Uganda: Could The Struggle For Rukungiri District Trigger A Revolution?

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Dr. Besigye. Columnist believes Gen. Museveni will do anything to prevent him from becoming President

[Commentary: Historical Analysis]

The political struggle between Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) led by Dr. Kizza Besigye and the National Resistance Movement (NRM) led by Yoweri Museveni that erupted in parts of western Uganda on October 10, 2015 as FDC was trying to hold a rally in Rukungiri district could trigger a revolution.

The long-term ingredients for a revolution are self-evident.

They include: the demand for self-determination; ending economic exploitation and dispossession of assets including land; and social domination by a small ethnic group within the NRM government.

What is missing to set off the revolution off is a spark. Can Rukungiri with its history of ethnic – not religious – conflicts and current strong-willed politicians including Jim Muhwezi of NRM and Kizza Besigye, Ingrid Turinawe and Moses Byamugisha of FDC as they struggle to control Rukungiri politics and by extension national politics trigger a revolution?

To understand such a possibility we need to visit the politics of ethnic domination in Rukungiri as far back as 1800 (see Paul Ngorogoza 1968) when a group of war-like Tutsi-Bahororo under the leadership of Rwebiraro sought refuge from the former Mpororo kingdom that had disintegrated in mid-18th century and settled at Nyakinengo in Nyakagyeme gombolola/sub-county in Rujumbura of what under colonial rule became a county of Kigezi district.

The Tutsi who are Nilotic by descent from Bahr-el Ghazal area in south Sudan who founded Mpororo kingdom in present-day northern Rwanda, Ntungamo district and northern parts of Kabale district in mid-17th century came from Rwanda. The Bantu people found in the area and Tutsi newcomers took on the name of Bahororo, hence Bantu/Bahororo and Tutsi/Bahororo.

The kingdom disintegrated from within in less than a hundred years. Some Tutsi returned to Rwanda while others stayed in what later became Nkore under the Hinda kings of Bahima, a Tutsi clan.

From Nyakinengo village where Tutsi/Bahororo settled they embarked on conquering peacefully settled Bantu people who had arrived in the area about 3,000 years ago from the Cameroon/Nigeria border through the Congo forest. They brought with them short-horn cattle, goats, sheep and poultry and knowledge of iron technology.

With plenty of cultivated nutritious foodstuffs complemented by wild food and wild game and fish the Bantu population grew rapidly and settled in clan clusters that developed systems of governance that included kings with palaces and chiefs and a council of elders to settle disputes within and among clans. By and large the disputes were settled by negotiations. Where they were not resolved one clan moved to a new settlement as land was plenty, thereby avoiding conflict.

So this was the peaceful and prosperous environment in which Bantu lived when Tutsi/Bahororo arrived around 1800 with a standing army and began to disrupt the peaceful and inclusive settled Bantu people. The defeated Bantu majority became subjects of Tutsi minority and dominated to the present day in the 21st century.

The process of defeat and domination of Bantu by Tutsi was assisted by Arab and Swahili slave traders who came from the Indian Ocean coastal areas and distributed modern weapons with which Tutsi expanded areas of occupation. The defeated clans were sold into slavery. According to Ephrahim R. Kamuhangire “The coastal traders were also employed in interstate raids for slaves. For example Makobore, the [Tutsi] king of Rujumbura, employed them in his raids against Butumbi and Kayonza.

“The important social effect of the coming of coastal traders on the people of south-western Uganda was the arms trade. Weaker [Bantu] societies were raided for slaves while interstate warfare became rampant” (see Bethwell A. Ogot 1976).

This is the genesis of ethnic rivalry between Bantu and Nilotic Tutsi from Rwanda via Mpororo kingdom. Bantu who formed overwhelming majority were dominated and exploited economically and socially by minority Tutsi who employed military means.
The process of domination and exploitation was continued and intensified under indirect rule introduced by British administration that made Tutsi under Makobore and his descendants the chiefs and after independence the politicians of Rujumbura in Rukungiri district to this day.

As campaign for independence began in 1961, Bantu in Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) a Protestant-based political party rallied behind the late Kezekiya Biryabarema. However, things turned out differently when a candidate to represent UPC was selected.

At that time a serious family feud was brewing within Bashambo clan between the late Filemoni Kitaburaza and Kam Karekaho-Karegyesa. To solve this serious Bashambo problem, the Protestant leadership led by the late Shem Ndimbirwe, head of the Protestant Church in Rujumbura close to the ruling Bashambo dynasty decided that Karekaho should run for parliament on the UPC ticket, thereby developing a rift within UPC between the supporters of Biryabarema (a Muntu, singular of Bantu) and those of Karekaho (a Mututsi, singular of Tutsi or Batutsi) that were to develop respectively into Banyama (meat eaters) and Baboga (vegetarians). 

When political activities resumed under NRM Movement, a new problem developed that surprised many in Rujumbura/Rukungiri politics. Just as Biryabarema had been tipped to win the 1961 elections, so had Rukikaire, a well educated and experienced politician from Tutsi clan – not a Mushambo ruling dynasty – been tipped to win the first elections under the NRM administration.

Suddenly, out of the blue, a young man, Charles Rwomushana, fresh from Makerere University, without money or even a vehicle contested on foot against well-funded Rukikaire and defeated him. This raised eyebrows and deep concern.

Into this vacuum stepped Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye. He too ran into difficulties to explain until Brigadier Jim Muhwezi, of Bashambo ruling Tutsi clan stepped into the political ring. With apparent backing of Museveni believed to be connected somehow to Bashambo clan Jim Muhwezi trounced Besigye, thus perpetuating Bashambo Tutsi rule of Rukungiri district to this day.

Muhwezi is not only a Member of Parliament and powerful minister in the central government but also head of the NRM in Rukungiri district.

Having failed at the district political level, Kizza Besigye has run for president against Museveni since 2001 and is doing it again in 2016. It is an open secret that for personal and political reasons Museveni has vowed never to allow Besigye to become president, or even to win in his home constituency of Rukungiri town.

The people of Rukungiri led principally by firebrand Moses Byamugisha, the youth leader and firebrand Ingrid Turinawe, the women's leader, have vowed that this time around Besigye must carry Rukungiri district in 2016 presidential elections. It appears that out of this political feud, Museveni rehabilitated Jim Muhwezi and brought him back into the cabinet, raising speculation that he brought him in principally to use him against Besigye.

If this political fight continues at this intensity as demonstrated by the events of October 10, 2015, chances are that Rukungiri could spark a national revolution that would not surprise those familiar with political dictatorship and its offshoots of anger and readiness by Ugandans to strike when the opportunity presents itself.

Let’s hope that commonsense will prevail and a compromise struck to prevent a revolution that could lead into a destructive civil war.


Kashambuzi is an international development consultant


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