Talks between Kingdom officials and the government bear fruit but detractors remain
Kampala, Uganda | MUBATSI ASINJA HABATI | On November 27, 2016 Omusinga (king) Charles Wesley Mumbere, the cultural leader of Rwenzururu Kingdom, and hundreds of his subjects were arrested after a Uganda military assault on his palace that left over 100 people dead.
Hours before the deadly attack, the kingdom leadership had been given a one hour ultimatum to surrender the royal guards that were suspected of causing insecurity in the region. The king was adamant.
At 1:00 PM of November 27, 2016 the palace was burnt down by the military and the king with hundreds of his subjects were arrested.
Five years after his was arrested together with some of his subjects, Omusinga, is still searching for justice. A convoluted judicial system and the complex political landscape of the Rwenzori region are being blamed.
Amidst the uncertainty, it appears, the emergence of a new breed of NRM cadres in Rwenzori mountains region is offering hope. Unlike in the past, their solution to resolving the predicament Omusinga and his some of his subjects find themselves is political and not militaristic. Finally, it appears, the years of incarceration have led the Rwenzururu leader and his subjects to appreciate the role of negotiations in resolving tensions.
The old NRM cadres in the region, who are close to President Yoweri Museveni and believe in military approach, remain. These want the king and his subjects to answer for their crimes in court. But the new cadres also have a powerful lobby and connections within Museveni’s inner circle. And, it appears, Museveni has not shown his favour yet.
“It seems the President is watching from a distance,” says a source familiar with the goings-on of the Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu (OBR) saga.
History of the recognition of the Rwenzururu kingdom shows that President Museveni has often operated under the cover of area NRM cadres to decide a contentious issue. Before, his government officially recognised OBR, he often argued that the matter was to be decided by the Kasese and Bundibugyo districts NRM cadres. This was even when the 2005 Kajura Commission, headed by then-First Deputy Prime Minister Henry Kajura, reported that 85% of the people of Rwenzori wanted their kingdom to be recognised.
Today, proponents of the political solution to the OBR question argue that so far they have mobilised the Rwenzururu area to vote for the ruling NRM party. Indeed, in the recent 2021 elections the NRM party secured three parliamentary seats in Kasese and President Yoweri Museveni garnered the majority votes against his opponents in Kasese district unlike in 2016 elections.
Amidst all this drama, the poor OBR subjects languishing in jail are caught in the middle. So far nine of the suspects arrested with king have died in jail. And the people of Rwenzururu miss the close presence of their king.
Much as the High Court in Jinja presided over by Justice Eva Luswata granted bail to Omusinga (king), and his former Prime Minister Thembo Kitsumbire in January 2017, their movements are restricted to Kampala, Mukono and Wakiso districts. These stringent bail conditions have effectively left Omusinga in a sort of house arrest. He has never set foot in Kasese, the base of his kingdom, since November 2016. Even when his mother died in 2019, Mumbere could not attend the burial much as court had cleared him to travel for this burial.
Prior to the 2021 elections there was anticipation the Rwenzururu king would be released but government released on bail 132 suspects out of 200 in December 2020 instead. It is believed the 132, who included palace cooks, domestic workers and royal guards were suspected to have committed less serious crimes.
The remaining 70 suspects in different jails in Uganda are waiting their day in court or what may come out of any talks or negotiations between the government and OBR.