Kasese struggles to rise from ashes of Mumbere palace attack

Ms Jemima Muhindo, who lost her husband in the palace attack, with some of her children in Kinyateke Village, Kahokya Sub-county, Kasese District. PHOTO/JEROME KULE BITSWANDE

What you need to know:

  • Five years after the 2016 Kasese raids that claimed more than 100 people, families of the victims continue to struggle to make ends meet.
  • On November 27, 2016, a joint force of the police and the military raided the palace of the Rwenzururu King, Charles Wesley Mumbere on Kibanzanga Road in Kasese Town.
  • The attack also led to the arrest of more than 200 people, including the king.
  • Jerome Kule Bitswande meets the affected families in this series to explain how the deadly clashes have destroyed livelihoods.  

At the age of 18, a young girl full of life had bumped into a youthful 21-year-old boy for whom she developed strong admiration.

Ms Geneva Biira did not hesitate when Ezra Kyoya sought for her hand in marriage.
 Kyoya had dropped out of school upon completion of his Primary Seven, while Biira had only stopped in Primary Four.

Biira was certain that she had found  the love of her life, and in 1993 they got married.

They were blessed with nine children but unfortunately their union was cut short by the November 27, 2016 Rwenzururu Kingdom palace raid conducted by a joint force of police and military personnel.

Ezra Kyoya was one of the more than 100 royal guards who were killed during the raid commanded by Lt Gen Peter Elwelu (then a brigadier). Lt Gen Elwelu has since been appointed the deputy Chief of Defence Forces.

Geneva Kyoya narrates the agony she has gone through in taking care of not only her nine children, but also six others of her husband.

“I regret recalling memories of November 27, 2016.Being my sole responsibility to take charge of the family, life has been hard. It has been a tag of war to even get the basics of life,” Ms Kyoya says.

The 46-year-old says she has found it hard to accept her widowhood since each day that goes by presents grief.

She says the fact that she fails to provide beddings and school fees, among other requirements, for the children keeps her heart burdened with a feeling of guilt and unworthiness.

What should ideally be her living room of the four-roomed semi-furnished house, is filled with sacks stashed with leaves.
The sacks on the ground are what Ms Kyoya refers to as cradles for some of her children.

She also intimates that two of her children have since dropped out of school and married, adding that none of her children has more than two pairs of clothes. “But what can I do to offer a comfortable life for these children?  This is all I could afford because I can’t get the money to purchase mattresses for all yet I am also struggling,” she says.

Sometimes Ms Kyoya stays away from her home and keeps holed up somewhere to avoid being arrested for defaulting on loan repayment.

In 2019, she got a loan from a Sacco to roof her house which her husband had left standing at ring beam level.

“My husband was constructing this house before he died.

However, after his death, I was afraid it was going to collapse and all the money therein would go to waste. I decided to procure a loan from a Sacco to roof it and we moved in since we were staying in a dilapidated structure. Unfortunately, I have failed to repay. I wish I could get volunteers to support me on this,” the 46-year-old  says.

Sources of income destroyed
Ms Kyoya says she wouldn’t be living a troubled life if it wasn’t for the demise of her husband.

Apart from being a royal guard, her husband was also a carpenter whose workmanship was the major source of income for the family in Kaghando Village,  Bwesumbu Parish, Bwesumbu Sub-county.
In the neighbouring village of Mulindi also lies a ramshackle home of Ms Yudesi Soba,39, whose husband was also killed in the palace during the raid.
Ms Soba’s husband, Nelson Soba, was also the breadwinner of his family. 

Soba, also a former kingdom royal guard, was a tailor and his family depended mainly on his tailoring skills to earn a living. 
He also owned a local cassava milling machine at Kamwani Trading Centre as an alternative source of income.

However, the milling machine has since malfunctioned, while the sewing machine that was at the palace during the raid has never been recovered.

The 39-year-old widow started doing  casual jobs such as digging for other people to get an income to supplement her subsistence farming on a small piece of land that her husband bought before he died.

However, she could not continue with that kind of work after she was sustained an injury on her right hand in an accident involving a machete last year. 

This has exacerbated the plight of her family of eight. 
Jemima Muhindo, another widow who lost her husband during the raid on the palace, has sought refuge at her brother’s home with her children after  a misunderstanding with her in-laws.

Ms Muhindo,  a resident of Kinyateke Village in Rwebihungu Parish, Kahokya Sub-county, says after her husband, Bakalhayi Baluku, was killed at the palace, there were attempts to have her inherited by one of her brothers-in-law. 

When she declined, her husband’s family reportedly demolished her house to coerce her into giving in to their demands.

“There used to be some disagreements between my husband and his family. When he died, one of my brothers-in-law wanted to inherit me but I refused.  This must be the reason they demolished the house that was built on the land I bought myself so that I am forced into staying on the ancestral land in the mountains,” she says.

