21 January 2013

Uganda: Thoughts From the Hills of Kisoro


The festive season took the usually sleepy Kisoro by storm. There was reason for this.

The Banyakigezi had their annual convention here. Villagers thronged the town just to catch a glimpse of what they usually see during politicking season, when aspiring leaders are seeking for people's votes.

There was also the Mountain gorilla marathon that had attractions of the likes of Dorcus Inzikuru. The runners were from all walks of life. Some wore trousers while others were draped in the not-so-usual clothes that make women in this part of the country rather unique. As they panted along the streets of Kisoro, one was inclined to believe they actually knew what they were exactly running for.

For many, like this trader called Jack, they just joined-in for fun. Jack's friends had apparently challenged him, doubting he could even catch a chicken. To prove them wrong, he joined the marathon. For the organizers, it made sense. The mountain gorilla is indisputably one of the few things that bring tourists to these parts.

But even those who came to Kisoro out of curiosity, were smitten. There was this brother from northern Uganda who asked me whether he could get a small piece of land here to build his retirement home. I asked him why. "I haven't been to any beautiful place like this; it must be Uganda's best kept secret."

He went on to ask: "That road from Kabale; who constructed it?" Little did he know that the fight for the tarmacking of this road was the bravest fight the people in this district had ever fought. Forget the fact that the villagers here have stolen all the reflective panels that would help motorists wind their way through this treacherous road at night. Apparently, they use the reflectors to decorate their boda bodas and repair their saucepans.

As the convention and the accompanying exhibition were underway, I marvelled at one of the exhibiters. They had brought a tractor to convince the people of Kisoro to switch to mechanized agriculture. Cultivate land in Kisoro using a tractor? Where would one use it?

Most of the land is but mountain.

The lower lands are mainly rocky; so, where would one use a tractor? Maybe since this Banyakigezi convention was also about the districts of Kanungu, Rukungiri and Kabale, these may have some flat areas where a tractor would come in handy. The 'tractors' of Kisoro are actually humans. Had these exhibitors brought hoes, pangas and axes instead, they would have made a point.

I also realized there was the politics of tribal affiliation. Way back, before Kisoro was carved from Kabale, people from Kisoro always felt the bigger brothers from Kabale gave them a raw deal. The taxes paid by the people of Kisoro would first be moved to Kabale before a small portion was given back to Kisoro. The Bakiga referred to Bafumbira as 'aba Japan'; loosely meaning they were from Rwanda. The Bakiga believed Japan had shares in the tiny country called Rwanda. All vehicles passing through Kabale en-route to Kigali had the words 'imported from Japan' imprinted on them, and inevitably the Bakiga thought Rwandans must be related to the Japanese!

I remember when I joined senior one, the first person to tease me asked where I came from. When I mentioned Kisoro, he retorted "Ori Akajapani" (You are a Japanese)! And what does the International Community of Banyakigezi (ICOB) mean, politically? You see, bringing together Kisoro, Kanungu, Rukungiri, Kabale and all its people, including those in the diaspora, was always going to make some people nervous.

I am made to believe that these are some of the most hardworking and stubborn people in Uganda, maybe only comparable to people in Bushenyi. They are also some of the most vocal politicians in this country. Time and again, even when they subscribe to the ruling party, politicians hailing from this region have stood their ground, the latest being Dr Chris Baryomunsi from Kanungu who has stuck to his position on the cause of the death of Cerinah Nebanda, the woman MP for Butaleja.

In the past, there were others like Henry Banyenzaki, although he was later silenced by a ministerial appointment. The only other means of keeping this group at bay would be if, the Banyankore (Bushenyi, Ibanda, Kiruhura, Ntungamo, etc) also formed their own grouping. It might also be intriguing if, say the Basoga grouped with the Baganda, the Iteso with the Jopadhola, the Acholi with the Langi, etc.

That way having these regional blocks might as well helps us forget about the small districts that were created for political expediency. We might indeed also one of these days demand for the king of Kigezi and we are not short of potential candidates. Dr Kizza Besigye and Amama Mbabazi come to mind. Can you imagine if one of them was the King of Kigezi?

The author is a human rights expert and specialist on refugee issues.

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