Why do Ugandans want to live separately?

I have been conducting research on this subject from primary and secondary sources for a long time. By and large, the desire to drift into separate communities or states is driven by a sense of insecurity not only in Uganda but in many parts of the Great Lakes region as well. There was a time when suggestions were made that the Tutsi and Hutu in Burundi and Rwanda should be separated so that the Tutsi live together in one country and the Hutu in another. The idea did not advance to the stage of negotiations because ethnicity is not the primary source of conflict. For example, from 1962 to 1994 conflicts in Rwanda were not inter-ethnic but intra-ethnic between Hutu in the south and Hutu in the north.

In Uganda there is a strong sense of post-independence injustice on the one hand and insecurity on the other hand. During colonial days some regions and communities benefited at the expense of others. The indirect rule system benefited chiefs and their relatives at the expense of their subjects. Areas that were designated labor reserves in northern and western Uganda suffered economic and social injustice at the expense of those that were designated growth poles in Buganda and Busoga. By way of illustration, let us examine this injustice and insecurity with reference to Rukungiri and Buganda respectively.

In Rukungiri where I was born and grew up Bairu/Bahororo to which I belong were dominated by Batutsi/Bahororo under the indirect rule system that benefited the latter at the expense of the former. Notwithstanding this inequality, there was some sense of shared responsibility and caring that nurtured social cohesion especially during hard times. Inter-ethnic differences were softened by social relations that existed in many areas of human endeavor.

During my school days, some of my best friends were Tutsi including the late Rwekitama and Hindi. I stayed with Hindi in Kampala en route from Nairobi University to Rukungiri. Karahukayo and I were great friends. At one time we shared a bed because they could not find extra space where we spent a night in Rukungiri town after an evening social event. Rwabugaire and I played soccer together and he took good care of me when we went to Kabale for sports competition. Kabateraine Ruhinda Gombolola chief who owned a vehicle gave me free rides. While visiting Rweshama, a small fishing town, I met Bahinguza who invited me to lunch at short notice. Tabisa and Magoba took good care of me at Rwamahwa dispensary when I fell sick and was admitted. Kitaburaza Rukungiri saza chief and later Secretary General of Kigezi district was a good man at least in terms of giving us Bairu students a ride in his car when there was space. These are Tutsi people (some of them have departed and rest in peace) that took care of Hutu people.

The situation drastically changed when politics was introduced as independence approached that allowed Bairu and Tutsi to compete on an equal basis (By the way there are no Bahima in Rukungiri. There are Batutsi/Bahororo people who fled former Mpororo kingdom after it collapsed and Bahima replaced them).

Notwithstanding Tutsi numerical inferiority to Bairu, the former were determined to dominate the political theater by dividing Bairu. Bairu who opposed Tutsi hegemony were branded meat eaters (that they stole and slaughtered the cow of the Kigezi constitutional head). Firebrand Bairu were isolated and targeted for harassment. Many Bairu even migrated to other areas of Uganda.

The situation got worse under the NRM government, using impoverishment and dispossession as a tool of domination. Bairu have no jobs even when, on balance, they are better educated. Bairu are losing their land under the so-called willing seller and willing buyer concept when actually transactions are largely conducted at gun point or under cover of darkness. Bairu area has been incorporated into Rukungiri municipality without consultation and municipal taxes which Bairu can’t afford are forcing them to sell their land and other assets at throw away prices. It is this sense of insecurity and dominance that is causing Bairu to wish they could live alone in peace. At the same time inequality between Tutsi and Bairu is causing instability that is threatening the comfort of Tutsi. There are stories – subject to confirmation – that the Tutsi in Ntungamo and Rukungiri want to secede and join Tutsi in Rwanda and Eastern DRC.

The geography and history of Buganda put the kingdom in a strategic position and gained disproportionately over other regions, a situation some Baganda contest as on radio munansi. As negotiations for a unitary independent state approached, Baganda feared they might lose to the poorer regions. According to the Wild Constitutional Committee report of 1959, “A very great majority of people in the Eastern, Northern and Western Provinces … favor[ed] the unitary system of government for Uganda”. On the other hand “… it seems that the feeling in Buganda for a greater and greater degree of autonomy and for a federal arrangement derives from a fear that Buganda might be dominated by a coalition from the Eastern, Northern and Western Provinces”(Wild Report 1959). When Baganda did not get what they wanted they declared Buganda independent in December 1960 but had no means of implementing the decision. Baganda reluctantly participated in the Lancaster Constitutional conference where fear of DP winning forced UPC/KY, strange bedfellows, into a coalition.

Buganda loss of a referendum on two lost countries to Bunyoro in 1964 led to another attempt at secession when in 1966 Lukiiko decided in a hurriedly drafted resolution that the central government quit the soil of Buganda within ten days. This was another secession that did not materialize.

The deteriorating conditions under which Baganda and indeed all Ugandans not connected to the center of power are living since 1986 have rekindled the idea of secession. While Bairu of Rukungiri and Baganda and others we did not examine in this brief have a genuine need for self-determination and separate political existence, it is important to draw lessons from those that have attempted: some have failed and others have succeeded.

Katanga and Kasai in DRC attempted and failed. Biafra attempted and failed. Chechnya tried and didn’t go far. Somaliland that seceded in 1992 has not been recognized by any country. South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Kosovo have not received adequate recognition for ideological reasons. “Not surprisingly, its [Russian] recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia drew swift condemnation from the United States and the European Union, just as these two powers’ recognition of Kosovo … drew condemnation from the Kremlin ”(World Policy Journal Spring 2013).

The record in Eritrea and South Sudan, the two countries that succeeded in gaining sovereignty appear not to be functioning as expected and don’t serve as role models for emulation.

This leaves us with one option: to work out a governing system that keeps Uganda together but allows different regions and communities within regions to be responsible for managing their own affairs except in areas of defense, security, foreign affairs and national currency that would remain central government responsibility.

Ugandans should agree to establish a broad-based transitional government managed by a presidential team after NRM has been unseated. The transitional government should conduct a comprehensive population census to give a sense of how many we are and who we are. The census results should then form the basis for holding a national convention to debate and agree on how Ugandans should be governed, allowing flexibility to avoid a one-size-fits-all model. This undertaking requires cool mind, forward looking and a patriotic spirit to succeed.

Eric Kashambuzi