People & Power
Tracing ethnic conflicts in the Rwenzori
Posted Sunday, March 20 2016 at 02:00
Politics in the Mt Rwenzori sub-region has often been explosive, so much so that anything can be a detonator to the bubbling political tempo that has affected the area since the first ‘political eruption’ in 1961 that occurred in the present-day districts of Ntoroko, Kasese and Bundibugyo in western Uganda.
Since then, the sub-region has been seen as one of the volatile areas where a family dispute can spark off clashes between families, ethnic groups or even with security forces.
Last week, the clashes reoccurred leaving at least four civilians armed with clubs and stones dead and six others wounded when they clashed with security forces.
And whenever clashes happen in the sub-region, government has always used force to subdue the wrong elements.
The earliest political clashes in the Rwenzori sub-region were ethnical. They were between the Bamba and Bakonjo against the Batooro.
At the time, the king of Tooro was supreme with his headquarters in Fort Portal while the Bamba and Bakonjo had very small chiefdoms in and around the Mt Rwenzori area. The two communities lived together in total harmony.
The Batooro despised the Bamba and Bakonjo partly due to their stature. Nevertheless, that did not anger the Bamba and Bakonjo until 1961 when Tooro, Ankole and Bunyoro – then the only recognised kingdoms in Uganda – signed another agreement with the British colonialists.
Earlier in 1960, Buganda Kingdom first threatened to secede from Uganda and also encouraged territories in northern Tanzania to break away.
The British got concerned and to avert the secession, they hurriedly signed a new agreement with Tooro, Bunyoro and Ankole to remain as part of Uganda and each kingdom made a new constitution.
What sparked earliest clashes
For the case of Tooro, the framers of their constitution included a clause that said to qualify to become a member of the Rukurato Rwa Tooro (parliament of Tooro), one must be “Omutooro Nyakabara” (a true Mutooro).
The Bamba and Bakonjo saw this as a deliberate attempt to keep them out of the Rukurato Rwa Tooro. So they decided to boycott the Rukurato in protest of what they saw as segregation and humiliation by Batooro.
When the boycott started, some radical Batooro framed a derogatory scheme and meted out violence to the Bamba-Bakonjo. The Bamba-Bakonjo ran to Mt Rwenzori to escape the violence.
While in the mountains, they reorganised themselves and armed with spears, machetes and clubs, they retaliated against the Batooro and the central government. Ethnic violence then started.
The Bamba-Bakonjo then demanded a district composed of Busongora, Burahya, Bunyangabu and Bwamba counties. But to get a district, they needed two-thirds of the votes in favour of the motion from Tooro District as well as Parliament of Uganda, which was impossible.
Technically, the Bamba-Bakonjo had lost the political battle. And that is why they opted for a rebellion, during which central government and Tooro kingdom property were destroyed and people killed.
First, the Uganda police was sent to curb the situation, but when they failed the army was called in.
After the situation calmed down, then governor of Uganda Sir Walter Coutts on September 6, 1962, appointed a commission to “inquire into and report to the governor on the underlying reasons for the recent disturbances amongst the Bamba-Bakonjo people of Tooro District and to make recommendations in light to their investigations”.
The three-man commission was chaired by Dr F. C. Ssembeguya, Mr Gaspare Oda and Mr J. M. Okae. The three were all Members of the Parliament of Uganda. The report was published on November 16, 1962.
Some of the findings recorded are: “The bitterness among the Bamba-Bakonjo is a direct result of the attitude adopted by the Batooro people in the past.”