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Politicians fueling conflicts in Rwenzori

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati

In the past few weeks, there have been simmering tensions among the Bakonzo, Basongora and Bamba/Babwisi in Kasese and Bundibugyo districts over the jurisdiction of Rwenzururu kingdom. The Independent’s Mubatsi Asinja Habati spoke to Loice Biira Bwambale, the acting Prime Minister of Rwenzururu kingdom.

The Bakonzo and Bamba have lived with each other for long without incidences of fighting. What is the cause of the recent clash in Bundibugyo?

I am also looking for the cause. We have put a committee in place to examine this deeply. But in my opinion people who are playing wrong politics are using the locals to promote their political and selfish interests. They are taking advantage of the weaknesses in the law that establishes cultural institutions. For example if you wish to establish a cultural institution within another recognised cultural institution what written procedure is there? The written procedure is the mandate to local government councils to recommend that a new cultural institution should be in place. The role of the minister of gender in this is not clear and there is need to amend the law to guide the minority groups.

The turmoil followed our peaceful visit to Bundibugyo which was the main venue for celebrating our 50 years of breaking away from Toro kingdom administration. Before as part of preparation for this celebration I put a committee under my office headed by Yeremia Mutooro who worked together with the district administration and everything was peaceful.  But we were surprised on the day of the celebration when His Majesty the King of Rwenzururu started receiving directives from the President (Museveni) not to hoist the Rwenzururu flag in Bundibugyo. We realised that the President who had been represented by Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi was getting wrong information.  My reading of this confusion is that the Bamba/Babwisi want to get their own kingdom.  The best way to go about this is using peaceful means not violence. Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu does not force anyone to belong to it. As a cultural institution we need peaceful co-existence and development of our area. We started the struggle for freedom with Bamba Yeremia Kawamara, Peter Mupalya and Isaya Mukirania and if they think otherwise now, it should be done peacefully and in a civilized way. There are some Bamba who want Obusinga and we will go with those willing to stay in Obusinga (kingdom).

What has the committee now found out?

After the destruction of property, loss of lives, and displacement of people a committee drawn from the district leaders like DISO, RDC and elders from Bamba and Bakonzo was set up to harmonise the people. We have all suffered marginalisation and the committee has just begun its work. People who had been displaced I am told have gone back to the land.

What do you say about the Basongara declaring a kingdom within Rwenzururu kingdom?

It is very surprising to us to see a cocktail of tribes coming together and forming a kingdom. They would rather call it a cultural convergence organisation not a kingdom. They are seeking to provoke and challenge the authority of Omusinga (King) and his kingdom. And now they have been on radio stations laying claim on 20 sub-counties of Kasese district forgetting that it is the district council that gives and creates sub-counties not individuals. Creating a kingdom within another and in the same district without following the laid constitutional procedure is unacceptable and we think it is intended to provoke us rather than to unite us. We call upon government to explain this situation and they are still saying the Attorney General is interpreting the law. But the partial statement is that Rwenzururu kingdom is the only recognised kingdom now with its headquarters in Kasese municipality.

So would you be comfortable with Busongora kingdom being within Rwenzururu kingdom but in a separate district?

Not until the law has defined how we should relate to any other cultural institution in the making we shall continue to assert our rights.  Our flags must be flown in schools that believe in us and those within the kingdom and our anthem must be sung. You can’t tell me that there are different schools for Basongora, Bahuma and Bakonzo. Our greatest concern is that every 10 years the Rwenzori region seems to be experiencing some conflict. This is causing a lot of worry for the people who thought after the recognition of Rwenzururu kingdom, a potentially rich area with fertile soils and natural resources, they would concentrate on development. But it is unfortunate that we are being rudely interrupted by these tribal tensions.  We need time to repackage our areas into a tourism destination. The division between the Bahuma and Banyabindi is being exaggerated. We have had a deliberate policy of ensuring the Bahuma are represented in the district council and administration.

If you have these arrangements in place, why are there conflicts now?

