Moments in Kigezi History

Understanding Ourselves

The Role of Religion in Leadership : The Nyabingi case

One of the smaller research projects I have undertaken as part of my current fellowship in Security, Leadership and Development at the African Leadership Centre, King’s College London centres on the link between Religion and Leadership.

I undertook a case study leadership analysis of Queen Muhumuza’s role in the Nyabingi resistance against colonialism, which is now available as a podcast on the African Leadership Centre (ALC) Pan African radio. As fellows, we are required to write scripts for the Education program of the radio. Click here to listen.

Philemon Mateke on the Conquest of Bufumbira

One of the constituent areas of what used to be Kigezi district during the British colonial era is Bufumbira. The people who inhabit the area are called Bafumbira and their language which is very close to Kinyarwanda is called Kifumbira/Rufumbira. They live on the foothills and slopes of the Mufumbiro ranges (also known as the Virunga ranges) that are shared with Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In an article in the 1970 Uganda Journal edition, titled The Struggle of Dominance in Bufumbira (1930 – 1920), Philemon Mateke revisits the conquest of this area and these people by the British. He takes us through the conquest by Rwanda, Belgium, Germany and eventually Britain and also tells us of the resistance of this conquest by Nyindo, Ntokibiri and others.

Mateke chairs COMESA meeting in 2015 - New Vision photo

Dr. Philemon Mateke at the 2015 COMESA Forum: New Vision photo

Dr. Mateke is an elder politician and Historian with degrees in History up to the Doctorate level earned from Makerere University. He taught History at the same university in the 60s and 70s and was appointed Minister of Education in the Obote II government. He was a member of the Uganda Peoples Congress. He joined the National Resistance Council when the NRM took power, and left his seat in 1996 when the council was replaced. He was recalled from retirement in 2015 and appointed Minister of State for Regional Affairs. He is one of the oldest politicians in government.

 

The Beginning

In this journal article, he tells us that once upon a time, around 1000 AD the Batusi arrived in present day Rwanda and found the Bahutu organised in a clan system under clan leaders called Abahinza. That the Batusi came with cattle and with time persuaded the Bahutu to abandon their clan leaders and pay allegiance to them. He says that at that point (before the fifteenth century) some of the disgruntled bahinza decided to migrate and settled in Bufumbira and an area between present day Rubanda and Ndorwa (this should be in the current sub counties of Rubaya, Kamuganguzi, Kitumba etc of Kabale district).

After this migration, Mateke writes that in Bufumbira, the Bahutu restored the bahinza led clan organisation. The Batusi would however not relent. They kept sending expeditions to Bufumbira to establish control and finally succeeded. Mpama, son of Bumbogo was the first Mutusi chief to rule over Bufumbira in the 1830s sent by Mwami Yuhi IV Gahindiro, Mateke writes. Some Bahutu in Bufumbira did not like the Batusi rulership. The Abatongo settled below the Kanaba gap were prominent among the rebellious groups. They were led by Ngirabanzi who also doubled as chief priest for the worship of Biheko. Their resistance was to be defeated with the help of Batwa fighters and other clans led by Mushakamba, who earned the nickname Rutsinsura after the deadly battle. Mateke tells us that the remaining Abatongo died of famine.

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The Batusi ruled indirectly through Bahutu clan leaders, supervised by a Mutusi chief appointed from Rwanda. From Mateke, we learn of the war-hungry escapades of Mwami Kigeri IV Rwabugiri who attacked the Bakiga in 1873, notable those living in areas of Bubare where he killed a Musigi clan leader. He also attacked Rujumbura (in 1882), Mpororo (1885) and Nkore (1890). How could the Bafumbira revolt against such a mwami? Mateke says that the mwami’s iron hand ensured that the Bafumbira remained under Rwandan control. When this particular mwami died in 1896, things changed. The Belgians and Germans had started interfering with the sovereignty of Rwanda and Bufumbira itself, there were succession disputes in the palace and Rwabugiri’s widow Muhumuza had fled to Ndorwa living among the Bakiga where she was mobilising for his son to take the throne. Musinga, who took over the throne had too much on his plate by this period to send any forces to stem Batwa revolts or Belgian penetration of Bufumbira in the early twentieth century.

 

Nyindo Rebels

Facing Batwa resistance, Nyindo, who had been appointed by Rwabugiri to rule Bufumbira called on the Belgians to help him. The Belgians had come to Bufumbira from Congo in 1898. They had won a military battle against Nyindo’s bigger sister who was the chief at the time, so by the time Nyindo became Chief, they were already in control. Mateke tells us that they unleashed a reign of terror as they plundered the place to the extent that a famine called uramuvuta resulted. The Belgians built administrative posts at Kisoro, Chihe, Nyagisenyi and Muhiga. In 1910, the British, Germans and Belgians settled a boundary dispute that eventually put Bufumbira under British control.

