On the request of Defence minister Crispus Kiyonga, Parliament last week observed a minute of silence in memory of 92 Ugandans who died in senseless attacks in the western districts of Kasese, Bundibugyo and Ntoroko.
The MPs across the political divide condemned the Rwenzori attacks which the government blamed on tribal conflicts between Bakonjo cultivators (majority ethnic tribe) and Basongora cattle keepers.
In the fog of intelligence failures, confessions from some of the suspects in police custody suggested that the attackers’ struggle was for the liberation of the Bakonzo people from the Bamba oppression which was supported by the government.
Dr Kiyonga told the House that more Ugandans could have died in the villages unnoticed and that the attackers who ran away with injuries perhaps add to the count of the dead.
In his opening remarks, Dr Kiyonga, while trying to reconstruct events in Kasese, Bundibugyo and Ntoroko, said the characteristic of the events that unfolded show that “some people in our society still hold firm beliefs in witchcraft, can easily be duped into criminality and can be very callous in causing death to their brothers and sisters”.
The criticism in the House, notwithstanding, a united voice that we should collectively do more, to avert the killings needs to be taken seriously. As United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon put it during the recent commemoration of the genocide in Rwanda, where 800,000 people were slaughtered in 100 days in 1994, “we must not be left to utter the words ‘never again,’ again and again.”
Whether our spies slept on the job or not, going forward, we must as a matter of urgency lay out the best strategies on how to prevent such tragedies in the future. We should not only focus on western Uganda but envelope the whole country, because as Ban Ki-moon rightly says, indeed, the world has yet to fully overcome its divisions, its indifference, and its moral blind spots. For if not checked, ethnic conflicts are contagious and can spread quickly like cancer cells and eat all the progress achieved over the years.
From the discussion in Parliament, two things stood out; the tragic events of last weekend deserve the condemnation of right thinking people and in holding the killings, as the government deals with the perpetrators, it is also important that the authorities deal with the root cause of the ethnic tensions —from the alleged land injustices to the tensions over cultural institutions. If what will deliver peace in Rwenzori region is for Omusinga bwa Rwenzururu to have a dialogue with the other ethnic groups, so be it.