Monday, 7 July 2014

Bundibugyo attacks: The unanswered question in western Uganda

It is often said ‘ignorance is a disease’. How else would one describe the brainwashing that a civilian armed with a machete can successfully attack a trained soldier armed with an AK47 gun? Indeed, ignorance can kill.  Several youth armed with knives have died as they attempted to attack Uganda’s military base in Kanyamwirima in Bundibugyo district.

It is said the youthful attackers in Bundibugyo were told if they tied pieces of cloth onto their waist bullets would not harm them. And they believed this crap! The result is: parents are grieving, women have been widowed and children are now orphaned. Hundreds have been arrested. The attackers in civilian clothes literally committed suicide by targeting police posts and a UPDF base.

But what could have inspired these machete-wielding civilians to attack a government security installation? Who in their normal senses decides to do this? Why is it that the army is insisting this is a tribal attack? How come the attackers targeted armed government security agents and not civilians of a different tribe? If it was a tribal war, how many from the perceived "enemy" tribe members were killed or injured on both sides?

A statement from Rwenzururu Kingdom whose youth have been linked to the so called tribal militia said "before the attacks there were indicators of possible violence" which were ignored. The statement alleges that some individuals were inciting communities against others. It also says that there had been an attempted attack on the Rwenzururu palace. Did authorities probe these allegations?

More so, why are people who have been living in harmony over the years fighting now?

The limited land coupled with high population growth, politics of divide and rule and mushrooming cultural institutions are some of the reasons for the violence witnessed in Rwenzori sub region recently. Between 2007 and 2010 there were intense land conflicts between the Basongora cattle keepers and the Bakonzo cultivators in the lower parts of Kasese district. This left tens of people dead. Unfortunately the land question in Kasese has not been handled in a fair manner.

Rwenzori sub region is rich in cultural diversity. There are many different dialects. We have the Batoro, Bakonzo, Bakiga, Bamba, among the the most populous. But again there are other minority groups like Banyabindi, Basongora, Bakingwe, etc in Kasese; the Batuku, Bambuti, Veroma, Babwisi in Ntoroko and Bundibugyo. All these groups want to preserve their culture. Some have thought having cultural institution will insure the cultural identity. Some of these groups have asked for political districts. So, the desire to create tribal districts in Uganda is not helping keep people of different dialects united. It seems each dialect wants a district under its belt. This is brewing trouble and disunity in the region as someone is benefiting from these schemes.

At the same time cultural kingdoms have been created but people are not sensitized on the exact role these institutions play. While it is within every community’s right to get a cultural institution to promote and preserve their culture some people are demanding for kingdoms for political and economic gain.  How can we use different cultures to spur development in our region?

Some of the suspected youth in the Bundibugyo attack (Daily Monitor Photo)

In some instances some people mistakenly believe their kingdoms have political powers like those of a state. Some perceive marginalization. The bad politicians are taking advantage of this to incite the otherwise peaceful but ignorant people to achieve their ill motives. Many of these vulnerable people are youth who are either uneducated, semi-educated or unemployed.

The case of the recent attack in Bundibugyo it's believed the youth and some Rwenzururu veterans were brainwashed to believe their fighting was for a kingdom which is a state. Our people have been lied to and we must liberate them from this misinformation.

In 1960s when the Rwenzururu rebellion was nearly defeated by the central government, it is said its leaders managed to convince the followers that they were creating a state separate from Uganda. And, the people fought believing that they are defending the Rwenzururu state. But, when the Rwenzururu leader Charles Mumbere, then a young man, accepted to negotiate with the Obote II government in 1980 some Rwenzururu fighters felt it was a betrayal. The Rwenzururu fighters who disagreed remained in the bush and later merged with other groups to for the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU).

Even when the current central government recognized Rwenzururu kingdom in 2009 some local people were convinced their wish for a state had been granted. Our people have been lied to; and should be told the truth. Kingdoms today are purely cultural institutions without political power. People should work for peace and develop themselves. Senseless violence is no sustainable solution to any disagreements. Dialogue is the most sustainable solution.

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