Use of violent means is a recipe for disaster in the Rwenzori Region

This article elaborates on major pre and post 2014 schemes of violence that have characterized the Rwenzori region. In this elaboration, the article describes the nature of these different schemes, detailing the mode of fighting, tools used, actors involved and the costs these schemes have inflicted on the region. Lastly, the article appreciates existing tendencies to justify the use of violence to resolve grievances in some cases. This justification notwithstanding, the article, inherently devalues the use of violence as a means of conflict management and also makes recommendations on how State and non-State actors can engage with each other to address real and/or perceived injustices.

Pre and post 2014 schemes of violence; Juxtaposing the beautiful and fairly progressing Rwenzori region in areas of commerce, agriculture, and tourism is an ugly face of violence and extremism. Notable, regrettable and intractable schemes of violence that have characterized and in an unprecedented manner haunted the Rwenzori region include; the Rwenzururu Movement (1962-1982); the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebellion that started in 1996 and went on for years.  In a dismal failure to learn from history, July 2014 saw some actors reopen wounds of trauma and press the region against to the wall. In a demonstration of rare courage, non-State actors attacked military installations in Bundibugyo, Kasese and Ntoroko districts on July 5th and 6th 2014.

Unfortunately, the Rwenzori region has remained volatile since February 2016. Specifically, sub counties of Katebwa and Kabonero of Kabarole district, Kisinga and Buhuhira sub counties, Hiima Town Council and Kasese Municipality of Kasese district and several other parts of Bundibugyo district and the Rwenzori region have experienced intermitted conflicts and violence. Currently, the region is yet to come to terms with some of the worst incidents of violence that rocked different parts of Kasese district including the military interface with several royal guards. Rwenzori Forum for Peace and Justice, other peacebuilding civil society organizations and men and women of good will in the region and country have run out of fingers counting the number of violent incidents that have rocked the region.

Nature of pre and post 2014 violent schemes; Schemes of violence the region has experienced since the 1960s differ in terms of purpose, actors involved, methods of fighting and military sophistication. In all these schemes, the geography of the Rwenzori region has been a key asset to the architects of violence. Specifically, Mt. Rwenzori and the porous international Uganda-DRC border line presented and continue to present a safe haven for fighters.

In terms of purpose, the Rwenzururu rebellion was justifiably against Tooro chauvinism. The Tooro administration orchestrated a systematic campaign of exclusion of and marginalization against Non-Batooro communities flaring-up internal discontent and the Rwenzururu rebellion. The Rwenzururu rebellion was popular in nature and involved Bakonzo and Bamba/Babwisi communities as key actors striving for independence from Tooro. Though not very militarily sophisticated, the rebellion involved the use of guns and other arms.

Different from the popular and local Rwenzururu war, the ADF rebellion intended to over throw the current government of Uganda and establish a new national political dispensation. Actors in this rebellion had a national and international character in terms of geo-ethno-religious composition of fighters and commanders. Thus, the ADF used Rwenzori region as a launching pad to further its national military and political agenda. The ADF conscripted civilians especially the energetic youth into their ranks, looted food and properties and enthusiastically used violence as a weapon of war. The rebels radicalized those they abducted to turn them into ruthless agents of violence and fighters against the government. They used guns and other sophisticated weapons to wage and sustain atleast for years, one of the worst forms of insurgency in the region.

The July 2014 attacks in the region appeared very different from both the ADF insurgency and the Rwenzururu rebellion in many ways. The 2014 attackers did not have an explicit command structure. Further, they were by far, militarily incompetent and unprepared to fight an otherwise well organized and trained national army. They were instead innocently armed with psychological comfort from witchdoctors who had allegedly smeared them with medicine meant to protect their bodies from bullets. Lastly, these attackers did not target civilians but government military personnel and infrastructure.

