Dispossessing Rukungiri’s voiceless peasants is very disturbing

Some of us who grew up in conditions of extreme poverty, injustice (lack of fairness and equity), powerlessness and therefore political voicelessness were driven to study hard so that upon graduation we could help to dismantle the instruments of oppression, exploitation, marginalization, authoritarianism and dictatorship, and human rights abuses.

Our resolve was strengthened by provisions in the United Nations charter (1945) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). The United Nations Charter states in part that “We the peoples of the United Nations [are] determined to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women … and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”.

Article I of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.

When will Uganda become an independent country?

According to Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary independent means, inter alia; not dependent; not subject to the control, influence, or determination of another or others; not subordinate; not depending on another for financial support; self-commanding or self-directing; bold, unstrained and controlling or governing oneself.

After the Second World War, British colonial authorities realized that time had come to involve African participation in colonial administration and to make sure that there was an orderly transfer of power to stable, pro-British governments. The innovative policies designed by Arthur Creech Jones and Andrew Cohen in 1947 represented an attempt to anticipate the growth of nationalism and as the first steps in creating a future ‘informal’ empire. These proposed initiatives were to remain confidential. London was expected to conceal its hand and to “withhold from aspiring colonial politicians the knowledge that Britain had already decided to reward them in the future with political power” (L. J. Butler 2002).

Is Uganda’s national unity idea dead?

When the National Resistance Movement (NRM) came to power in 1986, it had a clear domestic and external policy message which was compressed into the ten-point program. It was a program that had been based on compromise with national unity in mind which became a cornerstone in Uganda’s development discourse in the early years of the NRM administration.

Earlier, the late Grace Ibingira had written about the absence of national consciousness in Uganda brought about by the retention or intensification of ethnic differences during the colonial period. He observed that “Since the colonial system kept them alive through indirect rule and the policy of minimal inter-ethnic contact, the idea of Britain bequeathing a new state uniting all the divergent groups with a government of nationalist politicians from different groups, some historically enemies, generated intense fear in the country, most especially among the group that had more to lose, the Baganda” (G. S. Ibingira 1980).

“Let us call a spade a spade”

When President Museveni announced a day of prayer for Uganda which is at a political, economic, social, ethnic and ecological crossroads, it reminded me of what a Congolese man told me when we met in Goma, eastern DRC while on a mission in the Great Lakes region at the start of 2010. He introduced himself as Bosco, a business man in Goma. He told me that Congolese have flocked to churches in search of a solution to their problems, noting that while prayer is necessary it is not a sufficient condition.

Because he attended one of the meetings we held where I introduced myself and my nationality, he spoke to me in Swahili, a common language in eastern DRC introduced by Swahili slave traders. However, realizing that I had difficulties in my responses, he quickly switched to English which he spoke fluently. Let me reconstruct what he said in order to share his views with a wider public.

Rural electrification in Rukungiri raises questions

Ronald Kalyango reported in New Vision on June 17, 2010 that government plans to provide rural electricity to Bushenyi and Rukungiri districts to boost agriculture and eradicate poverty. The reporter added that the electricity will cost money and users will be trained on how to use it efficiently. He added that installation will destroy land, crops and trees. The announcement was made by candidates running for re-election in Rukungiri district. The areas to be covered include Kyatoko, Kagunga and Kyaruyenje. These are areas that parliament voted to include in Rukungiri municipality two or so weeks ago.

In conversation with a senior official in Rukungiri Town Council a year or so ago, I was informed very clearly that once the area is incorporated into the municipality, the authority will divide it up into plots for sale to the highest bidder to generate resources with which to develop the area, meaning that peasants will have to be dispossessed.

The decision by Rukungiri district council to upgrade Rukungiri town into a municipality was taken in an emergency session without consulting the people involved. The entire Kagunga sub-county where some of the poorest people in Rukungiri district live has been incorporated into the municipality. The moment the municipality comes into force land will automatically be owned by the Municipal Council and former owners will become tenants on terms and conditions set by the municipality.

Jim Muhwezi’s claim of poverty eradication is not supported by facts

The leadership of NRM government has mustered the art of using sound bites, attractive titles and high flying concepts like poverty eradication, universal primary education, modernization of agriculture, monetary discipline, individual merit, economic metamorphosis, entandikwa and bona bagagawale, etc. These expressions raised the hopes of Ugandans who believed they would soon emerge out of medieval conditions of poor housing, poor feeding and poor dressing, etc. Government representatives have talked with confidence that Uganda will exceed the targets set in the MDGs by 2015. They even began to talk about joining the club of Asian tigers and dragons. The World Bank and IMF who used Uganda to test structural adjustment programs went along with government obsession with economic growth, per capita income and macroeconomic stability leaving the rest such as social and ecological conditions to the operation of market forces.

