ankole, Busoga, Bunyoro and Toro. But he argues that after fighting and securing independence from Toro, Mukiraniawho was a councillor in the Rukurato (Toro parliament) representing the Rwenzori region, declared the Rwenzururu kingdom on June 30, 1962.

He dismissed the Bamba’s contention that their name should not be used in reference to the Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu since they are not Mumbere’s subjects.

Kabyanga says Rwenzururu means ‘snow-capped mountain.’ He therefore argues that the Obusinga is not for Bakonjo, Bamba or any other single tribe. He says Rwenzururu refers to all the people living in the RwenzoriMountain who believe in the institution regardless of their tribe. That’s why it cannot be called Bukonjo kingdom.Whoever does not believe in Obusinga is free to stay away, he charges.

Under article 214 of the constitution, any community has liberty to have a cultural leader no matter whether that tribe has had a king before. So under the provisions of this article, the Bakonjo can have a king even if they had none in the past.

The Bamba say Mumbere, crowned on October 19, shall not set foot in Bundibugyo which is their area because they are not his subjects. They also say if he is to go there, he will come as a private citizen, but not as king of Rwenzururu.

This position is, however, challenged by the kingdom spokesman Kabyanga. ‘Bundibugyo does not belong to Bamba alone. There are Bakonjo, Bamba and Batuku… The Bakonjo are the majority. So how can the Bamba stop the majority from enjoying their institution?’ he asked. He also disputed the assertion that Mumbere has no legitimate right to extend his cultural jurisdiction to Bundibugyo. Kabyanga says Mumbere’s grandfather Masanduku migrated from Bundibugyo to Kasese and therefore has an ancestral bondage to the area.

Regardless, the Bamba have vowed not to allow Mumbere set foot in Bundibugyo. ‘All official functions of Obusinga should be in Kasese only. Mumbere cannot come to Bundibugyo in the process of Obusinga,’ Bamwitirebye said.

He says if the Bakonjo in Bundibugyo want to pay their allegiance to Mumbere, they should go to his palace in Kasese. Bamwitirebye says the Obusinga is intended to overshadow the Bamba cultural identity, something they cannot tolerate.

What did Museveni tell the Bamba?

Bamwitirebye said President Musevni agreed with them that the Obusinga’s ‘centre of gravity’ should be in Kasese and Bundibugyo is the ‘centre of gravity’ of Bamba. He says the president agreed that the Bakonjo in Bundibugyowho believe in the Obusinga should go to Kasese if they want to pay homage to their king but not Mumbere to visit them.

On the use of the name Rwenzururu for the Obusinga, the President reportedly said he would first consult before making a response.

Given the growing internal friction among clans and tribes that have cultural leaders, what is left of the theory that cultural institutions lead to community integration?

Buganda is on the brink of disintegration with various communities seeking to break away from the kingdom.Busoga is in the frying pan and right now nobody knows who the rightful king is. In Bunyoro, the ethnic conflict between Banyoro and migrants is more volatile than before. The ethnic friction is slowly spreading to Toro. In Ankole it remains latent but can rapidly progress into open hostilities if a king is crowned.

Did Uganda make a wise or foolish choice in restoring the monarchies?

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