Why Bairu are encouraged to marry Bahima women

The issue of intermarriage has been in Uganda media for quite some time now and it is increasingly providing vital information following Phionah Kesaasi’s article which appeared in the Observer (Uganda) in April 2010. Kesaasi argued that Bairu men marry Bahima, Batutsi and Bahororo women because they are more beautiful than Bairu women and there was nothing to be ashamed of. Ipso facto, Bahima men do not marry Bairu women because they are less beautiful than Bahima women, implying there was nothing to apologize about. She added that traditionally when a man marries, he favors in-laws than his relatives. These two remarks generated a storm of criticism and many questions.

Earlier Ephraim Kamuhangire had written in response to my article “Why Rujumbura’s Bairu are impoverished” that in Rujumbura Bairu elite had married so many Bahororo women that there was no way a political uprising of Bairu peasants against Bahororo domination would succeed implying that Bairu elite would join their in-laws and crush such attempts. Therefore Bahororo’s indefinite domination of Bairu was very secure. By the way in my article referred to above I never raised the issue of intermarriage. Kamuhangire picked it out of the hat to make a point that Bairu have no chance of ever controlling the political game in Rujumbura. Since that time I have reflected on what he and Kesaasi wrote.

Uganda’s distorted history needs to be corrected

The late Samwiri Karugire (1980) wrote that “To undertake to write a history of a country whose societies are so different, almost in all respects, is a task that imposes its own limitations. This means that the historian has to choose what aspects of history appear to be important and this judgement is inevitably arbitrary in many ways”. Historians should explain why they have taken a particular aspect but they should not distort or even lie.

Until very recently Europeans and Africans who studied and wrote Uganda’s history came from aristocratic families in Europe or were associated with royal courts in Uganda. At the time of Africa’s exploration and colonization, racial prejudice was intense in Europe. In the racial hierarchy Africans (Negroes) were located at the bottom of the pyramid and treated as people who had no history and civilization. Africa was therefore described as a ‘Dark Continent’ and darkness is not a subject of history. Africans were therefore described explicitly as people who lived in a state of savagery and barbarism without social organizations and achievements in arts and sciences.

Why Uganda is implementing a different kind of revolution

The political wing of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) crafted its propaganda message targeting different communities during the bush war. NRM propagandists spoke and wrote about what Baganda and Catholics wanted to hear. They painted the ruling Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) Party led by Obote as a ‘thief’ that had robbed Buganda of its districts during the referendum on the ‘Lost Counties’ and handed them over to Bunyoro. UPC added an injury to Baganda wounds by overthrowing their kingdom. For Catholics who support the Democratic Party (DP) they focused on the ‘rigged’ 1980 elections that robbed DP of its victory.

To bring to NRM camp a large chunk of UPC supporters, the NRM strategists blamed the suffering of Ugandans, during the Obote II regime in the first half of the 1980s, on the government’s adoption of structural adjustment with its harmful economic and social conditionality and maintenance of a colonial economic structure that condemned Uganda to the production and export of cheap raw materials and import of expensive manufactured products which could be easily produced in Uganda, create jobs and increase incomes.

Uganda’s democracy has become counterproductive

When you talk with people – Ugandans and non-Ugandans – who support the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government led by President Museveni, you are told that Ugandans must be grateful to their leaders because the days of Obote’s and Amin’s dictatorship are over and there is no turning back. They quickly add that Uganda has now become a full-fledged democracy. So what is democracy?

According to the World Book Encyclopedia democracy means rule by the people. It is a form of government that Abraham Lincoln described as “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. According to Robert Maynard Hutchins democracy is the only form of government that is founded on the dignity of man, not the dignity of some men, of rich men, of educated men but of all men (and women).

The citizens of a democracy take part in government either directly or indirectly. In a direct democracy people meet in one place and make the laws for their community. That is what happened in ancient Athens. In a large group it is impossible for all people to meet and pass laws. Consequently they periodically choose representatives to represent their interests. This is indirect or representative democracy.

Why Uganda is in deep trouble

When people engage in human sacrifice, excessive alcohol consumption, unprecedented domestic violence; when men abandon their families, citizens commit suicide, the vulnerable are taken advantage of, security guards arrange to steal property they are guarding, neighbors demand payment to push your car out of a ditch, girls are afraid to go to school for fear of being molested, people attend public functions to steal or cause trouble; when some officials are paid to attend meetings but do not show up in conference halls; officials blame unemployment and poverty on laziness and drunkenness, leaders mislead their people, progress is measured in the number of vehicles in towns, the number of international conferences hosted and officials react to evaluation of their performance by development partners rather than their citizens, then you know there is trouble. I could go on. Uganda has undoubtedly reached this level.

