In the past few weeks I have been planning my December holidays with some of my friends to hike the amazing Rwenzori Mountains from 28th of December for 8 days in the Mountains of the Moon. The Rwenzori Mountains are in the Western part of Uganda and the people in that region straddle both Uganda and the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. They are, according to most mountaineers I have talked to, some of the most adventurous and challenging mountains to climb anywhere in the world.
However, the ‘Kasese massacre’ that led to the deaths of civilians and security forces has threatened my plans on this expedition, one which has been on my bucket list for a long time. What if I am arrested and accused of being part of the rogue royal guards who are suspected of attacking and killing police men? or/and that I am part of a militia training in the mountains as we prepare to secede from Uganda and form an independent state, The Yiira Republic?
The ‘massacre in Kasese’ – the seat of the Rwenzururu Kingdom- more so in the palace of the Kingdom of Rwenzururu and the arrest of His Majesty, Omusinga Charles Mumbere is a spark that has re-ignited the fire of discourse as to whether being in Uganda is like being in an abusive relationship, as writer Daniel Kalinaki of the Nation Media Group calls it. I use the word re-ignite intentionally as this debate is stored in the archives that is the history of Uganda. The people of Rwenzururu have gone through a lot and have rebelled before .They were annexed to the Tooro Kingdom by the colonialists but revolted and formed their own kingdom just in time for the independence of Uganda. When the Kingdoms were abolished post-independence the Yiira people –as they are popularly referred to- were left royal orphans for years and even when NRM restored the kingdoms they were the black sheep in the family as the Rwenzururu Kingdom was never restored until 2009.
The King is now detained and has been charged with murder of security agents. The expectations are that the charge sheet will be amended to include offences such as the infamous treason as he is accused by the authorities of launching a secessionist movement to create a new state to be called Yiira. Treason has a mandatory death sentence upon conviction. The King’s incarceration has certainly not amused his subjects and only time will tell if peace will return.
All eyes are on the government and it will be interesting to see their reaction to the latest developments of secessionist movements. Some Kingdoms including Buganda have been yearning for federalism which the national government may not fathom to even have it as an agenda of discussion. We will leave it to scholars and historians to analyse the impact this event will have on the future of Uganda as a State.
The massacre invokes to some the memories of the Shifta war and Wagalla massacre in North Eastern Kenya. The Shifta War (1963–1967) was a secessionist conflict in which ethnic Somalis in the then Northern Frontier District (NFD) of Kenya attempted to join with their fellow Somalis in a Greater Somalia. The war would end in 1967 when Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and Muhammad Haji Ibrahim Egal, Prime Minister of the Republic signed a peace agreement. This would not have ended.
The war thus marked the beginning of decades of violent crackdowns and repressive measures by the police. In 1984, security forces reportedly gathered 5,000 men of the Somali Degodia clan onto the airstrip at Wagalla, Wajir opened fire on them, and then attempted to hide their bodies. The Government of Kenya never admitted responsibility of the massacre until 2000 adding that the people killed were 350. The Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission however said it was difficult to ascertain the numbers.
Secessionist movements have been there in East Africa for years. Eritrea and South Sudan successful managed to curve out of what I would term as forced marriages with Sudan and Ethiopia respectively. Somaliland has structured itself as an autonomous state separate from the larger Somali even though international community has been somewhat unwilling to recognize it. The Mombasa Republican Council also known as MRC have advanced in the past, the idea that Coastal region wants to secede from Kenya and although they might have been put off, you never know when the volcano will erupt. Zanzibar a semi-autonomous island in Tanzania has had the ambition of serving the mainland with divorce papers after 52 years of marriage.
The principle and fundamental right to self-determination may threaten the existence of Uganda as a State and maybe it is time for the State to come to a consensus with the cultural institution and give them an alternative to independence in the form of Federalism. Some would even say devolution would be a good experiment. Hard-line nationalists however will fight any proponent and proposal of such governance system. Their answer to such will be abolishment of the Kingdoms. Ladies and gentlemen, is Charles Mumbere, the last King of Rwenzururu?
BY FELIX OMBURA
This article appears in our weekly digital law magazine, The Deuteronomy, Vol 9, Issue 1 of December 2nd, 2016
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