Uganda: Residents Clash With Police Over Delayed Imbalu Launch

A section of leaders of Bamasaba Cultural Institution and residents of Mbale District have protested over the delayed launch of this year's Imbalu ritual, which is held every even year.

During the protest, which was attended by hundreds of Bamasaba at Mutoto Cultural Site in Mbale City on Friday, five candidates were reportedly circumcised in order to express their anger.

Mutoto cultural ground is believed to be the place where the first Mugisu (Mumasaba) was circumcised.

The angry residents led by the deputy minister in-charge of Mutoto development in the institution, Mr Emma Watundu, said the launch is supposed to take place in August but their leaders seem not to be bothered.

Police were later alerted. Upon arrival at the scene, armed police officers were pelted with stones, forcing them to use teargas to disperse the crowd.

Mr Watundu and 15 others were arrested on allegations of defying the presidential directives on Covid-19.

The Elgon regional police spokesperson, Mr Rogers Taitika, said: "The locals had gathered in large numbers at the site to launch the Imbalu festival despite the current ban on public gatherings."

The Mbale Resident District Commissioner of Mbale, Mr Sulaiman Baraza Ogajjo, said government had allowed people to hold scientific circumcision without crowding.

"Running up and down, dancing kadodi is completely not allowed, they should be circumcised within their families with few relatives to witness the cutting of their boys," he said.

Some cultural leaders said circumcision will take place this month but in line with standard operating procedures issued by the Ministry of Health as part of the preventive measures to control the spread of coronavirus.

According to some leaders, each family with a candidate to be initiated into manhood will conduct the rituals in its courtyard without kadodi dance and crowding.

Daily Monitor has also learnt that the official launch will be conducted at the Mutoto cultural ground at an unspecified date but with a selected people led by the traditionalists, who will be guided by gods of Bamasaba.

The cultural leader, Sir Bob Mushikori, will be in attendance and all 26 clans found in Bugisu will be represented.

During the rituals, sacrifices will be carried out in one of the huts, which shelters the gods and, thereafter, one of the candidates will be circumcised to symbolise the official launch of the ceremony.

Mr Mathias Nabutele, the deputy prime minister of the Bamasaba Cultural Institution, said they have decided to zero down on a scientific circumcision.

"For about 100 years, we have been cherishing our ritual the way our ancestors fostered it to us but this will not be possible this year," Mr Nabutele said.

"We have, therefore, proposed that our people carry out family or hospital circumcision without crowding," he added. We have aslo learnt that leaders have for the past two weeks been buried in numerous meetings after locals in different clans had gone on rampage to launch ceremonies in their respective areas without guidance from the cultural institution.

The residents had also given the Inzu-Ya-Masaaba leadership one week to come up with guidelines on how they would proceed with their rituals.

The chairperson of Imbalu, Mr Moses Kutoyi, said having a scientific Imbalu is the only solution to avoid cancelling the ritual.

"In 1917 and 1919, elders sat and agreed to call off the celebrations due to famine and a strange disease that broke out," he said.

Mr John Musila, the chairperson of Manafwa District, said it is appropriate the Imbalu takes place scientifically. "We can go ahead to circumcise but under strict restrictions so that we stop the spread of coronavirus," he said.

However, Mr John Wambette, a resident of Mirembe Cell in Mbale, said circumcision is more than mere cutting of the foreskin of the penis.

"This coronavirus is just another blow to our tradition but nonetheless, we welcome the proposal of holding a scientific imbalu," he said.

Mr Titus Mwenyi, a resident of Bungonkho Sub-county in Mbale, said government should sensitise traditional surgeons.

"There is need for sensitisation because some of the surgeons and people are still opposed to a scientific Imbalu," he said.

Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the spokesperson at the Ministry of Health, said all events that bring gatherings have been suspended.

"They should do it in line with standard operating procedures of health guidelines," he said.

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