Rwenzururu king tastes bitter side of Museveni

Sunday July 14 2013

By Asuman Bisiika

On June 30, 1962, the Kingdom of Rwenzururu was created by a ‘unilateral declaration’ by a one Isaya Mukirania. By this declaration, the predominantly Bakonzo-inhabited Rwenzori region ‘gained’ independence from Uganda and her British colonial overlords in Entebbe.

In the lead up to national independence from Britain, no one cared about an obscure former Grade One teacher declaring a unilateral independence and secession of a remote area. But the government was shocked into a reality check when the new kingdom’s armed forces, kitted with spears, machetes and arrows, started attacking government establishments and their staff.

With the disruption of the social and security system, it was now clear to see the impact of the unilateral declaration of independence and creation of a kingdom for what it was: secession. The government had to take action. What followed is captured in history as the Rwenzururu Rebellion which ended on August 15, 1982. The Rwenzururu Kingdom is now a recognised cultural establishment.

After the recognition by government, the kingdom administration changed what they hitherto called Independence Day to Peace Day. This year’s anniversary was supposed to be celebrated in Bundibugyo District, the ancestral home of the reigning king, Charles Wesley Mumbere. But the government forbade the Rwenzururu king from going to Bundibugyo to preside over the Peace Day. Reason? The Bamba community threatened to disrupt the Peace Day celebrations.

Museveni’s vassal kings
The word Ssabagabe (king of kings) was coined by President Museveni to exact fealty from the traditional leaders recognised by the government. And we all know that being a traditional leader in Uganda depends on the mood and prospective loyalty one is expected to give to President Museveni. It is therefore not uncommon to have men with no traces of blue blood to reign as king of this or that particular undefined area or district(s) in the name of culture and tradition.

King Mumbere does not come from some royal clan or other. His claim to some bluish blood comes from her mother’s side, the inimitable Christine Mukirania. Mr Ruhandika, Christine Mukirania’s grandfather (Charles Mumbere’s maternal great grandfather) was a chief. Ruhandika begot Samuel Bukombi, who begot Christine Mukirania; the mother of Omusinga Mumbere. And George Kahiwa, Mukirania’s brother, was to be the first Mukonzo to be appointed as sub-county chief in Tooro Kingdom.

It is Chief Ruhandika who hid a young Tooro Prince in the mountain reaches of Bundibugyo from the marauding armed forces of Omukama Kabalega. The Tooro prince Ruhandika saved from fatal danger was the sole male survivor of the Tooro royal family and he was later to be become King Kasagama of Tooro.

In remembrance of Ruhandika’s contribution to the survival of Tooro royal clan, a major road in Fort Portal Municipality, Ruhandika Road, was named after him. But you risk being skinned alive if you challenged Mumbere’s royalty.

In 2009, President Museveni graced one of the Kingdom’s ceremonies in an act that was interpreted as an official recognition of (actually mainstreaming) their kingdom in the national political narrative.

I always wonder why Uganda’s kings fail to appreciate their situation in President Museveni’s scheme of things: they are just Museveni’s vassals. Yet it was not necessary for the police to humiliate the king (and the whole district leadership) in front of his people. No one says the police should not have intervened. But the operational and administrative guidance of intervention portrays the police as whimsical and partisan.

Mumbere humiliated
My understanding is that the primary relationship between the state and Mumbere is citizenship. His honorific styling as Omusinga or other by his people or family cannot vary his benefits from the Bill of Rights as accruals from this citizenship. If Citizen X exercises or wants to exercise an item in the Bill of Rights and there is some curtailment or fear of one such or other, what would guide police intervention?

And to what extent does the non-absoluteness of rights refer or under what circumstances would this be brought to bear? In the general, shouldn’t the police facilitate citizen X to enjoy a right by addressing the situation that might infringe on the right? Yet I know that these arguments are merely pure romance.

Not so long ago, Mumbere refused to meet Dr Kizza Besigye in order not to alienate himself from President Museveni’s patronage. But the Bakonzo have a saying that goes like: Omwehi w’obwokwe syaliminya oyu wateraya omughogho (the harvester of mushrooms from a rotting log may not know the person who fell the log). And Banyarwanda have one that goes like: Ingoma Sw’Umwami, n’Abagabo (secure the men, you have secured the throne). It all started when President Museveni graced one of the ceremonies in Rwenzuru Kingdom in 2009. The crowds were huge and tempting for a man whose main business stock is numbers of people (votes).

Museveni then pampered Omusinga Mumbere to the annoyance of some quarters. The Tooro Kingdom establishment was scandalised by Museveni’s closeness to Kasese and Mumbere. Matters came to a head when Museveni threatened not to grace ceremony celebrating King Oyo’s acquisition of majority age if they (Tooro Kingdom) didn’t invite Mumbere.

Museveni was clearly asking too much from Tooro. But they relented and sent an invitation. With some advice, the Rwenzururu king (who had thought he would stick it out on the Batooro) delegated former MP Loice Bwambale to attend on his behalf.

When Maj. Gen. Wilson Mbadi was recently appointed Chief of Staff of the UPDF, some Bakonzo even hinted on the centre of gravity shifting from Fort Portal to Kasese. But President Museveni, in spite of himself, knows that popular local leadership has a way disorganising political calculations. From his experience in Buganda kingdom, the Rwenzururu king had to be trimmed to a politically manageable size. He was too popular for politics.

Now, King Mumbere may not visit his ancestral home in Bundibugyo. And the Bakonzo? Their king was shouted down by an uncircumcised police officer, an unforgettable act of humiliation.

Way forward
The buzz in Kasese is that the population will revenge on Museveni come 2016 by voting the opposition. But my very measured opinion is that there are still avenues for some kind of settlement without engaging in unending political wars.

And here is my suggestion: There were three counties in Bundibugyo namely Bughendera (predominantly Bakonzo), Bwamba (predominantly Bamba) and Ntoroko (now with district status) was mixed. Ntoroko County was made of three sub-counties namely Ntoroko (mixed communities), Rwebisengo (predominantly Batuku) and Karugutu (predominantly Bakonzo).

Before a moratorium was slapped on the creation of new districts, Bughendera County was slated to acquire district status. And because Bughendera is predominantly Bakonzo, the new district would be free to express its support for the Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu.For better measure, Karugutu Sub-county (of Ntoroko District), which is predominantly Bakonzo, would be carved from Ntoroko District to join the new Bughendera District.