THE people of Kasese district are divided over the Rwenzururu Kingdom. While some are agitating for a kingdom saying it would promote their unity, others say kingdoms have never been their culture and will only divide them. Anne Mugisa analyses the status of Obusinga
At the helm of those opposed to Obusinga are some of the 1960s and 1970s separatists who fought against the Tooro Kingdom for an independent district and those who remained loyal to Isaaya Mukirane as he fought to create his own kingdom. Some of the separatists who stayed with Mukirane, though, want the kingdom.
The Obusinga agitators insist they have a right to demand the institution because it is a symbol of their identity and cultural values. They argue that their Konzo norms are diminishing because of the absence of a kingdom. They believe the kingdom would develop their society by sponsoring children for studies.
According to Nassur Kazad (42), the agitation for Obusinga would add onto the developments already in place. â€œWe have schools, but the institution could establish a royal college. Our Lukhonzo language would be taught in schools.â€ Kazad says the Obusinga could attract scholarships.
For Maulid Mulema (40), the Government should recognise the Rwenzururu. He says Mukirane was crowned king in 1953 of hte Bakonzo and his son, charles mumbere, succeeded him in 1966.
According to Timothy Muhongya (28), a student at Mukono University, opponents of the obusinga do not know the Konzo norms.
The anti-Obusinga crusaders say a section of politicians is manipulating the unsuspecting people for selfish political gains. Many of them say they cannot stake their name on something alien to their culture.
They claim that they had a glimpse of the brutality Mukirane unleashed onto fellow Bakonzo, who opposed him. They agree that Mukirane visited terror on the Bakonjo, worse than the treatment they suffered under the Tooro Kingdom. They say some of the abuses people attribute to the Batooro, were actually visited on them by Mukirane to force them to accept him as King. Many people were murdered and schools were closed. They also say they cannot replace the Tooro hegemony with a Konzo hegemony.
This group claims that before the Bakonzo came under Tooro Kingdom, they were governed by cultural ridge leaders. None of their ridge leaders was above the other and they had mutual respect for each other.
Lazaro Makoma says that the notion of a kingdom was suggested to Mukirane by the Englishman, Tom Stacey, for whom he had worked as an interpreter during the research on the Bakonzo culture. This was after the revolt against the Tooro Kingdom had begun.
Mukirane, who was a fugitive after jumping bail in 1962, according to Ezekiel Mwigha, went into the mountains and got his first followers by tricking them to escort him in search of a place to camp. He later made them stay and recruited their friends for him. He told them that the Government was looking for him and was aware they helped him hide and it would kill them all.
Yusitasi Mukirane (81), who worked with Mukirane on his research also says there were no findings indicating that Bakonzo had a king at the helm of their ridge leaders system. He says Mukiraneâ€™s claim for a kingdom took his fellow separatists by surprise because it had no basis, more so after the central Government had clipped the powers of the Tooro monarchy in the two counties. Yusitasi says Mukirane cannot cross from his Bwaamba home to establish a kingdom in Kasese when he only went there to hide.
Motivation for kingship
A former military instructor of the Rwenzururu fighters, Paul Byakatonda (54), who also served under Aminâ€™s army, says Mukiraneâ€™s ambition for a kingdom was piqued by the Lancaster Conference, where it was suggested that the presidency would rotate among the kings.
Byakatonda says Mukirane thought he could be a candidate if he was a king. He set up a phantom Rwenzururu kingdom. When the presidency went to Kabaka Mutesa of Buganda, Mukirane who had given himself the title Iremangoma (Encompasser of the Universe) declared cessation from Uganda proclaiming parts of Uganda and Congo under him.
When he tried to exert his authority in Congo, he was arrested and imprisoned in Butembo and for sometime there was a lull in the Rwenzururu Kingdom. He was only freed by rebels fighting the Kinshasa government. He returned to resume attacks on government installations.
Byakatonda claims that Obusinga is being used as a front for something else. â€œThat is why it crops up towards national election,â€ he says.
