Uganda should investigate and carefully handle Kibaale Bunyoro bafuruki issue

This was first published in August 2009 as a comment on this article

I’m very disappointed at how many people (led by journalists and editors) are taking this Banyoro-Bafuruki issue. First, the derogation added to the word Mufuruki or Bafuruki is very regrettable. You and me know that Mufuruki or Bafuruki is a simple word used to refer to someone who has shifted or migrated. Even if you shift from one part of your one acre land to another part of the same land, you “Kufuruka”. The same is used to refer to you leaving that Muzigo in Katwe and going to stay in another house in Kamwokya. Kufuruka simply means shifting or migrating. So in that sense, we are all Bafuruki. The derogatory way the word is being used in unwarranted and unfortunate.

But there is a big problem in Kibaale/Bunyoro that needs to be addressed. First, even if we were to look at Bafuruki to mean people who came to Bunyoro from outside Bunyoro, there are many other Bafuruki from other tribes other than Bakiga. This reference to Bakiga as Bafuruki is therefore inappropriate and used to fulfill selfish intentions by those who call themselves as such.

President Yoweri Museveni addressing a press conference

President Yoweri Museveni addressing a press conference

I should for the record state that I’m a proud Munyoro from Kibaale. I have lived, studied and worked with Bakiga and other settlers in Kibaale. I have also reported widely on these issues and conflicts as a journalist over the years, until I stopped in 2002 because of the organised (and almost irreconcilable) tribal trends the Banyoro-Bakiga issue took. I recognize the traditional concerns of Banyoro and Bakiga’s past concerns of marginalization in Kibaale (as stated in their memorandum to President Museveni).

But the main problem (though symptomatic) in Kibaale and increasingly in many parts of Bunyoro is one of tribal voting (tribe based politics) by the Bakiga which Ugandans need to look at with open minds. People in Bunyoro might have overlooked the massive immigration by the Bakiga into the area (despite the historical land problems) had it not been for the obvious tribal voting trend. Wherever you come from, the issue of voting people on the basis of tribe is completely unacceptable.

There is a verifiable trend showing that Bakiga in areas they settle in, once they become majority vote for only Bakiga. It has been starting from LC1, LC3 chairpersons and councilors, MP constituencies etc. In other words, Bakiga have failed to get integrated in areas they move to. You might want to remember that politics or voting in Kabale has always been sectarian, based on religion. Politics in Kabale has for long been a struggle between Catholics and Protestants. Now this sectarian politics is being exported to other areas, and has to be checked. But before you demonize or victimize the Bakiga for this trend, you need to look at what is happening elsewhere say in Kibanda county of Masindi district. The MP for that area (Otada Amooti) comes from a dominant tribe that is not indigenous. Just like Sam Kutesa and Hanifa Kawooya are from the dominant tribe groupings in their respective constituents, though the area is of Buganda.

The point is that you are looking at a situation where people for one reason or another move into another area, become the majority and start voting only their tribes people. In the case of Bunyoro, do you expect people there to accept to be ruled by Bakiga voting on tribal basis for their own tribal interests? If for some reason the Bakiga find themselves in a situation (marginalized as they claim) where they have to vote one of their own, what do you expect them to do? These are political questions we need to look at as a country and address. If people of one tribe move massively into another area and start (as is happening Bunyoro) voting as one block of immigrants (one tribe), taking over most or all political positions, what do you expect the indigenous people in the area to do? What should a Munyoro faced with the prospect of never winning a political office because the Bakiga only vote Bakiga do? And is any Munyoro going to accept this situation? No. Is any Ugandan going to accept this situation where the right to be elected is cancelled by your minority status as a tribe? No. Even those who can tolerate this situation at a national level, they can not accept this situation to partake in their areas of origin because our indigenous areas are our real homes (in African speak. Even black Americans still say Africa is their home).

Given this situations, how do we move from here. The President has suggested many good solutions, but I too a Munyoro do not agree with the proposal of ring fencing some political positions to indigenous people. This is denying people a right to be voted on tribal basis, which is the same problem pertaining–only that this time it will be the Bakiga and other immigrants that will be disadvantaged unlike the current situation where the indigenous Banyoro are disadvantaged.

