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Special Reports

Inside Story: The Rise and Fall of Mumbere

Rwenzururu King, Omusinga Mumbere was arrested on Sunday

The Bakonzo were historically considered as part of the greater and resilient Tooro Kingdom.

The current Rwenzururu King Wesley Mumbere’s father Isaiah Mukirane was actually an official in the Omukama of Tooro’s court.

Together with Kawamara, seek http://cotro.com/wp-content/plugins/fusion-builder/shortcodes/fusion-user-login.php the father of the new cultural leader of the Bamba and Petero Mupalya who died recently, http://curaacufeni.com/wp-includes/class-wp-user.php started the Rwenzururu Movement in 1962 against perceived mistreatment of the Bakonzo by the Batooro.

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It will be recalled that Tooro was at the time being backed by the power of the central state.

The Bakonzo said at the time that Batooro were holding all the key governmental posts and senior chieftainships, herein neglecting all involvement from the Bakonzo in the political system.

The Bakonzo and Baamba believed they were treated as second-class citizens, who were neglected in educational and economic opportunities and were referred to in derogatory terms as ‘unclean’.

Upon storming out of the Tooro Parliament also known as Rukurato, Mukirane and Mupalya were eventually detained at Luzira prison.

On release, Mukirane went to Rwenzori Mountains from where, with the blessing of a few chiefs, declared himself King of Rwenzururu.

Mukirane’s rebellion became known as the ‘Rwenzururu’ rebellion.

Since he was illiterate he couldn’t frame objectives for his rebellion that addressed social and economic conditions of the Bakonzo.

Further still he could not conceive of larger national political objectives such as joining other anti-Obote and anti-Amin forces to liberate the entire country.

Many believe he was bigoted like any other peasant and that he thought the greatest thing in the world was to become another ‘King’ like the Omukama of Tooro.

Due to Mukirane’s peasant world view, he never did much to provide education to his son     Mumbere.

Mukirane, eventually, died in Rwenzori Mountains and left his young son Mumbere.

Mumbere became ‘Omusinga’ at the age of 13 in 1966.

The rise of Omusinga

The Rwenzururus were able to survive for a long time because essentially Uganda did not have an army.

At Independence in 1962, Uganda only had 1 battalion (about 700 men) to guard the entire country.

So it was easy for someone to start a rebellion and remain untouched for years because the means to confront these challenges to the state simply did not exist.

Unlike other enlightened forces, Mukirane left behind a few ill disciplined, superstitious militants who kept on terrorising the very Bakonzo he was supposed fight for.

At the age of 13, Mumbere lived with this rag-tag militia in the Rwenzori Mountains.

Compared to sophisticated and organized groups including Buganda and Tooro, the Rwenzururus were essentially bandits – imposing heavy taxes on the Bakonzo, raping women, robbing and killing them.

Mumbere stayed in the mountains with his Rwenzururus until 1984 when the master of political games Dr Milton Obote bribed him to get out of the mountains with a promise of education in the United States.

Earlier, President Obote had failed to win the heart of Mumbere before being overthrow by Idi Amin.

Even Amin struggled to maintain peace in Rwenzori. All he did was respond to moderates’ requests by granting the Baamba and Bakonzo a separate district each. The Semliki (now Bundibugyo) and Rwenzori (now Kasese) districts were given to the Bamba and Bakonjo respectively.

When Obote returned to power in 1980, he decided to lure Mumbere from the mountains.

He convinced Mumbere to resign as ‘king’, in return for promises of development funds for social welfare and education; as well as material incentives including a bus, a car, a pickup truck, two shops, a residential house, and a government scholarship for study abroad, which was to materialize in the US.

But Obote being Obote breaks the promise he made to fund Mumbere’s education in the U.S. as soon as the 30-year old Mumbere gets there.

So Mumbere was forced to seek political asylum in the U.S. and start working as a nurse’s assistant in an old people’s home in Pennsylvania U.S.

That is what he was doing for 25 years in the U.S. until this government called him back and rehabilitated him. That was in 2009.

Meeting Museveni

Museveni recounted meeting Mumbere:

“When Mr. Mumbere came to see me, he wanted to be the King of the Rwenzururu.  I told him that the Rwenzururu had been a Political Movement for equality.  Why did he want to turn a political resistance movement into a monarchy?” wondered Museveni in a recent article.

“His group, however, kept on insisting on the issue of monarchy although there was a big group in Kasese that also opposed the idea.   Eventually, in order to create harmony, we withdrew objections to Mr. Mumbere becoming Omusinga especially after people like Dr. Kiyonga and a large group of people, who were opposed to the idea of monarchy, withdrew their objection.”