He says the Konzo and Bamba rebellion against Tooro Kingdom has been manipulated to mutate from one-armed group to another fighting the Government. He adds that the same group mutated into the 1980s rebel National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU), which he says was an armed wing of UPC fighting the Government. When NALU was defeated, it turned into the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
Yohana Bwambale (64), whose father Mbugheki Masaale, is claimed to have been killed by Mukirane, says that in 1980 Mumbere, who was heading the Rwenzururu rebels, ordered for the unopposed election of all UPC candidates, threatening dire consequences if his order was not followed. Bwambale says Mumbereâ€™s fighters confiscated cards of known DP voters. The result was two unopposed UPC candidates from Kasese to Parliament.
Size of kingdom
Mukirane is said to have mapped out his kingdom to stretch from River Muziizi on the border with Bunyoro, Kyaka, bordering Mubende, parts of Bushenyi in Ankole, Kigezi and all the way to North Kivu in the DR Congo.
But the Obusinga crusaders are non-committal on the geographical size of their kingdom. Musa Koliko (50), says their kingdom does not have boundaries.
â€œWherever a Mukonzo is, the authority of Omusinga is there,â€ Koliko says. He would like to see the revival of their cultural practices like circumcision, tattooing, marriage norms and, Konzo dress code, which unite them.
According to Ezekiel Mwigha (60), Mukirane tried to force what was left of his bush cabinet to crown him king. He was rejected. Mukirane is said to have performed rituals himself. That night, he fell sick and died at dawn. Confusion as to where and in what capacity to bury his remains ensued because he had camped in a land belonging to another clan, the Baswagha. A church leader paid a goat to the the landowner to have Mukiraneâ€™s body temporarily buried there until his kinsmen from Bundibugyo claimed it.
Because he did not have land, Mukiraneâ€™s grave was dug inside the hut where he lived, but angry residents burnt the hut down that night.
Mukirane had willed that his loyal nephew Petero Mumbere, should take over if he died. Mumbere was 22 when Mukirane died in 1966. But Mumbere died mysteriously three months later in a plot said to have been hatched by family members. Two of Mukiraneâ€™s soldiers, Yustasi Masereka and Yusufu Musobolo were arrested in connection with Mumbereâ€™s death.
Mukiraneâ€™s son, Charles Mumbere Kisembo Muhindo, who was 14 at his death, was made to adopt the Mumbere name. When he became of age in 1970, he was made his fatherâ€™s successor. No rituals were done, however.
Deals with Government
In the 1960s several attempts were made by the Government to resolve the Rwenzururu issue. Milton Obote ended Tooro rule over the two counties and Idi Amin created two districts. Godfrey Binaisa also attempted to diffuse the tension. Finally in 1982, Mumbere accepted to come down the mountain after Oboteâ€™s minister, Amon Bazira persuaded him. However, some of his fighters stayed on the mountain.
According to Makoma, Mumbere was pronounced a rebel leader and Chris Rwakasisi, then a minister, made it clear that Uganda was a republic. Mumbere handed over his fighters, arms and ammunition. Mumbere, a primary four dropout then asked the Government to sponsor his education. The people gave him the title of â€˜Chief Elderâ€™.
The Government gave Mumbere houses in Kasese Town Council, lock-up shops, vehicles and money. Some of his fighters were integrated into the regular army.
One of the separatists, Blasio Maate (73), says he and Amon Bazira brokered Mumbereâ€™s return. Bazira later led the NALU rebellion. Maate says Mumbere was not persuaded to come down as a king, but as a rebel leader and he publicly renounced his activities.
However, Maate, who had opposed Obusinga saying it never existed in the Konzo culture, now says the institution should be established and it would operate as an NGO.
Oboteâ€™s government had sponsored Mumbere to the US. When the NRM took over, Amon Bazira fled because he was wanted for murders, and ended up in the mountain forming the NALU. The army in clashes with NALU found letters allegedly written by Mumbere to Bazira indicating he was his deputy. When Bazira was killed, the ADF cropped up and the army discovered more letters from the ADF camps indicating that Mumbere was heading it.
Jackson Mwesigwa, says MP Christopher Kibanzanga, Mumbereâ€™s younger brother, confirmed that the handwriting was his brotherâ€™s. He asked the Government to pardon Mumbere and to negotiate for his return from America.