The uncontrolled encroachment on the site has raised fears among caretakers, guides and subjects that even the remaining portion may be lost soon.
PIC: Mpumude hill, a coronation site for the Kyabazinga of Busoga kingdom in eastern Uganda. (Credit: Davis Buyondo)
JINJA - In just four years, at least 80% of the land at Mpumude hill, a coronation site for the Kyabazinga of Busoga kingdom, has been parceled out to private individuals who have built houses and schools among other structures.
This is where the Omukama Kabalega died 95 years ago.
The hill is found in Mpumude division in Jinja Municipality (Jinja district) and holds great history for both, Busoga and Bunyoro kingdoms.
Initially, it was sitting on over 15 acres of land but it has been eaten away to less than three acres.
Currently, there are more than 200 structures and occupants with freehold titles on this land. They are mainly houses, Jinja Central Primary school and ABA Foundation orphanage.
The occupants claim to have acquired it through Kingdom and urban authorities in Jinja.
They said their leases and freehold titles were signed by the previous Katikiros (premiers) and current officials.
However, the problem is not restricted to only Mpumude hill but also Kagulu and Iyingo rocks in Buyende district.
Other protected cultural tourism sites in the region include Bugembe Palace, Buguge Historical site, Nabuyanja Cultural site, Obala-Bupala Idhudi, Bukaleba palace and Bishop Hannington Memorial site among others.
However, the uncontrolled encroachment on the site has raised fears among caretakers, guides and subjects that even the remaining portion may be lost soon.
They argue that if nothing is done to save it, the next Kyabazinga or the kingdom may have no coronation site.
Although the kingdom boasts of historical and cultural sites, Henry Kitimbo, the chief prince (Isabalangira), argues that many of them are in ruins and slowly fading off the heritage map due to neglect.
He says due to the increasing population people around these sites started encroaching on them.
Concerning Mpumude site, Kitimbo says, they have tried different interventions to stop encroachers but all efforts in vain due to lack of funds.
“We have no specific budget for revitalising these sites but for the case of Mpumude we are trying to protect the remaining portion so that we don’t lose it all,” he notes.
Margaret Nansubuga (75) has been caretaker of Mpumude hill for more than 40 years.
She claims that a memorial hut that existed on top of the coronation hill was demolished by unknown people, a year before the Gabula Wilberforce Nadyope IV was enthroned as Kyabazinga.
She adds that people mysteriously acquired plots on it and some have already sold it to others, which has held back their efforts to protect it.
“The kingdom advised them to leave the premises or pay ground rent (Busuulu) but most of them own freehold titles,” she remarks.
Loyal subjects close to the royal family and some guides and caretakers have mentioned the Busoga’s state minister for Lands Fred Kyangwa, Jinja Local Council (LCV) Chairperson Titus Kisambira and the district land board officials in the fraudulent sell and leasing of the kingdom land.
And for that reason, they want the Kyabazinga to overhaul the entire cabinet and appoint officials who will protect kingdom properties.
Andrew Kigenyi Wansolo, the Kingdom’s State Minister for Culture, attributes the plight to lack of funds to protect the sites from encroachers. He says a master plan to revamp and recoup the grabbed land has been laid.
“We are looking for 50 billion shillings to help us identify all heritage sites, rehabilitate and promote them for cultural tourism since people need to know where they come from (history),” he explains.
They further hope to lobby funds from well-wishers in order to set up recreational and accommodation facilities that would attract tourists.
Wansolo adds that they are planning to revive the Busoga Tourism Initiative, an annual event, to promote tourism in the region.
It was commissioned in May 2013 but flopped after three years due to alleged mismanagement of funds by organisers.
William Omaria Ebusi, the Mpumude LCIII Chairperson, says the reinstatement of the Kyabazinga awakened kingdom officials to sell most of the properties.
Before the reinstatement of the Kyabazinga, he argues, all sites and kingdom properties were intact but in just a short time after, several have been parceled off by the officials.
He explains that Mpumude hill is capable of becoming one of the greatest cultural tourism sites in Busoga region.
“It is the Kingdom officials who have actually sold the land surrounding that hill. So as I talk right now, the area that has remained is very small that you cannot even do any significant venture,” he recounts.
In 2017, Ebusi says, they called residents around the site to see how to protect the remaining land. But to their dismay, corrupt kingdom officials connived and leased more land in the process.
Zibondo palace, where Wako Muloki was buried. (Credit: Davis Buyondo)
Kyangwa, however, denied the allegations saying his accusers lacked proof. He further disputes claims that encroachment on the sites occurred in the last five years.
He says by the time cultural institutions were restored most of the kingdom land and property had been taken and they are just trying to recover them.
In the meantime, Kyangwa is collaborating with Jinja district land office on a process to cancel all freehold titles and fake agreements on Mpumude land.
“Mpumude coronation site initially had no land title. As a result, encroachers connived with local councils, that is, Jinja Municipal council and land board officials to illegally acquire plots on it,” he notes.
Kyangwa explains that they have already surveyed the land and cordoned off the remaining portion.
He says they encouraged all people with freehold titles on this land to change them to leasehold.
