The burden of silence on Banyankole issue in Uganda

A society that takes things for granted or keeps silent when it is hurting can hardly makes progress. Societies that have progressed including ancient Greece had people like Socrates that questioned the status quo and would not remain or be silenced when unsatisfied about something. They developed a questioning mind and took nothing for granted. They would not budge even under the threat of death. Socrates was advised that he could avoid the death sentence for allegedly corrupting the youth if he paid a small fine and swore to remain silent about politics or went into exile. Socrates refused reasoning that the unexamined life was not worth living.

The political and military environment and laws of Uganda especially the anti-sectarian and anti-terrorism laws have made it very difficult for Ugandans to question the wrong things that have and are happening in our country. The tough anti-terrorism act has a broad definition which describes terrorism as the “use of violence or threat of violence with intent to promote or achieve political, religious, economic and cultural or social ends in an unlawful manner”(Human Rights Watch 2003). What is threat of violence and what is unlawful in the Uganda context? Under this broad definition anything said or done that the NRM government does not like can land any Ugandan in jail for a long time or forever. When you have laws like these there is no democracy, no freedom, no fairness and no dignity. Under these circumstances Uganda cannot claim to be a democracy where people are sovereign with freedom to express themselves. It is a dictatorship, pure and simple, regardless of whether elections are held or not which forces people to stay silent.

About three years ago I wrote an article in Observer (Uganda) about “How Rujumbura’s Bairu got impoverished”. The very few Ugandans (one or two) who were unhappy with the article did not comment on the substance. Instead they focused on sectarianism, accusing me of being sectarian, a tribal hater with intent to incite Bairu people to rebel against those who have impoverished them. I was advised whether I was aware of the existence of the anti-sectarian law and warned sternly that I could be arrested and prosecuted under this law. Some even suggested that I retract the article and they would then help to repair the damage I had caused to myself. Fortunately, a subsequent article written by another Ugandan confirmed what I had written.

My principal purpose in writing especially on sensitive issues that reporters avoid in the great lakes region is to share information and help break the culture of silence. Thankfully, Ugandans in all walks of life are beginning to gather courage and to break the chains of fear. It is fear that has kept us down under the ruthless boot of a minority government that is illegitimate in the minds of many Ugandans. This article will focus on a subject that is in the news: Who these Banyankole people are (mis) ruling, impoverishing and torturing other Ugandans. The debate has largely been one-sided dominated by those threatening to finish off Banyankole when NRM regime goes.

Since Museveni and NRM came to power in 1986, there has been talk which is gathering momentum in the news that Banyankole have ruled Uganda badly and have caused suffering worse than during Amin and second Obote regimes. It is alleged that Banyankole have taken all the good jobs in the public sector and have dominated the private sector and the security forces. Every westerner including those who have run away and are languishing in exile is seen by non-westerners as a Munyankole (singular for Banyankole) and should be punished when there is regime change. In 2009 when there was a demonstration in Kampala that resulted in some deaths, Banyankole or anybody entering Buganda from Masaka was harassed and since then are living in fear should NRM government lose power. So who are these Banyankole people from western Uganda?

Strictly, Banyankole are people who live in the former kingdom of Ankole which has since been divided into many districts. Originally the area was occupied by Bantu speaking people of different clans who grew crops as the main activity but also reared livestock of goats, sheep and short horn cattle as well as poultry. They enjoyed a diversified and relatively comfortable life and co-existed in relative peace because everything they needed was in abundance and there was no cause for major conflict or creating standing armies.

About the 15th century, Nilotic Luo-speaking people entered the region with long horn cattle. Their ancestors entered what later became Uganda from Bahr el Ghazal in South Sudan, not from Ethiopia as previously believed from John H. Speke stories. They took on the name of Bahima, adopted the local language and local names. They formed the kingdom of Nkore (Kashari, Isingiro and Nyabushozi) bringing Bantu people under their control. Bantu people were given a common name of Bairu (slave or servant of Bahima). Bahima did not intermarry with Bairu people. Kevin Shillington (1989) has explained why. “Some immigrant pastoralist groups intermarried with settled cultivators and between them produced new mixed-farming [crop cultivation and cattle herding] populations [as in Bunyoro]. But the Hima [Bahima] and Tutsi [Batutsi in Burundi and Rwanda] of the south western highland zones did not mix so freely. They avoided intermarriage and by keeping themselves distinct they managed, in time, to establish a position of domination over the majority peasant cultivators [Bairu] of the region”. Bairu were deprived of their short horn cattle and reduced to cultivators much of their produce consumed by their new Bahima masters in exchange for so-called protection. The exploitation of Bairu by Bahima (and Batutsi/Bahororo explained below) has continued and possibly intensified under the NRM regime led by Bahororo minority group.

