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Our problem is land not Bakiga, say Banyoro

By Vision Reporter

Added 21st August 2009 03:00 AM

As you cross River Nkuse from Mubende to Kibaale, there is nothing to show that you have moved into a new district.

As you cross River Nkuse from Mubende to Kibaale, there is nothing to show that you have moved into a new district.

By Joshua Kato

As you cross River Nkuse from Mubende to Kibaale, there is nothing to show that you have moved into a new district.

The terrain, vegetation, crop gardens and homesteads look the same. The noise you hear in Kampala about land and ethnic issues in Kibaale becomes apparent only when you ask the residents about it. But unlike Kampala-based pundits who have dwelt on the political and ethnic issues, the residents of Kibaale say their real problem is about land rights.

“My grandfather lived on this land. His grandfathers lived on this land. I have lived on this land all my 45 years. But I know this is not my land because according to the colonialists, we were not fit enough to own it. It hurts,” says Emmanuel Ssetaala of Kakumiro.

Whereas the Kibaale problem has been brewing for decades, it became increasingly contentious after President Yoweri Museveni proposed in a letter that top political positions in the district be ring-fenced for the Banyoro, the indigenous ethnic group in the district that has attracted large numbers of Bakiga and other immigrants. “If you solve the land question, then there will be no need for ring fencing. You will have empowered the indigenous population to become rich,” says Augustine Mugabe, a retail shop owner.

Before the colonialists came, Buganda had already captured Buwekula, now Mubende district; Bulemezi, now Nakaseke district; Bunyara, now Kayunga district and Singo, now Kiboga district, from Bunyoro.

In the 1890s, the British colonial government captured more territory from Bunyoro Kingdom and gave it to Buganda Kingdom.

This included Buyaga and Bugangaizi, now in Kibaale district. These two counties were annexed to Buganda under the 1900 agreement.

Among the notable of the Bunyoro historical sites is the Nyakaima tree on Mubende Hill, that was renamed Nakayima tree by the Baganda. “It should be known that these were the cradle of Bunyoro Kitara empire,” says Dr. Kasirivu Atwooki.

When Col. Colville annexed the counties, so was the land. In the 1900 agreement, land in the newly-established Mubende, which had people on it, was allocated to Baganda chiefs, members of the royal family and to the Kabaka. Each one got a minimum of a square mile.

A big number of the new landlords moved to Buyaga and Bugangaizi and displaced the original occupants of the land. Others did not, but retained the land titles.

A sizeable number who had settled there, fled a 1994 uprising against landlords in the area and never returned, but retained the titles.

“My grandfather told me that when the new owners came, they forced them off the land and took them into less productive camps. The new owners retained the fertile lands,” Kasirivu says.

In addition, over 3,000 square miles of land were gazetted as game reserves.

At the same time, Baganda chiefs were sent to rule Bunyoro and they were, by all accounts, ruthless. It was a tactic by the colonial government to use Baganda chiefs to impose their authority in different parts of present-day Uganda, including eastern and northern. By 1907, there were 20 top Baganda chiefs governing counties in Bunyoro.

“They did not only impose their leadership, they even tried to erase the culture and names of the Banyoro,” Kasirivu says.

The locals were not allowed to speak Lunyoro in official or public areas and those found doing so were prosecuted. He adds: “Any Munyoro who wanted a scholarship to study in secondary or higher schools would have to adopt a Kiganda name.”

Prof. Joseph Mukiibi, Prof. Gastus Ssenyonga, Justice Ssebugwawo Amooti, former MP Sebastian Ssekitoleko, Dr. Kasirivu Atwooki and Kaata Musoke are examples of Banyoro who were forced to change their names in order to get an education. In essence, what the colonialists and the Baganda did is the core cause of today’s land problem in Bunyoro.

Decades after the Banyoro were displaced from the land, Bakiga immigrants were brought in by different governments, while others settled there initially as migrant labourer. The first resettlement was in 1968 in Buyaga county, when hundreds of Bakiga were brought into Bunyoro due to population pressure in the southwestern Uganda.

The second and biggest resettlement was carried out in 1992, when Bakiga were evicted from Mpokya forest reserve in Kabarole district, where they had settled illegally. They were then resettled in Kibaale in areas that had been reserved by the colonialists as Government land.

Each of the immigrants was given 12 acres of land. “This resettlement caused a further imbalance between us and the Bakiga. They were settled in the fertile land that originally belonged to us and even given money to start new lives,” says Kasirivu. However, according to the Bakiga, these settlements were sanctioned by the authorities, including Omukama Tito Winyi, the king of Bunyoro.

“The Omukama, we were told, accepted and there was no bad blood about it,” says Deus Sabiiti, who runs a shop in Kagadi.

However, according to Kasirivu, this is a lie.

Initially, the immigrants were few. But the 1992 resettlements attracted more Bakiga, who faced population pressure in their hilly home area in the extreme southwestern Uganda.

In 1991, the Bakiga accounted for 11% of the population in Kibaale. This quickly grew to 32% presently.

The Banyoro fear that at this rate, the Bakiga might soon occupy most of the land.

