When cultural leaders divide instead of uniting

Mr Paul Sande-Emolot(L), the Emorimor-elect for Iteso Cultural Union and Mr Nicholas Dokoria who was named by House of Elders as Emorimor for Iteso Cultural Union. PHOTO/JOSEPH OMOLLO

What you need to know:

  • Local leaders blame the power struggles on selfish interests fuelled by the top political class, including ministers and MPs.

Out of the five gazzetted cultural institutions in eastern region, three of them are in limbo with parallel cultural heads, each exercising kingship powers and awaiting government gazettement.
This has left the affected institutions of Obwa Ikumbania Bwa Bugwere in North Bukedi, Inzu Ya Masaaba in Bugisu, and recently the Iteso Cultural Union in disarray.

Monitor has learnt that among the parallel heads in the respective institutions, some are allegedly funded by top political leaders, including ministers and MPs. Local leaders say this has cemented confusion and disunity.

The other gazzetted institution, the Kyabazinga of Busoga, also recently faced disharmony after claimants to the throne cropped up. The only institution which is quite stable is Tieng Adhola in Tororo District.

Mr Amuza Wamono, a senior research fellow, blames the leadership wrangles on politicisation of cultural institutions.

“The National Resistance Movement (NRM) government views them as an extended network of political mobilisation to entrench itself in power. This is one of the major causes of confusion,” he says.

The ruling NRM government restored cultural institutions in 1993 after they had been abolished by president Apollo Milton Obote in 1967.

Mr Wamono says the government also commercialised cultural institutions in the name of funding, something he says has caused greed.

“This explains why leadership fights in the institutions centre on party affiliations, greed for money, benefits and other privileges,” he says.

The gazzetted cultural leader is entitled to, among other things, Shs15m monthly cash from the government, but paid quarterly, official vehicles and security guards. Other benefits include educational and travel allowances, and contributions by the government on burial arrangement.

The privileges dangled by the government, according to Mr Innocent Dibba, a political analyst, fuel the struggle for leadership.

“The existence of those cultural institutions has created more harm than good because everyone wants to become a king,” he says.

Mr Dibba says this explains why efforts, especially by the government, to reconcile the parallel cultural leaders fail.

“For instance, in the Bugwere Cultural Institution, everything has been done to reconcile the camps, but all that has so far failed due to selfish interests,” Mr Dibba says.

The institution last week elected the son of the late Ikumbania, the cultural head of the Bugwere Cultural Institution, Mr Geoffrey Wayabire, to replace his father.

Earlier, another camp had elected Mr Joshua Wilber Musimami, a teacher by profession, as their cultural leader.

Other factions within the same institution pay allegiance to Mr Balaam Mubbala as their leader.
The institution, which has 108 clans, was gazetted on May 6, 2016 and its first cultural head, John Wayabire, Succumbed to Covid-19 on February 7, 2021.

Mr Felix Wamboya, one of the elders, says it is unfortunate that the government is only looking on as the institutions sink.

“President Museveni has been in this area at least two times this year, but he has not said anything about the sinking institutions. It is bad to look on as your son or daughter drowns,” he says.

Mr Museveni restored cultural institutions to promote unity, conservation and preservation of their heritage and also foster economic development. 

In Bugisu, there are two claimants to the Bamasaba throne.  Mr Mike Jude Mudoma from Buyobo clan and Mr John Wagabyalire from Halasi clan. 

The duo are from the Mwambu family and were elected in 2020 by separate factions. Both claim to be rightful kings.

This came after the throne fell vacant after Bob Mushikori, who hailed from the Mubuuya family, died in January 2021. The institution was gazetted in 2010.


The Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Ms Betty Amongi, recently said they need to establish a council of elders or clan leaders to conduct new elections for cultural leaders. The suggestion has so far been rejected by some institutions.

“At the moment none of the two claiming the throne [Bamasaba] were validly elected and, therefore, we have guided them that a council of elders or clan leaders can come up with a mechanism of conducting new elections,” Ms Amongi said.

However, some cultural leaders in the institutions blame the mess on the ministry and have dragged the matters to courts of law.

For instance, a section of leaders from the Balangira clan in Bugwere Cultural Institution say the ministry practices double standards.

Mr Ephraim Lupia, the minister for public service and cabinet affairs in the Balangira clan, says failure by the ministry to do its work perfectly has led to the emergence of parallel cultural heads.
The spokesperson at the Gender ministry, Mr Frank Mugabi, however, said allegations are baseless and only intended to malign the ministry.

“The ministry offers technical guidance, but does not create leaders. The cultural institution should be reminded that their mandate is to elect their leader of their choice in line with their constitution,” Mr Mugabi says.

Mr Sosipateri Nyola, an elder in Bugwere Cultural Institution, says infighting and divisionism has bogged down their institution.

“The prime objective of the institution was to bring the Bagwere together, but instead, it has sharply divided the Bagwere. The institution is collapsing because of self-seekers,’’ he says.

Mr Latif Wandera, an opinion leader and a resident of Mbale, says: “When the government came up with this cultural institution thing, our people jumped on it for the sake of benefits without second thought.” 

Teso Sub-region

Iteso Cultural Union, which has been stable for some time, is now in murky waters following the death of  the late Augustine Osuban Lemukol Adugala in February.

Both the cultural institution’s electoral commission (EC) and House of Elders have since presented parallel Emorimor-elects.

The EC chairman of Iteso Cultural Union, Dr Charles Otim, declared Ikuruk clan’s Paul Sande Emolot unopposed for the Emorimor candidature as nominations closed on July 12.  

But hardly a week after, the House of Elders named Goria clan’s Mzee Nicholas Dokoria as the next Emorimor during a July 16 meeting at Soroti Hotel.

Elders claim their decision was “because the electoral commission didn’t follow the right channels to elect Emolot as the new leader.”

The cultural union spokesperson, Mr Gabriel Opolot Onoge, recently said the institution “is only aware of one emorimor-elect,  Emolot’’.

Mr Opolot insisted that nominations and elections that were done after the closing date are null and void. 

“The election of the emorimor has been clearly guided by the Iteso Cultural Union constitution, which puts emphasis on regional balancing,” he says.

He emphasised that according to the constitution, it is time for the Teso South region that comprises Tororo, Mbale, Busia, Manafwa, Bugiri, and Mayuge, among others, to have a leader to replace the late Osuban.

The director of communication in the NRM party, Mr Emmanuel Dombo, told Daily Monitor that most institutions are disorganised.

“The institutions have themselves to blame, but again in some areas like eastern Uganda, they are better off without cultural institutions because there is no structural set up,” he said.
Mr Dombo said some communities copied the idea of cultural institutions and rushed to implement it.

“People in the east were governed under clans, but when the government restored cultural institutions, some people tried to copy what was happening elsewhere and it is now failing,” he said.

Government position

The State minister for Gender and Culture, Ms Peace Mutuuzo, last Friday said the government will not gazette any of the parallel leaders until there is consensus on rightful cultural heads.      

“There are guidelines they are supposed to follow to elect their cultural heads. We shall wait even if it takes 10 years. We will not gazette anyone. They are delaying themselves,” she said.