“When the cat is away, the mice will play,” the English saying goes.
This is equivalent to what is happening to the cultural space of Rwenzururu Kingdom in Kasese District where a number of activities to fill the void left by Omusinga Charles Wesley Mumbere have been ongoing behind the scenes for months.
Mr Mumbere’s movements remain restricted to within Kampala, Wakiso and Jinja districts as per the conditions of his bail issued by the High Court in Jinja High Court early this year.
Mr Mumbere and 160 of his royal guards await trial over several counts of murder, treason, terrorism and attempted murder, among others.
The charges result from the events of 2016, starting from the post-election violence that saw the police and residents clash and the eventual attack on Mr Mumbere’s palace on November 27, 2016. Hundreds died.
The government announced that the army and police had raided the palace to flash out “criminals” attached to a local militia called “Kilhumiramuthima” that had started terrorising the Rwenzori sub-region by carrying out coordinated attacks on military installations and civilians.
Now that the kingdom looks to be in the middle of nowhere because of the absence of the Omusinga, the confusion within the royal family that saw the Queen Mother, Ms Christine Mukirania, rise up in what she called a “mission to keep the institution relevant” and the continued fear among the subjects; another claimant to the throne has upped his game to take over the helm of the Bakonzo culture.
The new man on the block
Mr Robert Bwambale Tibamwenda, the youngest of the five claimants to the Bakonzo throne before Omusinga Mumbere was officially recognised by government in 2009, has stepped up his game with plans to establish the Bukonzo Kingdom with objectives different from that of Rwenzururu kingdom.
In his mid 30s, Mr Tibamwenda claims that Mr Mumbere has since his recognition proved that he leads a political movement instead of reviving and promoting of the Bakonzo culture.
“Now is the time for us the Bakonzo to move on with our rich culture. People have realised that Mumbere was not the rightful king but a leader of a political movement called Rwenzururu because his agenda has been clear. My agenda is culture and that is what we need to revive Bukonzo kingdom,” Mr Tibamwenda told Sunday Monitor.
Claiming to be from Muswagha clan, Mr Tibamwenda says he was deprived of his kingship by the Kajura Commission report which recommended to government that Mr Mumbere be recognised as the king of the Bakonzo because he was supported by majority of the people in Kasese and Bundibugyo districts.
Mr Tibamwenda claims he was crowned prince by the elders of his clan on December 18, 1998 in Kagando Village, Kisinga Sub-county where his great grandfather, a one Tibamwenda was buried in one grave with two other Bakonzo freedom fighters in 1921.
The trio, who also included traditional healer Nyamutswa and Kapolyo, were executed by the Toro Kingdom administration after they led a struggle to liberate the Bakonzo from what they called “discrimination” in those years.
Now, claiming to be having the support of the government, Mr Tibamwenda has broken ground for the construction of his cultural shrine at his ancestral home in Nsenyi Village, Kisinga Sub-county in Kasese District with a view of being officially crowned king of Bukonzo kingdom.
“ I have no doubt that the government will recognise me as king of Bukonzo kingdom which is rooted in culture of the Bakonzo and my brother Mumbere will remain with his political Rwenzururu kingdom. My supporters are ready to move on with me and any other issues in the family will be sorted,”Mr Tibamwenda said.
On Thursday, Mr Tibamwenda, who moves with private bodyguards, was at his home in Nsenyi Village where he broke ground for the cultural shrine construction, performed royal rituals by hitting a drum and also received gifts that included goats from his subjects. He, however, remains coy on the budget and source of funding for his activities.
In the absence of Omusinga Mumbere, this “new king” who carries a title of Omwami wa Bakonzo Robert Bwambale Tibamwenda Mubingyi II, has officially attended cultural ceremonies in other cultural institutions this year.
Clad in the leopard skin, Mr Tibamwenda on December 10 attended the cultural ceremony of the Sabaruli in Buruli chiefdom in Nakasongola District, which is seeking to break off from Buganda Kingdom, as the cultural leader of the Bakonzo.
He had also attended other functions in Ankole, Mbarara District on October 28 and Bwamba Kingdom in Bundibugyo District on May 30.
