ICOB@20: Banyakigyezi to celebrate coming of age

Author: Muniini K Mulera. PHOTO/FILE 

What you need to know:

  • Our major focus will be on pushing forward our agenda of enabling younger generations to become innovators, job creators, and desirable employees.

Dear Tingasiga:
Members of the International Community of Banyakigezi (ICOB) and friends of Kigyezi will hold a much-anticipated convention in Boston, Massachusetts, USA from July 6 to 10, 2023. This will be ICOB’s first gathering since the COVID-19 pandemic changed our lives. To have survived the awful pandemic will be reason enough to celebrate with humble thanksgiving.

It marks 20 years since ICOB was founded in Toronto, Canada in July 2003. We look back in amazement at the journey we have walked, the external political obstacles and threats we have overcome, and the contribution we have made to the education sector and other social-economic development in Kigezi.

When we gathered in Toronto 20 years ago, our goal was to create a fellowship of Banyakigezi that would serve as a social, professional, and economic networking forum; a tool for preservation and promotion of our culture; and a vehicle through which we would give back to Kigyezi.

I am happy to report that ICOB, the Diaspora-based organization with chapters in Canada, UK and USA has survived our first two decades.  

We are descendants of people who were not afraid of the cold and treacherous mountains of Kigyezi. We are relatives of those who migrated to Ankole, Tooro, Bunyoro, Buganda and Tanganyika and turned hardship into wealth. We are offspring of men and women who, notwithstanding their disadvantaged economic circumstances, had the vision and ambition to get us the best formal education. We have no choice but to succeed in our mission of doing our part in carrying their vision forward.

Whereas it is not in our nature to blow our own horns, we shall use the Boston convention to give a comprehensive report about the five technical education institutions that the Diaspora ICOB has supported.
We shall have a great story to tell. In February and March this year, my wife and I, together with two visionary and selfless Banyakigyezi ladies - Lilian Kamusiime of Rukungiri District and Evelyne Ninsiima Kikafunda of Rubanda District – toured all five institutions to do an evaluation and needs assessment that will inform ICOB’s direction. We gathered data and took hundreds of photographs that will be a visual essay that we believe will give Banyakigyezi reason to be proud of the investments they have made.

Travelling with Kamusiime and Ninsiima Kikafunda, was a heartwarming experience. These two ladies freely gave their time to ICOB. They offered invaluable observations and advice to us and to the institutions’ leaders. Upon learning that many students at Kizinga Technical School had failed to pay their tuition and boarding fees, Ninsiima Kikafunda promptly sponsored three of them. For her part, Kamusiime donated one million shillings to the Kigezi Education Fund, in lieu of attending the Boston Convention.

Kamusiime and Ninsiima’s voluntary actions encapsulated ICOB’s desire to give to the community, rather than serving personal economic or other needs and ambitions. The same spirit of volunteerism is what led to the founding of ICOB twenty years ago.

As we drove from Rukungiri to Kanungu, along an African Development Bank-funded state-of-the-art highway that is under construction, I recalled that ICOB had actively lobbied the Government of Uganda to prioritize the realization of that important road. Whereas we do not claim credit for that road, we know that our relentless advocacy helped to persuade the decision makers to build it. That is the kind of partnership with the Uganda Government that we believe in and will continue to pursue.

When we meet in Boston, we shall not dwell too long on our achievements. Our major focus will be on pushing forward our agenda of enabling younger generations to become innovators, job creators, and desirable employees.

Several key events are scheduled to take place in Boston.  First, we shall explore innovative health care opportunities in Kigyezi. This is a timely theme for this year’s convention. The health of Banyakigyezi remains very challenging. The commendable efforts by the Uganda Government and the private service providers are still inadequate to meet the needs of our expanding and ageing population.

The maternal-child health needs continue to challenge our community’s limited financial resources. Unacceptably high maternal and child mortality and morbidity persist. Discussions on this important subject will help pave the way for renewed focus on this aspect of our community’s development.

Second, we shall elect new leaders to move ICOB forward. Happily, excellent candidates for election to the Board and Executive of ICOB have stepped forward. Whereas the list of candidates will be published in the next few days, I am happy to disclose that the majority are female and are of a younger generation that will move the organization with fresh ideas and modern methods of work.

Third, we shall formally honour the founders of ICOB, and our recently deceased members including Emmanuel Tumusiime Mutebile, the former governor of the Bank of Uganda, and Peninah Ngategize, a tireless, selfless, and very committed member that ensured successful implementation of our projects in Uganda.

Fourth, we shall formally launch a Savings and Credit Cooperative Society (SACCO) to serve the investment needs of ICOB members. This is an important opportunity for members to take advantage of the benefits of pooling resources to generate personal and community wealth.

Fifth, we shall hold a major fundraising campaign at our traditional Gala Dinner on Saturday July 8.  All donations will go to the Kigezi Education Fund, through which we finance the technical education programs. This fundraising dinner, which will feature traditional and modern popular dancing, will be graced by delegates and friends of Kigyezi who live in the Boston area. As in all past conventions, non-Banyakigezi will be very welcome and valued guests. We hope to see and reconnect with our friends from the Boston area, from whom the coronavirus has separated us for too long.

We look forward to seeing old friends and new faces from the three active member chapters of ICOB, namely Canada, UK, and USA. Whereas the Uganda Chapter withdrew from membership, and therefore ceased to exist, we look forward to seeing Banyakigyezi living in Uganda who subscribe to the core values that have brought us thus far. We look forward to welcoming those in Uganda who wish to work with us to give back to our people.

We remain mindful that ICOB, a scrupulously non-partisan organization, was formed in fulfillment of Omugurusi Paulo Ngorogoza’s exhortation to us in 1967 that even if the emigrants from Kigyezi become rich and change their mother tongue, “they should remember the proverb ‘Gatagata munonga gateebirwe wa beene mbeho’, meaning that they must always feel in their bones that they are Banyakigyezi, remembering where they came from. That has been ICOB’s philosophy. It must remain that way.

Muniini K. Mulera is Ugandan-Canadian social and political observer.