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Who is Asiimwe, the new Ankole king claiming divine appointment?

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Added 30th January 2019 02:25 PM

The November 20th 1993 Coronation of the late Prince John Barigye as the King of Ankole was annulled by the government before a presidential warning was issued against future similar attempts.

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The November 20th 1993 Coronation of the late Prince John Barigye as the King of Ankole was annulled by the government before a presidential warning was issued against future similar attempts.

By Justus Muhanguzi

The current bloody brawl among the family members of the little-known and self-styled king of Ankole, Umar Asiimwe King Ntare V1 Rubambansi’, has, according to political and cultural pundits, been caused by economic rather than cultural interests.

It has also been reported that some secret external funding the disgraced king has been receiving could be one of the major reason that caused his ouster.

The fight which has been raging on after the recent ‘palace coup’ has not only left the self-appointed king banished, but also hiding after abandoning his hospital bed where he was admitted with life-threatening injuries sustained during the counter attack he staged to recapture his palace on December 31st 2018.

His father, Edirisa Kaweesa-the coup plotter and executor is also nursing a broken arm and is yet to recover from the shock he got after the recent arson attack that left part of the now contested palace razed to the ground.

But, as the war rages on between with the two protagonists craving for territorial supremacy, the one-million-dollar question is: Who are these new claimants to the 600-year old ‘endangered’ Kingdom of Ankole? Could they be related in a way to the hitherto known rulers of the Bahinda dynasty, which produced the last king of Ankole, Godfrey Gatsyonga-Rutahaba? Gatsyonga is the father to the late prince Barigye and grandfather to the crown prince Charles Rwebishengye. 

So, who is Umar Asiimwe and who is his father Ediriisa Kaweesa, the kingmaker?

It is worthwhile to note that the emergence of the self-styled and now embattled claimants of throne is a result of a vacuum created by the current government’s refusal to restore one the world’s oldest cultural institution which was abolished in 1966 under the Obote one regime.

Cultural and Political analysts say the selective application of the 1995 Constitution provisions regarding the restoration of kingdoms abolished in 1966 has left the Banyankole cultural enthusiasts groping in darkness while a whole generation has lost its cultural identity.

Only recently, the government embarked on a multi-billion-shilling rehabilitation project of the hitherto dilapidated Mugaba Palace at Kamukuzi hill where the last king of Ankole, Omugabe Charles Gatsyonga-Rutahaba lived and administered his vast territory from.

Sadly, the Nkore Cultural Trust (NCT), the official entity charged with the protection and promotion of Banyankole culture, was seemingly left in cold and was never involved in the planning and implementation of the project which the government says will promote its Tourism industry as a lucrative tourist attraction.

The Nkokonjeru royal burial grounds in neighborhood which had been totally neglected only got an ‘emergency’ facelift after the death of prince John Barigye on October 14th 2011. The royal drum (Bagyendanwa) has been hidden and other artifacts which were confiscated by the Obote 1 regime have since been rotting away at the Uganda museum in Kampala.

While other kingdoms were allowed (by the 1995 Constitution) and ‘new’ ones have since been created with silent support from the NRM government, the Ankole kingdom has been blocked due to the perceived resistance of Banyankole populace.

The November 20th  1993 Coronation of the late Prince John Barigye as the King of Ankole was annulled by the government before a presidential warning was issued against future similar attempts.

At the time of his death, Barigye and his silent subjects had become ‘total orphans.’ His son Prince Rwebishengye was merely installed and has since looked on helplessly and silently prayed for divine intervention.

The paradox, however, is that the current Umar Asiimwe’s suddenly emerged from abyss to declared himself ‘King Ntare V1 Rubambasi’ on October 29 2016 has, apart from a brief stint of confrontation with the government, reportedly been attracting moral and financial support from the government.

Until his ouster (the palace coup of December 20th 2018) Asiimwe had according to reports got funding from President Yoweri Museveni.

It is said that it is this money that sparked off the misunderstanding with the family members before his sacking by the father who claimed that he (Asiimwe) strayed from his instructions of preparing ground (and not declaring himself a king) for the restoration of the next king of Ankole.

