Friday, 25 November 2016

Rwenzori attacks: Moderates and fanatics at the palace

 Karangura subcounty in Kabarole district, Rwenzori subregion, is mourning again. This time eight people have been killed in Kamabale village. Reason? Uganda's security forces say that these people were planning attacks and had started looting food, animals and intimidating the wanainchi. The UPDF spokesman claimed these people had set up some sort of "camp" up in the mountains making improvised explosive devices preparing to attack. 

Earlier this month, a UPDF soldier who was on leave was killed in Nyabuswa in the same subcounty as he allegedly tried to counsel the residents he met in a bar against undermining state authority. As the police and soldiers investigated his death, they ended up shooting four civilians. Of course, the region police spokeswoman said the four were not civilians but "trained attackers". We all know that dead men tell no tales.

What is behind the clashes and killings in Rwenzori? I can’t specifically know.  But, perhaps the history of the region can help us understand and contextualize what’s happening.

Police officers at Nyabuswa, Karangura Subcounty in Kabarole district on guard. (Photo by New Vision) 

Rwenzori region has been shrouded in sporadic clashes since 1919. In 1919, the Bakonzo protested the tax collection from Toro government chiefs. The reasons for this protest bordered on taxation without services delivered in mountainous areas where the Bakonzo tax payers lived. The Toro government collaborating with the British colonialists crushed the protest by publicly hanging the suspected ringleaders Nyamutswa, Tibamwenda and Kapolyo in 1921. The three were buried in one grave.

This was firefighting. The hanging of the three leaders enraged the Bakonzo. Why? The Bakonzo expected the British colonialists to see reason in their grievances against Toro administration but instead sided with their oppressors. This sowed seeds of future rebellion and unrest in the region.

In 1940s young Bakonzo who had been educated beyond primary school level began to trace the history of the Bakonzo. By 1950s the Bakonzo had started organizing themselves to demand independence from Toro government. Among the key demands was use of Lukonzo as a language of instruction in Toro schools where few Bakonzo children studied. This demand for cultural identity was denied. Isaya Mukirania a grade II teacher and others started mobilizing the Bakonzo under the Bakonzo Life History Research Society (BLHRS) -which became the harbinger of Rwenzururu movement. Soon BLHRS rapidly spread across Rwenzori mountain. 
Other demands included establishment of schools in areas where the Bakonzo and Bamba lived, appointment in Toro government administration, health facilities, roads, political representation, etc. 

At the same time, the Bamba students formed the Balyebulya association to push for the interests of the Bamba who too had been lumped into Toro kingdom as subjects.
By then the main grievance was the need to recognize the Bakonzo and Bamba as separate ethnic communities within Toro kingdom government. This was a demand that Toro administration would not readily accept. Rwenzururu movement began just like that.

The moderates and fanatics

I have been reading a lot about the Rwenzururu struggle 1962 to 2009. My interest was sparked by the conflicts that have rocked the Rwenzori mountains over the years including the recent clashes. 

One thing that stood out for me during, my literature review, was a fight within Rwenzururu struggle itself. During the Rwenzururu rebellion there were moderate and those I will call fanatic supporters. The moderates were mainly educated Bakonzo who supported Rwenzururu for demands like respect for human rights and social services delivery. These were happy with having a negotiated settlement for the Rwenzururu question. They were few but influential and were mainly from lowlands and hills of Kasese. They were the ones that had manuvred around the Toro education discrimination policy against Bakonzo by adapting some Rutoro names. 
So, when Idi Amin decreed that there be Rwenzori and Semliki districts out of Toro, the moderate Rwenzururu supporters were happy with this as it would give them the services and a voice they badly needed in Uganda.

The fanatic supporters on the other hand, believed in a military confrontation as way of getting their demands. The biggest number of these people were semi educated or not schooled at all. This group was led by Isaya Mukirania who unfortunately died before the two districts were curved out of Toro. With time, this group demanded more and more. For example, when two districts were created, they never abandoned rebellion. They also wanted a kingdom. At one point they established a kingdom government like ones that existed during colonial time. They had cabinet ministers, they collected Rwenzururu taxes, collected market dues in kind and cash, fought with colonial and later post colonial police and army during Obote I and Amin regimes. Some of them looted food, animals and chickens from the locals with or without knowledge of their leaders.