One of the explanations is global because there are no longer resources to support nomadic and pastoralist kinds of lifestyle. Pastoralists must be resettled. The pastoralists are finding a home. Most of the land and natural resources in Kasese have been taken by government since 1960s and the population is increasingly squeezed between the lakes, national parks, government land and Mt. Rwenzori. This is creating more pressure on access to land and other resources. The question should now be how the people access these resources peacefully. The suspicion is that these people want to take away the potential areas where petroleum deposits have been discovered in this area. Government has to clear this suspicion.

Are you, as the Rwenzururu kingdom, open to dialogue with the aggrieved parties like Basongora for peace’s sake in the region?

We need to talk to each without bias. The government should take lead the in this. Those people should stop provoking us because once bitten twice shy. We are tired of conflicts. I have been directed by the king, that after the by-election we convene a meeting with the MPs from the region and discuss the division and work at complementing each other’s efforts. We need to respect each group’s rights.

I am ready for dialogue’

On July 1, Ivan Bwebale Rwigi IV declared himself king of Busongora, an area within Kasese district which is the seat of Rwenzururu kingdom. The Independent’s Mubatsi Asinja Habati spoke to him.

Busongora kingdom has not been heard of in Uganda’s history. Where has this kingdom been? What is your history?

Busongora kingdom began long ago in 1300. It was led by Nyakahuma Kogere. In 1500, Kyomya led it and in 1820 Queen Kantunguru led it, that’s how the word Katunguru came about. Kyomya Bwachali led in 1830 to 1850. Kikamba in 1850 to 1870. Rwasakali 1870 to 1891, then we had Kazooba 1906 to 1910. Kamilo Kogere II 1910 to 1911. Ivan Bwebale Rwigi IV was crowned on July 1, 2012. That is the short history of Busongora kingdom. I am waiting for the central government to recognise me.

So what has happened since coronation?

Thugs sympathetic to Rwenzururu attacked my home on July 11 taking the flag, drum and stealing Shs 70,760,000 which I was about to take the money to the bank. The police are investigating the matter. We are waiting for court. That’s why you found our flag was not hoisted.

Before the July 11 incident what was the people’s reaction towards your self-installation as king of Busongora?

I was running the activities of the kingdom. People were visiting me and everything looked normal. The people of Busongora have been raising money for the vehicle for the king. It is unfortunate that thugs of Rwenzururu took part of this money. They came singing Rwenzururu.

Do you have any idea why they attacked you?

They are just against this kingdom. They are afraid because Rwenzururu is not a kingdom but a political and military wing that Mumbere used to fight Toro kingdom. They are not supposed to be a kingdom. Historically Rwenzururu has not been a kingdom but Busongora and Bunyoro Kitara. The Rwenzururu people are using their numbers to intimidate us but that will not work. They get afraid when the Basongora say they want their own kingdom.

Have you talked to Rwenzururu kingdom about establishing your kingdom within another kingdom recognised by the central government?

How can they talk to me? They don’t know me. Mumbere himself does not know me. He knows his only people. I am the king of Busongora not Basongora.  I will not be king of Basongora alone.

What is the difference?

I am the king of Busongora because this area has many tribes. There are Bakonzo, Banyankole, Basongora, Baganda, Batooro, etc. we are not sectarian.

What are the boundaries of your kingdom?

All kingdoms have boundaries. Ours starts from Rwimi up to Nyakatonzi. Kasese town itself is in Busongora.

Has government talked to your  kingdom?

I have not heard from any one of them. I have been receiving many guests. I have met the RDC Kasese and he knows that Busongora kingdom exists though government has not recognised it. But I would like it if the recognition comes by October this year. The government is aware of this kingdom because this is our culture.

Your announcement of Busongora kingdom has sparked some tensions within Rwenzururu kingdom. What is your plan for people of Kasese and Rwenzori region to live in harmony and in peace?

Kasese district has two main counties; Busongora and Bukonzo. Since some counties in the country are being made districts let the two counties of Kasese be made districts. I am not for fighting for Basongora but for Busongora.

Who is supporting you to become king?

Very many people except the Bakonzo are supporting us. Many people even from Toro are calling me in show of support.

If Rwenzururu kingdom asked for dialogue, would you meet them?

I can talk to them. If they should stop intimidating us, I am ready for dialogue.

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