Monday July 14 2014

Rwenzori region attacks are more political than cultural

By Mwambutsya Ndebesa

Rwenzori region attacks have been blamed on cultural and tribal chauvinism by President Museveni. Those who think like Museveni have come to this conclusion because the attackers who were killed and those arrested are largely Bakonzo. Since the attacks according to Museveni’s reasoning, took place against the background of the Bakonzo complaining against the recognition of the king of Bwamba, a region that Bakonzo lay claim to, therefore Bakonzo are responsible for the attacks.

There are other analysts especially the MPs who also argue that the attackers must be rebels possibly linked to the Allied Democratic Forces. Their argument is that since the attackers targeted only soldiers and government installations but not the Bamba community, therefore the motive could not have been cultural rivalry.

To explain the mystery of Rwenzori region attacks one must understand the politics of patronage that defines politics in Africa and Uganda in particular. The NRM has been constructing political support, among other channels, through either dispensing perks such as brown envelopes, giving out gifts to community leaders and the youth, creating new districts and recognising new kingdoms whose leaders are given big cars and a monthly stipend. Those who receive gifts, districts or kingdoms are expected to be clients of the regime. If you receive some of the above and don’t reciprocate by delivering the political votes, you are liable to political punishment of one form or the other.

In my opinion, the creation of new patronage districts and kingdoms in the Rwenzori region is primarily behind the Rwenzori attacks. Tribal chauvinism is secondary. Currently, there is a move and plans are in advanced stages to create a new district of Busongora for the Basongora out of Kasese District. The political and cultural leadership of Kasese including the LC5 chairman, Dr Crispus Kiyonga and the king of the Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu are said to be vehemently against the plan to divide their district.

The creation of the Busongora District is tied up with the rivalry over land in Kasese District. The Basongora, who are pastoralists, claim that the political leadership of Kasese who are mainly Bakonzo displaced them from their ancestral grazing land. The Basongora at that time migrated to Congo where they have again been displaced by the ongoing civil wars in Congo. When the Basongora returned, the central government chased away Bakonzo from a certain government land in order to resettle the returning Basongora pastoralists on this land.

This act incensed the Bakonzo who feel that the NRM government favours Basongora against Bakonzo. In fact, the attackers targeted central government and Basongora but not Bamba. Government is also in advanced stages to give land titles to Basongora out of the land that the Bakonzo claim belongs to them by custom and history. So land disputes are part of the Rwenzori security saga.

Turning to the issue of patronage kingdoms, President Museveni had for quite sometime refused to recognise the Obusinga of Bakonzo in Kasese. In response, the Bakonzo punished Museveni politically by voting Kiiza Besigye and FDC in the 2006 general elections. Kasese was the only region in western Uganda to vote Besigye. Museveni responded by recognising the kingdom in order to placate Bakonzo and get them away from FDC.

However, in the 2011 elections some constituencies in Kasese still voted FDC candidates to Parliament. Later, there was a by-election for the Woman representative for Kasese District Winnie Kiiza a constituency where Museveni expected an NRM win.
Some analysts have opined that President Museveni thereafter had to politically punish Kasese for their intransigence and being ungrateful by voting for an FDC candidate.

The political weapon Museveni had to use to punish Kasese was to immediately recognise the kingdom of Bundibugyo an area that had been asking to be a separate kingdom. This annoyed the Bakonzo of Kasese arguing that Museveni encouraged the creation of this kingdom which Bakonzo felt was a case of seceding encouraged by the central government. At one time the Omusinga (King of Rwenzururu) was refused to visit his subjects in Bundibugyo. This has the parallels with the Buganda Kayunga incident that sparked off violence in Kampala. The only difference is that the Buganda one was immediate and the Kasese one has taken place after a while.

Therefore, the reason as to why the attackers did not target Bakonzo but central government is that the Bakonzo feel that it is the government that is frustrating them. One, it is creating a new district out of their land. Two, it is giving land titles to Basongora out of the land the Bakonzo feel belongs to them and three, the government encouraged part of their kingdom to secede.

Therefore, the politics of seeking political patronage and punishing those who refuse to be patronised is partly responsible for the uprising in Rwenzori region. Rwenzori attack is primarily a political uprising not cultural protest. The attackers are not common criminals but political resisters. The violence in Rwenzori is not criminal but political. Therefore, the solution will not come out of a cultural but political settlement.