Apart from the gross unfairness to none indigenous tribes, ring fencing political positions will create a situation where the immigrants will after the proposed 20 years feel a justice to continue dominating the political space in Kibaale/ Bunyoro or any other area where this policy is implemented. In simple political mathematics, this means the indigenous should have their 20 years of undisputed political leadership and handover after 20 years to the immigrant majority as the immigrants seek to get and retain power.

The major ingredient of the solution as also proposed by the President is to undertake civic education amongst all Ugandans to desist from tribal and other sectarian tendencies. In relation to the problem at hand, there is need to sensitize the Bakiga and any other immigrants to desist from tribal voting and other tribal tendencies in areas they migrate to if Ugandans are to continue to welcome Ugandans from other areas. The indigenous should also be sensitized to desist from tribal tendencies against immigrants.

But as the president said, “Genuine national integration must include scrupulous respect of everybody’s rights to the land of their heritage, politics, and culture”. First, there must be a recognition of the superior right of indigenous people in any area to determine the affairs of the area. There is a simple logic of knowing that Uganda is a collection of many peoples (tribes) that some commentators seem to negate when arguing on rights of Ugandans to move and be voted in any part of the country. Every indigenous person enjoys natural rights in his or her area and other civil rights (those given by the constitution). But these rights which are also enjoyed by other Ugandans are less superior as recognized in Constitutional articles providing for the right of any Ugandan to move settle and stand for any political office. The articles require following the norms and respecting the way of the people where one moves to.

We should therefore refine the constitution to limit the rights of voting and being voted by immigrants, by putting a time frame. For example the law could provide that no one will have a right to vote in an area (sub country) in which he or she has not lived for the past three or two years. In the same vein, the law could provide that no one shall have a right to stand and be voted on political positions in an area unless he or she has been the specific area for the past 20 or 10 years (any number). This would allow the process of natural integration and sensitization suggested above (and by the president) to take place. Remember that part of the complaints by people in Kibaale/ Bunyoro is that the Bakiga have a tendency to come from other parts of the country and vote for their relatives or tribesmen in Kibaale (Banyabuzaale). Actually, in some areas it is difficult to know who stays in Kibaale, Kamwenge, Kisoro or Kabale. The time limitation to enjoy political rights in a place is a widely espoused principle in many constitutions worldwide. You can not become a US President unless you were born there. Whether you moved to the US when you are two years and you are now 65, you don’t qualify? That is why some people in the US are still trying to look for evidence that Barrack Obama was not born in the US.

In relation to Kibaale (which makes this problem and situation quite unique), the land issue should be cleared by paying off absentee landlords and giving back the land to people who were on any particular land by 1983, the period required by the constitution to guarantee bonafide occupancy (12 years before the coming into force of the 1995 Constitution). The indigenous people and any other migrants who will have occupied or customarily owned land by 1983 should be helped to get land titles. Those who came later should be asked to explain where and how they came on land they occupy, and given an opportunity to apply for leases from the district or kingdom (whoever of the two will have been given the other land that had not been occupied by 1983). But this opportunity to apply for such land should be open to all people in the country, including the indigenous Banyoro. This will solve the unrealistic proposal of titles being given to only indigenous Banyoro, since some of the Banyoro might have sold to Bakiga.

The people occupying forest reserves would be evicted without any compensation The Kiyonga and Ruth Mukama Commission have long made this recommendation. One of the major concerns of Banyoro is that since the colonial government gazzetted almost 54percent of the land in Bunyoro as forest reserves, immigrants have taken advantage to occupy the reserves. Everyone should be able to explain how they came to be where they are now and if they lawfully occupied where they are, they should be helped to get title.

The ban on selling land for 20 years is very welcome idea, and I’m surprised that the Bakiga (who in their memorandum tactfully call themselves Non Banyoro Community) would oppose the imposition of a ban on land they do not own or have never owned. The ban is important to protect unwarranted land selling that might make the return of land none empowering to the people that get this long awaited land ownership, as well as the possible uneconomic immigration that might result from people getting land only to sell.