The British appointed a Muganda chief, Namunye to supervise Nyindo’s rulership of Bufumbira, required men to pay poll tax of three rupees or three goats. Nyindo and Namunye developed disagreements after 1913 and the former rebelled. Mateke argues that Nyindo’s rebellion was because of influence from his half-brother Musinga, who was ruling Rwanda under the control of the Germans. Germany and Britain were on two different sides during the First World War. Namunye went to report Nyindo’s rebellion to the acting district commissioner then sitting at Ikumba in Kabale. Mr. Sullivan, the commissioner went with policemen armed with rifles and pushed Nyindo out of Bufumbira into Rwanda. In 1915, an attempt by the Germans and Rwandan fighters to reinstate Nyindo in Bufumbira was repulsed by the British forces.

Katuregye, a clan leader living between the bamboo forest on the edge of Bufumbira and Lake Bunyonyi also revolted against the British after they had deported his mother, who was a Nyabingi mugirwa, to Mbarara. She had died on her way back. His revolt died out when he was shot by the British forces. The British went into Rwanda to hunt down Nyindo in 1915, whereupon Musinga advised him to go and fight for his country. Nyindo surrendered and was deported to Kampala where he met Muhumuza. Muhumuza’s Nyabingi rebellion was one of the resistance fronts the British had to deal with. Nyindo was transferred to Fort Portal where he lived with Omukama Kasagama, until he was released on condition that he returns to Rwanda than Bufumbira. He died on his way back.

The Mufumbiro ranges, also known as the Virunga ranges are shared by present day Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo

The Mufumbiro ranges, also known as the Virunga ranges are shared by present day Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo

The man with two fingers and his sheep

In 1915, while Nyindo was in Rwanda, Ntokibiri, a Muhunde from Nyamikumba visited and asked for men to go and fight the British imperialists. He mobilised a large anti British force, comprising of Bakiga, Batwa and Bafumbira. Mateke says that people may have joined him believing that he had Nyabingi powers, although he discounts this theory because Ntokibiri wasn’t connected to the Nyabingi movement. He also suggests that some Bafumbira who loved Nyindo’s rule hoped for his return and German rule, so may have supported Ntokibiri to achieve that objective. Others may have joined the war, to get rich while others may have joined out of panic. The fact that Ntokibiri went undefeated for years also may have attracted supporters as Nyindo and the Germans had been quickly defeated by the British. But after three years, Ntokibiri was caught in Rubanda, shot dead, his sheep burnt to ashes, his head cut and exported to Britain while his two fingered hand was taken to Bufumbira to scare anyone with intentions to rebel.

Mateke’s analysis for Ntokibiri’s defeat boils down to a lack of unity among the Africans. Some Bafumbira clan leaders were loyal to Namunye, while Bikaku, a Mukiga chief who had a blood pact with Ntokibiri betrayed his friend by blowing the whistle on the fighter while resting in his house in Rubanda.

And thus, Bufumbira was consolidated as part of the British territory.

 

 

The Banyama-Baboga Conflict: Through Charles Kabuga’s eyes

From a previous post, we already know that Charles Kabuga contributed a chapter to the Donald Deenon edited volume, A History of Kigezi in Western Uganda. Since we last posted about the chapter, and Kabuga’s autobiography, we have been lucky enough to find the chapter in full, courtesy of Ian Cantwell. You can find yourself a full copy of the Deenon book here, too. As we promised, today we look at the Banyama-Baboga controversy in detail.

Mr. Kabuga starts his chapter by explaining how the institution of the Rutakirwa (he, who is above everyone else), introduced in 1963 in Kigezi was popular but polarizing. The resolve to neutralize the opposition to the institution was strong, so much that at times people would count the number of times a speaker mentioned the word ‘Rutakirwa’ to judge loyalty. He introduces us to the holder of the office, Mr. John Bikangaga. He writes:

“… People who liked and respected Bikangaga as a person also respected the institution (of Rutakirwa). They might not have given it the same respect had it been occupied by anyone else. Conversely, those who disliked Bikangaga disliked the institution as well. Amongst those hostile to the institution were some progressive educated young men who wrote letters to the press asserting that the Rutakirwa had no function except giving a few presents and speeches and waving to the people on important occasions.” (Page 287)

We learn that the simmering conflict worsened when Mr. Bikangaga contested for the regional chairmanship of the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) party. He was contesting against Mr. John Lwamafa at the time the incumbent regional chairman and minister in the UPC government. He had earlier succeeded Bikangaga as Headmaster of Kigezi High School when the former had travelled to Britain for further studies. Lwamafa’s supporters were not happy with Bikangaga’s decision to contest the position, while the latter’s supporters felt that no one in the district should be above their man, he was a Rutakirwa after all.