Ms Muhindo and six of her nine children now live at her brother’s home in Kinyateke Trading Centre. 

Ms Muhindo, her children and her brother’s family are congested in the two-roomed house.

The 43-year-old widow says there are days when her children, including a five-year-old who was born a day after the burial of her father, are forced to eat only one meal a day because she doesn’t have the capacity to provide for them the recommended three meals a day.

“When it is possible, we do have porridge for breakfast, Katogo for lunch and cassava bread for supper, but there are days when we do with lunch only,” she says.

Ms Muhindo’s one-meal-a-day ordeal is synonymous with most of the widows of royal guards who stay in the urban areas.
Ms Peace Kabugho, the chairperson of Kasese Municipality Royal Guards Widows’ Association, says the widows of  royal guards who live in urban areas with their children are often evicted from their houses because of failure to pay rent.

Ms Kabugho was lucky to procure a small piece of land in Kanyangeya Cell, Kanyangeya Ward in Kasese Municipality. 
However, when floods ravaged Kasese Town last year, she was one of the affected persons after water filled up her house.

After temporarily relocating to Muhokya internally displaced persons camp,  Ms Kabugho decided to return to her plot in Kanyangeya from which she hoped to derive a livelihood to take care of her six children.

“In the camp, I had a small structure and it was difficult for me to stay there with all my six children. In the end, we had to find a way to survive because there was no free food,” she says.

How big is the problem?
But this kind of anxiety and agony is the way of life for most, if not all, royal guards’ widows. In Bwesumbu Sub-county, for example, there are 39 widows.

More than 100 royal guards died during the 2016 raid on the Buhikira Royal Palace.

A recent research conducted by Creations Forum Afrika (CAF), an NGO on human rights in the Rwenzori Sub-region, indicates that averagely, every royal guard had two wives; an indicator that there are more than 200 widows spread across Kasese, Bunyangabu, Ntoroko and Bundibugyo districts.

CAF’s research also reveals that 80 percent of the orphans of royal guards did not have decent clothes, beddings and shoes. Their situation is, however, not any different from that of wives of jailed royal guards.

While 132 kingdom loyalists were released in December 2020 in the run-up to the 2021 General Election, 79 remain in prison.
Wives of those who were arrested also shoulder the burden of providing for their families.

The Bakonzo community is largely a patriarchy society where men are sole breadwinners and key decision makers within a homestead.

These widows are now appealing to the government and humanitarian agencies to come to their rescue.

Ms Kyoya needs Shs3m to help her clear the loan she procured for roofing her house.

“My husband’s family couldn’t help me clear this loan. Even some of the equipment the (deceased) used in the carpentry workshop was taken away from me. How I wish I could clear this loan so that I can get some sleep,” Ms Kyoya says.

Ms Yudesi Soba, a widow, displays some of her injured fingers that have made it difficult for her to work.  PHOTO/JEROME KULE BITSWANDE

Ms Soba needs some money to help her repair her milling machine so that she begins to earn an income to support her family and replace her leaking roof.

“With a disabled hand, what can I do? My family would be earning a living from the milling machine if it was functional. For now, it is by the effort of my children and God’s grace that we are in position to get something to eat,” she says.

According to Ms Soba, her eldest child Alvin Kiiza, aged 20, is now the breadwinner of the family. Kiiza was not at home at the time when we reached his mother’s home.

Ms Soba says her son, who does casual jobs in the community, had gone to fend for the family.

She believes that a paltry Shs500,000 would repair her locally made machine to not only serve as an alternative income to her family but also serve the community with an affordable cassava milling facility.

Ms Kabugho prays she could get land where she would relocate her family away from the flood-prone Kanyangeya area.
Similarly, Ms Muhindo prays she gets her house reconstructed and relocates her family there. “I am an old woman with many children taking refuge in my brother’s house. My most pressing need is a house so that my children and I can settle at our own home,”  she says.

In the next part of this series, we will examine the impact of the 2016 violence on education within the community of Kasese. 

Human rights activists call for special action

Mr Samson Bagenda, a resident of Kaghando Village in Bwesumbu, believes this state of affairs calls for special attention from humanitarian agencies. According to Mr Bagenda, as a result of the challenges these families have undergone, there has been a weakness in responsible parenthood.  

He says some children have dropped out of school due to lack of school fees and a father figure in a family where patriarchy is still entrenched. But Mr Johncation Muhindo, the executive director of Creations Forum Afrika, says there is need for a deliberate government action and other development partners to salvage the entire community.

“Imagine a community where you still find children sleeping on dry banana leaves and buveeras (polythene bags) stuffed with leaves for beds! This is an indictment on the government, development partners and all of us. How can it still be happening on our watch?,”  he questioned.

Mr Muhindo warns that without deliberate effort to improve household incomes, a decent education for the children and serve justice to the victims of the various conflicts in the Rwenzori, the community will not heal and subsequently there will always be cycles of violence in every generation.

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