On November 26 and 27, 2016, the Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu prime minister’s office and the Buhikira royal palace came under a fierce attack by joint state security forces. In the bloody drama which ensued, both property and human lives were savagely devastated.
The debate over these bloody events is indeed far from over. For some, this is purely reminiscent of the infamous Mengo royal palace attack during the Milton Obote I regime – a no-nonsense republican order treating a stubborn sub-nationalist tendency with both the force and the contempt it deserves.
For others, this was but the climax of failure of negotiated statehood in the periphery – a disproportionate use of force on the part of the state, which has consecutively failed to bring society in this part of the republic under the fold of its social organising power.
Yet, for others still, these events subtly point to an inelegant way of one part of the state putting another in check, at the expense of society. These are internal contradictions which have come to characterise the Uganda state run under a republican logic with a constellation of monarchical orders since 1993.
The details of what brought the Kasese attacks into being are beyond the scope of this article. Suffice, however, is to note that these events consist yet of a raw material for critical reflection for durable peace-searching in contemporary Uganda’s Rwenzori sub-region.
In his 10-page 50th coronation anniversary speech delivered on October 19, 2016, Omusinga (king) Charles Wesley Mumbere of the Rwenzururu Kingdom (known as Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu) underscored, among a host of other assurances, the following to his subjects:
“I cannot forget to express my tribute, sympathy and honour to all gallant Rwenzururu freedom fighters, veterans and all Banya Rwenzururu who put their lives on the line and shade their blood to make sure that our identity as a people is maintained, the Banya Rwenzururu obtain peace and freedom they deserve and I remain their king (Omusinga).
You will never be forgotten in the structure of Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu as heroes, and those who died for the noble cause will be forever remembered for their sacrifice. May God rest their souls in eternal peace. On a happier note as we celebrate my 50th Coronation Anniversary, I wish to inform you that despite the challenges we have had in the recent past, there is still a strong and mutual bond between the central government and Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu.”
But is there still a strong and mutual bond between the central government and the Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu as the king, on a happier note, expressed in his speech? This recent wave of violence underscores an increasing deterioration of any such bond borne seven years ago. From the king officially recognised on the throne in October 2009 to the king in the dock and then remanded in December 2016!
The criminal justice route, for the state has often viewed and understood violence in this region as criminal and nothing else, undertaken by the colonial state (and subsequently in vogue throughout the post-independence era as in the current case of Uganda v Mumbere, 2016) certainly did not bring a definite resolution to the Rwenzururu conundrum.
While the Mengo royal palace attack of 1966 saw the Buganda king and then Uganda President Edward Muteesa exiled in the UK, the Buhikira royal palace attack of 2016 brought Rwenzururu king not into exile but in the dock. Therefore, perhaps, the ‘king in the dock, but not in exile’ today fully captures this conundrum!
Addressing the conundrum hence requires going beyond criminal justice in addressing violence in contemporary Uganda’s Rwenzori. Winning both the war (against social turmoil) and the struggle for justice (political, social and economic) would entail, first, an end to the romance with criminal justice as the sole avenue to order on the part of the state.
This, in turn, would mean, in the words of Amon Bazira, “a new social contract” between society in Uganda’s Rwenzori and the state of Uganda.
Political acumen (and not just a solitary focus on criminal liability following a crushing deployment of force) on the part of the state to conceive and deliver a political solution to this unfolding violence is timely, if not long overdue.
The author is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research and assistant lecturer at Uganda Martyrs University.