Monday, July 21, 2014


The violence in western Uganda caught everybody flatfooted and while it is being dismissed as tribal clashes, there are disturbing undertones to the whole incident that require that we all seat up and take notice.

At the beginning of the month dozens of people were killed during coordinated attacks in the districts of Bundibugyo, Kasese and Ntoroko in western Uganda.

The attackers, some armed with guns, pangas, spears, bows and arrows attacked police stations, army barracks and private homes in an operation that was quickly snuffed out but, which has left the region in a decided state of disquiet.

This week 125 people rounded up by security agents have faced the court martial for their alleged involvement in the fracas. 

As part of the process of getting to the bottom of the problem at least eight Rwenzuru Kingdom ministers remain in custody in connection with attacks. An event which has set tongues wagging and fuelled rumours that more arrests even of the Rwenzururu king maybe in the pipeline.

It has been suggested that the Rwenzururu kingdom may not have looked too kindly on the installation of the Bamba king, in effect giving them autonomy from the Rwenzururu kingdom.
The Rwenzururu Kingdom too came out of a settlement with rebels who had fought to breakway from the Tooro kingdom.

That is a broad outline of the background to the story. It is obviously more complex than that.

In the 1990s government restored the traditional Kingdoms, which were abolished in 1967, as cultural institutions with no political or territorial authority as compromise. As a result several other traditional institutions have asserted their right to exist, often breaking away from the larger kingdoms and rubbing the bigger cultural institutions the wrong way.

The bigger institutions allege a ploy by government to control them through some divide and rule policy.

"The cultural institutions have been careful not to antagonise government too much in the last 20 years. Not only because a precedent has been set for their abolition but more crucially because they rely on government as guarantor of their existence and largely depend on Kampala for handouts to stay afloat...

Every so often tempers flair as these cultural institutions seek to leverage their perceived influence to sue for more concessions from government.

The existence of our cultural institutions, essentially feudal set ups, are an oxymoron in a country trying to build a democracy. They are a political compromise to appease the elite of the respective tribes who in moments of misguided tribalism, it is feared, could cause problems for the center.

Clearly the attacks were not a spontaneous outburst and even if the organisers knew they did not have a hope in hell in overrunning the security installations, they probably hoped they would shake up the establishment enough that they would strengthen their bargaining power.

What they – whoever they are, would be bargaining for is not publicly known.

The Rwenzururu king Charles Mumbere has denied that he nor his establishment has been involved in organising the attacks. We all hope this is true, because if it isn’t  this would be the height of political brinkmanship that risks the existence of the kingdom, peace in the area and would put the brakes on progress in the area. Whichever way you look at it there can be no happy ending.

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