Soon even the Bakonzo were to face the wrath of some elements in this group. Anyone who was found in Rwenzururu "controlled" territory without a Rwenzururu receipted tax would face their wrath. At the same time, if they found you with Uganda central government tax, you would be in for it. This become a dilemma for those who lived in Rwenzori areas controlled by Uganda Army. If the army or central government found you without tax ticket or with a Rwenzururu tax receipt you would be in trouble. To this fanatic group, the moderate Bakonzo were viewed as abakolikoli (sort of traitors) and would be arrested or even killed. A big number of them fled Rwenzori to areas like Mubende and parts of Bunyoro. They abducted Kasese West MP, Ezironi Bwambale for not presenting Rwenzururu views in parliament.

The fanatic Rwenzururu supporters felt the colonial and central governments of Obote I and Amin persecuted them. So, they attempted to declared Rwenzururu an independent state.

When Charles Kisembo Mumbere took over the Rwenzururu leadership following the demise of his father in 1966, the Obote government hoped it had a chance to neutralize the rebellion. But, they were wrong. The elders who had been working with Mukirania had mastered the art of dodging the Uganda Army soldiers by hiding deep in the mountains and carrying raids.
The central government of Obote II opted for negotiations as they kept the military option open. 

In 1982 a negotiated settlement was reached. Charles Kisembo Mumbere descended the hills with some of his soldiers to settle down in Kasese as a Chief Elder.
However, Richard Kinyamusitu, the Rwenzururu army chief of staff, did not agree with his commander Mumbere to surrender. He remained in the mountains fighting for a state.

Maybe the moderates had won. But, new struggles emerged. The National Resistance Movement had begun a rebellion against Obote II regime. The NRA elements could not ignore Kinyamusitu and his men. Since 1982 Kinyamusitu and his men has been roaming the mountains looting from the locals as they would go as far as some places eastern Zaire (now DR Congo). Kinyamusitu found a way of working with NRA but later dropped out.

The second form of struggle emanated from Rwenzururu supporters of Mumbere and those against him. The Rwenzururu supporters wanted their king and kingdom recognized after the 1993 restoration of kingdoms.

As expected, the NRM government dragged its feet to recognize Rwenzururu kingdom. The demand for Rwenzururu kingdom recognition became a hot political and social issue in Rwenzori mountains. In Kasese C.W. B Kiyonga led the anti Obusinga group. Kiyonga was and is an influential figure in the NRM government; so his opposition to Obusinga had a substantial impact on delaying recognition of the kingdom. But his group was outnumbered by the masses made up of ordinary Banyarwenzururu who wanted a kingdom and king recognized.

In between this struggle for Rwenzururu struggle for recognition, the ADF rebels attacked Kasese and later Bundibugyo and parts of Kabarole district. Soon allegations and counter-allegations of who was supporting ADF were being made.  Some of these allegations: that Mumbere was sympathizing with ADF which had merged with NALU and remnants of Rwenzururu under Kinyamusitu and Fenihasi Kisokeranio. These two had been soldiers under Mumbere's command during Rwenzururu rebellion. 

The politicians opposed to Obusinga recognition seized the opportunity to mud-sling the supporters of Obusinga and its crown king as having links to ADF rebellion. 
Mumbere boarded a plane to Kampala to clear his name. But the damage had been done. The central government recognition of Obusinga was delayed even further.

One particular incident of great concern was after the 2001 parliamentary and presidential elections. Kasese again had voted overwhelmingly for the candidates that did not support the Movement system. In March that year Kasese town woke up to the sad news of over 11 people killed and 54 cars burnt to ashes by allegedly ADF rebels. After this incident several pro-Obusinga politicians were arrested by central government. Here again some people in Rwenzori began feeling persecuted.

In the 2006 presidential election President Museveni was defeated in Kasese by FDC's Kizza Besigye. It was the only district in Western Uganda where Museveni lost to an opponent. The reason for the presidential defeat in Kasese was failure to recognize Obusinga.

Museveni got some homework to do.He soon set up the Kajura Commision into the Rwenzururu Obusinga question. The results of the commission showed that over 85% of the population supported the Obusinga with Mumbere as the preferred king. 

In 2009 central government led by Museveni recognized obusinga and installed Mumbere as king. There massive celebrations among the Banyarwenzururu in Rwenzori and beyond.

So, in the 2011 elections Museveni won back Kasese district although with minimal margin. However, in 2016 election Museveni's political party NRM lost Kasese at presidential and parliamentary level. Why? Reasons are many. Poor service delivery, perceived marginalization and desire to always oppose.

In March 2016, a dispute over Hima town council LC III election resulted in deaths of civilians. Rwenzururu royal guards were pinpointed in these attacks in Kasese. Situation got worse in Bundibugyo over dispute of the LC V elections and lives were lost.

