Ankole monarchists’ two decade battle for restoration of kingdom

Charles Aryaija Rwebishengye is installed as the heir of Prince John Barigye recently.

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When NRM restored monarchies, the Obugabe in Ankole became a contested matter in the community. The agitators for its restoration argue that they want the monarchy back for Nkore culture promotion, while those against it argue it was repressive.


On August 27, a group of monarchists from greater Ankole convened at Rwekishokye Club in Mbarara in yet another move to carry on the struggle for the restoration of the Ankole kingship that has lasted for 19 years now.

The meeting brought together clan leaders in Ankole (there are over 100 clans) to rejuvenate their focus. They drew plans. Among others they want to petition Parliament and start sensitising the young generation about benefits of the kingship. “They were expressing their disappointment over government’s refusal to restore the kingship,” Ankole Kingdom Prime Minister William Katatumba said during a recent interview with Saturday Monitor.

“And there is no giving up, we have drawn plans. We are going to Parliament in a few days and we are rolling out sensitisation campaign targeting the young; those who were born after the kingdom was abolished,” he added.

Even when Ankole Kingship has been in limbo for 45 years and still counting, the monarchists still have hope that at one time in the near future, the institution that ceased to be on September 8, 1967, will rise again.

What derides and equally energises them is the fact that all old kingdoms including the hitherto not much popular compared to Ankole, have been restored.
Even when the key central government figures cast an indifferent posture to the subject on account of its lack of popular support from local masses in Ankole, the resolve of this group downplayed by the anti-kingship group, has not waned since 1993 to date.

Long journey
February 27, 1993 was the birth of this movement. A group of prominent people in Ankole formed Nkore Cultural Trust (NCT) to spearhead the campaign for restoration of the kingship. They included Bishop of Ankole Yoramu Bamunoba, Sheikh Muniru Sebintu, Bishop Amos Bentungura, Y Rwakanuma, P Garubungo, Sheikh Abdu Nuru Kaduyu and James Mugasha.

Six months after August 23, 1993 a delegation of NCT members led by the then Prime Minister and NCT Chairman late James Kahigiriza, the trust patron Prince John Barigye and the Secretary Twinoburyo Omwanawomuntu met President Museveni at State House Entebbe to convince him to allow the restoration of Ankole Kingdom like it had been done in other areas like Toro and Buganda.

Given the repressive and political stance kingships espoused in the past in the community, the President told this group that the kingship was to play only a cultural role and tasked them to first go and sensitise people of Ankole about this role such that there is general acceptability.
However, from the Entebbe meeting, a section of the NCT lead by Prince Barigye went to Kaliro (his home in Kashari) and formed a coronation committee.

On November 20 1993 they gathered at kings burial grounds in Nkokonjeru Mbarara and installed late Prince Barigye as hair to the estate of his father. Mr Barigye, his wife and Mr Kahigiriza then retreated to well-built and decorated huts. Prince Barigye and his wife returned later dressed in befitting kingly robes and suits as the crowd cheered.

They took up their seats next to the Enganzi, Nalinya of Buganda representing the Kabaka, the then regent of Toro kingdom Mr Katuramu and other dignitaries. Mr Kahigiriza declared prince Barigye as the Omugabe (king of Ankole). The Omugabe then performed rituals like, planting millet, yam and receiving milk in a pot as identification that Omugabe was a unifying factor for people of Ankole. The group left for the church service at St. James Cathedral in Ruharo.

Cultural leaders support
The remaining rituals, was to take place at the historical site at Rukoma in Isingiro-the coronation site for the Abagabe. On learning about the development, President Museveni on December 4, 1993 convened a meeting of over 150 civic leaders including sub-county, county, district and area MPs from Ankole in Rwakitura in which the ‘unauthorised’ coronation was slammed.

Since then, a stand-off developed and has continued to grow between those who want the king and the President who argue that the support of the people of Ankole must be sort first and that district councils have to pass resolutions supporting such.

In a November 16-18 2009 Uganda Cultural Leaders Forum in Masindi attended by Barigye, the leaders asked President Museveni to restore Obugabe to which he still declined. Following what transpired at the meeting, the head of cultural leaders Omukama Gafabusa Iguru on November 20, 2009 wrote to district councils in Ankole to pass the resolution supporting restoration.

In December late Prince Barigye met councillors from Mbarara, Bushenyi Ibanda, Ntungamo, Isingiro and Kiruhura districts at his home in Kariro Rubindi Kashari Mbarara and asked them to pass the resolutions to restore Ankole Kingdom. But is alleged that during the meeting councillors received “facilitation.”
As the debate in councils gained momentum, the President’s office wrote to them warning against the move because councillors were reportedly being bribed to pass resolutions.

In another desperate move, Prince Barigye and Prime Minister Katatumba in 2010 petitioned the Constitutional Court to compel government to restore the kingdom as provided in 1995 Constitution and government to return kingdom property especially land, Mugaba palace at Kamukuzi and other cultural sites.

