Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Rwenzori Attacks: Mumbere remanded, Bwesumbu killings

Rwenzururu king (Omusinga) Charles Mumbere Iremangoma has been remanded to Luzira Prison until December 28, 2016. Mumbere was arrested on November 27, 2016 following a raid on his palace in Kasese by Uganda security forces. This was after Mumbere allegedly defied a presidential order to disband traditional royal guards.

The story most people are hearing and talking about is that of November 27 when the palace of Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu was raided and tens of suspected traditional guards killed by gun bullets and others by grenades. Yet a mountainous area of Bwesumbu too felt the pain of these senseless killings on November 26.

Was/is it a crime to be a royal guard? Were all royal guards criminals as it is being alleged? By the way, who are royal guards? Is there an element of indiscriminate killing? Should royal guards be killed without trial? How about the innocent civilians caught up in this? Why would locals armed with sticks, knives, machetes attack police posts? Is everyone arrested a royal guard? When will they be in court?

The build up to Omusinga Mumbere’s arrest had been epitomized in the killing of eight royal guards at the kingdom’s administrative offices in Kasese town on November 26. The news of the shooting dead of eight guards spread across the Rwenzori region and the rest of Uganda. Soon there were attacks on police posts in Maliba, Bwesumbu and other parts of Kasese district.

Administrative building of Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu where eight guards were killed.
Kyatoka trading centre in Kasese district is home to Bwesumbu subcounty head office and a police post. At 2pm on November 26, 2016 the police post was attacked by machete wielding men. The gun fire from police officers who defended themselves against the attackers caused panic in the area. A motorcycle taxi operator (boda-boda rider) and a shop keeper in this trading centre were hit by bullets. The boda rider died later in hospital and the shopkeeper is nursing gunshot wounds.

Kyatoka has a primary school and an SDA church in the vicinity. That Saturday the fight between Uganda police officers and a group of machete armed attackers found some church members praying and conducting a fundraising drive. These church goers, according to the Bwesumbu subcounty LC3 chairman, Bagenda Samson, ran away from the shootout to the next trading centre named Kamwani, which acted a refuge. 

By the time the guns and mechetes went silent at least 26 people (what the LC3 chairman calls attackers) had been killed and four police officers killed in mountainous Bwesumbu subcounty alone. The officer in charge of this police post was cut in the head and is hospitalized, says Bagenda. 

There have been reports that some church goers were killed during this shootout but Bagenda denies this. “Most of the people killed were attacking the police post. We identified them. They were residents of this subcounty. The bodies of these attackers were not taken to Kasese town morgue. Their relatives picked the bodies and buried them.”

Buhikira royal palace attacked Nov. 27
In Katebwa 1 Village a young woman who was working in the palace was killed and was quietly buried. She was not a royal guard. In the neighbouring village of Butyoka another girl who was a maid in the palace also lost her life during this attack. In the village of Kinyampanika another young man was buried and he too just like tens of others was killed during the Rwenzururu palace attack. He was a royal guard. All these three villages are in the mountainous areas of Kabarole district. 

Note that; the Bakonzo live on the slopes of Mt Rwenzori which runs through Kasese, Kabarole, Ntoroko and Bundibugyo districts. This partly explains why a security operation that began in Karangura Subcounty in Kabarole district on November 24, 2016 to flash out the suspected “Kilhumira Mutima” gang (which Uganda security forces link to Obusinga royal guards) ended up in Kasese district. 

Therefore, this violence should not be looked at as a Kasese conflict; it's a Rwenzori region issue. Secondly, there seems to be a deliberate effort to portray the picture that all people killed in recent Kasese attacks were royal guards and that the public should believe that each royal guard was a criminal. This is absurd.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, so they say.

Writing in the New Vision newspaper of December 13, 2016 (under the title: Why no one should dare attack security forces), Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) spokesman Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda said “…attacking the state is treasonable because then you are attacking the sanctity of the people and legitimate leaders of that state…There can never be a state within a state –meaning that you cannot have two armies or two police forces…what we were beginning to see in Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu was emergence of such and it had to be stopped.”

The signs of this confrontation were already visible in Rwenzori region since 2012. A community development officer in Kasese district summed up this tension as: Rivalry between Obusinga royal guards and Uganda security forces could explain the crisis in Rwenzori. The guards were recruited and somehow there was a break down in their chain of command. “At one point the guards felt they had more powers than the Uganda Police officers and they would sometimes interfere in the work of police. The elements in police could not take that. Soon clashes began.”

Moving forward, there is need to spell out what cultural institutions need to do and what they cannot do. Keep politics out the violence in Rwenzori. Guns, spears, machetes, knives, clubs, will not yield a lasting solution to violence recently witnessed in Rwenzori. Dialogue, preaching peace, mindset change among people of Rwenzori are the best options to deal with the crisis unfolding the region. Why mind set change? People are being told lots of lies about Obusinga and the central government. For instance, educate the masses about the role of cultural institutions and government, encourage people should be law abiding. Preaching peace and reconciliation begins in our families, clan meetings then community. Those in leadership positions should approach this crisis with an open mind. Respect human rights. Respect life.

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