Brief from RFPJ on emerging issues in the Rwenzori Region. What is at stake (December 1st, 2016)

On November 24th, 2016, Uganda’s military moved fast to demolish a camp that had been established allegedly by some subversive sections of Bakonzo youth in Kamabale village in Karangura Sub County in Kabarole district.  This sub county is located on the slopes of Mt. Rwenzori that separates Uganda from the fragile Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In this sub county, the militia group had caused the closure of some schools and a health centre as people fled the slopes of the Mountains for fear of the unknown.  In demolishing the camp, the Uganda-government military recovered improvised weapons of violence and machetes from the militia group loosely known as Kirumiramuthima. In the scuffle, the government forces killed 8 militants and the militants killed 4 government-security personnel. The government also reported that the militant group was already collecting taxes from locals to finance its activities.

The Kamabale operation was extended to Kasese district and was also followed by heavy military deployment along Mt. Rwenzori from Kasese to Bundibugyo district. In this extended operation, several issues have emerged and continue to emerge and threaten the already fragile region. On Saturday, November 26th, 2016, 4 police men were killed my militant groups and a police truck torched in Kisinga sub county in Kasese district. On the same day of November 26th, 2016 the military moved to the office of the Prime Minister (PM) of Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu (OBR) cultural institution to hunt down suspected militants. These militants are said to be royal guards of His Majesty the Omusinga, the cultural leader of OBR. Royal guards refused to surrender to government forces and instead demanded to check the government soldiers before they could enter the PM’s office. In the scuffle 19 people died including 4 police men and 15 royal guards. Of the 19, 8 were from Kasese Municipality, 3 from Maliba market, 2 from Bugoye, 3 from Kagando and 3 from Bwesumbu.  From royal guards, the military recovered some weapons of violence, especially machetes.

On Sunday, November 27th, 2016, the Omusinga was given an ultimatum by the government-military forces to surrender some of the royal guards who were said to be in his palace. Hours passed before yielding to this ultimatum. The President of the Republic of Uganda called the Omusinga and asked him to surrender the said guards in vain. The Deputy Resident District Commissioner of Kasese, one Justine who also happens to be from Kasese and another CSO person, one Reuben Mbauta tried to convince the Omusinga to yield to the government request in vain. The military consequently attacked the palace and arrested the Omusinga. In the arrest scuffle, government has confirmed the death of over 46 royal guards and the arrests of over 100 people. Also some of the royal shrines were burnt in the scuffle. The Omusinga was arrested and taken to Kampala on November 27th 2016. (Different people give different numbers of dead civilians and security personnel since Thursday 24th November).

The current military intervention in the Rwenzori region does not come by surprise and is not an isolated event. This intervention comes against a protracted process of violence and conflict since July 2014. The July 2014 attacks that claimed over 50 lives happened against the background of historical and deep-seated conflicts in the Rwenzori region. These included tensions involving mainly Bamba/Babwisi and Bakonzo communities and the cultural institutions of OBR, Obundingiya Bwa Bwamba (OBB) and Tooro Kingdom.  The February 2016 national elections in Uganda presented a new trajectory in the schemes of conflict and violence in the region, both in Kasese and Bundibugyo districts, flaring up unprecedented ethno-political conflict and violence. In this spiral of post-election violence, over 40 died in both Bundibugyo and Kasese districts, property was destroyed and scores got displaced.

Further, the post-election landscape saw the emergence of groups in the region associated with acts of violence. These included; the kirumiramuthima youth group associated with Bakonzo, the team no sleep and team no joke in Bundibugyo district. Team no sleep was and remains associated with the former LCV chairperson and former woman MP of Bundibugyo district and other politicians in the same political camp. Team no joke was and remains associated with the current LCV chairperson and most winners of 2016 general elections in Bundibugyo district. 

After the 2016 elections, the government appointed Hon. Mike George Mukula as a negotiator to bring together OBR and OBB. Mike Mukula’s efforts resulted into the signing of the royal communiqué emphasizing the need for both cultural institutions to work together to further peace and non-violence. However, this communiqué was more of the reflection of the usual hybrid peace building endeavor that gets disconnected from ordinary people. In this disconnect, people at grassroots level normally do not reconcile and also get less attention in these high-level and hotel-based negotiations.  For example, victims of post-2016 violence have not been compensated to-date and anger among these victims may generate more revenge attacks and keep communities on tension.