In mid 17th century (1650s) a group of Batutsi from Rwanda founded a short lived Mpororo kingdom in northern Rwanda and southwest Uganda. The Bantu speaking people were subjugated and reduced to slaves or servants of Bahororo (the people of Mpororo kingdom) as Bahima had done to Bantu people in Nkore. All the people in Mpororo kingdom became Bahororo but Bahororo who ruled were Batutsi/Bahororo pastoralists who came from Rwanda. Bairu/Bahororo people were reduced to cultivators serving the consumer needs of Batutsi/Bahororo their new masters and lost possession of short horn cattle as happened in Nkore. Remember Bahima and Batutsi are cousins of Nilotic ethnicity.

Mpororo kingdom disintegrated and collapsed within 100 years. Batutsi of Rwanda absorbed the Mpororo part. Another part was eventually taken over by Bahima and the expanded territory became Ankole. The remainder became part of Kabale in former Kigezi district. Some Bahororo returned to Rwanda where prospects were better. Around 1800 some Bahororo fled from former Mpororo region and settled in Rujumbura as refugees. With a standing army and support by Arab/Swahili slave hunters, Batutsi/Bahororo defeated and subjugated Bantu people who as in Nkore were called Bairu (slaves or servants of Bahororo).

During the colonial administration the diverse ethnic groups of Kigezi were compressed into three groups for administrative convenience: Bakiga; Banyarwnda and Bahororo. After independence the Banyarwanda of Bufumbira changed their name to Bafumbira and their language to Kifumbira. For reasons that I do not know, Bakiga chose to retain the name. In Rujumbura it was not possible to change the Bahororo name which many people do not like because Batutsi/Bahororo people have continued to dominate the area since independence although they are very few in number but powerful (the generals, intelligence chiefs and key presidential advisers come from here). Because of that and perhaps for other reasons many Bantu people still call themselves Bahororo but do not participate in ruling the country which is dominated by Bahororo who are Batutsi from Rwanda under NRM.

So when we talk about Bahororo we must draw a distinction between Bahororo who are Batutsi from Rwanda (pastoralists) the current rulers of Uganda and Bahororo who are Bairu (cultivators) or commoners that are impoverished and marginalized. These are the impoverished Bairu of Rujumbura that I wrote about three years ago.

Another point to keep in mind is that when Bahororo pastoralists lost their kingdom they became commoners like Bairu under Bahima. As they could not accept that open humiliation, they accepted a lesser one and called themselves Bahima wherever they lived in Uganda. That is why you find Bahima registered in Rujumbura who are actually Batutsi/Bahororo. There are no Bahima in Rujumbura. Now that they have come to prominence they are no longer ashamed to be called Bahororo. So the so-called Bahima from Rujumbura are now officially Bahororo and have printed the name Mpororo across south west Uganda from DRC border to Rwanda border on some maps. But some parts the name is running through like Rujumbura were never a part of short lived Mpororo kingdom (visit for an explanation).

Another point to remember is that Bahororo who returned to Rwanda changed their name to Batutsi although they retained their identity of Bahororo. Although Mpororo disappeared from the map Bahororo tenaciously clung to their Bahororo identity by marrying within their ethnic group including Bahima. During preparation for independence Bahororo in Ankole demanded a separate district but they did not succeed. This could have triggered Bahororo led by Museveni to go to war and could also explain why Ankole never regained its kingdom like others. So in southwest Uganda we have Batutsi/Bahororo in former Ankole mostly Ntungamo district, Kabale and Rujumbura.

