By Enoch Mutabaazi
At one moment he wears a face of a very busy man with heavy schedules. At another, he cuts a figure of a man seemingly lost in his thoughts trying to search for answers to society’s problems. That is the impression you will get all time you spend with Atwooki Stephen Rwagwri.
A popular figure in Tooro Kingdom, Rwagweri is the Executive director of Engabu Za Tooro or Tooro Youth Platform for Action, an organization he founded during his University days in 1996. This is the organization that has organized youths from across Kabarole district to exploit their potentials and pioneer development based on people’s positive cultures and practices-the main focus of Engabu Za Tooro.
As you move in the mid western Uganda district of Kabalore, one thing you will notice is the buzzing activities of Engabu Za Tooro youths in their quest to mobilize society for income generating projects that will bring about development in the Tooro society.
From promoting entrepreneurship programs in deep villages of Tooro Kingdom to harnessing their traditional music and drama, the bicycle-transported youth perhaps represent the best hopes of a bright future in king Oyo’s kingdom.
Rwagweri says he focuses on youths because the youth are a pillar of society development because of their energy and ability to learn new ideas.
Unlike other graduates who yearn for white-collar jobs in the city after graduation, Rwagweri who graduated from Makerere University in 1998 says that he was inspired by the suffering of his community characterized by prevalent poverty and decided to join hands with the local community to seek a solution to the raging poverty.
Many families in Tooro were living without income generating activities that would ensure a better livelihood, while many youths in area had made it a custom to migrate to bigger towns like Kampala to find and engage in blue collar jobs like carrying travelers’ luggage in the bus and taxi parks of Kampala.
“I did not make any efforts to look for a job or accept an offer for a job. I believed in founding organizations or initiating programs instead of competing for existing jobs,” says Rwagweri, a former youth and cultural minister in Tooro Kingdom.
In his unpublished autobiography, Rwagweri says that he viewed poverty problems among the Batooro community as cultural attitude resulting to low levels of community response to development stimuli.
“Programs in society register very low percentages of women participation and it is all attributed to cultural prescriptions. Micro finance programs fail to succeed because the cultural indisposition do not favor entrepreneurial initiatives, savings behavior and there is quick benefit attitude,” says Rwagweri, who can rightly say he is a social worker by profession.
Rwagweri through his organization, Tooro Youth Plat Form for Action did not try to play down the society beliefs towards development. Instead he sought to cause change through the very culture by adopting positive attributes of the society’s cultural practices.
To steer his vision forward, Rwagweri adopted a popular theme of Culture and Development that embrace both the young and old. He says that although African culture is often seen as a deterrent factor to economic development, it is failure on part of those implementing projects to integrate progressive culture in development initiatives that is to blame for many people’s slow or no response to such projects.
“Through research we have been able to dissolve development strategies in people’s heritage and come up with programs that manifest people’s own cultural expression,” he told Ultimate Media in an interview.
Rwagweri says that he and Engabu Za Tooro (shields of Tooro) made heavy investment in cultural research and discovered quite many progressive attributes of Tooro culture, which they are using to inspire their development programs.
Among them is the Koogere Tradition, a cultural value attributed to the legacy of princess Koogere.
Koogere lived 1200 years ago and is greatly remembered for her leadership skills, wealth and magnanimity. Rwagweri and his organization revived the tradition in form of competitive award to inspire women to engage in development initiatives.
The Koogere award is an annual event, which attracts women from all districts that form Tooro kingdom and has resulted in more than 50 women self-help projects each year of the now three year competition.
Rwagweri’s passion and attachment to culture and understanding of his society’s problems and predicaments can also be seen in his works and thoughts in different books and research findings.
Rwagweri is the author of books like “Tooro and Her peoples past present and future”, “Tooro’s Development; people’s perception,” and “The Invasion”.
Rwagweri is so passionate about development in his kingdom that he had to abandon his childhood dream of becoming a catholic priest and embarked on another profession that would allow him to interact well with the folks.
“Initially I wanted to become a religious priest (catholic priest). Overwhelmed by miseries caused by poverty among people, I conceived an idea that people’s major problem is not absence of religion but poverty. I changed from seminary and went to the university to study developmental social work so that I can mobilize people against poverty,” says Rwagweri.
Such is a man who relinquished his prestigious ministerial post from the Kingdom sighting scrabbles beyond an individual’s capacity to influence.
“Work in this position (as a minister) was affected by internal crisis that climaxed in murder of a prince (Kijanangoma) and subsequent arrest and death sentence of my boss (John Katuramu, the then prime minister of Tooro Kingdom),” says Rwagweri.
Born at a small village called Rusekere in Kabalore district on 27th March 1968, Rwagweri grew up with his grand mother who he credits for his vision and positive outlook to life.
Rwagweri started his schooling in Bunyonyi primary school, before joining St. Mary’s seminary Virika, Makerere High school and briefly in Major seminary philosophical center in Jinja, which he abandoned to join Makerere University where he read Social Works and Social Administration.
Rwagweri is married, with a son, and that is all he will say of his family. He advises people to concentrate their energies on achieving positive social transformation in one’s society, instead of focusing on achieving individual development. “If you don’t contribute to improve the situation of people around you, it will affect you negatively some time. We need to look at all people as a resource and tap their potentials,” he says.