“I sent him here and financially empowered him to recover our sacred land from the encroachers and thereafter prepare ground for the restoration of the kingdom and not to install himself a king” Edirisa Kaweesa recently told me during a phone interview.

Be as it may, the government’s current ‘non-interference’ stance into raging fight among Edirisa Kaweesa family members, fighting for the throne the crown of Ankole kingdom, and the uninterrupted establishment and development of Itaaba ‘Palace’ has according to analysts sparked off a silent debate as to whether the government does not have a hidden agenda in regard to the fate of last King of Ankole, Godfrey Gatsyonga’s successor.

This unanswered question is what political and cultural pundits call the ‘Unresolved Ankole Kingdom Question’ which can only have resolved by The Ssabagabe (president).

On the other hand, the main two protagonists, Asiimwe and his father Kaweesa alias Igumira Kitobobo, are yet to recover from serious injuries sustained during the bloody fight that took place during the counterattack commanded by the now deposed and banished ‘King’.

The so-called Itaaba palace (located in Nyakayojo, Rwampara, near Mbarara town) has since been attacked by arsonists who left two shrines burnt into ashes and property worth millions destroyed.   

While both Asiimwe and his father, Kaweesa individually claim to have spent a ‘fortune’ to secure, expand and develop their ancestral sacred land into a magnificent ‘palace’, unconfirmed reports say that it is actually some external funding. And that it is the sharing formula of ‘the spoils from Kampala’ that sparked of the war.

Unconfirmed reports say that the central government could be the now invisible hand that has either intentionally or unknowingly fueled the bloody ‘palace coup’ following a reported secret meeting he held with the embattled Asiimwe.

Asiimwe’s former press secretary, Max Muhumuza, told me that the meeting was reportedly organised and facilitated under the auspices of another controversial Buruuli Kingdom of Butamanya-Mwogezi.

Although Asiimwe could neither confirm nor deny meeting President Museveni for funding, he told me that he has established relations with another controversial king MwogezI Butamanya of Buruuli, who is ‘a sympathizer and a friend who has been very supportive’.

Asked about the source of the funds he has been using to develop what used to be regarded by locals as the so-called Bachwezi sacred enclave at Itaaba - Kyabarongo in Nyakayojo, the disgraced young man told me: “I am hardworking and a successful businessman but most importantly, I have friends and sympathizers like the Buruuli king (Ssebaruli Butamanya – Mwogezi) who has connected me to high places including King’s Forum (the umbrella body that unites and facilitates  all Ugandan cultural leaders)” That was during the first phone interview held on January 14th 2019.

In another interview held two days later on Wednesday 17th, he said that his father’s action was driven by greed and this could be explained by his recent move to illegally ‘desecrate his palace’.    

During the last 15-minute phone interview from an undislosed hideout, the disowned Asiimwe said he was on December 31st 2018 beaten into coma by his father and brothers and was still nursing his left injured eye after reportedly being ‘evacuated’ from the Mayanja Memorial Hospital in Mbarara where he was admitted after the ill-fated attempt to drive out his father from his Itaaba ‘Palace’

Unmasking Umar Asiimwe
A few years ago when Asiimwe suddenly appeared on the scene and started making headlines, I took time to inquire from both the widow of the late prince John Barigye (locally known known as Omwigarire (Queen mother) and Chairman of Nkore Cultural Trust Arch. Dr. William Katatumba (the prime minister of endangered kingdom).

Both of them separately and emphatically said that they had never had about the young man. So, how could someone simply lay claim to a throne when he did not have any royal blood whatsoever?

I could not believe my eyes when I recognized the person being referred to as the father of ‘King’ Asiimwe not only my villagemate in my remote birthplace village of Buyanja, Kyeizooba Igara (Bushenyi District), but my contemporary as a teenager. We fondly called him Diriisa during our teenager days. How could a son of Twaha and Fulumena become a kingmaker?