"Okumanyana n'obumwe", the words on the International Community for Banyakigezi (ICOB) logo trans-literally mean 'knowing each other/one another and unity'. The organisation has been holding annual conventions in a selected city since the 2000s.

“Okumanyana n’obumwe”, the words on the International Community for Banyakigezi (ICOB) logo trans-literally mean ‘knowing each other/one another and unity’. The organisation has been holding annual conventions in a selected city since the 2000s.

Mr. Kabuga again:

“The UPC Youth Wing already existed. They became very instrumental in the election of Mr. Bikangaga as a Regional Chairman. Mr. Lwamafa and his supporters however, were profoundly unhappy: but he remained a minister in a key ministry – that of Regional Administration. He was determined to teach his opponents a lesson.” (Page 288)

The division continued to widen as Mr. Bitwari, a Lwamafa-supporter won a seat that made it almost a foregone conclusion that he would be appointed by the minister in charge of Regional Administration (Lwamafa himself) to get back to the Bikangaga faction. The Youth Wingers wrote to the minister to express their unhappiness, especially at the way Bitwari’s supporters had taunted the Rutakirwa in celebrating their win. Mr. JB Kwesiga, then studying Politics at Makerere and belonging to the Lwamafa-faction sent a rejoinder, in which he called the Youth wingers uneducated. Tensions were high. And then …

The story of Rutendere, the cow

It was alleged that in celebrating Bitwari’s win, a cow named Rutendere, originally gifted to the Rutakirwa had been slaughtered by the Lwamafa faction. This fact became prominent as the district prepared to welcome H.E Apollo Milton Obote that was visiting the district and was to be hosted at a function at the Rutakirwa’s home. The Bikangaga faction were unhappy that Mr. Lwamafa had also invited the Prime Minister and UPC President to his home. Songs were composed to ridicule the Lwamafa faction for having ‘stolen’ a cow and slaughtered it to celebrate Bitwari’s win. Their defences fell on deaf ears. And eventually they gave up defending themselves and decided to make lemonade with the lemon.

Mr. Kabuga again:

“In Kigezi, to eat meat, one had to be a ‘man’ and well-to-do, having either money to buy meat or skill to hunt for it. Where the head of a family lacked money and hunting skill, his family ate no meat but had to live on vegetables (“emboga”) which were easy to find and cheap to buy. The Lwamafa faction decided to hit back: when they were accused of eating meat, they retorted that only ‘men’ could eat meat. From then on wards, those who were alleged to have eaten the meat (“enyama”) were called Banyama – meaning that they had eaten the meat of Rutendere – and their opponents were called Baboga, implying that they could not afford meat.” (Page 290)

Rwagalla denied his chair

The conflict continued to worsen, with the elections for councilors. The minister had powers to appoint from names sent to him by the council. Mukombe Mpambara, a Muboga had hopes of being the District Secretary General but was worried that the minister would not appoint him. But despite Lwamafa being the first Munyama among equals, Mpambara was appointed district secretary general and his deputy was also a Muboga, following the order of preference in the elections at council level. It was the district council chairmanship that would be a real thorn in the Baboga’s side.

Mr. Kabuga tells us that “Three names were duly forwarded: Mr. John Rwagalla, Mr. H. Bitakaramire and Mr. Karaaza.” Mr. Rwagalla was given so many votes, such that he was a top preference, but it was also planned that were the minister to appoint Mr. Bitakaramire, he would stand down for the Baboga choice, and obviously he would not choose Mr. Karaaza for his old age and illiteracy.  The minister reversed the order and appointed Mr. Bitakaramire as Chair and Rwagalla as Vice. Mr. Bitakaramire reneged on the Baboga pact, of standing down for Rwagalla, and refused to see the Rutakirwa over the matter. The Basigi supported him in his decision. Another Rwagara (not the Muboga), a Musigi had refused to become a chief during colonial days which hurt the clan. It was time to redeem the clan pride. The Banyama had staged a coup. Outnumbered in the council, having Bitakaramire cross over to their side against the wishes of the Baboga was a remarkable achievement.