As a member of the inner group of NRM leadership, and using the same flattery approach, Major General (rtd) Jim Muhwezi, Member of Parliament (MP) for Rujumbura constituency in south west Uganda recently issued a statement to the effect that poverty eradication – not even reduction – is all that he does in his constituency. I responded that poverty in that constituency has actually increased during his term as MP. Someone whom I believe thought I was de-campaigning Jim Muhwezi challenged me to elaborate. And I concurred.

Open letter to Rukungiri District Councilors

Dear Councilors

When people are elected they enter into a contract or understanding to protect, defend, promote the interests of the people they represent and improve their standard of living. One of the terms of the contract is that consultations between representatives and constituents should take place regularly particularly on issues like land on which the majority depend for their livelihood.

Converting Rukungiri Township into a Municipality by incorporating rural areas has serious adverse implications. Once the municipality law enters into force in January 2011 the land affected will be owned by municipal authority and owners will automatically become tenants subject to terms and conditions set by the municipal authority.

Because most peasants are poor, they will not be able to pay land taxes and other charges or meet standards such as construction using bricks. Failure to meet municipality terms and conditions will result in tenants either selling their land at giveaway prices or their land will be confiscated for failure to meet the terms and conditions. The dispossessed families will automatically become landless. Since most peasants are totally or functionally illiterate, they will not find work elsewhere. They will become penniless as well.

The creation of Rukungiri Municipality has genocidal implications

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1948 and came into force on January 12, 1951.

Article II of the Convention states that “In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to the members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing means intended to prevent births within the group”, (Human rights. A

compilation of International Instruments, Volume I {Second Part} Unites Nations 2002)

The deliberate demarcation of the area that has been incorporated into Rukungiri Municipality targeted the ethnic group of Bairu people who form the largest group in the area. Their ancestors arrived in the area 3000 years ago. They were joined by Bahororo (Batutsi from Rwanda via the short-lived Mpororo kingdom) around 1800. The latter were militarily strong, crushed indigenous resistance and have dominated them politically, economically and socially since then against increasing resistance as Bairu begin to understand their human rights.

Under NRM leadership Uganda is moving backwards

Since Uganda became a nation in 1894, it has gone through four major development phases:

  1. The colonial phase from 1894 to October 8, 1962
  2. The UPC I phase from October 9 1962 to 1970
  3. The chaotic phase from 1971 to 1985
  4. The promising phase turned disastrous from 1986 to 2010

The colonial period

The colonial phase was marked by rearranging pre-colonial land and labor relations away from production for domestic consumption and trading of agricultural and manufactured products within eastern and central Africa markets to the production of commodity exports to Britain in exchange for manufactured products. The best lands and male labor were diverted into producing export crops of cotton, coffee, tea and tobacco. Increasing the production and consumption of maize, cassava and plantains at the expense of more nutritious millet and sorghum led to under-nutrition and related illnesses. Heavy taxation of peasants reduced disposable incomes to cover basic needs of health and education and housing etc.

Why Bahororo were unknown until recently

Since I began writing about Bahororo in Uganda’s history, politics and economics, some people who have visited my blog have asked me to shed some light about why Bahororo were not known until very recently.

Bahororo are Batutsi people from Rwanda who founded Mpororo kingdom in northern Rwanda and parts of southwest Uganda. The kingdom was established around mid-1600 and disintegrated in less than one hundred years from internal causes. The people in Mpororo kingdom were called Bahororo (Bantu people who were already there and Batutsi new comers who founded the kingdom).

After Mpororo disintegrated the parts in what later became Uganda were taken over by Bahima under Bahinda ruling clan. As Chretien observes “After the fall of Mpororo, the take over of the Nkore dynasty on the western highlands was accompanied both by installing armies and by reinforcing the power of Hima [Bahima] lineages over the rest of the population, labeled Bairu” (Jean-Pierre Chretien 2006). According to Speke (1863) Bairu means slaves. Therefore by labeling all the people in former Mpororo kingdom Bairu, former rulers of Mpororo (Batutsi from Rwanda) became Bairu and therefore slaves. To avoid being labeled Bairu, inter alia, Batutsi who remained behind adopted the name of Bahima but deep in their hearts remained Bahororo. According to Samwiri Karugire although Mpororo kingdom disintegrated and went out of use and did not figure on any map of Uganda … “her people, dispersed as they were, have tenaciously remained Bahororo in everything but geographical terminology whose absence does not seem to have made any impression upon them” (Karugire 1980). Bahororo maintained their Nilotic identity because their men do not marry outside of their ethnic group.