What brews conflicts in Rwenzori region?

Some of the residents of the affected areas shift to Bundibugyo Town for their safety last week. Photo by Ruth Katusabe

What you need to know:

Conflicts in the region started in 2009 when government recognised Charles Wesley Mumbere as the King of the Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu Kingdom. This was not welcomed by the Basongora and Banyabindi in Kasese as well as Bawisi and Bamba in Bundibugyo District. On July 11, 2012, an attack at Muhokya Police Station in Kasese eft five people dead after the Basongora installed their king, the Late Ivan Bwebale Rwigi IV. The attackers fled with Bwebale’s regalia.

Ms Gorreti Nsonisyabo, 30, is admitted with her eight- month-old baby boy to Fort Portal Regional Referral Hospital nursing deep cuts.
They are residents of Busengerwa, Kirundi Parish in Bundibugyo District. She is a mother of six children.
On the night of February 26, she was attacked by panga-wielding men. The attackers killed her four daughters but she narrowly escaped death with her baby boy. She says her husband was not at home at the time of the attack.
“Before the LC5 elections, there was no sign of violence. After two days, I saw two men in my compound holding knives, pangas and a spear in the middle of the night. My husband was not around. I entered the house but people kept on increasing in our compound,” she says.

“Two men forced themselves into my house and started cutting me. I fell down with my baby who I was carrying. He was cut on the left thigh,” Nsonisyabo says, adding that the men thought they had died.
“Then they killed my four daughters who were also in the house before they left,” Nsonisyabo narrates.
She says her in-law who later came to the house called the police who took her to Bundibugyo hospital and she was later transferred to Fort Portal hospital.
Mr Coleneli Kisembo, 31, also one of the victims admitted to the same hospital, says on the day of elections (February 24), he slept in the bush fearing for his life. He hails from Kasulenge II village, Bundimulange parish, Kirumya Sub-county.

“At night, when they first announced Jolly Tibemanya (the incumbent LC5 chairman and independent) as the winner, the supporters of a rival candidate picked knives, pangas and spears and started killing people,” he says.
He adds; “At 3pm on Friday (February 26), I was at home, I saw a gang carrying knives, pangas and iron bars. They said, ‘this is also a Mudhingiya (King Kamya’s subject), kill him’.”
The attackers first ate everything edible in Kisembo’s shop before they started cutting me,” he recalls.
“When I fell down, the attackers thought I had died and they ran away. My wife made an alarm and the chairperson LC1 came and called police that took me to the hospital,” he adds.

Both Nsonisyabo and Kisembo are some of the several victims of the post-election violence that erupted in Bundibugyo District two weeks ago following announcements of the results in which the incumbent Mr Tibemanya lost to Mr Ronald Mutegeki in a hotly contested race.
According to the Rwenzori Region police commander, Mr Dennis Namuwoza, the clashes and tension in the district sparked off from the provisional results released by the district returning officer, Mr Daniel Nayebare.
He says Nayebare first announced Tibemanya as leading on the polling night before he declared Mr Mutegeki winner the next day. This led to jubilation in both camps and later clashes leaving more than 10 people dead, several others injured and houses torched.

However, Nayebare reasons that the first declaration was a result of a mismatch of only three polling stations but after it was corrected, Mutegeki won by a 300-vote margin.
“It is not true that I declared two people but there is a difference between announcing and declaring. People started celebrating as we were announcing results. They were at the tally centre and as I was about to declare the winner, we realised that some presiding officers had changed the order of the candidates’ names on the Results Declaration Forms. We were forced to delete all we had tallied to re-tally but not recount until we declared the rightful winner,” explains Nayebare.
Nayebare also reasons that the clashes were not entirely related to the LC5 elections rather tribal differences that had been brewing ahead of the elections. These hit fever the climax on the day of elections.

Centre of conflict
However, all these clashes are just a tip of the ice bag indicating a bigger problem in the region; an unresolved set of conflicts cutting across the entire Rwenzori sub-region that usually cause insecurity and affect the voting patterns during elections.
Opinion leaders in the region say after the July 5, 2014 attacks in Kasese, Ntoroko and Bundibugyo districts in which more than 90 people were killed and several others injured, government did not address the causes of the attacks and the measures later used to stem off the conflict were just cosmetic.
For the last four years, Rwenzori sub-region has been the centre of tribal conflicts, especially in Kasese and Bundibugyo following government’s recognition of cultural institutions that never existed before.

Conflicts in the region started in 2009 when government recognised Charles Wesley Mumbere as the King of the Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu (OBR) Kingdom. This was not welcomed by the Basongora and Banyabindi in Kasese as well as Bawisi and Bamba in Bundibugyo District.
On July 11, 2012, there was an attack at Muhokya Police Station in Kasese which left more than five people dead after the Basongora installed their king, the Late Ivan Bwebale Rwigi IV. The attackers fled with Bwebale’s regalia.
On several occasions, King Mumbere has been blocked to freely meet his subjects in some parts of Kasese and Bundibugyo districts. Other tribes in some of these areas say they do not pay allegiance to the Rwenzururu king.

On June 30, 2012, the first clashes in Bundibugyo ensued after King Charles Mumbere visited the area and among others set up a shrine and raised the kingdom flag at his father’s home area in Kirindi, Busaru, Bwamba County. Mumbere was celebrating his kingdom’s Peace Day at Kirindi, the area believed to be historical to their kingdom.
This action did not go down well with the Bamba and Bawisi as they believed that Mumbere’s move was intended to conquer their territory. This was followed by clashes between Bamba and Bakonzo.

