I’m not trying to overthrow my son Mumbere

President Museveni meets Rwenzururu Queen Mother Christine Biira Mukirania (C) and Queen Agnes Ithungu (L) at State House early this year. FILE PHOTO

What you need to know:

  • Taking over the reins. On November 26 and 27, 2016, government forces raided the Rwenzururu Kingdom administrative offices and King Charles Wesley Mumbere’s Buhikira palace respectively.
  • More than 100 people lost their lives in the process.
  • Mumbere, his then acting prime minister and more than 150 suspected royal guards were arrested and now face various charges in court, including treason and terrorism.
  • Mumbere’s mother Christine Biira Mukirania now leads efforts to rebuild the kingdom. Sunday Monitor’s Thembo Kahungu caught up with her in Kasese Town.

Rwenzururu Kingdom was in shock following the attacks on the palace and prime ministers office on November 27 and 26 respectively. How have those events affected you?
First as a parent, I have gone through a lot of trouble because my son was arrested, humiliated and imprisoned. But as a mother, I never accepted shock to overpower me because immediately I sought talks with the President and I am happy he accepted.
While at [State House] Entebbe, I pleaded in tears for the President to release the Omusinga [Charles Wesley Mumbere] from jail because government knows his health issues as they have been paying his treatment bills in India.
The question that made the President change his mind on Mumbere was when I asked him how he would relate with the people of Rwenzururu if their king died in prison.
You all know how government, through court, granted him bail.

Have you tried to get in touch with your son at his restricted residence in Kampala?
From court in Jinja, he [Mumbere and his wife] travelled in a chopper that [his brother and State minister for Agriculture Christopher] Kibanzanga requested from police. So, his brother William and I travelled by road and found Omusinga at his home. We held talks and I told him how we had engaged the President and that government was ready to cooperate.
I told my son that the President has assured me that despite the ongoing court process, Rwenzururu Kingdom was not abolished and government would continue treating it like others elsewhere in the country.

Without interfering with matters before court, government accuses Mumbere of planning to fight for a separate state. What do you know about the state?
First, I told President Museveni during our meeting that the issue of the state was only raised in the 1960s when my husband and Mumbere’s father Isaya Mukirania was challenging then president Obote. Isaya started fighting to ensure the Bakonzo get their district, but changed his demand to a kingdom when Obote rejected the demand for a district. Isaya then moved on to fight for a state. But since then, we’ve all forgotten about a separate state because it wasn’t possible.

Was Mumbere installed king after his father’s death without focussing on a state?
Yes, because we had to continue with a cultural institution since it was the problem of the Bakonzo who had suffered a lot under the Tooro Kingdom. We had given up on a state before my husband’s death. Also, when we denounced fighting in 1982, Mumbere descended from the forest as a king and I think that is why Obote spared his life.

Government continues to pursue some people accused of being royal guards. Why do they continue to engage government?
No one can defeat the government of Uganda with the strong army it is proud of. Rwenzururu Kingdom is not a country, so it cannot wage war against Uganda. Such fights are between one country and another, but the Bakonzo in Uganda are Ugandans and those in Congo are Congolese.

What have you discussed with President Museveni on the revival and future of Rwenzururu Kingdom?
When I met him immediately after the attacks on the palace, he said the kingdom is not abolished. But I can’t discuss others issues we discussed on record.

Of late you have been holding meetings with different people in the kingdom. What are you up to?
I have called these meetings because we need to keep the kingdom running much as the Omusinga is still facing charges in court.
I know the prime ministerial commission he set up cannot manage alone. I now want to engage the elders, especially the county leaders, the youth and women to have a joint voice to engage the government on freeing the Omusinga.
As a person, I am very concerned about the future of the kingdom because all my illnesses are a result of the hard work I did for the kingdom throughout the bush struggle.
When Mumbere left us in the bush and went to America, the family was looking at only me to feed them and send children to school. I worked a lot, including going to the farm twice a day.

Some people say you may be planning to overthrow Mumbere
Those are lies. I know that our king is Mumbere, although he has always done his things without consulting us the royal family.

It is now eight years since government recognised Rwenzururu Kingdom and Mumbere as a king. What has been your family relationship since his return from the United States?
We have not been close. Not only with me as the mother, but also his brothers because he decided to trust some of his appointees who in the end misguided him. For example, all those veterans who went to the President saying they organised war here were his ministers to who he listened a lot.

With all these meetings you are calling, although opposed by some sections of the subjects, in what direction do you want town take the kingdom?
My only message is to guide the people on how together we can revive the kingdom since it is now disorganised following the attacks. Those who think I want to overthrow my son do not know that this will be the fourth time I’m taking leadership since the kingdom was founded in the 1960s.
The first time was when king Isaya Mukirania died. I worked with the prime minister, Sir Samuel Mukirania, to take the kingdom forward. He later moved on to other things and I continued with work until a regent was put in place to mentor Mumbere since he was just 10 years old.
Mumbere then took over full control of the kingdom at the age of 18. But he soon left the bush after agreeing a peace deal with government. I remained in charge, working with the fighters to move the kingdom agenda ahead.
The commander of those fighters, who remained with me, was the late Kinyamusithu who advised that we continue doing cultural work until Mumbere possibly returns from America. However, at some point one of the key fighters advised him [Kinyamusithu] to take over the throne towards the end of 1982 and he did so hence deposing me from the mountains.
I did not give up anyway because much as I was no longer in the bush, I continued chairing meetings to find ways of saving the throne from Kinyamusithu. He later used his intelligence to arrest me before parading me in his court after being detained for three months. I was released after no witnesses pinned me.
Thereafter, I continued keeping Mumbere’s royal rob and crown until he returned to be recognised as king by the current government.

But some people continue accusing you of planning to replace Mumbere with another member of the royal family
Our community has been built on lies and I blame this on politicians who are selfish in mind. My first son Mumbere is and will remain king of Rwenzururu Kingdom. My mission is simple, to guide the kingdom on how to continue running until Mumbere is released and resumes his official duties.
I have been briefed about his cases in court. These are big cases and I am aware that his trial may take some time. So, do we remain in darkness as a kingdom? Those who claim that I want to replace Mumbere with another son, what have they done to revive the kingdom since the Omusinga was arrested and taken away?

But in your meetings you look to be accusing Mumbere of drifting away from the ways of his fathers in leading the people
Just like any other mother cannot sit quietly and watch a child taking a wrong path, that is the way I am confused with what has been going on in the palace before it was bombed.
I want my son to denounce witchcraft when he returns to resume his throne because his father Isaya only trusted the way of the Bible to lead the people. Let us lead the people as the founding king did. Even when he was sending fighters on patrol against the enemies he told them not to use witchcraft because they would not be protected by God, something that would lead to defeat.

Now that you are on a mission to lead the way towards the revival of the kingdom, are you aware of claimants to the throne resurfacing?
I know that Tibamwenda has been passing around a lot of lies about Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu so as to win over people. That will not be possible because the Bakonzo know their king is Mumbere and they still respect him, even when he is away from the land.

Nine months since the arrest of the Omusinga and some annual events like the environmental day and peace day that are celebrated on June 30 passed quietly. What is the fate of September 2 when subjects commemorate the death of Isaya Mukirania and October 19, Mumbere’s coronation anniversary?
The other days passed without any celebrations because we have been disorganised since the attacks on the palace. Everyone was still in shock and others feared being arrested. But September 2, the day my husband died, will be celebrated because Kibanzanga has already informed President Museveni about it.
But what I am not sure about is October 19 because it is only celebrated in the presence of the Omusinga and we are not sure whether his bail conditions will have been revised then for him to step in Kasese.