Earlier on, in 2014 there were attacks on military and police installations in Kasese, Ntoroko and Bundibugyo districts leaving at least 100 people mainly civilians ('attackers') dead. A minister in Rwenzururu kingdom one Vincent Kipilongo is alleged to have confessed to have mobilized the youth in these attacks. Some Rwenzururu officials were arrested. Some of the suspects who participated in these attacks were tried in the court martial and some acquitted. Others are still in prison. Some suspects who surrendered were given amnesty.

But where is Kipiliongo? Why did he the young people to carry out these attacks? What is being done to those he indoctrinated? What does this say about Rwenzururu leadership? And more important what should be done to end this violence in Rwenzori? Is it not time for the palace to control its supporters?

Could it be that those who opposed Obusinga recognition are working behinds the scenes to say we told you?

Dialogue should be desired method in solving any concerns. The lives of young people lost because they have been confused or lied to "that bullets won't touch them" are regrettable. These young people in Rwenzori could be fighting some selfish persons' wars. Parents, leaders at all levels should guide the youths and identify those behind this confusion and spread this myth. Rwenzori region has had enough share of conflict and definitely does not need one now. Ordinary people want to develop and feed their families. Leave them in peace.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Why Uganda's Rwenzururu anniversary never got serious national media coverage

The cultural institution of Rwenzururu marked the coronation and official government recognition on October 19 in Kasese Town.

This event marked 50 years since Charles Wesley Mumbere was enthroned to take over from his father Isaya Mukirania. Isaya, the key leader of the Rwenzururu movement died in 1966.

Uganda government officially recognized the Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu on 19th October 2009.

Thus, yesterday’s event was historic for Rwenzururu. Indeed, thousands of people living around Rwenzori Mountains attended the fest. The central government was well represented by four ministers at the function.

President Yoweri Museveni who was the expected chief guest, delegated the Minister of Tourism, Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu to represent him. District chairpersons from Mubende, Ntoroko, Kabarole and Kasese attended in person.

Omusinga Charles Wesely Mumebere holding a spear (wearing bark cloth)

The media at national level especially the television stations were missing in action except reporters from local radio stations, New Vision, CBS fm,  Red Pepper and Daily Monitor. In the newspapers today (October 20) only New Vision ran a front page story picture and a news story on page 3 with a contradicting headline about the same event on the two pages. CBS fm aired a story about the event and of course radio stations in Kasese town and Rwenzori sub-region.

There was no live coverage of the event by any national television. Even the “public” broadcaster UBC  TV did not do better. Was it because these stations were not aware of the event? Or it was because there was no news (conflict) in the area? Perhaps Kasese is too far away from where news stations are headquartered.

Minister Kamuntu (shaking hands) being welcomed at the Rwenzururu anniversary

Rwenzururu kingdom, particularly Kasese has been rocked by clashes between Uganda national security agents and the elements in Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu royal guards.

The leading television stations in Uganda have always rushed to Kasese to cover the sad news of floods of River Nyamwamba, the clashes between security agents and royal guards, the deaths of people resulting from simmering ethnic tensions. In such times TV and radio stations even broadcast live feeds to the rest of the country.

But, lo and behold, they are slow to cover and broadcast the good news that portrays the happy moments in the Rwenzoris. I am told, some national TV stations had reporters at the event but they are still filing the stories because this kind of news from Rwenzururu is not urgent. What message are such media houses sending to the community? What kind of impressions do such absent media want the rest of Uganda to have about the people of Rwenzururu?

Maybe isn’t it time that we redefined news to include happy times as well not just conflict?

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Uganda: Media and stereotypes; give me a break!

Things I have confirmed about the mass media are many. But media creating images and entrenching stereotypes is alive in Uganda.

Take an example of reporting conflict in Uganda’s media. In the last two years, Rwenzori region, particularly Kasese and Bundibugyo, has been affected by conflict. This conflict sometimes borders on ethnicity and at other times it’s crime just like crime would be committed anywhere and be regarded as crime; nothing more.

But in the case of Rwenzori, the media reporters have developed a tendency of failing to distinguish between ethnic conflict and criminality. In most cases they are reporting wholesale the official accounts of the government agents.

Yet, one of the prized tenets of journalism is verification of news before publishing it. Among the many ways of news verification is interviewing as many people as possible about the same story/news and then report both accounts.

Unfortunately, this practice is fast disappearing in most of our media outlets. It is common to read or view single or two sourced stories.

A few years ago, when I was still an active member of the newsroom, my editor would not publish my story if it did not have at least four sources quoted or attributed. This editor would never get tired of reminding me to always triple check each claim made by a source. Reason? Each source has his or her interests to push in the story. So, as a reporter you better keep this at the back of your mind. The sixth sense in journalism I would say is being a little bit skeptical about all you hear until you have verified it.

