Growing Radicalization in the Rwenzori Region; what are the drivers?

Radicalization may be described as a tool purposively used to create and/or strengthen one’s resilience and/or commitment to a particular cause normally in a manner that this resilience and/or commitment assumes a hard-line stance. Those who accept and or find themselves radicalized gradually or instantly embrace the cause on which this radicalization anchors as a matter of great importance for which they feel morally or otherwise obliged to defend, uphold and at times propagate. Meanwhile, those outside of the radicalized group may not comprehend and/or imagine individuals and/or groups assuming a radical position on matters that seem distanced from the otherwise normal needs and interests of the radicalized.

Rwenzori region is not a stranger to the vice of radicalization. This vice has often times assumed an ethno-political direction in both historical and contemporary perspectives. Looking at 2014 for example, over 100 youths whether on their own volition and/or upon mobilization attacked military installations and personnel in Bundibugyo, Ntoroko and Kasese districts. The aforementioned youth were said to have been smeared with medicine that was meant to safeguard them against the force of bullets. After receiving amnesty from government, this group of youth, now organized under the Nuyo Youth Patriotic Association remains vulnerable and may rejoin acts of violence.

Immediately after the 2016 elections, elements of ethno-political extremism emerged again reflected in the assumption of rare risks by sections of people in Kasese and Bundibugyo districts. These risks included civilians armed with machetes, sticks and stones attacking government armed personnel. Extremism continues to manifest itself in many other ways in Bundibugyo, Kabarole and Kasese districts including; civilians confronting government soldiers and the police, civilians establishing military-like camps and acquiring/making weapons and tools of violence. In the month of November 2016, national security forces encountered several armed individuals and groups resulting into the unfortunate loss of lives in Kabarole and Kasese districts and several arrests.

As the Rwenzori region continues to grapple with the emerging cases of extremism, this article attempts to elaborate on possible explanations (and not justifications of) to this rise. Some of these explanations may be triggers to, causes and/or enabling factors of extremism.

  1. The role of conflict merchants. Violent extremism tends to be an economy that the elite, wealthy and members of the well-to-do class, at least by the standards of the community where this extremism thrives, propagate to achieve certain ends. These well placed persons who may for several reasons not even physically interact with those they radicalize play different roles including; giving strategic guidance to the process of extremism; acting as a source of inspiration and; giving support to the radicalized, directly and/or through agents. Normally, the merchants sustain and initiate extremism helped by a social, political and economic system that has a pyramid shape. This pyramid reflects three common realities compounded in the social, political and economic injustices and inequalities; first, persons on top of the pyramid who act as chief planners of extremism gain or envisage to gain much more than all others on the lower levels of the pyramid. Second, the number of persons numerically gets smaller along the pyramid from the bottom. Lastly, the assumption of risk increases along the pyramid from the top as most frontline persons in acts of extremism tend to be situated at the bottom of the pyramid.
  1. Existence of injustices. Extremism may be a product of real and/or perceived historical and/or contemporary injustices. These injustices may propel wanton unison among those who perceive themselves to be victims of these injustices. Leaders may build on these injustices to mobilize and inspire their people to act as one way of achieving self-redemption. Important to note, strategists of extremism may exaggerate injustices and the lethality of the enemy to flare-up extremism.
  1. Low opportunity cost to violence. Extremism tends to be costly in many ways. One may lose life, property and opportunities. It is an act of total sacrifice and subjecting oneself to the unknown. Largely, those who tend to embrace acts of extremism have low opportunity cost to violence albeit the fact that some of the known persons in the world of extremism have come from economically well-to-do backgrounds. Low opportunity cost to violence may be a product of real and/or perceived political, social and economic disfranchisement, limited opportunities and options in life, loss of hope and despair. As a result, those with low opportunity cost to violence provide a potential pool of recruits into acts of extremism by persons on higher ranks of the pyramid. Further, the vulnerable not only consciously and/or unconsciously avail themselves to serve persons on the higher level of the pyramid but also start finding pride and satisfaction in offering this service.
  1. Associating extremism with nobility and heroism. In most acts of extremism, there is a tendency whether by design or not, to brand extremism as a noble and heroic act meant to further self-redemption and pride. Those who suffer consequences of extremism like death and injury get recognized by other persons on the pyramid as heroes and gallant members of society. Painful as they may be to the directly affected, death and injury get celebrated as indicators of bravery and martyrdom. Going back to the pyramid, the top most persons are in most cases unwilling to assume or are afraid of assuming the nobility and heroism associated with extremism. Rather, top members mobilize, socialize and/or conscript members of society at the bottom of the pyramid as harbingers of this nobility and heroism.
  1. Poor conflict management processes and systems. There is no society whose members have relations devoid of differences. Conflicts are both theoretically and practically part of human relations that should not alarm people. In part, poor conflict management processes and systems may reduce options for dialogue and peaceful settlements. This reduction may tempt some actors to embrace violence based on the reasoning that; violence will coerce an adversarial group into listening and/or; acting as needed and/or; violence will quicken the defeat of the adversarial group. In some cases, violence may be a common factor around the trajectory of conflict settlement in the community in question.

Overall, government and non-government peace actors in the Rwenzori region and Uganda need to cautiously analyze the vice of emerging radicalization in the Rwenzori region. In this analysis, there is a great need to understand the root causes and sponsors of this vice and initiate interventions that will fundamentally restore peace in the region. In addition to military actions against frontline persons in acts of extremism, in a more spirited way, the government and non-government actors need to venture faster into the exploration of proximate and ultimate causes of this extremism and addressing these causes. In this venture, cultural, political, religious and other leaders in the region who wield power and influence over the frontline people trapped in acts of extremism will greatly determine the extent to which and how  fast the region returns to normalcy.


By Francis Tuhaise/Coordinator/Rwenzori Forum for Peace and Justice

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