However, the Bamba leaders of Bundibugyo were totally opposed to the idea of the monarchy.

In agreeing to Mr Mumbere being Omusinga, government agreed that that cultural institution should operate in Kasese.

Those of Bundibugyo and other areas that were interested in the Obusinga could go to Kasese.

Museveni said even within Kasese, there are other indigenous groups that did not support these ideas.

“These are the Basongora, Banyabindi and Bagabo.  We encouraged HH Omusinga to have dialogue with these groups.  I do not know how far that dialogue has gone.  I have, however, been hearing of some chauvinistic positions from some of those who claim to be supporting Obusinga.  They seem to insist that the Omusinga, apart from the Omukama of Tooro in his area, should be the only cultural leader in the Rwenzori region.  Yet, there are other ethnic groups in the Rwenzori region: Bamba, Basongora, Banyabindi, etc.  They have different ideas about this issue and have, in several meetings with me, made this categorically clear.”

However, such agitation for the recognition of Rwenzururu was curtailed by persistent allegations of Mumbere’s and his Rwenzururians’ involvement in rebellions fighting the Museveni government – NALU (1989-1993) and ADF from 1996.

In August 1998, operating on Congo-side, the UPDF overran an ADF encampment and captured documents associating Charles with the rebellion.

The Rwenzururu

According to Arthur Syahuka-Muhindo, the author of Movement and the Struggle for the Rwenzururu Kingdom in Uganda, the documents comprised letters indicating Charles Mumbere’s acceptance of titular leadership of NALU following the assassination of Amon Bazira in Kenya in 1993

For a long time, government lived with the reality of the Rwenzururus being rebels.

“It would be like calling back Kony from Central African Republic and then making him ‘king’ of the LRA in Acholi. It’s the same thing. That’s why people like Crispus Kiyonga were so opposed to the whole idea when it was being proposed in the years leading up to 2009. It turns out he was right,” recalled a source in government.

The 2014 attacks on military facilities by ‘Kirumira Mutima’ militia confirmed this widely held perception about the Rwenzururu.

Role of opposition

The 2016 presidential elections gave the Rwenzori crisis a new twist.

Mumbere openly campaigned for the opposition FDC, a move that unsettled President Museveni.

The King, who is constitutionally barred from engaging in partisan politics, maintained his call for a “peaceful transition of power” and “fundamental change of the political system.”

This message was reechoed by Mumbere’s close associates throughout the campaign – leading to a shocking defeat of NRM in Kasese District. Most elective positions were taken by FDC.

Sources in government say they have been investigating FDC’s role in the conflict.

“Having failed to make much headway with the LRA in 2003 through James Opoka after Kony butchered all the ‘cadres’ that Besigye had sent him; they tried to launch a rebel group in DRC called PRA but the late Mayombo thoroughly infiltrated and then dismantled this group,” said a source.

FDC deny allegations of using arms to fight the government. They insist power will be taken without resorting to war.

But government takes this argument with a pinch of salt.

“Now the plan by Besigye, Mugisha Muntu and Ingrid Turinawe was to use Mumbere and the Rwenzururus to create an NRM free zone (a ‘liberated zone’ in their terminology) first politically and then militarily in Kasese,” said a senior state official.

“Using the institution of the ‘Omusinga’ people were threatened, bullied, beaten even killed to vote only FDC in Kasese and Bundibugyo. The people doing all this threatening, bullying, beating and killing were Mumbere’s illegal militia sometimes called ‘Kirumira Mutima’ or ‘Esyamango’ or ‘Royal Guards’,” said an official who preferred anonymity to speak freely.

The MPs led by Opposition Whip, Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda yesterday said the crisis was due to the actions of the State.

“The government should account for all the deaths that occurred on both sides of the conflict and the civilians. We are seeing different figures being mentioned by different media houses and other bodies floating on the lakes. All should be established and accounted for,” Ssemujju said during a press briefing at Parliament on Monday.

“Postmortem should be carried out on each and every single body to determine what kind of weapons were used.”

Officials said FDC MPs’ swift reaction to defend the Rwenzururu underscores the strong ties between the political group and the cultural institution.

ICT Minister Frank Tumwebaze said “Some opposition leaders are willing to take advantage of this rebellion,” adding, “we have seen some already and we shall not allow them.”

Defence officials said Mumbere and his adherents will not be allowed to wreak havoc in Rwenzori.

“It doesn’t matter what they are called, they are all an illegal militia that answers to Mumbere and have been causing all this chaos. These are the characters that have killed soldiers, police and civilians. These are the people UPDF fought the other day at the palace.”

Mumbere is detained at the police’s special operations base at Nalufenya, Jinja where he awaits prosecution on charges related to terrorism, murder and treason.

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