‘Baganda vs Acholi;’ Stirring up water to catch fish

Author, Nicholas Sengoba. PHOTO/FILE/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • The politicians who are talking about the tribal conflict between Baganda and the Acholi are simply looking for a place in Museveni’s corner in which to earn their keep. 

Cromwell said, that it is good to strike the metal while it is still hot but it is better to make the metal hot by striking. In other words, jump onto an opportunity but if you don’t see one, create it -no matter how good or bad it is, and relish in it.

For politician in the Ugandan setting, when the general elections end, we enter the political dry season. In here, a politician can easily continue fading away especially if they are not in Parliament or don’t have a sizeable following. Currently in Uganda there are politicians who are trying very hard to create an opportunity for themselves to be seen and heard after underwhelming performances in the 2021 election.

They have come up with the theme, ‘tension between (tribalistic) Baganda and the Acholi.’ How did we get here?

When Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine put in his bid for the presidency under the newly formed political party National Unity Platform (NUP,) the odds were stacked against him. New kid out of the ghetto on the national political block, no experienced organisational structures on the ground, no known ideology, etc. It is when he hit the campaign trail that his admirers and enemies stood up to take note. The youth, the unemployed, the dissatisfied countrywide and those who simply have had enough of NRM, gave him a huge welcome wherever he went.

That is when the army and police; the de facto armed wing of the ruling NRM party came into action. They literally stopped NUP from campaigning in the country except in Buganda the birth place of Bobi Wine. Even during the election of January 14 2021 his agents were locked up and brutalized in most parts of the country.

Mark you, there was a lot of fear mongering and propaganda especially in northern and eastern Uganda that if a Muganda was elected (read Bobi Wine,) he would seek vengeance for the atrocities the Apollo Milton Obote governments of 1966-71 and 1980-85, committed against the Baganda.

In the end NUP swept most parts of Buganda and struggled elsewhere save for a few places in eastern Uganda. There was a significant increase in the votes the ruling NRM party got in northern Uganda this time round than the previous elections from 1996 to 2016. The win of NUP in Buganda which hitherto was a low hanging fruit for the NRM did not go down well with President Yoweri Museveni and his party.

He put it to ‘tribalism.’ Museveni overwhelmingly won the west where he originates but did not ascribe it to tribalism. The opportunists, especially some politicians from northern Uganda whose involvement in Ugandan politics has lately been reduced to haplessly addressing weekly press conferences and speaking on radio and television talk shows, saw an opportunity. The prospect was not only for political relevance but also for pecuniary gain.

You see NRM has the money to buy off opponents and also reward those who help its perpetuation. So the opportunists equated the now largest Opposition political party, NUP to Baganda because of its leadership and the win in Buganda. They then came up with the preposterous argument that Baganda are against the Acholi because the latter voted for Museveni. Misery loves company and that is how they warmed their way into the NRM bosom attacking NUP and reducing it to Kabaka Yekka at every opportunity. It even drew in his Lordship the learned Chief Justice of Uganda himself an Acholi.

He made regrettable remarks for which he has since apologised against matters dear to the Baganda as a group. He was angered by the actions of a few NUP supporters who protested against the medical treatment in the USA of the former Speaker Hon Jacob Oulanyah (RIP) an Acholi. This agenda setting is so successful on social media because of the young hotheads in NUP who respond to every provocation with rude language and memes. You can actually think it is real.

But if you look on the ground it is hollow. In Uganda like everywhere else issues of tribe, ethnicity and tribalism attract a lot of emotions and can make people really animated, violent and irrational. I asked an analyst who has written about ‘countrywide tensions between the Baganda and the Acholi,’ to just name a few incidents in which Baganda expressed their animosity towards the Acholi after the 2021 election. He said it is subtle and not very visible! For instance have we seen Baganda say in Luweero throwing stones at buses from Gulu and Kitgum? Have Acholi market vendors been chased out of markets in Buganda where they sell nice fish, simsim paste and greens? Have their stalls been burnt?

Have they been denied jobs? Do Baganda refuse to board taxis and boda bodas operated by Acholis? Yet in some parts of Uganda tensions between tribes and ethnic groups usually flare up into serious existential threats.

For instance the one between the Jopadhola and the Iteso in Tororo; they don’t see eye-to-eye on the issue of which tribe should lead the district. They cannot co-exist and see splitting the district as the only solution.  The Karimojong and the Iteso have problems regarding cattle rustling by the former which has seen many lives lost and brewed hatred. In Kibale we learnt of the term the ‘Bafuruki,’ (migrants) where an indigenous Munyoro was defeated for district chairman seat by a migrant Mukiga.

The latter’s kinsmen outnumbered the local Banyoro and put him in power. The President had to intervene and support the ring fencing of some positions for the local Banyoro.

In northern Uganda the Acholi from Amuru have a long standing land wrangle in Apaa against the Madi from neighbouring Adjumani in which lives have been lost. Living side by side is abhorred.   That is how ethnic tensions between peoples in Uganda manifest themselves. Baganda continue to live, marry, school and trade with the Acholi as it was from time immemorial. In fact most Baganda homes would prefer an Acholi for a security guard for they are deemed as some of the most honest and loyal people in Uganda.

The politicians who are talking about the tribal conflict Between Baganda and the Acholi are simply looking for a place in Museveni’s corner in which to earn their keep. Their self importance and cunning has driven them to make their tribulations and political frustrations appear as those of the entire Acholi people.

They have singled out the nation of Buganda as their enemy; the flogging horse because that procures them sympathy,  inflates their ego and stature as a one man army holding out in a fight against a huge legion. It has never worked. It won’t work.

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues
Twitter: @nsengoba

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