Bahima and their culture of winner takes all

To understand why corruption has reached an unprecedented level in Uganda’s history and there are no signs that it is subsiding, Ugandans and their development partners need to understand the pastoral culture of Uganda’s present leaders. From time immemorial pastoralists including Batutsi, Bahima and Bahororo (Batutsi from Rwanda) live in hostile environments marked by shortages of pasture and water, droughts, epidemics like the 1890s rinderpest, bovine diseases and cattle theft.

In the Great Lakes Region pastoralists lived in fragile ecosystems which rendered them vulnerable and forced them to engage in fighting for survival. Most of the wars in the region since the arrival, in the 16th century, of the Nilotic Luo-speaking Bahima and their Batutsi and Bahororo cousins have been related to land and cattle. They have fought to expand territory and increase their herds, dispossessing the losers. Accordingly, they developed a mentality of winner takes all which has been carried over into governments in Uganda and Rwanda.

Reconstructing the dynamic history of Uganda’s Bairu

According to John Hanning Speke (1863, 2006) Bairu (a term of abuse) which means slaves was coined by Bahima to apply to all Bantu-speaking people they found south of River Nile.

Presently the term has come to apply to the indigenous Bantu-speaking people of southwest Uganda (in former Ankole district and Rujumbura county of Rukungiri district) because in other areas extensive intermarriage between Bantu and Nilotic peoples formed mixed and entirely new communities. Bantu speaking people brought with them short-horn cattle, goats and sheep and above all iron technology and manufacturing skills (so they were not cultivators only. They were forced into cultivation by Bahima and Bahororo in order to marginalize, impoverish, dominate and exploit them). The term Bahutu is the equivalent of Bairu in Rwanda and Burundi. We shall apply the term Bairu in its broader sense as originally used to include indigenous Bantu speaking people who occupied areas south of Nile River before Nilotic Luo-speaking Bahima arrived and adopted Bantu language.

The scramble for Africa is being repeated in DRC

Just as Ethiopia participated in the scramble for and colonization of Africa with European nations, Rwanda is participating in the scramble for and re-colonization of DRC with Western nations. During the scramble for Africa European nations were particularly interested in raw materials. Ethiopia which was originally a small territory (Abyssinia) wanted in particular to expand its territory. Western nations are interested in DRC for its raw materials. Rwanda which is a small country is interested in DRC in particular to expand its territory like Ethiopia did during the first scramble of the 19th century.

Western arguments for breaking up DRC and steps being taken

During a mission to DRC in January/February 2010, meetings were held with representatives of some European embassies, United Nations and International NGO organizations and Congolese from all walks of life. All foreigners contacted complained that DRC is ungovernable because it is too big. If one goes by that criterion alone, then the order of breaking up large African states should start with Sudan, the largest (2,505, 813 sq. km) followed by Algeria, the second largest (2,381,741 sq. km) and then DRC the third (2,344,885 sq. km). Right now there are some voices in favor of keeping Sudan together. I have not heard talk about breaking up Algeria.

Mounting evidence of Hutu genocide by Tutsi in Rwanda and DRC

First let us recall the definition of genocide. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1948. The Convention entered into force on January 12, 1951.

Article II of the Convention states “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 members of the group;

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

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group (Human Rights Volume I (Second Part) Universal Instruments United Nations 2002).

The targeted killing or genocide of moderate Hutu and Tutsi that took place in Rwanda in 1994 shocked the world. There is ‘guilt of omission’ to act. The international community did nothing to prevent the genocide when sufficient advance warning had been made available (Mary Robinson A Voice for Human Rights 2006: 222).

Rujumbura history must not be repeated

I was trained in and have practiced the art of diplomacy at the highest level in international relations. Simply put diplomacy includes the art of establishing contacts through which problems are solved in a subtle manner or behind-the-scenes if you will. When circumstances force me to speak or to write I have used language – body, spoken or literary – to convey messages without divulging sensitive details or naming names.

As mentioned elsewhere I have studied the history of the Great Lakes Region especially my home area of Rujumbura for over forty years. I have read extensively and listened carefully to oral stories. Because I did not get much information from using questionnaires, I decided to use other techniques including travelling by bus between Uganda’s capital city of Kampala and my home town of Rukungiri – a decision that frustrated many people particularly my relatives because as a senior United Nations staff member I was not expected to travel that way.