5 December 2016

Uganda: King Wesley Mumbere

Photo: The Independent
King Mumbere soon after he was arrested.

On Nov. 14, two police officers on guard at Queen Elizabeth National Park in Kasese district were attacked and killed by unknown assailants who grabbed their two guns and disappeared.

This was just two days after Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga visited the district and launched the Rwenzori Peace Symposium organised by Nyabaghole Agnes Ithungu, the wife of Rwenzururu King Charles Wesley Mumbere.

About two weeks later, on Saturday Nov. 26, officers of several Uganda security forces stormed the office of Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu in Kasese town in a show of force. Eight obusinga guards were shot and killed on spot. They arrested two female guards from this office. The killing left a bitter taste among the Bakonzo subjects of the Omusinga of Rwenzururu Charles W. Mumbere people.

The Saturday attack found the people in Maliba subcounty in the market. According to an eyewitness, on hearing the news of the killing of eight guards, an angry mob hunted down a policeman who was in the vicinity. They cornered him and slit his throat. At Maliba alone two policemen were killed. This could have inspired the rage of the security personnel as it happened on Sunday.

Top security bosses in Kampala had sent a message to Mumbere to surrender his guards. The police and army accused them of attacking their installation and planning a secessionist insurrection. But Mumbere refused to hand over his men.

The next day, Nov. 27, President Yoweri Museveni gave Omusinga of Rwenzururu Charles W. Mumbere, a final ultimatum: Surrender you guards and their 'weapons'in two hours or face the consquences.

The two hours ended and Mumbere and his group were still holed up in the palace in Kasese town.

There are conflicting reports here. One version is that they were negotiating safe passage with the Deputy RDC Kasese, Justine Muhindo, who represented the government side. The government view is that they defied the presidential ultimatum.

According to Atkins Katusabe, Bukonzo West MP, who was part of the people negotiating the safe exit of the guards, at exactly 1:01pm, a minute after the President's ultimatum reportedly expired and when the local leaders were still negotiating for an extension, the army and police descended on the palace with armoured troop carriers called mambas, bombs, and indiscriminate shooting.

Katusabe and other political leaders from Kasese district were reportedly inside the Palace in a meeting with the king, Charles Wesley Mumbere negotiating for peaceful resolution of the conflict when the attack occurred.

Narrating the ordeal, Katusabe said while in the meeting, he was constantly in touch with the UPDF operations Commander Brig. Brig Peter Elweru and other army officers.

"During the meeting, we were informed that the President had given the King an ultimatum of only two hours to surrender the royal guards. We immediately discussed that and after a few minutes the King agreed. However, he requested that they should be given safe passage and protected because at this time, the whole Palace was surrounded by soldiers," he said.

Katusabe insists all the guards were waiting for government trucks to evacuate them.

"They were unarmed and innocent. The soldiers immediately ordered us out as the shooting continued everywhere. They wanted us to leave the Obusinga prime minister behind but I insisted that we either go with him or we all die. They accepted and that is how we survived," Katusabe said.

By end of the attack on the palace, an estimated 60 and 100 people had been killed and 139 people were arrested in connection with the clashes. Sources only one guard of the Omusinga survived. He hid in the ceiling.

Three days later, on Nov.30, Omusinga Mumbere was arraigned in Jinja Magistrates Court and charged with one count of murder of police constable Godfrey Kasimba. The king and others at large allegedly committed the offence on March 24, 2016. Mumbere was remanded to Kirinya Prison, also in Jinja. He becomes the first reigning king in post-independent Uganda to be locked up in prison. The killings in Kasese and the arrest and jailing of the king have sparked questions about whether he is a victim or villain. A sample of public opinion shows strong emotions on each side and little reason.

Many point at the fact that up to this point, Mumbere and Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu have been playing a dangerous game of poke my eye and I poke yours.

When the government proposed to break up Kasese district into smaller districts, Mumbere and acolytes opposed it. They saw it as a ploy to weaken their cultural institution.

But, according to some observers, the Rubicon appears to have been crossed when once again Kasese voted overwhelmingly against President Museveni and candidates of his NRM party. For the first time in 30 year, prominent son-of-the soil Crispus Kiyonga, who had been a minister and member of Museveni's inner circle, was trounced. Then Mumbere appeared before cameras enjoying a cordial moment with Museveni's nemesis, opposition leader Kizza Besigye of the FDC.

Another mistake was creation of royal guards. All cultural leaders in Uganda have a semblance of personal traditional guards as part of their entourage. The guards are volunteers who earn no salaries. But they go about their duties in very determined fashion. They refuse to accept a merely ceremonial function. With their sticks and batons,bows, arrows and machetes, they marched around like a real army. King Mumbere also appeared to encourage them when they rejected government provided guards from the national army and police. Images of the guards disarming the regional police commander and a UPDF colonel, who were entering the palace, left the government side feeling humiliated.

In March, the guards clashed with the government soldiers from guarding Omusinga (king). About 10 people were killed.

The Uganda security began accusing the guards of attacking police and military installations.

The government ordered Mumbere to disband the guards and nine only to perform some of the traditional rites and cook for him. But he did not act.

But why accuse Mumbere now?

The NRM government and its security services have in the past tried to link Mumbere to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) when they became active in the Rwenzori region in 1998. At the time, the Omusinga was living in the USA and his failure to return was a big political issue in Kasese.

The Inspector General of Police, Kale Kayihura, said the Obusinga group attacking security posts is called "Sikiryamuba" (loosely translated as "cowards never die") and "Kilhumira Muthima" (the one who is strong-hearted).

But Mumbere and other leaders in Obusinga have always denied these allegations and offered to cooperate with government to resolve the crisis.

Winnie Kiiza, the Leader of Opposition in parliament and Kasese district women MP condemned the killings in the region calling on government to arrest the suspects and arraign them in courts of law.

"The people who are being shot dead are suspects. The law requires that you take them to court not killing in coldblood," she said, adding that "people of Rwenzori should remain calm as this issue is resolved through dialogue."

What people say?

"My suspicion is that the tragic events in Kasese are the consequences of an attempt to discredit the Kingdom of Rwenzururu and to frame its popular King, Charles Wesley Mumbere," says Tom Stacey, a British author who has known the Bakonzo of Rwenzururu (Rwenzori) intimately for 62 years.

'I spent a week in Kasese last month, meeting people at all levels from Omusinga Charles Mumbere downwards. There was not whiff or whisper of any intension or plot to conjure a cross-border political entity among the Bayira people, who comprise the collective ethnic identity both sides of the Uganda's border with Congo.

'There has always been a recognition of the cultural and ethnic affinity of the Bayira, a reality welcomed by the Presidents of both Uganda and Congo.'

Stacey was attending the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Omusinga Charles' tribal coronation, aged 14, in 1966. Stacey was a fellow champion of the self-determination of the mountain people, Uganda-side, with King Charles' father, Isaya Mukirane, the first King of the cultural dynasty, from 1954 when the Bakonzo people were headed for permanent marginalisation and cultural extinction.

'Attempts to frustrate or discredit the establishment of Rwenzururu's kingdomhood by violence manipulated and groundlessly generated by hidden opponents with their own agenda have occurred before.'


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