I consulted one my villagemates and peer, Melchoir Byaruhanga, and Hajji Wahabu Rugasha, a prominent official at the current Old Kampala Muslim Supreme Council administration. They were equally at loss.

Asiimwe’s ancestors
Asiimwe’s father Ediriisa Kaweesa is my villagemate and contemporary (although he is slightly older by 3 years). His father, now deceased was a Muslim soft spoken man called Twaha Nkarusigarira who I grew up knowing to be a Rwandese national.  

Asiimwe is one of the 13 children of Kaweesa, who was born and grew up in Buyanja, Kyeizooba subcounty, Igara county Bushenyi District. This is the same village where the late Dr Adonia Tiberondwa, the late Maj. Gen Levi Karuhanga, and Col. Jackson Bell Tushabe among other sons of the soil hailed from.

 It should be known that for many years now, Kaweesa has been living in Muhokya, Kasese district where he migrated after a misunderstanding with his father, Nkarusigarira, who allegedly disowned him and sent him parking. The cause of the fallout could not be established although he (Kaweesa) has and continues using the home as the burial grounds for all his deceased family members.

Asiimwe’s great grandfather, Kasaana Byabagambi, grandfather Twaha Nkarusigarira, mother Jovia Bonabaana and all other dead relatives are buried in the same village - Buyanja.

Interesting, Asiimwe’s great grandfather, Kasaana Byabagambi, served as an askari to the last colonial government sub-county of Buyanja gombolola chief, Mpurugusi (a Muganda) while the grandfather, Nkarusigarira (Kaweesi’s father) served as the LC1 chairman since the introduction of Local council system till he died in 2009.

The same office has since been inherited by Asiimwe’s uncle, Habib Twaha, the current LC 1 Chairman of Buyanja Two local council. According to Habib, the other known close family relative is an uncle (brother to his father Twaha) who lives in Itendero near Kabwohe town in the current Sheema district.   

Apart from Asiimwe, his father (Kaweesa) and his step elder brother Habib Serugo, everybody – including ‘King’ Asiimwe’s minister for culture Mr Eldad Karukiiko (former LC 3 chairman for Kyeizooba Sub-county), no one else seems not to understand or appreciate the claim over the Ankole kingdom throne.

When I called Kaweesa’s phone last week, it was answered by a feminine voice (who identified herself as Umar’s biological sister) to whom I introduced myself as a munya’Buyanja and a childhood friend to the old man (Kaweesa) before she agreed to inform her father who was calling.

After my exchanging pleasantries, I asked when he became a royal. He told me that his family was related to the late prince Kibwana, grandfather to both Col. Jackson Bell Tushabe (former UPDF 2nd Div commander) and Benjamin Katana (former senior Immigration officer and Igara East parliamentary seat contender, currently practicing law and representing Bob Wine in the Arua court case.

He said: “All along, we knew what we were but kept a low profile until recently when the ‘oracles’ impressed it upon us to reclaim our kingdom from impostors (read the late King Charles Gatsyonga the father of prince John Barigye).”

I have, however, established that while the last king of Ankole belonged to the Abahinda dynasty, the Kibwana lineage is associated with the now defunct kingdom of Igara whose King Musinga committed suicide as a protest against meeting his Ankole counterpart.

The Asiimwe alleged relationship with the Katana’s has been rubbished all the elders and opinion leaders I have talked to including the same prince Kibwana’s descendants (the Katanas) who say their lineage is known as Baine-Mafundo who include Mr Elly Karuhanga (former Nyabushozi MP)

When asked about the relationship with the Asiimwe family, Mary Katana, the widow of the late Katana and daughter-in-law of prince Kibwana said the Asiimwe kingship claims were simply outlandish.

She added: “Our royal drum was called Kihooza and, as you know, the Igara king was Musinga of the Abaine-Mafundo dynasty. How do these relate with the Bagyendanwa (royal drum of Ankole kingdom) of the lineage of Abahinda dynasty which these people are talking about?” she asked.

She then went on to say that all she knows about the family of Asiimwe is that his great grandfather, Kasaana Byabagambi, was employed as an askari by the then Muganda (colonial agent) gombolola chief of Buyanja called Mpurungusi. In those days, the gombolola headquarters were located in the very place where the Katana’s home is now located.