On May 30, 2014, government recognised Lt Col Martin Kamya as the first King of the new cultural institution; Obudingiya Bwa Bwamba (OBB).
This was also followed by simultaneous attacks on July 5, 2014 in the three districts but mainly centred in Bundibugyo and Kasese.
The attacks were led by spear and panga wielding youths who in broad day light attacked the army barracks at Kanyamwirima in Bundibugyo and several other police stations in the three districts.

Some of the Bakonzo then claimed that government was oppressing them by creating other cultural institutions in their area of jurisdiction and leaving Mumbere in one district of Kasese.
One of the recent clash victims in Bundibugyo, Mr Daniel Bailinga, from Kirumya Sub-county reasoned; “Government pardoned people who never appreciated the amnesty accorded to them since then, a majority of them have gone back to the mountains for re-training to carry out similar acts”.
Mr Bailinga attributes the recent clashes allegedly as revenge by some annoyed Bakonzo who lost their loved ones during the July 5, 2014 attacks that claimed some people in Kirumya.
“We have been seeing some youths mobilising with the help of some local leaders to the extent of relocating them to Kisege in Itojo Sub-county, Ntoroko District. We reported to police earlier but they ignored our reports saying they are tired of us,” Bailinga says.

Bailanga’s claims have been confirmed by the Ntoroko Resident District Commissioner, Mr Wilson Isingoma but says they are closely monitoring the situation in the area.
“It is true Kisege is full of immigrants from Congo and Bundibugyo due to tribal tensions but we are monitoring them closely. We have written reports and we believe that we are going to take action,” he says.
Mr Bailinga also attributes the recent attacks to some OBB officials who he says backed some politicians in the process dividing subjects further.

But deputy premier of OBB Rev. Tomas Kamuhanda says they never mobilised their people to kill others apart from telling them to support government given the historical attachment Bundibugyo has with the government.
“Why should people of Kasese come to Bundibugyo to destabilise us by influencing the communities to rebel against government and their neighbours? We shall not sit and watch,” Rev Kamuhanda observes.
But Mr Edward Mumbere, a former Rwenzururu kingdom minister and former Bundibugyo NRM district chairperson attributes the current conflict to the alleged mismanagement of the NRM primary elections that brought back the July 5, 2014 memories.
He says the last NRM primaries were allegedly based on ethnic lines.

“These people (OBB) made an agreement before the recognition of the kingdom that since the Omudingiya (King) and the premier were Bawisi, the LC5 chairperson should be a Mwamba in order to balance the responsibilities. That is why the OBB officials meddled into politics to back the incumbent LC5 chairman to maintain their stand but were resisted,” reasoned Mumbere.
However, Mumbere’s claims have been rejected by the OBB spokesperson Rev. Geoffrey Kyomuhendo as baseless.
“There is no such agreement at all,” Rev Kyomuhendo said, adding, “OBB refutes these allegations and considers all this to be malicious propaganda intended to tarnish the name and image of our cultural institution.”

“What happened was not clashes between Bamba and Bakonzo but it was Bakonzo militia group commonly known as “Esyomango” who jealously invaded some Bwamba homes and started butchering people, burning houses and forcefully evicting Bamba from their homes hence causing displacements especially among the Bamba communities,” Rev Kyomuhendo adds.
Rev Kamuhanda observes that the recent clashes were not as a result of the election results but a continuation of the July 5, 2014 attacks.
After the 2014 attacks, government arrested hundreds of suspected attackers in Bundibugyo, Ntoroko and Kasese districts and paraded them before the army general court martial that was sitting in Kasese and Bundibugyo towns.

The suspects were later freed after government said they had lost interest in the case. Other hundreds who had fled into hiding fearing arrests, returned after government set an amnesty.
Other opinion leaders in the region observe that government releasing the suspects while not arresting others is another source of conflict. They believe the government is taking sides with some categories of people.
Government in 1993 restored monarchy through the Constituent assembly (CA) and the restored institutions along the way have been used by the sitting government to gain political capital. In some areas it has worked but not in others.

Possible solutions to the conflicts

Seeing all this bounce back in a vicious circle, a question arises, was justice ever achieved after the 2014 attacks and if not, what needs to be done to bring back normalcy in the region.
Mr Edward Mumbere, a former Rwenzururu kingdom minister appeals to government to have a clear policy on the establishment of cultural institutions reasoning that until government realizes that cultural institutions are not supposed to have established governments, their issues will never end.

“Why should for example cultural institutions have defense ministers and other ministries not related to culture. As long as this still exists, those ministries will keep on colliding with government ministries” Mumbere observes.
He also wants government to stop using cultural institutions as a stepping stone to achieve its political agendas.
“Cultural institutions in the region are being used as a political platform at the expense of people’s lives” he says.
He advises the cultural institutions in Uganda and especially in Rwenzori to operate like the Asante in Ghana where he says is purely cultural and should leave politics outside their operations.

Bailinga wants government to replace all the police officers hailing from Bundibugyo District for their alleged failure to protect the lives and property of the people during the recent clashes and should restrain some people from Kasese who come to Bundibugyo to plant seeds of discord to the people under pretense of peace building.
Rev.Kyomuhendo believes that a cultural dialogue should be held in order to bring matters on board but their efforts to hold one has always failed by their counterparts in other cultural institutions. He says they have issues which have not been known and need to be investigated by government.


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