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Obugabe bwa Nkore (The Freedom of Nkore)

I am not a Munyankore. Let me start with that. Although my clan, Ba Mugara, abasyaba, abazira burunga is multinational and exists among the Bannarwanda, Bakiga, Bahororo, Banyankore, etc, and so I have brothers and sisters that I can’t in fact marry because we are clanmates who are Banyankore, I am not a Munyankore. So, what do I have to say about Obugabe, about the freedom of Nkore, since I am not a Munyankore? That is a good place to start, isn’t it?

However much many among us would like to deny, the 34 years Museveni, who says he “was born among the Banyankore Bahima nomads of south-western Uganda” has ruled, have made the nationality of Banyankore a privileged one. All honest people know that statistically, Banyankore occupy way too many positions in the military for example, to make a conversation about nationhood, uncomfortable. If you speak Runyankore, or other mutually intelligible languages, like Ruhororo, Rukiga, Rutooro, Runyoro, etc, weren’t you embarrassed when a video of Gen. Elwelu speaking Runyankore in the aftermath of the massacre in the palace in Kasese circulated? Weren’t you?

Discussions of Banyankore domination in Uganda are not held in the open because Museveni’s dictatorship is known for jailing and torturing those who openly talk about the native / nationality question, especially when they are Baganda freedom activists. Every chance to have a debate on this question is lost because of the “liberal” view that individuals should be judged on their own merit rather than on the basis of their nationality. This is not helpful. Hiding from the problem does not solve the problem. So, what is the problem?

A number of comrades, with whom I agree, opine that for native communities to be free, the colonial nation-state of Uganda must be abolished. My reason for agreeing with this argument is that Uganda as a colonial unit was created after the conquest and subjugation of native communities, which were self-governing (free) until they were colonized. Baganda federal activists have rarely used the language of abolition of Uganda, preferring that of federalism and self-determination.

I use the example of Buganda, first because the colonial unit called Uganda gets its name from Buganda. Uganda was/is a misspelling/mispronunciation of Buganda. In Kenya, you hear Ugandans referred to as Waganda, the same reference for Baganda, you see? I have joked that Buganda should collect royalties from Uganda for the use and abuse of her name. The administrative structure of the colonial nation-state, starting with the village, to the parish, to the sub-county, and county was borrowed from Buganda. The colonialists really used Buganda as the fulcrum of their administration of Uganda, hence the Buganda is the mother of Uganda issue, or that Uganda survives on the subjugation and occupation of Buganda.

I also choose the example of Buganda because all of us stuck in the colonial hodgepodge of Uganda have a lot of lessons to learn from the Baganda struggle for self-determination. From Kabaka Mwanga II’s rebellion against Lugard in the 19th century, to his grandson Kabaka Mutesa II’s rebellion against Cohen in the middle of the 20th century, and the various manifestations of the same struggle in the 21st century, Buganda has a well-recorded history of resistance to Uganda, and the continuous colonialism that makes it possible.

Since Museveni took power in 1986, of all native nationalities, the Baganda were most active in their demand for self-determination. They have waged a sustained struggle for a return to the 1962 federalism arrangement that Apolo Milton Obote abolished in 1966 when he invaded the Mmengo palace and exiled Kabaka Mutesa II. In 1967, all kingdoms were abolished. In 1993, the Baganda and their allies celebrated the restoration of the kingdom, as a step towards attaining self-determination. That struggle continues.

Several other native nationalities have taken advantage of Buganda’s march towards self-determination. Most of the pre-1967 kingdoms, namely Bunyoro, Tooro, and Busoga have indeed been restored. One of these kingdoms that had a special status of sorts in the 1962 constitution, that hasn’t been restored however is Ankole. Part of the narrative between 1966 and 1986 was that the southern Ugandan communities, mostly the kingdom areas were aggrieved at the establishment of the republic by Obote in 1967 hence their sustained struggle, armed and non-violent for the overthrow of Obote. There is still debate as to the monarchist elements of the NRA and other wars versus the “republican” elements, in fact.

So, why hasn’t Ankole as a kingdom been restored, like Buganda, Bunyoro, Busoga, and Tooro? There are many answers to this question. Some say that Museveni imagines himself as Sabagabe, the king of kings, and having claimed to have been born among the Banyankore Bahima, restoring Ankole may suggest that he is a subject to another king. Of course, these are usually dismissed as conspiracy theorists. When the monarchists in “Ankole” tried to restore theirs, they were stopped by elements from Museveni’s government. There is an active anti-monarchist movement among Banyankore. They say that the kingdom of Ankole is not a progressive institution to restore, despite the pleas of the monarchists that the kingdom is misrepresented and that it would obviously “modernize” in the 21st century.

Obugabe, the name of kingship, monarchism, in Runyankore is the same word for freedom in that language. While one understanding of the Baganda struggle for federalism, and/or self-determination is that it is a struggle for freedom, at an artificial linguistic level, the struggle for the restoration of monarchism in Nkore is the same as the struggle for freedom. Isn’t that amazing?

The argument for the abolition of Uganda, which means the freedom for precolonial nationalities, means that Buganda and Baganda, Bunyoro and Banyoro, Toro and Batooro, Busoga and Basoga, even Mpororo and Bahororo, and other nationalities will decide how they want to be governed, including in fact if they want to form a federation of sorts, following the colonial boundaries of the would-be abolished Uganda. They could even choose a new name, than a misspelling/mispronunciation of Buganda. Given the fact that most of the nationalities that form Uganda have historical connections to the Bunyoro-Kitara empire, indeed the name Kitara can be considered for this new federation. Surely, the British’s failure to pronounce Buganda can’t form an identity. It is not just a mistake, it is a form of violence.