One more thing: Since 1959 because of the social revolution in Rwanda many Batutsi some of them possibly descendants of Bahororo who returned to Rwanda when Mpororo kingdom collapsed fled to Uganda. The British administration encouraged them to settle and be absorbed by their relatives mostly in Ankole and Kigezi to avoid problems of refugees as Uganda was about to become independent. Others were allowed to filter into other parts of Uganda in small groups, a process that continued since independence and has been facilitated by the 1995 constitution which allows anybody in Uganda to settle anywhere and speak their local languages. Some Batutsi who have been “bused in” since NRM came to power have settled in many parts of Uganda and speak their Kinyarwanda disguised as Kirundi because the two languages are similar. These bused in foreigners over the years are the ones we referred to as having voted for NRM illegally in 2011 elections a report that raised eyebrows. Thus since 1959 many Batutsi have moved to virtually all parts of Uganda especially in Buganda where they have adopted local languages and names but do not intermarry with local populations except a few women that are marrying the wealthy and potentially wealthy non-Batutsi, non-Bahororo and non-Bahima men largely from reports we receive for political and through it economic dominance.

Finally, let us look at Banyarwanda people who came into Uganda as workers. Since the 1920s Rwandese and Burundians have come to Uganda in search of work. Batutsi settled in all areas of Uganda where cattle herding is the main occupation including in Buganda. Bahutu settled where crop cultivation was the main activity mostly in Buganda where cotton and later coffee became the main economic activities. Bahutu who did not return home married local women and integrated fully into the local cultures. On the other hand Batutsi men who stayed in Uganda either married Batutsi women from Rwanda or Burundi or Bahima and did not fully integrate in the local culture. For example, their dressing style in the rural areas remained virtually unchanged for a long time possibly until today.

Let me conclude with two observations to put the record straight about who is actually (mis) ruling Uganda. First, people from Ankole (Banyankole) who are ruling Uganda are actually Batutsi who entered Uganda as workers and refugees and stayed, and Batutsi/Bahororo who founded and lost Mpororo kingdom, and Bahima. Batutsi, Bahima and Bahororo are Nilotic cousins. To confuse the public they call themselves Banyankole in Ankole and Rujumbura and Bakiga in Kabale. Bairu or commoners of Ankole and Kigezi are also called Banyankole and Bakiga respectively but these have remained impoverished and marginalized. For political convenience by those who are unhappy with the NRM regime, all people of southwest Uganda have been labeled Banyankole, the bad rulers of Uganda who must be punished when NRM is toppled.

Second, Museveni and his advisers identified Batutsi, Bahororo and Bahima living outside Kigezi and Ankole. As noted earlier, Batutsi, Bahororo and Bahima men do not marry outside their ethnic group but use local languages and names where they live. Therefore when Museveni the appointing authority gives a high profile or strategic job to someone from Buganda, Northern, Eastern and Western regions we need to know who these people are. They could be Batutsi, Bahororo or Bahima who have settled in all parts of Uganda but have retained their Nilotic identity. That is why it is important that the personal history of public servants and their family tree should be disclosed to the public, a good suggestion that the NRM government is apparently resisting. What is it afraid of? Disclosure of background of public servants is common everywhere. Ugandans must insist on getting this information so that we know who the actual rulers are and where they come from. You may find that Banyankole form a small part of Uganda’s public service.

I am fully aware that those who do not like what I have written are going to scream or authorize their agents to call me and my family all sorts of names. To embarrass and possibly silence me, some have even suggested that I am Museveni’s spy posing as his critic in order to extract information from NRM opponents! I am ready for all that. What I want to stress is that Uganda is ruled by a small group of Batutsi, Bahororo and Bahima scattered in all parts of Uganda using local names and languages. That is a fact. Therefore calling Banyankole as Uganda’s ruling class is incorrect. All you need to do to confirm that is to find out who Banyankole are starting in Kampala and talk to them. You will find highly educated Bairu or commoners from Ankole and Kigezi marginalized and struggling to make ends meet. Even some Banyankole who held or are holding high offices and pose as Bairu may not be. Therefore, we need to do more research before drawing definitive conclusions otherwise innocent people who are already hurting could end up hurt even more. If there is need for further discussions, let’s do it.

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