RFPJ and other CSOs have continuously discussed with different stakeholders to express concern over the deteriorating security situation in the region due to the complex emergence of incidents of violence including;

  1. The clash between some youth in Karangura sub county on 5th October 2016 that left one government soldier by the name of of Muranda Baguma dead. On 6th of October 2016, the government military carried out an operation in the same sub county resulting into the death of 4 militants.
  2. The otherwise family wrangle in Kabonero Sub County in Kabarole district that attracted clashes between royal guards and the security on September 14th, 2016 claiming 7 lives. Of the 7 lives, 3 were police officers and 4 civilians. Many locals specially in the village of Bukara in Kabonero sub county fled their homes and left many traumatized.

 

Several other leaders have equally called upon government to act on emerging cases of extremism. Notably, the regional security meeting of November 21st 2016 held in Kabarole district (a few days before the military operation that started on November 24th) issued a stern communiqué and called upon government to urgently disband royal guards.

 

The post-2016 election period has remained tense characterized by among others;

  1. Omusinga recruiting an unprecedented number of royal guards most of whom fall within the youth category
  2. The Omusinga’s continued refusal to be guarded by government as the case is for all other cultural leaders in the country and opting to be guarded by his own royal guards whom he recruits and trains
  3. Rife allegations that many youth remain trapped in the Rwenzori Mountain after being told by some sections of Bakonzo leaders that the government is registering them and any time they move the low land they will be shot. RFPJ organized a meeting with some youth at Bukuuku sub county headquarters in Kabarole district on November 19th 2016 who confirmed the presence of many youth who are held hostage in the Rwenzori Mountains and undergoing a process of radicalization.
  4. Tensions involving the Nuyo youth (these are 100 youth who received amnesty from government after 2014 attacks) and government-security agencies. In one exchange, one youth called Muhiindo Bukapa was killed on 25th October on in Bundibugyo district by the police on allegation that he was resisting arrest. One police officer got injured.
  5. Youth forming camps as the case was in Kamabale village in Karangura sub county in Kabarole district
  6. Rife allegations of renewed efforts towards forming the Yiira state ( as a country for Bakonzo of Uganda and the DRC)
  7. Widening gap between the citizens and/or leaders of Kasese and the central government. This is reflected in the following (among others)
  • Renewed allegations that the Yiira state formation is in the offing accompanied by the circulation of the purported Yiira state currency on social media
  • Talks that the Omusinga was to declare Yiira secession on his 50th coronation anniversary on 19th October
  • The narrative that the Bakonzo living in the DRC are being killed by the UPDF. The narrative of UPDF being in the RDC was re-echoed on the floor of Parliament this November by one MP from Kasese. On his 50th coronation anniversary, the Omusinga condemned the killing of Bakonzo in the DRC and asked them to defend themselves in case attacked (though he did not say it is the UPDF carrying out the killing)
  • The interview with the Woman MP/Kasese and the leader of the opposition the Daily monitor of November 28th re-underlines the growing mistrust between the Bakonzo and the government when she hints on the right of the people to defend themselves against government
  1. Leaders inciting locals and in some cases, not providing the necessary leadership to further peace and non-violence and adopt non-confrontational approaches when engaging government.
  2. The proposed division of Kasese district into more districts is becoming a critical source of tension. Leaders in the district remain opposed to the division and have continued to rally their followers against this division.
  3. Reported continued radicalization of the youth by political and cultural leaders

What is happening now?

  1. The OBR palace in Kasese is still being occupied by the military
  2. Many dead bodies of people killed at the OBR palace are still in Buhinga government Hospital in Fort Portal town
  3. Most businesses in Kasese town remain closed
  4. Some people are running from Kasese to Fort Portal and to other different places perceived to be peaceful
  5. The Omusinga has been charged with murder and remanded until December 13th, 2016
  6. The military operation in the Rwenzori region remains active and tensions remain high

 

RFPJ  

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