The recent bloody conflict in and around Kasese revealed some serious cracks in the architecture of our country. Some of these cracks are visible. Some are hidden just beneath the surface.
This conflict is rooted in our history. In 1891 Captain Lugard the colonial honcho decided to forcibly put the Bakonzo under Toro dominion. Lugard with his maxim guns could not be easily defied. So the Bakonzo bore their servitude with quiet frustration.
On the eve of independence, the Bakonzo found their voice again. Even though the independence constitution of 1962 crafted under the watchful eye of the same colonial power put them under Toro Kingdom, the Bakonzo decided that they had had enough. Together with their kin the Bamba they jointly declared themselves independent of Toro. This obviously set them on a collision course with the new government of Uganda. This time they refused to submit. From 1962 till 1982 they waged a low intensity but often bloody resistance struggle.
In May 1971 President Idi Amin in an effort to find a solution set up a Commission of Inquiry of 11 ministers led by Valeriano Ovonji and Lt. Col. Musa. They investigated the fluid security situation around the Mountains of the Moon and made recommendations. The Commission agreed that the Bakonzo/Bamba should have their own local administration. Separation from Toro administration was a key demand. That is how the two districts of Rwenzori (Kasese) and Semliki (Bundibugyo) came into existence. A fragile peace then prevailed.
When the 1995 constitution was promulgated the Bakonzo/Bamba seized the opportunity to agitate for their own cultural institution. Between 1998 and 2009 there were protracted talks on the restoration of the Rwenzururu Kingdom and the legal recognition of their King. On 19 October 2009 the Obusinga (Kingdom) of Rwenzururu was recognized. King Charles Wesley Mumbere Iremangoma thus inherited the torch of the Rwenzururu struggle from his father. That’s the only context in which his efforts both peaceable and militant can be understood.
Last weekend we were all witnesses to the tragicomedy of a threadbare regime wrestling with the ghosts of a flawed state building project. While it is not fair to heap the blame entirely at the doorstep of Yoweri Museveni and his NRM, their failure to keep their promise of a fundamental change has to be pointed out. In 1986 Museveni promised a fundamental change. A re-engineering of our flawed political architecture. Instead of taking charge as an architect of national rebirth he has merely played the role of an interior decorator. One area where he has scored big is to bring Uganda’s unruly military institution under control. It remains to be seen however whether his legacy will be that for once Uganda will see peaceful change and a trans-regime army.
The Bible says “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). The peoples of Uganda did not agree to be a nation together. Our constitutional settlements right from the colonial days have been attempts to subject others to a fait accompli imposed by dominant forces. The 1995 constitution was no different. The various amendments including the lifting of term limits have been further attempts by dominant forces to subject others to their will and whim.
We cannot undo the past but we have to accept that the cracks in our poorly engineered architecture are becoming more glaring and threaten to tear our country apart. After all no community filled out an application form to belong to the entity called Uganda. As identity politics engulf the world, Uganda is not immune to the ravages of separatist tendencies. We have to face the truth. Some communities no longer feel that Uganda is working for them.
In his write up after the Kasese firefight, Museveni insisted that the core interests of people are security and prosperity. With due respect, that is not true. Security and prosperity are but the fruits of a just society where all the peoples feel a sense of belonging. If anyone argues with this let them go and fling open the gates of any zoo. Despite the security and bountiful food in the confinement of a zoo, the animals will all run to freedom. They would rather fend for themselves and risk the wrath of predators than stay in the zoo. People risk life and limb for something more than just security and food on the table. That something more is what you have to offer people if you are building a nation.
* Norbert Mao is a Ugandan politician and lawyer.