“They divided the 12 acres that each of them got and either gave or sold some to their relatives or friends. This was fertile land and when they planted crops, they got good yields, while most of the indigenous people who were years ago dispossessed of this same land, are yearning,” observes Kasirivu.

The solution, according to the Banyoro, is that the land is given back to those who owned it before 1900.

On the other hand, the Government proposes that while it has started buying off absentee land lords and reverting ownership of some land to indigenous Banyoro, the immigrants who were resettled there should also be allowed to stay on their land.

The Bakiga immigrants are caught in the middle of a historical crisis they never created. They say that since they acquired this land legally, it will be illegal for it to be taken away from them. “Non-Banyoro in the settlement areas should be given land titles for the land they occupy,” the Bakiga propose.

Give fertile land to an industrious man and the result is prosperity. It is not uncommon to see trucks ferrying food from Bakiga-controlled parts of Kibaale.

As agricultural prosperity followed them, so did political success.

Today, out of the four members of parliament from Kibaale, two are Bakiga, while the other two are Banyoro.

At the lower level, the Banyoro dominate. For instance, 68% the district’s councillors and 65% of LC3 chairpersons are Banyoro. The LC5 chairman, George Namyaka, is also an indigenous Munyoro.

However, the Banyoro are unconformable that the Bakiga, an immigrant population, are occupying an increasing number of political positions.

In 2002, when Fred Ruremera, a Mukiga, won the Kibaale LC5 seat, President Yoweri Museveni persuaded him to step down to quell the anger of the Banyoro.

Citing this, the Bakiga say they have made significant compromises for the sake of living in harmony with the Banyoro. “Ruremera had won a free and fair election, but he was asked to forfeit his victory because he was a Mukiga,” says Alphonse Rugunda, a taxi driver in Kagadi. “If we can allow a popularly-elected person to forfeit his chair, then there is no way we can be called intolerant.”

Bakiga MPs Mabel Bakeine (Bugangaizi) who defeated Kasirivu Atwooki in 2006 and Barnabas Tinkasimire (Buyaga), say they were elected because of their good programmes and not because they are Bakiga.

In any case, they say, Bakiga are only a quarter of the population in Kibaale and therefore they did not win the elections on tribal grounds.

Multi-ethnic cage
Banyoro, on the other hand, say they are not xenophobic. They argue that Bunyoro is the most multi-ethnic part of Uganda. In Kibaale, for instance, 47% of the population are indigenous Banyoro while 32% are Bakiga, 3% are Bakhonzo and 1% are Baganda.

In Hoima, indigenous Banyoro comprise 57% of the population while in Masindi they are 31%. Other ethnic groups in Bunyoro are Alur, Bagungu, Acholi and Lugbara. The Banyoro say they have lived with all these tribes without any conflict, adding that the tension in Kibaale dates back to the past when people were displaced from their land, and the successful Governments’ failure to address the problem.

They, therefore, demand that Government buys land from absentee landlords and gives it to Banyoro.

The Government is already planning to do this, but it might take a while. On Thursday, the Uganda Land Commission issued a statement saying it had received money to buy land from the absentee landlords to give to Banyoro.

This, however, will be done on willing buyer willing seller basis. The commission has called on willing landlords to show up. However, the criteria for land redistribution is yet to be worked out.



HISTORICAL documents and personal entries in diaries reveal the ways in which the British colonialists and Baganda agents subdued and controlled Bunyoro in the early 20th Century.

The methods included forceful teaching of the Luganda language and forcing Banyoro to abandon their native names and adopt Kiganda ones.

This campaign was revealed in memos exchanged in 1933, between colonial agents like Auguste Kibuka, the then British provincial commissioner and Buganda Gombolola chiefs. The memos were also copied to the Katikkiro (premier) of Buganda and other senior officials.

A memo dated August 18, 1933, read that Luganda was to be used as the medium of instruction in schools in the annexed counties of Buwekula, Buyaga and Bugangaizi. It also instructed the Bishop of Uganda to write to the British Rev. Canon Bowers, who supported the use of Runyoro as a language of instruction in schools, to use Luganda in all Bunyoro schools.

Another memo written by a Muganda chief known as I. Ndawula read: “Office staff have made it a habit of speaking Runyoro and trying to make it the official language. Warn all people that except English, no language other than Luganda is allowed to be used. Should an employee be found trying to upset work on the pretext that he is a Munyoro, he is to be dismissed.”

Banyoro were banned from forming associations or committees that met to plot rebellion, on the grounds that they wanted to return to Bunyoro. The collection of money from people in the annexed counties was also forbidden, because it was seen as a means of fundraising for the return to Bunyoro. Those caught collecting money were to be brought to court and charged with obtaining money by false pretence.

They were also limited in their movement. One memo said Banyoro from Hoima as well as other parts of the kingdom trying to persuade residents of Kibaale, would be arrested immediately.

Entries in personal diaries of colonial administrators and British commanders show that Bunyoro had underground granaries that could feed its people for years in the event of famine. However, the granaries were systematically destroyed.

Buganda also organised ebisaakaate campaigns in the annexed territory of Buwekula in Mubende, where Banyoro were brainwashed to denounce their roots and adopted Kiganda names such as Mukiibi, Kasirivu and Kakooza.

Our problem is land not Bakiga, say Banyoro

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