“I don’t impose myself on these functions. I am officially invited there as the cultural leader of the Bakonzo but not the one of Rwenzururu. I think Mumbere would be invited in his capacity for Rwenzururu if his movements were not restricted. Government knows what I am doing that is why Sabaruli, the chairman of cultural leaders in Uganda, can invite me to his function,” he boasted
Such free movements caught the attention of the social-cultural activist group dubbed “the Dream Team” whose leader, Mr Apollo Sande, used his usual social media articles to question whether Rwenzururu Kingdom is still in existence.
“A new establishment with its own flag and emblem is in high gear. The said establishment has been holding high profile meetings in Kampala with delegations of some elders from Kasese. My question is whether Rwenzururu Kingdom is still in existence,” Mr Sande posted on different social media platforms recently.
For Joseph Kule, a resident of Kasese Municipality, the emergence of the “new” cultural institution targeting the same tribe is an act of “mockery”.
“There is someone mocking the Bakonzo, a tribe that has tested history of suffering. Why then should someone push this man (Tibamwenda) to impose himself on a tribe that is still mourning deaths of innocent people and also still waiting for the release of Omusinga?” Mr Kule asked.
Kasese leaders speak out
The Kasese District Woman MP and Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Ms Winfred Kiiza, told Sunday Monitor that they do not rule out a “syndicate” from government to continue causing a situation of fear among the Bakonzo.
“There is a government hand in this and whoever is responsible should come out and explain the reason behind imposing another king on the Bakonzo. If there is no syndicate between him (Tibamwenda) and the government why is he doing his things openly and we are told he has security, a brand new car and other things? Why is he operating freely in the cultural space of Rwenzururu. This is going to cause insecurity,” Ms Kiiza said.
Kasese District LC5 Chairperson, Mr Geoffrey Bigogo Sibendire, described the actions of Mr Tibamwenda as “daydreaming” saying no one would allow him to be crowned within the district.
“This man is daydreaming and the more we speak about him the more he gains cheap popularity. If he is a king let him come to the Golf Course (in Kasese) for his coronation event because that is where the Bakonzo have been gathering for that big day and see whether he will be allowed to do anything,” Mr Sibendire said.
Rwenzururu Kingdom quiet
Rwenzururu Kingdom spokesperson Clarence Bwambale said the cultural institution is aware of the schemes by Mr Tibamwenda but the Omusinga Mumbere has advised that no official statement be made so far.
“When I consulted the Omusinga last evening he suggested that Rwenzururu Kingdom does not make any official comment. But to me a man building a shrine, beating the drums of all sorts will never make him king,” Mr Bwambale said.
Junior Agriculture minister Christopher Kibanzanga has often asked Mr Tibamwenda to forget about being a king but should “rather work with the established and recognised cultural institution as a chieftain because the Bakonzo know their king.”
However, Mr Tibamwenda remains confident he will sooner than later be recognised by the government as he claims he has been accorded security in whatever activities he carries out in Kasese District.
“I am in touch with the government and I have security. I am ready to work with the government to cause development in the Rwenzori sub-region. I am establishing good contact with other tribes in the region for peaceful co-existence. I don’t challenge Mumbere for fighting for a political state because that is his agenda but let him sort it with the government of Uganda and Congo (DRC). As for us, we move on with culture,” Mr Tibamwenda said.
Police spokesperson Emilian Kayima told Sunday Monitor on Friday that the Force is not aware of any deployment to provide security to any cultural leadership claimant in the country and they continue to maintain peace in Kasese.
“Let him (Tibamwenda) substantiate that claim of being provided with security by the police. I don’t know the role of the police in this case because if he claims to be king, there have been other claims elsewhere in the country. However for Kasese, we have maintained security since the incidents of last year and we promise to continue doing so to ensure there is law and order in that area,” Mr Kayima said by telephone.
Mr Robert Bwambale Tibamwenda is not the only claimant to Mumbere’s throne. Other claimants have persistently claimed being the rightful kings. His uncle, Mr Ibrahim Makoma, a practicing high Court advocate, recently said he wants government to recognise him as the rightful king. Another claimant, Mr Swalleh Tibamwenda from the Basu clan, has written several petitions to different government offices challenging the kingship of Mumbere.