Following the petition, the Attorney General in 2011 sent a team to Ankole districts to get people’s views on the issue. People like Rev. Sam Rujoki from Kiruhura and John Wycliffe Karazarwe from Ntungamo among many others were contacted over the subject.

The court is yet to pronounce it self on the matter. However in 2001 government had compensated Prince Barigye Shs3.6 billion for some of the property government is using in Ankole. Even when Prince Barigye the vestige, icon and key pillar of kingdom died on October 14 2011, the fight rages on.

At his burial monarchists spoke with indignation faulting the government for sitting on people’s fundamental human right to culture. “Government said that those who so wish-without specifying the number can have a king. We based our selves on that to coronate him in 1993. When we saw that government did not like it we went slow and disguised as if it was the funeral rite of his father. We ask government to hear the demand of Banyankole for restoration of the kingship,” said Rev.Can Rujoki said.

Speaking at St. James Cathedral Ruharo on October 23 during the burial speeches, Gen. Elly Tumwine said: “Everything has its own time. I believe now is the time for government to hear our people. What we witnessed yesterday at (Muhabura) and today at St. James shows that this is the time, people want the kingdom back.”

They enthroned his son Charles Rwebishengye as heir to carry on his late father’s tasks. During his installation on October 24 Prince Rwebishengye promised to continue with the fight. “My father liked Ankole Kingdom and died still fighting to get it back. Now that I have succeeded him I will carry on this work.”

To make him measure up to the mobilisation and prospective kingdom tasks NCT sponsored Prince Rwebishengye, 21, to pursue university studies in UK, leaving Uganda Christian University Mukono where he was a first year student.

At the August 28 meeting at Rwekishokye the Club LC 5 councillor for Rubindi Sub-county in Mbarara, Mr Didas Tabaaro, advised the trust to shed off fear and begin to mobilise like other tribes have done. “You can delay the restoration of the kingship but nobody will stop it because at a certain point Ankole will have its rightful position. Let us form the king’s troop, mobilise youth like Buganda has done with Nkoba za Mbogo and I am ready to lead them,” he said.

Mr Katatumba says the challenge they have is to bring on board the young generation. “There is overwhelming support except that there are many people were born when the kingdom had been abolished about 45 years ago. They don’t know Obugabe. They don’t know its badness and the goodness. There is need to educate them. That’s the area we are going to cover. But even then the Constitution says those who so wish can have their king,” says Mr Katuramu.

He says Banyankore dressing code, language and other cultural etiquettes have completely been eroded and that without the institution of the kingship they will never be put right. He says NCT alone cannot redeem the culture because it needs to be backed by the kingship and it needs funding and apparently there is no basis on which to solicit funding.

Mr Katatumba says those opposed to the kingship is not because it was a divisive entity as some people claim for both the Bairu and Bahima served in prominent positions in the kingdom. “It is out of selfishness and opportunism on their part that they have failed the kingdom but we shall not give up,” he says.

However some of the prominent clans were not represented at the meeting. Among others, the clan leaders of Abahweju which is lead by Bishop Emeritus William Bamunoba and Prof. Mwene Mushanga, and that of Abatizi where people like Mr Richard Kaijuka and Mr Amanya Mushega belong, were not represented.

Historical disadvantage
How Ankole Kingdom expanded in 1901 is an undoing that is among the factors undermining the efforts of the monarchists. The 1901 agreement between Nkore and the colonialists forcibly put the neighbouring smaller kingdoms of Buhweju, Igara and Buzimba, Bunyaruguru and former parts of former Mpororo kingdom under Nkole-which became Ankole.

The then Nkore was covering only present Mbarara, Isingiro and Kiruhura districts (Then called Kashari, Isingiro and Nyabushozi counties). It expanded over twice its size. “These kingdoms had kings and they were forced to be part of Ankole. Ankole did not evolve it was imposed by the colonialists. Some people like Nsinga-the king of Buhweju committed suicide protesting being annexed to Ankole,” says Mr Kesi Nyakimwe, the chairman Banyankole Cultural Foundation. This partly explains why when the kingdom was abolished there were jubilations allover in the kingdom.

Recently there have also been voices from cultural leaders who hail from those annexed kingdoms. Prince Banga from Buhweju recently said that should Ankole Kingdom be recreated, other kingdoms that existed before Ankole should be revived too. Mr Nyakimwe says restoration of kingdoms in other parts of the country should not be used as “an excuse to bring confusion among the people in Ankole sub-region again.” Already disunity is cropping up in kingdoms like Rwezurururu where Basongora and Banyabidi have resisted the rule of King Charles Mumbere. And government is accusing Buganda of meddling in politics when the kingdom is supposed to play cultural role.

Buganda is also demanding its historical property which government has been reluctant to give back. These are some of the issues that appeals to both the decision makers and the monarchists in taking their stands on the question of Ankole kingship.