The 2016 schemes of violence have by nature become more intricate. In part, this intricacy resides in the multiplicity of actors involved coupled with accusations and counter-accusations of who and what is responsible for this spiral of violence. The purpose of these schemes remains elusive. In defining the purpose, different stakeholders hint on several proximate and distant factors including; desire by the Bakonzo in Uganda and the DRC to form a Yiira State; unaddressed historical and contemporary injustices; the emergence of selfish geo-ethno-political conflict merchants inclined to using violence for geo-ethno-political leverage; clash of central government and Kasese district and/or Bakonzo local political orientations and; bad governance reflected partly in ethnicisation of politics and politicization of ethnicity. Whether justified or not, actors behind schemes of violence have been solidly, imprecisely, interchangeably, successively, and/or at times alternately described as; royal guards of Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu (OBR) cultural institution, Kirumiramuthima, Yiira Republic secessionists, rebels, militia groups and/or misguided and radicalized youth.

Since 2016, armed non-State actors have dared and continued to dare formations of the police and the army normally resulting into heavy causalities on the part of these actors. These non-State actors are said to have gone and/or to be going through a process of radicalization by different geo-ethno-political actors in the Rwenzori region. In this radicalization process, agents of radicalization (either out of ignorance or desire to deceive their target groups) are said to be smearing non-State actors with medicine to shield their bodies from bullets. Further, these non-State actors are said to be premising their resolute to engage in acts of violence on wanton promises and future rewards from those who mastermind the radicalization schemes. The non-State actors are largely armed with machetes, spears, sticks and stones. They have also been snatching guns from security personnel and allegedly rushing to establish military-like camps and make local petrol bombs.

Costs associated with pre and post 2014 violent schemes; In both pre and post 2014 schemes of violence, different parties not only give differing accounts of what happened but also give different numbers of victims of and the factors responsible for violence. What remains uncontested though is the fact that both schemes left thousands dead, scores more affected in different ways and exposed the brutality individuals and groups can inexplicably exercise against their fellow human beings.

The popular Rwenzururu war unfortunately involved incidents of violence and resulted into destruction of property, displacement and death of several people in the region. Another shock came in the name of ADF whose violent actions are still fresh in the minds of many people in the Rwenzori region. Astonishingly, in their deadliest attack of June 8th, 1998, the ADF burnt alive 80 students of the Kichwamba Technical College in Kabarole district by setting locked dormitories on fire. An additional 80 students were abducted in the raid. The same rebel group attacked Kiburara minor seminary of the Catholic Diocese of Kasese and inflicted upon humanity unspeakable pain by abducting seminarians and committing several atrocities in the region.

The 2014 and 2016 violent incidents were equally costly. The 2014 attacks resulted into the death of over 50 people, displacement of many and the impairment of inter and intra-ethnic relations as well as mistrust between ethnic groups and government. The violence that has characterized the Rwenzori region since February 2016 has in total left over 100 people dead including civilians and military personnel. In a rather shocking and traumatizing turn of events, the end of November 2016 military interface with royal guards of the OBR resulted into the death of over 50 guards and the arrest of over 130 guards and the Omusinga.

Is the use of violence justifiable? Undoubtedly, people and groups, both in Uganda and elsewhere have before used violent approaches to resolve their real and/or perceived grievances. In justifying the use of violence, several experts refer to several notions including; self-defense; means of last resort etc. Further, there is a common temptation by those who propagate violence as a means for achieving ends to quote and/or refer to past scenarios where violence has seemed to work for certain groups and people. However, these propagators deliberately or unknowingly ignore the past and future cost at which this violence seems to have provided a solution, if any. Principally speaking, violence comes at an insurmountable cost even in cases where one may seemingly attribute success to the use of violent means. These costs may be counted in terms of loss of irreplaceable human life, destruction of property, displacement of persons, loss of opportunities as well as social, political and economic retardation.

How do we move forward as a region? Unfortunately, we cannot reverse past schemes of violence that have disrupted our region. Lives have been lost, families and communities left shattered and dreams lost.  Thus, moving forward, there is an urgent need for all people to contribute to the process of degrading the culture of violence as a means of addressing our real and/or perceived differences. The success of this process will require the commitment of both State and non-State actors. In this commitment, the following can guide us.

