Drawing parallels between Mengo, Kayunga and Kasese crises

UPDF soldiers sit near burnt structures at the Buhikira Palace following the attack last weekend. PHOTO BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • Stalemate. The genesis of the current tensions appear to be between President Museveni and King Mumbere dating back to 2012. Mumbere reportedly declined to take a phone call from the President for personal reasons. That is said to have angered Museveni, in much the same way the refusal by Buganda’s Kabaka Mutebi to take several calls in 2009 by Museveni infuriated the President, Timothy Kalyegira writes.

Last week in one of the most shocking news developments of the year, the traditional king of the Bakonzo of Kasese in western Uganda was arrested, charged with murder, and sent to jail.
It was the culmination of three years of brewing tensions between Kasese and the central government and, in a wider sense, the culmination of more than 50 years of this uneasy relationship.
Apart from Buganda, there is no region of Uganda that has had as long a history of friction with the government as the Rwenzori area.
A streak of fierce independent-mindedness has run through this area for decades.
In the lead up to independence in the mid-1950s, a form of dissident movement had already taken root in the Rwenzori sub-region that sought to oppose the British colonial administration.
At that time the Bakonzo (or Bakonjo) were still a part of the old Tooro Kingdom. The history between the Bakonzo and Batooro is well-known to those from the area.
There was a tendency in feudal times for Batooro to look down on Bakonzo, a sentiment that was still alive even as recently as the 1990s and still lingers on in some places.
In the Tooro parliament called the Orukurato in the 1950s, there were Bakonzo representatives.
Tired of feeling ignored and treated with condescension, the Bakonzo legislators walked out of the Tooro parliament.
Although the Bakonzo later were part of the new independent state in October 1962, their rebellious side soon reasserted itself.
An armed political movement called the Rwenzururu was formed in 1963 to pursue the creation of a separate political entity for the Bakonzo.
The Rwenzururu, headed by king Iremangoma, would survive for 19 years until 1982.
In 1982, minister of State for Security Chris Rwakasisi and the army chief of staff, Brig David Oyite-Ojok, led negotiations that led to a truce between the second UPC government and Iremangoma.
Meanwhile, in the 1980 general election, the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) claimed a seat in Parliament by default.
A Democratic Party (DP) contestant for the Kasese North constituency, Victor Muhindo, was murdered on November 29, just days to the December 10th polls.
DP supporters, suspecting UPC sympathisers had murdered Muhindo, voted the distant candidate Dr Crispus Kiyonga of the UPM.
Kiyonga never took up his seat and went into exile to join Yoweri Museveni and his fellow UPM/NRM guerrillas. That was the only parliamentary seat won in 1980 by the UPM.
Since the NRM came to power in 1986, the perception was that Kasese was a safe and certain NRM stronghold.
That image of a fervently pro-NRM Kasese continued throughout the late 1980s and 1990s.
At what point Kasese started to turn against the NRM government and lean heavily toward the FDC, is hard to establish.
However, the genesis of the current tensions appear to be between President Museveni and King Mumbere dating back to 2012.
To cut a long story short, Mumbere reportedly declined to take a phone call from the President for personal reasons.
That is said to have angered Museveni, in much the same way the refusal by Buganda’s Kabaka Mutebi to take several calls in 2009 by Museveni infuriated the President.
The more direct comparison between the recent incidents in Kasese and Buganda would, therefore, be the September 2009 Kayunga riots than the May 1966 attack on the Kabaka’s palace by the army.
With this situation between Mumbere and Museveni starting in 2012, and given the way state power in Uganda is centred around the person of the president, the Rwenzori region was always and inevitably going to be drawn into the face-off.
Some analysts say at this point Museveni either created or supported the emergence of a sort of kingdom in neighbouring Bundibugyo as a rival power centre to Mumbere.
Essentially, Museveni is reported to have resorted to divide and rule tactics.
There was a two-year silence after this, followed by a sudden eruption in 2014 of what was termed as “tribal clashes” between the Bakonzo and the Bamba in Bundibugyo.
Sources in Bundibugyo at the time said they knew of no festering tensions or bad blood between the two people prior to this and suggested that there might be some political instigation behind it.
Following the February 2016 general election, armed attacks erupted again in Kasese and Bundibugyo and lasted several weeks.
The unrest was serious enough to cause President Museveni to visit Kasese more than once to assess the situation.
Other reports suggested that an armed force of some kind was directly engaging the army’s elite Special Forces Command (SFC) in the Semliki National Park and had cut off some of the water supply to Bundibugyo, with many civilians displaced.
This was around the time there was an attack on the army barracks in Kapchorwa Town in eastern Uganda and following it, an attack on the Kapchorwa Central Police Station.
The question in all this, then, is if there might be political hands attempting to undermine Mumbere’s kingdom by fomenting civil unrest or the unrest of 2014 itself has spun off real animosity among some sections of the Kasese population.
Certainly the mood has markedly soured since 2014. In the 2016 general election, Kasese voted decisively for the Opposition.
All MPs from Kasese in the present Parliament are from the Opposition.
Kasese is now what Luweero Triangle was to the UPC government of 1980 to 1981 -- a place hostile to the establishment, hostility that it might be too late now to reverse.
One of the biggest news stories of 2016 was the arrest in late November of Mumbere. At first the government presented it as a case of rescuing Mumbere from the wrath of his own bodyguards.
But video soon emerged of the king being humiliated and man-handled as he was being transferred to Kampala.
The arrest of the king meant that the government had played its last card and in essence given up on the Rwenzori region.
The clashes around the royal palace in Kasese, the killing of several guards and burning down of some of the houses in the enclosure immediately brought to the minds of many Ugandans the army attack on the Lubiri at Mengo in 1966.
Rightly or wrongly, this is the start of a new era in Kasese. The Rwenzori region is probably now lost to the NRM for a generation to come.
While reports that some elements in Kasese were planning to secede from Uganda and form a breakaway republic in the Rwenzori mountain area seem to be false, the mood in Kasese might now be ripe for such a sentiment.
In the end, the collective psychology of the Bakonzo and their long history of defiance toward the central authority has been ignited by a clash of wills between the President and their king and led to the tragedy witnessed last week.

1966 Mengo attack

On May 24, 1966, Kabaka Edward Muteesa II, a decorated captain in the British Grenadier Guards, fled his palace to exile and never returned alive.
A company (100 soldiers) of the Special Forces from the Uganda army had, in a surprise attack, penetrated and destroyed the palace defence under the cover of dawn.
The royal guards and everyone else in the Lubiri were overwhelmed by the enemy’s heavy weaponry – and simply surrendered only to be butchered in cold blood.
Kabaka Muteesa and his two most trusted military officers George Mallo and Joahash Katende managed to flee to Britain.
Later, Katende told the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the violation of Human Rights in Uganda between 1964 to 1988, that the royal guards were poorly equipped. Only 68 were armed with a nine ammunition rifle each, on the fateful day.


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