Minister Kitutu, MPs flee as Imbalu dancers turn rowdy

Minister of Karamoja Affairs, Dr Mary Goretti Kitutu (left), and Agnes Nandutu, during the circumcision ceremony at Mutoto Cultural Grounds in Mbale City on Saturday. Photo / Micheal Woniala

What you need to know:

  • A swarm of kadodi [traditional circumcision] dancers, imbalu candidates and their cheerleaders, overran the VIP section while shouting. They were dressed in traditional regalia and women had banana leaves and beads tied around their waists.

It was a dramatic day at Mutoto Cultural Grounds in Mbale City on Saturday after government officials, including the Minister of Karamoja Affairs, Dr Mary Goretti Kitutu, scampered for safety after Kadodi dancers turned rowdy during the official launch ceremony.

A swarm of kadodi [traditional circumcision] dancers, imbalu candidates and their cheerleaders, overran the VIP section while shouting. They were dressed in traditional regalia and women had banana leaves and beads tied around their waists.

Security personnel whisked away ministers and other dignitaries, bringing the highly treasured event to a premature end.

Some of the MPs were allegedly injured during the fracas and others abandoned their cars for boda bodas to Mbale City.

 Mutoto Cultural Ground is believed to be the place where the first Mugisu (Mumasaba) was circumcised. The feast takes place every even year.

The Mbale City Resident City Commissioner (RCC), Mr Ahamada Washaki, said the Kadodi dancers and imbalu candidates were possessed by the spirits and lost their way.

“The candidates got possessed and charged and they eventually lost their way, straying into the VIP tent resulting in unnecessary tension,” Mr Washaki said.

The traditionalists, who Daily Monitor interviewed shortly after the incident, said it was a sign that the gods are not happy with leaders in Bamasaba land.

Boys dance to Isonja Dance, a preparatory dance for circumcision candidates, at Mutoto cultural site.

 “From time immemorial, the candidates  have never lost their way, especially to the yard, where they are supposed to be circumcised and since they strayed into the VIP tent, it means there is something wrong with them,” Mr Ayub Madoi, a surgeon, said.

Mr James Magomu, another elder, said the incident shows the candidates had not been inspired and blessed by the gods as is the norm.

 “This is a wake-up call to our leaders to stop intrigue and work together. Bamasabaland is sitting on a time bomb. We recently lost people in floods. This land needs prayers,” he said.

Other sources claimed clan leaders were behind the mess following allegations that the organising committee connived with the Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) and failed to buy cattle and goats for sacrifice.

“The chairperson and a few others, including RDCs, were accused of sharing the money which government sent. This is why they decided to disorganise the function,” the source said.

The five boys that were lined up for the launch had refused to undergo circumcision because of the absence of  cows.

Minister of Karamoja Affairs, Dr Mary Goretti Kitutu (left), and Agnes Nandutu, during the circumcision ceremony at Mutoto Cultural Grounds in Mbale City on Saturday. Photo / Micheal Woniala

They later accepted when four goats and one cow were brought

Government instituted the committee to run this year’s circumcision (Imbalu) ceremony in the absence of a gazetted cultural leader.

Mr Godwin Mubuya, the chairperson of the committee, dismissed the allegations, saying they had prior information that some people wanted to disorganise the function.

According to the August 9 letter addressed to Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Ms Betty Amongi, a section of elders rejected the committee and its Imbalu activities.

“We appeal to His excellency the President of the Republic of Uganda, Emeritus Umukhuka Wilson Wamimbi and all well-meaning elders not to attend the raped Imbalu ritual,” the letter signed by 22 elders read in part.

Circumcision among the Bamasaba is a tradition that defines and unites the people in Bugisu.

It comprises districts of Mbale, Namisindwa, Manafwa, Bulambuli, Sironko and Bududa and part of Kenya, who are believed to be descendants of Masaba.

Ms Kitutu had represented President Museveni at the ceremony, which was attended by the State minister for Karamoja, Ms Agnes Nandutu, John Baptist Nambeshe, the Opposition Chief Whip, and dignitaries from other cultural situations. This was the first Imbalu ceremony since Uganda went into lockdown in 2020.

Mr Karim Masaba, the MP for Industrial City Division, tasked the elders to organise the cultural institution.

“After years of leadership crisis, we should forge a way forward and put this institution to order. We should desist from infighting and turning it into a battlefield,” he said.

Mr John Musira, the MP Bubulo East, also former Information minister in the institution, said the leadership scuffles should not stop government from developing the institution.

“The government through the Uganda Tourism Board should develop this cultural centre into a one-stop centre for tourism in Bugisu,” he said.

 Ms Kitutu promised to help the region in developing the cultural site into a modern tourism centre.

“We will work hard to see that this cultural site is developed because this will create employment opportunities,” she said.

Cultural conflicts

The ceremony was presided over by the Umukhuka Emeritus Wilson Wamimbi due to a leadership crisis within the institution, which gave birth to two parallel cultural heads.

The standoff is between Mr Mike Jude Mudoma from Buyobo clan and Mr John Wagabyalire from Halasi clan, both were elected in 2020. Mr Mudoma was elected by the faction led by Mr Nelson Wedaira, the speaker of the general assembly of the institution. The government has failed to gazette any on the claim that they were both regularly elected.

Bugwere cultural leader Geofrey Wayabire at the ceremony.

The absence of a cultural leader is one of many headwinds facing the region, according to Mr Andrew Wambi, a resident of Mooni-Kikamba in Mbale Industrial City Division.

Mr Mudoma, one of the parallel cultural heads, is believed to be a handiwork of some NRM leaders, who fear that if Mr Wagabyalire becomes Umukhuka, Mr Nathan Nandala Mafabi, the Budadiri West MP, and his cohort will wield power and discredit them before President Museveni. However, Mr Mudoma’s supporters claim Mr Wagabyalire is being supported and funded by the Opposition led by Mr Mafabi and also the chairperson of Bugisu Cooperative Society.

Mr Nandala, who is also the Secretary General of FDC, has always maintained that Mr Wagabyalire was legally voted unlike Mr Mudoma.

Compiled by Micheal Woniala, Kitunzi Yahudu & Fred Wambede

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