In this era of social media many reporters are rushing to break the news. Never mind if the news is backed by facts or not. It’s now words like BREAKING, BREAKING screaming on their social media timelines and websites.

The recent incident at Bukara, Kabarole district has many of my friends question the credibility of what is usually reported in the media.

Well, all I am saying here is simple logic. If the case reported were rape, no professional police officer can take such a case lightly; and let alone release the suspect on police bond. Rape is a capital offence. In a civil case of adultery the conflicting parties can be advised to settle it amicably, which is what happened.
However, someone later advised the suspect to press assault and torture charges against the man who had been offended at first. As the authorities moved to arrest the assault suspect,  some irate residents of Bukara attacked the crime preventers and later on police officers. Suddenly, the local police spokeswoman and some local leaders in Police in their wanton search to absolve the police of any wrong doing, they sought to divert attention. Target? Rwenzori region has of recent been “a hot bed of ethnic tensions”. Conclusion? Bukara incident is “tribal”! The reporter falls in this trap of stereotypes that have been created about Rwenzori.

Such stereotypes like: “Africa is one country, Africa is poverty, Africa is disease, famine, conflict, etc” just show how little the media is helping demystifying these attitudes. My point? Rwenzori not always about ethnic conflict.

Give me a break! What happening to the news values of accuracy and objectivity?

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Kabarole police-civilians clash exposes Uganda's media

After reading several media versions about some officers of Uganda Police clashing with locals in Bukara, Kabarole district I'm wondering if editors are doing enough; putting their reporters to task.

First Bukara village is about 40km from Fort Portal town, where the headquarters of Kabarole district are located. Fort Portal town is 320km from Kampala, Uganda's capital.

That a newspaper or media house for that matter fails to send a reporter to the ground to gather facts, but instead relies on telephone interviews with officials in police and other government agents, is appalling. This is because Fort Portal being a major town it has representatives of most major media houses in Uganda.

The clash between police and some residents of Bukara occurred at 1pm on September 14. Why would a media house worth its name fail to send its reporters to a conflict area that is just 40km from Fort Portal town?

Why is the media rushing to brand the clash between police and some Bukara residents an ethnic conflict? It is because they are not on the ground. If the reporters were on ground they did little to source the story and only relied on the official account.

Social media reporters who always copy and paste mainstream media reports are not doing any better.

Basing on what I have gathered from the ground, this is what happened:
A man (whom I will call X) caught his wife in bed with another man (let's call him Y). The two men happen to be of different ethnic backgrounds.
The matter was reported to the area police post in Nyakigumba which is 10km from Bukara village. The suspect (Y) was later released and went to a bigger police station at Kibiito, the headquarter of Bunyangabu county, to report that he was assaulted and tortured by Mr X.

On September 13, Kibiito sent police officers to arrest Mr X to answer charges of assault. The villagers were enraged and resisted this arrest. They even assaulted the police officers, which is another offence.

In the afternoon of September 14, a group of seven police officers arrived in Bukara village to arrest Mr X and those who assaulted the police officers the previous day.

Unfortunately the villagers ended up attacking the police officers. This is wrong. I think it's plain ignorance and stupidity to attack people in authority or even resist arrest.

There might be mistakes on either side, which should be corrected. But I don't understand why the media is calling this clash between police and civilians, ethnic? How many people have been killed on the different ethnicity?
The dead are police officers and people who speak the same language of Mr X.

The deployment of police and army in the area was good thing. Today the  security officials and local politicians are meeting the residents of Bukara to calm down and resolve the situation.
May peace and the spirit of tolerance prevail.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Corruption in Uganda's road sector takes us several steps backwards

A report by a Commission of Inquiry into mismanagement of Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) reveals that, before the new management, UNRA had received Shs9 trillion and with this they delivered 1500km of tarmac roads. The report argues that with Shs9 trillion UNRA should have constructed 5,147km. 

UNRA was formed in 2006 to construct, maintain national roads. These mainly include highways in Uganda and they constitute over 20,000km of roads. Of these roads Uganda has only 4,500km paved/tarmac. Road construction in Uganda mainly done by big foreign companies; therefore there is big money involved. In the recent past, the share of the road subsector in the national budget has tremendously increased. This has attracted the attention of the corrupt officials who want to feast on tax payers money.

President Museveni receives a report of a probe into UNRA (New Vision photo)

In the same report it is stated that it is comparatively more expensive to construct 1km of road in Uganda than it is in Rwanda or Ethiopia. The report goes on to say Shs4 trillion was "misused" read stolen by 90 officials in collusion with some staff at UNRA.

