MPs struggle to find answers to Kasese killings

Kasese Municipality MP Franco Centenary presents a report on the recent killings in Kasese before Parliament on Tuesday. PHOTO BY ERIC DOMINIC BUKENYA

What you need to know:

  • In a dilemma. Parliament was torn between allowing the Defence Committee that is already investigating the troubles in the area, to proceed, or to set up a select committee to conduct a fresh inquiry into the killings, Solomon Arinaitwe writes.

What triggered the latest flare-up in Rwenzori sub-region that has claimed more than 60 lives? Could the protagonists have done anything to avert the killings? Who drew the first blood, the security forces or the royal guards? What exactly is the cause of the eternal tension in Rwenzori sub-region?
These were some of the questions that MPs scratched their heads to answer this week, but largely failed to muster convincing answers to explain the reasons behind the conflicts that have raged in the Rwenzori sub-region dating back to pre-independence days.

The Rwenzori sub-region was home to a war against Tooro Kingdom in 1919 which broke up after the Bakonzo rejected paying taxes levied by Tooro; the National Resistance Army war in the 80s and the Allied Democratic Forces war in the 90s.

Add in that mix the clashes between the Bakonzo who occupy Kasese and the Bamba in most parts of Bundibugyo and you have a strong combination that has put the entire Rwenzori sub-region on tension.

Then there are also internal divisions in the Rwenzururu Kingdom with some Basongora and Banyabindi questioning the leadership of Omusinga Charles Wesley Mumbere, further adding to the difficulties in this decades-old conflict.
The Bamba and Bawisi bear allegiance to the Obudingiya Bwa Bwamba, a chiefdom more pronounced in Bundibugyo District, adding more complexity to the conflict.

Those in the know say these pre and post –independence conflicts left behind battalions of well-trained veterans, bitter that the government has done little to re-integrate them into formal security structures, providing easy fodder for violence to flare-up.
The latest violence begun to quietly brew in 2014; attacks and counter-attacks between security forces and civilians in Bundibugyo, Ntoroko, Bundibugyo and Kasese districts left more than 100 dead. Those clashes had tribal undertones pitting the Bamba against Bakonzo.

Though the Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu was recognised in 2009 after decades-long struggles, the political differences between the kingdom and President Museveni cannot be wished away.
In the 2001 and 2006 elections, President Museveni and his NRM were beaten by Dr Kizza Besigye’s FDC in most parts of Rwenzori sub-region.

The Henry Kajura led-committee discovered that NRM’s fortunes in Rwenzori sub-region were being affected by the refusal by the government to recognise the Rwenzururu Kingdom. Government responded by recognising Rwenzururu Kingdom in the 2009, thus improvements in NRM’s performance there in the 2011 elections.
In 2016, as relations between the government and the Rwenzururu Kingdom quietly deteriorated partly over the recognition of Obudingiya Bwa Bwamba, Dr Besigye and FDC swept Kasese at presidential, parliamentary and local government level, felling big shots like long serving minister Crispus Kiyonga.

Kitagwenda County MP Abas Agaba alluded to this in Parliament, wildly claiming, without adducing any evidence that National Resistance Movement (NRM) supporters in Kasese are living under fear of reprisal attacks.
The trigger in violence after the 2016 polls was a bitter quarrel over the Hima Town Council LC III elections which left civilians, royal guards and security personnel dead. Since then, tensions have been quietly brewing and finally took a turn for the worse on Sunday with the attack on the Buhikira Palace.
In Parliament this week, the chambers turned into a combat arena of sorts when the government side and furious lawmakers, especially MPs from Kasese District, the epicentre of the violence, traded bitter accusations over what triggered the violence.

It was a typical case of one person’s word against another’s. Government insists the flare-up in violence was triggered by events that followed a security meeting on November 21 after Rwenzururu Kingdom royal guards attacked security installations to foil pending operations to disband their camps.
MPs from Kasese insist that is very far from the truth. Their account is that tensions boiled when the UPDF surrounded the Rwenzururu Kingdom administration offices in and shot dead eight royal guards, triggering the violence.
With a full plenary session on Tuesday dedicated to debate on the events in Kasese but still failing to find a solution, Parliament re-convened on Thursday to attempt to break the deadlock.

Parliament was torn between allowing the Defence Committee that is already investigating the troubles in the area, to proceed, or to set up a select committee to conduct a fresh inquiry into the killings.
But MPs validly argued that the proceedings of the Defence Committee that has been conducting inquiries since the 9th Parliament, way behind the 90 days’ stipulated timeframe to release a report already overtaken by events. The Defence Committee has other problems. Dokolo County MP Felix Okot Ogong raised the issue of whether Mityana Woman MP Judith Nabakooba can be trusted with investigating the crisis in Kasese where the security agencies are principal actors.
Ms Nabakooba is a former commissioner of police and has already found herself in trouble over her relationship with her former boss, Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura. MP Okot Ogong effectively argued that Ms Nabakooba can’t be trusted to do away with issues of conflict of interest to thoroughly investigate a matter where the police is involved.

Affecting committees
The matter of committee chairpersons clashing with their members over alleged conflict of interest is affecting the proceedings of committees. This week, Buikwe North MP Sebulime Musoke stormed out of a meeting of the Physical Infrastructure Committee, accusing the chairman Denis Sabiiti (Rubanda West) of harbouring interests in the Works and Transport sector. Sabiiti has previously worked in the Works ministry.

Ultimately, Parliament resolved to boost the Defence Committee with five other MPs, with this hybrid committee expected to produce a report before the House breaks off for Christmas recess any time after December 20.
But this is an unenviable task that the committee is very unlikely to pull off on such short notice.
Parliament committees have a penchant of taking a snail’s pace when handling investigations and given the complex nature of the conflict in Kasese, it will, albeit understandably, be very unlikely that a report will be ready in a fortnight time.

THEIR TAKE
Govt’s version: Government insists the flare-up in violence was triggered by events that followed a security meeting on November 21 after Rwenzururu Kingdom royal guards attacked security installations to foil pending operations to disband their camps.

The other version:
MPs from Kasese insist that is very far from the truth. Their account is that tensions boiled when the UPDF surrounded the Rwenzururu Kingdom administration offices in and shot dead eight royal guards, triggering the violence.

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