Of course, others have also said that perhaps River Kiira, can unite these nationalities, it connects the south of the country to the north, and so maybe the new country formed as a federation of these native nationalities can consider naming itself Kiira! Nile is not a native name, that is why I am not considering it. Of course, the abolition of Uganda also means abolishing names for physical features like Victoria (and reinstatement of Nnalubaale), Albert (reinstatement of Mwitanzigye), George (reinstatement of Dweru) and Edward (reinstatement of Rwitanzigye) among others.

But back to Banyankore. So, when we wear the crown of victory, when we attain this freedom, when we abolish Uganda, what happens to Banyankore? The Baganda, Basoga, Batooro, Banyoro, Bakhonzo, and many others from kingdom areas who have taken advantage of the “Cultural / Traditional Leaders” framework to continue to work towards self-determination will have a starting point as they are building institutions along their monarchies. So what happens to Banyankore?

Let me start this section by disavowing Ankole. Ankole was created by the British on October 25, 1901 when they added to the original Nkore, the former independent kingdoms of Igara, Sheema, Buhweju and parts of Mpororo. Like “Uganda”, Ankole is a colonial creation. Kaaro Karungi though, dates back to the 15th century, and became Nkore in the 17th century. So, when Uganda is abolished, such colonial creatures as “Ankole” will go with it. Nkore will regain independence, and Igara, Sheema, Buhweju and Mpororo gain their independence too, from “Ankole”.

And so, here is my humble suggestion for freedom-minded Banyankore. The freedom of Nkore starts with restoring Nkore, not Ankole. After all, even Buganda, that had in the same way gained territory from Bunyoro as part of British machinations, lost Buyaga and Bugangaizi back to Bunyoro. So, Banyankore should forget about Ankole, as we work for freedom. The part of Mpororo that the British stole and gave to Nkore returns to Mpororo. And hello Bahororo, this is also a call for you to work for the restoration of Mpororo.

Unless of course the people of the kingdoms of Igara, Sheema, and Buhweju prefer to forget about their independence and want to remain part of Nkore. That is the meaning of freedom, isn’t it? Choosing how to be governed. Or they may even be “republican” minded and do not want a monarchical structure, right? And so can be republics of sorts. Do you see what freedom does? You get so many options to choose from, to build consensus around. That is what freedom means.

The point I have been building towards, is that Museveni’s occupation of the colonial nation-state of Uganda, and using it to dominate native nationalities, in the name of Banyankore (he does not need to directly say it, the actions speak loudly) does a disservice to the freedom dreams of Banyankore and Nkore. True freedom is in the abolition of Uganda, because one’s freedom can’t be built on the backs of other people. The oppressor isn’t free as long as they are oppressing someone else. Freedom means the abolition of oppression. So, dear Banyankore, while Baganda, Batooro, Banyoro, Bakhonzo, Basoga, etc are building their freedom dreams around monarchies, think about your own still abolished monarchy 

Nkonkonjeru royal tombs

Dear Banyankore: think beyond Uganda. Beyond Museveni being in power, and however much you have opposed him, however much you have suffered for opposing him, there are still many ways in which your identity as a Munyankore privileges you, think about a future where we are all free, without having to fit in the positions of the British occupiers of native land at the expense of the native populations. We can work together as we did before colonialism, in our interconnected native nationalities. I just mentioned that as a Mukiga Musyaba, I have brothers and sisters who have the same totem, same taboo as myself in the Banyankore, Bahororo, Bannarwanda nationalities. Obviously, in my lineage, we have intermarried, we have migrated (of course Bakiga migrate a lot because northern Rwanda, and South Western Uganda are mountainous and we can’t fit) to many areas, so these freedom dreams center around how to live together without “settler-colonial occupation” logics. You can even reflect on the fact that the Luo-Babiito dynasty is really the same family line and spreads across several monarchies. We are one people. But to be among this one people, everyone has roots. Banyankore: sort your nationality question, for Uganda will be abolished, and you do not want to kuburabura, kuba emburabure, to suffer identity crises because you put all your dreams in the occupation of Buganda.

Perhaps someone is wondering, but you are a Mukiga, what do you know about monarchies? Well: the history of monarchism among Bakiga is understated. The kingdom of Ndorwa was a reality. Queen Kitami, the original Nyabingi, whose spirit is the goddess around whom Muhumuza organized the Nyabingyi rebellion ruled Ndorwa. And of course in some periods, the mwami of Rwanda extended his reach to Rukiga, and of course Mpororo sometimes controlled Bushengyera and other areas native to Bakiga. So, we have claims to monarchist historiography, too. But of course the purpose of freedom is to enable self-determination, isn’t it? So once we abolish Uganda, once we wear the crown, the Bakiga will determine. That is the point. They could restore Ndorwa. They could join Mpororo. They could choose to do away with monarchies. The essence of freedom is to put power in the hands of the people.

So Banyankore, look at Kamukuzi, look at Nkonkonjeru, think about freedom. Think about breaking free from the colonial nation-state. Forget all the trappings of having Museveni in power, and Runyankore the language opening doors. Nagamba kubi? We shall be free. Let Nkore be free. Nimbendeeza obugabe. I wish you freedom. Let us work for freedom. Tukoreerere obugabe.

This was long. Sigh.

Img: Kamukuzi palace

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  1. It would be prudent of you to consult a few Banyankole and at least get the meaning of your article’s title. Getting that wrong leaves a lot to be desired.

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