“We cannot send them away at this time because it was the kingdom’s fault. But we advised them to pay ground rent to Busoga kingdom instead of paying it to urban authorities,” he clarifies.
Kisambira (LCV) further confirmed plans to evict all encroachers from the site saying they have already worked out plans for a successful process. In his view, people are right to blame him for failing to act in time to protect the sites in the district.
Kagulu and Iyingo Hills
The two hills are also overwhelmed by encroachers who have gradually destroyed their beauty. They are said to have special spiritual powers.
Kagulu rock is 3,600 feet above sea level and surrounded by four villages namely Kibira, Kyeza,Nalina and Mulali.
Culturally, it’s the first settlement place for the Basoga who migrated from Bunyoro. It’s believed to contain special spiritual powers which protect the kingdom and a cave where Kabalega used to stay in his campaign against colonial aggression.
It’s also home for thousands of monkeys, different bird species among other natural wild.
Due to its significance, Mandwa Nabiryo, the oracle and caretaker of the site, says the Kyabazinga usually visits the hill to perform rituals for good administration.
But she complains that encroachers are slowly depleting the site and estimates at least over 20 acres to have been occupied.
“The problem started five years ago but the Kyabazinga failed to do something about it. Am afraid the problem my run out of hand and the next thing, the hill be gone,” she argues.
She further blames the Speaker of Parliament Hon. Rebecca Kadaga for neglecting their appeals to protect the hill yet she is among the beneficiaries. Kadaga built modern accommodation facilities at the site for tourists.
In addition, Nabiryo condemns the Born again faith for trampling on the cultural norms and values in the area. “They have demolished and burnt several shrines which would be preserved for tourism,” she complained.
Iyingo Rock- is the origin of the 11 chiefdoms that form Busoga namely Bugabula, Bugweri, Bukholi, Bukono, Bulamogi, Bunyole, Bunya, Busiki, Butembe, Kigulu and Luuka.
Its custodian Mwandwa Iyingo VIII says they lost all the land at Katanuni and Omubi-Iwembe sites around Iyingo rocks to encroachers.
They were over five acres each but for the last four years, he says, the kingdom could not evict them.
According to the oracle, modern tourism initiatives usually flout the traditional norms, values and practices which kill the true essence of cultural tourism.
“I attribute the declining cultural tourism potential to neglect of the sites, political interference and internal strife between the two factions,” he recounts.
Currently, the kingdom is divided in two factions, one led by Gabula William Wilberforce Nadyope IV and another by Edward Columbus Wako Wambuzi and each claims to be legitimate.
Kingdom subjects and oracles say the divisions have hindered progress of various programs to promote the cultural sites.
Currently Nadyope’s faction is trying looking for funds to maintain Budhumbula palace, located about 2km along Kamuli-Jinja highway.
The site contains the tombs of the Nadiope Royal family. It is where Sir William Wilberforce Kadhumbula Nadiope, who died in 1976, his father and mother, were buried. Also Yosia Nadiope, the former Kyabazinga and Nasikombi the wife.
Henry Kitimbo (Chief Prince) says the pulley system which was used by tourists to descend down into the graves broke down and has not been repaired for over years. He adds that they are planning to build a museum at Kamuli district headquarters to promote Busoga values and culture.
In the same way, Wambuzi’s faction has already laid strategies to rehabilitate Zibondo's palace and burial grounds and other sites in the region to promote cultural tourism.
Bwoye Kige Nsako, the caretaker of Zibondo palace, explains that they have already identified all cultural sites in Buramogi and they are lobbying funds to rehabilitate them.
He adds that they are in touch with the Wambuzi’s royal family and State minister for lands Persis Namuganza to solicit funds to aid out programs as far as revamping our cultural sites is concerned.
Busoga has had different kings including Ezekiel Tenywa Wako III(1939 to 1949), William Wilberforce Nadiope II (1949 -1955), and Henry Wako Muloki I (1955 -1967). There was an interregnum from 1967 up to 1995 when Henry Wako Muloki was reinstated.
He ruled until 2008. It is from this time that factions emerged and started pulling ropes. Until now, nothing efforts to end the rivalry
Strategies to revamp sites
According to Wansolo (state minister for culture), they are planning to revive the Busoga Tourism Initiative, an annual event, to promote tourism in the region.
It was commissioned in May 2013 but flopped after three years due to alleged mismanagement of funds by organisers.Kagulu hill was the venue for the event.
It used to attract thousands of people from different districts and countries to showcase their arts and craft work. Wansolo adds that a lot of traditional or cultural items from Busoga region were exhibited.
What people say
Michael Kirya, one of the guides at Kagulu hill, says once revamped, the sites will be a huge source of livelihood for different people since tourists pay them. He said that local tourists pay sh5000 for entry while foreigners pay sh20000.
Ruth Kateme, a resident of Kibira village says they sell produces such as beans, maize, ground nuts, cassava potatoes and fruits to foreigners who visit the rocks.
She appeals to the kingdom officials to promote the sites so as to attract more tourists.
Grace Wanzala a resident of Kyeza, says they lost hope when the Busoga tourism expo flopped. “We used to make reasonable income during the expo and we appeal to the initiators to revive it,” he says.