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Understanding Rwenzori tension

By Simplice A. Asongu

A response to the Independent Team on post-election violence in Bundibugyo

The article titled “Bundibugyo erupts in post-election violence” (The Independent Issue 408) alleged that the post- February 24 local government elections violence in Bundibugyo “is said to have acquired tribal overtones as the mainly Bamba tribe of Tibamanya attacked homes of Mutegeki’s tribe, the Bakonzo.”

Whereas such simplistic rendition of yet a much more complex issue as the Bundibugyo post-election outburst could be pardoned, one can hardly absolve the part of a Kampala-headquartered editorial team for the degree of inaccuracy contained in the quote above.

Furthermore, that very Independent Team subsequently reported—with a seemingly innocent dose of ignorance— that the July 05, 2014 attacks in the districts of Bundibugyo, Kasese and Ntoroko “happened just five days after President Museveni had attended the crowning of the Bamba cultural leader, Lt. Col. Martin Ayongi Kamya, on June 30” clearly displays sheer lack of care for accuracy in reporting. Even more disturbing, in my opinion, for the Independent Team to have reported—a caveat provided by the verb ‘appear’ notwithstanding—that “[I]t appears, therefore, that the fight between Mutegeki and Tibamanya is the continuation of tribal politics by other means” is to collapse a set of complex structural issues into a very facile interpretation.

The vote for the position of the Bundibugyo LC V was no doubt a hotly contested race between an incumbent NRM-turned-independent candidate, Jolly Tibemanya and the NRM-endorsed flag bearer, Ronald Mutegeki. During 2015 Christmas break’s preliminary field visit in Bundibugyo town, I held a couple of semi-structured in-depth interviews with both political and cultural elites in the district. In my interviews with both categories of elites, a looming tension in the district and the [Rwenzori] region at large was constantly being pointed to, whose utmost effects were not too hard to fathom.

Jolly Tibemanya, a Mwamba, who had been defeated in the NRM primaries, was nevertheless the officially endorsed candidate of the Obudingiya Bwa Bwamba (OBB). With the OBB ‘cultural citizens’ numbering close to 60 percent of the overall district population, against 40 or so percent for ‘cultural citizens’ of the Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu (OBR), Tibemanya’s candidature presaged a win both during the NRM primaries and in the district elections proper, aided by an ethnically-infused political discourse of ‘Bundibugyo LC V seat the preserve of Baamba’. The arithmetic was staked in favour of Tibemanya until Ronald Mutegeki, born of a Mubwisi father and a Mukonzo mother, launched his candidature. Important to bear in mind is the fact that Mutegeki as a nephew of Mzee Mupalya—one the three vanguard leaders of the Rwenzururu Movement, whose recent death unsettled long-lived alliances between the Baamba and Babwisi—and as a maternal cousin to an extended Konzo lineage in Bwamba County, was held in high esteem by all so-called ‘non-hegemonic ethnic minorities’ of the district.

Actors at play

As such, a combination of a bloc vote by the Bakonzo, Babwisi and (perhaps) sections of sympathetic (as well as ill-satisfied) Baamba earned Mutegeki a win both in the NRM primaries and the definitive February 24, 2016 local government elections. In Mutegeki, Bundibugyo’s Bakonzo saw a ray of hope to change their socio-political fate—previously treated as second-class citizens under the predominantly Baamba politico-administrative dispensation. Babwisi too, saw in Mutegeki a chance to right a past wrong suffered by Mzee Mupalya in the hands of a Baamba-dominated cultural institution. Not least of all, one of Mutegeki’s paternal uncles, a well-remembered and popular former district chairperson, lent political credit to his candidature. Against this backdrop, Tibemanya’s candidature—albeit an official endorsement by the OBB cultural institution in cohort with a few representatives from central government—suffered support atrophy in the unfolding refusal of a purely Baamba ethnic hegemony in the district.

Intentions at play

This recent episode of violence—albeit circumstantially post-elections—should not be fully cast in light of spontaneity of voters’ grievances, acting on behalf of either candidate. A sober decipherment of the peopling of the district and its assorted socio-political as well as economic landscape, since its creation in 1974, points to some longstanding structural issues beyond emotive character. In such now-recurrent contestation—over the right to be and let be—between the ‘politically framed hegemonic ethnic majority’ and the ‘politically framed non-hegemonic ethnic minority’ over farmland, variegated cultural citizenship and political decision-making (of which both the July 05, 2014 attacks and the recent post-elections violence are expressions), the following structural issues can be enumerated:

The de-gazettement of parts of Rwenzori National Park in the northern spur of the mountain ranges and of Semliki National Park in the valley

The Bughendera unfinished business: commensurate social and economic related physical infrastructure under the current district administration or granting of a district status to enable Bughendera’s own enfranchisement

The OBR cultural presence in Bwamba County: geo-cultural space versus cultural citizenship

De-hegemonisation of the political landscape by one ethnic category


David-Ngendo Tshimba is a Makerere Institute of Social Research PhD Fellow

[email protected]

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