  1. UPHOLD the Government monopoly over the use of violence; In part, the danger associated with violent means of resolving grievances could explain why the ownership and usage of weapons of violence are legally and customarily a preserve of the State. This preservation is for a dual purpose of; the State using these very tools of violence to protect its citizens and their property from any internal and/or external threats and; limiting and/or regulating the ownership and usage of these tools by non-State actors and/or civilians to limit and prevent possible misuse of these tools to threaten the common security. In relation to this monopoly;
  2. Let civilians desist from illegally acquiring and/or using guns and other weapons of violence.
  3. Let civilians who are illegally in possession of any arms hand them over to the State that is mandated to guarantee common security.
  4. Let the government create a legal and administrative space for embracing any person (s) who may want to surrender any illegally owned arms and/or denounce violence.
  5. Let civilians desist from harboring and/or abetting any omissions or commissions that may threaten the common good and the common security.
  1. UPHOLD the law; Uganda has well established laws that should guide the conduct of both State and non-State actors during times of peace and conflict. Notably;
  2. The State agencies and agents should not engage in extra legal means and/or violate long-established rules of engagement with armed and/or unarmed actors. These rules include among others; protecting women and children; not harming unnamed combatants; embracing those who decide to surrender and; using justified and proportionate force.
  3. Persons and groups who may be opposed to actions of the State should organize within the framework of the law to avoid placing themselves in situations that may either justifiably or not, provoke violence from the State and/or other actors.
  4. Both State and Non-State actors should commit themselves to constitutionalism and the rule of law in the exercise of their mandates.
  1. CREATE AND HARNESS a secure and peaceful environment; The government should put in place an integral environment that harnesses peace and security, not just for the government, but also for all citizens. In relation to this environment, let non-State actors in the Rwenzori region;
  1. Appreciate the ethno-political pluralism of the region and learn to respect, dialogue and live peacefully with each other.
  2. Recall the history of the Rwenzori region and the negative effect ethno-political chauvinism can create on present and future generations.
  1. LEADERS GIVE TIMELY AND CONSTRUCTIVE guidance to the people

The people of Rwenzori region and of each respective district affected by violence have leaders in spheres of politics, religion and culture both at local and national levels. The guidance leaders give to their people will in part determine the extent to which people will devalue and/or embrace the culture of violence. Thus, leaders in the Rwenzori region and in respective districts of the region should;

  1. De-campaign the culture of violence.
  2. Appreciate the fact that victims of violence are in most cases ordinary and vulnerable youth and other persons who respond to an elite-engineered propaganda. This appreciation should be accompanied by a change in language and actions of leaders in a manner that young people are given hope and not deceived to embrace elite-schemes that are distant from their pursuit of happiness, education and a bright future.
  3. Come up with regional and respective district level agendas to guide constructive engagements with central government and other relevant stakeholders.

In equal measure, leaders at national level should;

  1. Remain open to working with Rwenzori regional and district level leaders to further peace and security in the region.
  1. UNDERTAKE RESTORATIVE JUSTICE to spur long-term peace and reconciliation

While not undermining the necessity of formal justice in face of unfortunate incidents of violence since 2014, the government needs to pay attention to the inadequacy of these formal judicial processes in propelling long-term peace and reconciliation. Notable inadequacies include; the neglecting of needs and interests of victims of violence; neglecting of inter as well as intra-group reconciliation and; sidelining other actors outside of court who could successfully support a reconciliation drive between and among different parties. Thus, the government should;

  1. Institute a commission of inquiry into all schemes of violence since 2014 as part of fostering peace and reconciliation.
  2. Pay attention to the needs and interests of victims of violence since 2014 and initiate individual and collective restorative schemes for these victims.
  3. Properly rehabilitate and resettle former combatants who received amnesty after 2014 attacks (now organized under the Nuyo youth Patriotic Association).
  4. Embrace those who will denounce rebellion and properly rehabilitate and resettle them into their communities.
  5. Initiate new and/or strengthen existing development programs for the youth in order to increase these young persons’ opportunity cost to violence.
  6. Implement several past recommendations related to peace and security in the Rwenzori region.


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

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