So, in 10 years of UNRA's existence, corruption has forced the taxpayers to miss thousands of kilometres of road because some individuals were dishonest! 
According to the report, Shs4 trillion would have made UNRA construct additional 3,647km of paved roads in the country. 

Hello! This is just corruption at "old" UNRA. There are allegations of corruption in other government agencies and departments. All this implies that the cancer of corruption is taking Uganda several steps backwards in terms of development. This must stop.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Uganda: Vote wisely, remain peaceful

As the people of Uganda go to the polls this Thursday 18th February 2016 we have heard a lot from different political candidates at presidential and parliamentary levels. At presidential level there are eight candidates.

But I think these three key contenders have reduced the presidential contest into a three-horse race. Presidential candidate Amama Mbabazi says it’s time for Uganda to go forward; so vote for change and for a peaceful transition.
Mbabazi campaigning in Mukono 

Yoweri Museveni, who is the incumbent, says lots of things have been achieved in the last 30 years like peace, stability and increased kilometres of paved roads, so vote for steady progress to achieve even more.
Museveni campaigns in Zombo

Yet Kizza Besigye, another candidate, says forget the story about going forward and steady progress because as a Ugandan you are powerless. Your voice as a citizen is not listened to by those in public offices. So you got to first reclaim your rights, assert yourselves to the leaders. Besigye says, after asserting yourselves as the citizens, only then can you talk of developing a Uganda that works for Ugandans. He offers to lead this liberation and promises that after winning every Ugandan will walk with their heads high; "walk with swagger (‘swaga’)".
Besigye campaigns in  Rukungiri

Hey, other presidential candidates like Benon Biraro, Abed Bwanika too have fine messages for the Ugandan voters. Therefore you are spoilt for choice.

Now the ball is in your hands. Remember your vote is your voice. Use it wisely. Some people have been approached with gifts like sugar, salt, soap and bits of money or petty cash; please know that your vote is not for sale. Vote for leaders who will work for you.

Most important of all cast your vote in peace. Be peaceful, tolerant and respectful. Let the election not divide us. We are all Ugandans. Uganda continues even after elections. Peace.


Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Uganda: Don't miss the message in opinion polls

Today, The New Vision newspaper has published an opinion poll that gives incumbent President Yoweri Museveni 71% of the total vote if elections were held a few weeks ago. The poll says Dr Kizza Besigye who is competing with Museveni for a fourth time would get 19% followed by Amama Mbabazi, a long time confidant of Museveni now turned political opponent, 6%. Uganda will elect president and members of parliament on February 18.

As usual the NRM supporters are celebrating the poll results as the opposition are dismissing the opinion poll as fabricated and out of anger some opposition faithfuls are burning copies of the New Vision newspaper.

Well, I think this is the trouble we have with the so-called opposition fanatics in this country. Burning a newspaper that publishes an opinion poll is just missing the point. An opinion poll is simply an opinion; scientific study expressed in figures. It conveys a message. Whether accurate or not, the message is clearly put in the people's responses. The task is; if your supporters are according to opinion poll are fewer, simple, just devise measures of increasing them. Address the issues pointed out in the opinion poll. Otherwise, as they always say, figures don't lie.

Being cry babies won't increase your support. I have been to many rural areas in Uganda. The bitter truth is: political opposition candidates are not visible in many places.

Yes, I understand the circumstances and environment in which Uganda's political opposition operate in. But it is self-defeating to think that the level of political awareness and access to information in urban areas is the same as in among rural folks. The opposition politicians are just very thin among the grassroots. So you should be working on entrenching yourselves among the grassroots under the prevailing environment of unleveled electoral ground instead of burning a newspaper that publishes the message in an opinion poll. Surely, you can do better than that instead of living in denial.

Yesterday the Observer newspaper published a story that 91 parliamentary seats (out of more than 405 seats) have no opposition candidates in the forthcoming February 18 elections. In other-words, the ruling NRM party has already 9 MPs in the 10th parliament unopposed even before we go to polls; and is assured of other 82 MP seats being competed for by NRM candidates Vs NRM independent candidates. This is telling a lot about the strength of the political opposition in Uganda. How do you begin dismissing an opinion poll for someone in any of the areas where 91 parliamentary seats are being contested by NRM official candidates and NRM unofficial candidates?

Point is: concentrate on the message in the opinion poll. Besides this is not the first opinion polls giving more or less the same results. So, look for the message in the opinion polls. Burning the messenger is clearly not the best of options you have. It is missing the message in an opinion poll.