REMEMBER all solutions need to be viewed in the historical realities of Bunyoro especially Kibaale. The British massively killed many of the Banyoro for their resistance and took away most parts of the kingdom’s land as forest reserves or (in Kibaale) given to Baganda collaborators. People there have been advocating for the return of their land since 1918. Despite the results of the 1964 referendum, the land was not returned to the Banyoro. Up to this day, people are still waiting for the land to be returned. Imagine that level of patience and trust in the authorities! But while the waiting has been going on, many immigrants have poured into and occupied most of this contested land. There is also an argument of the absence of willing seller, willing buyer situation in Kibaale where the privately owned land (mailo) belongs to absentee Baganda landlords. The current land law is very clear that no tenant can sell any land without the approval of the landlord, which means any claims that one migrated and bought land in Kibaale has legal loopholes and should not be over relied on.

Also, it should be remembered that not all immigration into Kibaale have been of voluntary individual (or families) into the area. There have been two resettlement schemes (Rutete in 1968 and Kisita in 1992), which brought more than 5,000 Bakiga families into one district, leave alone the district already having its own historical issues. The latter had been evicted (and compensated) from Mpokya forest reserve in Kabarole district, while the former was to do some depopulation in Kabale. It is these two resettlement schemes (each in a whole sub-country) that Museveni wants to be considered Bakiga constituencies. Remember, some hardliner Banyoro are against anything granting any piece of land or any rights to Bakiga as a group. Many Bakiga came to Kibaale as seekers of refuge or people seeking to work (as hard labourers) and many are still there as such. That is why talk of Bakiga as a hardworking group, a group that is very prosperous (and envied by Banyoro) is as empty as it is riling. This unfortunate view of Bakiga as harbingers of development in Bunyoro and people being envied for their success is just increasing detestation of the Bakiga.

Therefore, as we seek solutions, let us avoid this labeling of people as unfriendly to other tribes etc as it further incites them against immigrants. Also, let us understand the constitution and the spirit of the provision and other democracy principles. For example when article one says power belonging to the people… it does not mean that power in Apac (or any other area for that matter) belongs to the all other Ugandans. All Ugandans beginning from their most basic level of the family have equal inalienable natural rights as a people. Therefore when you go to people in any area, you find them with natural rights and rights given by the constitution that you cannot claim on equal terms. Also, by basing on majority to determine the winner in a democratic dispensation, it does not mean that a tribal majority giving you a victory means your election is democratic. It isn’t since it misses the democratic ingredients of free will based on informed choices. We should be cautious not to build a country based on fallacies which enable one tribe to continue electing itself in power, perpetuate itself in all spheres, etc. Just like Ugandans should stop thinking that being Ugandan means you have an equal right to determine issues in every area. We need to understand these principles clearly and then be able to chart a sustainable way forward. Any attempt to think you as an immigrant will force yourself on the people and community because you are a Ugandan in not sustainable.

This does not mean we forget the concerns raised by Bakiga (referring to themselves as None Banyoro Community). They should also never be sidelined on tribal basis at any level unless the democratic principles have obvious impurities as in the present case. Like someone asked recently, where is this trend in Kibaale witnessed anywhere in other parts of the country. How many Banyoro, Baganda, Alur or Basoga are occupying even LC1 positions in Kabale, the cradle land of the Bakiga? How about the clear trend showing that the areas where Bakiga are majority are led only by Bakiga, including sub-counties and counties (i.e. Buyaga and Bugangaizi)? This is not rocket science and can be seen by the barest of eyes. And the unhealthy trend is going to continue unless it is checked.

There are enough examples in Kamwenge, being almost replicated in Kyenjojo and Kibaale. It is good the highest office in the country has taken time to appreciate these issues and takes them seriously. What we need to see is real action to redress the situation in ways that will ensure peace and harmony as well as more appreciation of each other.

I appeal to my brothers the Bakiga to learn to be more humble given their situation. They have gained a lot of sympathy because many Ugandans do not understand and appreciate the real situation and issues. But as more Ugandans understand and reflect on the issues, the Bakiga might wrongly be viewed as a bad tribe just because some few selfish people keep organizing them to do everything as a tribe.

Gerald Businge

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