By Obed K. Katureebe & John Njoroge
Uganda on the brink of ethnic explosion
Two weeks ago on June 16, a group of at least 200 Bunyoro politicians, political heads and elders met President Yoweri Museveni at State House Entebbe. High on agenda was the ethnic dispute between Banyoro and migrants (Abafuruki) who are mainly Bakiga cultivators Bahima and Banyarwanda pastoralists.
The ethnic tensions in the region are so palpable that for the last two weeks, nearly 5,000 police men and women have been deployed in the area in anticipation of violence.
The Bunyoro case is not isolated. Several other incidents of an ethnic nature have been reported from various parts of Uganda. While many may seem like isolated incidents, collectively analysed, they reveal a disturbing picture of a trend that has been slowly eating up the Ugandan society.
In Buliisa district since 2007, pastoralists commonly called the Balaalo have been in conflict with the Bagungu. It does not help matters that nobody seems to know where these Balaalo originally came from.
In eastern Uganda, tension between the Iteso of Tororo and the Jopadhola have escalated after the recent decision by government to split Tororo district into two; Mukuju district for the Iteso and Kisoko district for the Jopadhola. Whereas the Iteso have welcomed this move, the Jopadhola are angry at the split and are vowing to do all it takes to keep Tororo district intact.
The Bagwere and Iteso in Pallisa have also been at loggerheads leading to the creation of Budaka district out of Pallisa which is primarily for the Bagwere. In Buganda, war drums have been sounded out especially by the Mengo administration for its citizenry not to sell land to non-Baganda.
Unlike in the early years of the NRM government when it was criminal to incite people along tribal lines, today it is the order of the day to hear politicians calling fellow tribesmen to throw out those perceived as migrants or ‘foreigners.
The NRM has unleashed the most vicious ethnic orientation; there is ethnicity in almost everything that happens ‘ from recruitment for state jobs to scholarships, building roads, hospitals, name it.
‘Ugandans have lived in harmony with each other for years. These ethnic divides are a cocktail prepared by the current leadership. It has focused on staying in power and using ethnicity to divide Ugandans so that Museveni is the final arbitrator. Whenever there are problems, people run to Museveni. The leadership has decided to dismantle the social fibre of Uganda,’ says veteran politician and leader of the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) Jaberi Bidandi Ssali.
Musevenis handling of the Bunyoro delegation on June 16 reveals this tendency.
The delegation, which was led by Masindi LC-V chairman Stephen Birija and comprised all Bunyoro MPs and ministers, presented a litany of grievances to Museveni.
In a meeting that lasted over six hours, they demanded the unconditional return of all Bunyoro land titles and those in the hands of migrants to be declared null and void. They also asked Museveni to stop all the migrants from standing for any political office in Bunyoro region.
People who attended the meeting told The Independent that it was typical horse-trading between President Museveni and the Banyoro leaders, especially delegation leader Birija.
Even the huge oil reserves recently discovered in the kingdom were seriously debated. The Banyoro told Museveni to state clearly how much the Banyoro will earn from the proceeds of the oil drilled from their area.
But there trump-card appears to be the half a million or so block votes that Museveni has always won in previous elections. Museveni desperately needs these votes to keep his prized fourth presidential (in fact sixth) term in sight come 2011.
Apparently, our sources say, this is the main reason the President seems to have succumbed to the groups every demand.
He apparently assured the group that he will soon cause a motion to be presented in Parliament titled ‘Banyoro Land Bill. It will propose that Bunyoro be divided into two parts with some areas declared a no-go area for all migrants. Under the legislation, non-Banyoro will be prohibited from running for any political office in Bunyoro.
By acquiescing to the Bunyoro demands, he showed that he has failed to see that its his past actions that have put him and the country in a tight spot.