Saturday August 2 2014

Mr President, the Bakonzo are not persecuting the Basongora

By Asuman Bisiika

President Museveni early this week published a missive on the disturbances in the Rwenzori region. Lengthy and rather winding, it was quite a read.
However, the tenor and tone of the missive was essentially to justify the fact that Basongora are an indigenous community in Kasese. He also subtly accused the Bakonzo as ‘the current’ persecutors of the Basongora when he said: ‘don’t add yourself on the list of Basongora persecutors’.
The argument that the Basongora are not an indigenous community in Kasese District is a fringe position undeserving any engagement. Otherwise the Basongora and Banyabindi are ‘Kaseseans’. Period.
Afande Commander-in-Chief, no one is deliberately persecuting the Basongora, least of all the Bakonzo. What we are seeing is a mutual struggle for the exploitation of resources and a sense of entitlements thereto. Otherwise, the Bakonzo have also expressed claims that the Basongora use central government connections to run rings over them.
And there are cases:
1) The creation of Katwe Kabatooro Town Council without (or before the passing of) a District Council resolution.
2) The appropriation of Busunga Enclave (land) to the Basongora (and later shared by individual title holders.
3) The appropriation of (some parts of?) Rweihingo Community land to the Basongora Community. 4) The inequitable (sharing?) appropriation of Bigando land to the Basongora.
The Busunga Enclave land had been de-gazetted by the Obote II Administration and appropriated accordingly in early 1980s (to the Bakonzo). However, before the Obote II government collapsed, no individual had taken legal ownership of the Busunga land).
The Rweihingo land, was appropriated to the Basongora. Needless to say, the Bakonzo have lost lives in these land disputes. The argument that the Basongora were harassed by Kabalega and that their homeland later appropriated by the colonial administration to create Queen Elizabeth National Park may be understandable. But their portrayal as exclusive (or sole) victims of a historical injustice is wrongly placed.
Which community in western Uganda didn’t face the wrath of Kabalega? Timothy Byabasakuzi Bazarrabusa was Uganda’s first post independence High Commission to the UK. Roads in Kampala, Entebbe and Fort Portal have been named after him. But he was the son of a Mukonzo tribesman taken to Bunyoro as a slave in 1890.
All communities in Uganda were disrupted by some actions of the Uganda Protectorate government. Whereas Queen Elizabeth National Park was gazetted in 1926, Mount Rwenzori National Park was gazetted in 1936.
Without whittling down the gravity of the grotesque killings of a Musongora family by suspected Bakonzo militants in Bigando, these were not the first deaths. A number of Bakonzo have lost their lives in this particular dispute. There is a fear that the portrayal of the Basongora as victims of the Bakonzo is likely to divert us from meaningfully addressing the real issues in Kasese. What we need now is a formula on how communities can share local resources. Some Basongora friends of mine have suggested: the creation of a Busongora District, de-gazetting of some parts of Queen Elizabeth National Park and ring-fencing some district leadership positions for minority communities.
These are my suggestions: 1) The creation of a new political constituency composed of sub counties where the Basongora are the majority. 2) The re-constitution of district management and oversight committees like Public Service Committee, the District Land Board, etc, aimed at affirmative action for minority communities in the district. 3) The equitable sharing of government lands appropriated to the communities.
Save for Member of Parliament Boaz Kafuda, no Musongora had ever smelled the inside of the Parliamentary Chambers as an MP. Yet there has always been a Musongora contesting for a parliamentary seat in Kasese. But they are always white washed by the numerically dominant Bakonzo.
Mr Bisiika is the executive editor of East Africa Flagpost.