Ezironi Bwambale, one of Uganda’s independence makers

By John Thawite

Born on December 29, 1929 Ezironi Bwambale, 87, was among 110 Ugandans who “brought” Uganda’s independence, after he participated in the September 1961 Constitution Conference

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The rise
It is midnight on 9 October, 1962 at Kololo Independence Ceremonial Grounds. The Union Jack (British flag) is coming down. The Ugandan flag is rising.

The crowd rises with it joining the band as the Uganda national anthem starts. The air is full of ecstasy, chanting and a feeling of victorious and celebration as Uganda’s independence comes to pass. Witnessing the historic occasion was Ezironi Bwambale, the first Mukonzo legislator and minister.

Born on December 29, 1929 Ezironi Bwambale, 87, was among 110 Ugandans who “brought” Uganda’s independence, after he participated in the September 1961 Constitution Conference at the Lancaster House, London, that  ushered in Uganda’s independence with Dr Apollo Milton Obote as Prime Minister and Kabaka Mutesa as uganda’s first president.
 
Mbethe, as he is also fondly known in Kasese, was among a 10-member Democratic Party (DP) delegation, led by late Benedicto Kiwanuka.
 
During the conference, the DP delegation stormed out the House when one of the representatives of Kabaka Yekka proposed that the Kabaka of Buganda should always be the President of Uganda and Mengo the Electoral College for the entire country.
 
As the DP team was packing their bags to fly back home, one of the former Uganda governors, Sir Andrew Cohen, implored them to have roundtable talks with other members of the Constitution Conference, forcing the Kabaka Yekka side to drop the idea.
 
After Independence, Bwambale contested as Member of Parliament for Busongora County on DP ticket which he lost to the late Bazarrabusa of UPC.
 
He later joined the Obote I government by crossing to UPC where he was appointed the Deputy Minister for Culture and community development.
 
Towards independence, Bakonzo and Bamba and other minorities consisting Basongoroa, Babwisi, Banayabindi and other minority tribes based around the Rwenzori Mountains of Kasese, Kabarole, Ntoroko and Bundibugyo, launched an armed rebellion, the Rwenzururu Freedom Movement, which lasted two years.
 
The minorities accused the then Toro kingdom of political, administrative, economic discrimination and wanted to government themselves.
 
But opposed to the rebellion against his government, Bwambale was kidnapped by Rwenzururu militants , speared and left for dead leaving me for dead in the Rwenzori Mountains of Katanda in Ihandiro Subcounty. Government learrnt about it and deployed the Uganda Police Air Wing to rescue me. I was airlifted by helicopter first to Kilembe for first aids before Kampala for treatment.
 
The fall   
As he was basking in the ministerial spoils, one of Obote’s senior army officers, Idi Amin, ousted Obote on 25 January 1971, followed by a hunt for some of Obote’s right-hand men including Bwambale.
While trying to flee back to Kasese, Ezironi Bwambale survived another death by a whisker when Amin’s soldiers attempted to kill him at Katunguru on the Kasese –Rubirizi border. Bwambale managed to escape the ambush by diving into the channel and swimming away.
 
His chief campaign manager, Kithi Matsungiro, was killed and his body thrown into the Kazinga Channel.
 
Bwambale fled Kinshasa in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) from where he watched Uganda going down the drainage under the country’s second president, Idi Amin.
 
He amused Kasese when during President Museveni’s public rally at Kitswamba Playground in Kitswamba Subcounty a few years ago he complained that instead of being given very few planting materials under Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), he should be given the money to buy food and a coffin for himself since his days were numbered.
 
Touched, President Museveni ordered that Bwambale be brought to him.
 
Medalist 54 years later
Fifty-four years later, Bwambale was recently among the post-independence legislators that President Yoweri Museveni decorated with medals in recognition of contribution to the country.
 
Ezironi Bwambale currently lives quietly in Musomoro village, Kinyamaseke Town Board, in Munkunyu Subcounty, Kasese District, with his wife Caroline,  they  live a low peasantry life the centres around subsistence farming and occasionally cotton growing, supplemented by their children.
 
What people say about Bwambale
According to one of his clansmen, Barnabus Bamusede Bwambale, Mzee Bethe is remembered in Kasese for luring Dr Carl Baker, to come to Uganda to start Kagando Missionary Hospital in Kisinga Subcounty, Bukonzo east constituency, Kasese.
 
Giles Kahika, one of Bwambale’s distant relatives, says Bwambale helped many Bakonzo, explaining that Bwambale not only accommodated many Bakonzo students but also linked some to them to other opportunities.
 
He was behind the establishment of the National Union of Youth Organisations (NUYO) training centre located in Maliba Subcounty, Kasese,” says Kahika, a lecture at the Uganda Management Institute (UMI).
 
Kahika adds, “Bwambale is one of the greatest Bakonzo Kasese has had in government because he is the one who “brought” Kagando hospital by convincing Carl Baker, a British missionary to establish Kagando, which has been and continues to be one of the regional hubs, serving patients from as far as D.R Congo, Rwanda and even Tanzania.”
 
Bwambale is also praised for having lobbied for the New Uganda Youth Organisations (NUYO) institute located in Kyanya, Maliba Subcounty, which skilled thousands of youth from across the country.
 
This, according to Kahika, was in addition to setting up Community Development Centres (CDCs) at in the Subcounties of Maliba, Bwera and Munkunyu that offered Functional Adult Literacy (FAL) education to community members who either never attended school or dropped out.
“He also encouraged many Bakonzo to join the Uganda Police,” says Nelson Kandole, citing Joseph Baguma, and Johnson Mbusa.
 
According to Kandole, Bwambale was also behind the creation of prisons in Kasese, something that displeased a section of the residents.
“Bwambale did it after finding a Mukonzo in jail in Karamoja. He argued that if people are imprisoned, they should remain in prisons near home where their relatives can easily visit them,” Kandole says.
 
He has about 17 children from three wives. The children live in different countries including South African South Sudan, Korea, Denmark and China. They are looking after him, says Kandole.
 
Bwambale is also hailed for having influenced the establishment of Mubuku Irrigation Scheme in Kasese district in 1964, which has since been a food basket for hundreds of people in East Africa and the D.R Congo and Southern Sudan, supplying maize and rice and exporting okra to Europe.
 
 
“Government saw a lot of potential in him and that is why he served almost everywhere. He deserves a special seat at the Kololo function that is coming,” Amos Kambere, a former MP Bukonzo East (1980-1985),said of Bwambale in 2012.
 
Whether government will invite him and accord him the seat he deserves come the country’s 54th independence anniversary, only time will tell.