The late Adonia  Tiberondwa’s home used to be in the same locality, sharing the compound with the former Buyanja Muluka headquarters. The Gombolala headquarters has been shifted eight kilometres away at Kyeizooba while the muluka quarters recently relocated at Katerero trading centre, about a kilometre away.

It is said that it was while working as an askari in chief Mutambuka’s courtyard that Asiimwe’s great grandfather (Kasana) acquired a piece of land in the neighbourhood where he, after the tenure of his boss (Mpurungusi), settled with his family including Twaha Nkarusigarura (Asiimwe’s grandfather).

It is this Twaha (Asiimwe’s grandfather) who sold the land (located in the present Buyanja (One) LC to the late Kashokye and bought another piece of land at in the neighbourhood in what is now called Buyanja (Two) local council 1 that initially chaired by Asiimwe’s grandfather before his uncle Habib was during the recent LC elections duly elected   to succeed his father.

Asimwe’s grandmother (Fulumera) and his step grandmother are all still living on the very land where their departed husband (Twaha) is buried.

Asiimwe’s checkered background
The common and popular belief in Buyanja (the birthplace of Kaweesa and Nkarusigarira - Asiimwe’s father and grandfather, respectively, is that the family originated from Rwanda.  

What is, however, not known is where exactly chief Mpurugusa - the colonial Muganda agent -picked Kasana (Asiimwe’s great grandfather) from before employing him as an askari in his courtyard at Buyanja sub-county headquarters.

But none of the family members wants to be associated with that checkered history. When I asked Asimwe’s uncle, Habib (the LC 1 Chairman of Buyanja Two) whether he had ever heard the ‘rumour’ about their family’s Rwandan origins, he said “I also know that people have been calling us Banyarwanda, but as far as I am concerned, I had never heard any of my family members speak Kinyarwanda. I used to hear my father swear while referring to a place he fondly called Orwanda-Orwera which I think is our origin”

Similarly, both Kaweesa and Asiimwe deny having any Rwandan origins, but insist they are true and real Banyankore whose current business (the kingship issues) is about supernatural powers derived from abarangi (cultural prophets) who have anointed and commissioned them to embark on the mission of pacifying and recovering the lost glory of their kingdom which had been snatched by ‘impostors’ the Abahinda dynasty.    
The other fact is that Asiimwe’s maternal side are all from the same parish of Buyanja and the neighbouring sub-county of Bumbaire both in Bushenyi district.

Asiimwe’s mother is the late Jovia Boonabaana, daughter of Constantine Kabirisi and Catherine (a.k.a Katarina) Tingambirirwa, a Mutoro by tribe.

On the other hand, Asiimwe’s grandmother Fulumera (a Catholic who never adopted a Muslim name) Nkarusigarira who is alive and living at their Kayanja home (Buyanja Two) hails from Bumbaire, the neighbouring sub-county. None of Umar’s maternal ancestors has any known connections to the Ankole royal dynasties.

Asiimwe and his siblings were born and grew up in Kasese district where the father Kaweesa migrated after allegedly being banished by his father (Nkarusigarira) from the Buyanja home during the early 1980s. Asiimwe’s father has since married and his step mother and siblings are alive and recently shifted from Kasese to the contested ‘Itaaba palace’ in Mbarara.

Asiimwe’s grandfather, Nkarusigarira was, after the fall of Idi Amin, banished and declared a persona-non grata by his neighbours after being accused of being a Munyarwanda and a spy employed by Amin’s notorious state research bureau.

He had to abandon his home and flee into ‘exile’ in Bwera-Kasese where he kept hiding for many years and only returned after the NRM government came into power in 1986.

Interestingly he would later be elected as the LC1 chairman, a position he held until his death.

The writer is a seasoned researcher/journalist hailing from Buyanja, Bushenyi District.   

       

 

The writer is a seasoned researcher/journalist hailing from Buyanja, Bushenyi district.   

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