The Baboga did not go to sleep. They plotted to physically stop Mr. Bitakaramire from entering the council hall, such that Rwagalla would act as chair. They indeed attempted to physically keep the appointed chairman away and the police arrested one of their number. The Youth Wingers were wreaking havoc singing songs around the council hall. The Banyama pulled a fast one.

Mr. Kabuga again:

“While prayers were being said, Bitakaramire quietly seated himself in the Chair. When ‘Amen’ was said, Rwagalla found Bitakaramire already in the seat. Accordingly, he sat down in Bitakaramire’s lap, and for a while it looked as if Bitakaramire would burst under Rwagalla’s weight.” (Page 292)

district council hall

The stand-off could not be resolved. Both groups went to Kampala for the intervention of the President and Chairman of the party, who did not give a resolute solution. Eventually the Baboga passed a vote of no confidence in Bitakaramire but their victory was short-lived as Mr. Rwagalla soon resigned after new regulations barred public servants from active politics. He chose his teaching position. Another blow to the Baboga was the 1967 abolition of kingdoms and such institutions. Mr. Bikangaga was thus no longer engabo ya Kigezi, the slogan for the Rutakirwa but an ordinary citizen again. But the Banyama victory was short-lived also, as in the next elections, the Baboga worked hard to defeat Lwamafa, who ended up without a constituency.

Kabuga retells the story

In his autobiography, Mr. Kabuga suggests that Rutendere was slaughtered and eaten when the Prime Minister visited Lwamafa, and merely paid a courtesy call on the Rutakirwa than on the celebration of Bitwari win, as he wrote in the Deenon volume. The UPC Regional Chairmanship elections follow the Rutendere debacle as opposed to the order in the Deenon volume. These discrepancies can be explained in two ways. One; that the Deenon volume chapter was written so soon after the events and so could be more accurate. But also, it could be that Mr. Kabuga did not have the benefit of hindsight that he has now, and so the version in the autobiography could be more credible. Whatever version one takes, the lessons the man learnt from his involvement are unmistakable.

Lessons for Kabuga

The Baboga-Banyama controversy showed Mr. Kabuga how dirty politics can get. He writes:

“The experience of my nephew Rwagalla as a politician made me shun politics. His home was always full of the so-called political supporters most of whom were hypocrites.” (Page 101)

Mr. Kabuga has been friends with Mr. Jassy Kwesiga since primary and junior secondary school, but the Banyama-Baboga conflict dealt this friendship a huge blow as they were on opposite sides. When he joined university later, he found the same Jassy in the position of his lecturer. They discussed their past differences and agreed to move forward and put that Banyama-Baboga disagreements behind them. In the recess term, they went to Kabale and visited both John Lwamafa and John Bikangaga, who had taught them at Kigezi High School. They became great friends after that.

And thence, it is not me who has disappeared but the story of the Banyama Baboga controversy through Mr. Kabuga’s eyes.

Charles Kabuga

Charles Kabuga as a Young Kigezi Historian

The Milton Obote Foundation, Makerere University’s History department and Foundation First supported a conference of local historians held in the Easter of 1970 in Kabale to write down the history of Kigezi. According to Donald Deenon, who edited the volume A History of Kigezi in South Western Uganda, the result of the conference and research that followed, twenty three people attended the conference which was held in vernacular, making it possible for elders of the district, not fluent in English to participate on equal terms with young men and women who could use English. Among the young men and women was Charles Kabuga.

Deenon writes:

“Mr. Charles Kabuga, the Resident Tutor of the Makerere Centre for Continuing Education, organised and chaired the conference with great efficiency and great humour.”  (Page 11)

Mr. Kabuga also contributed a chapter to the book. Deenon again.

“Mr. Kabuga’s chapter on the Banyama-Baboga controversy, is essentially an account of the trivialization of district politics into personal factionalism, as the power of the Uganda government became increasingly strong and increasingly obvious.” (Page 17)

An old and tattered copy of A History of Kigezi in South Western Uganda that I have access to does not have Chapter Twenty One (Mr. Kabuga’s contribution) in full. It has pages 286, up to 292. The contents page of the book unfortunately does not include page numbers so one can’t know how many pages of the chapter are missing (I am earnestly looking for a more complete copy of the book).

When I found out, from one of Mr. Kabuga’s grand-nephews, the academic and lawyer Dr. Busingye Kabumba that his great grand-uncle had written an autobiography, I was excited by the possibility of knowing more about his career as a Kigezi historian, but more importantly more about the Baboga-Banyama conflict and if he had written more work on Kigezi history. I bought a copy of the autobiography, and for two nights immersed myself in the book.

Charles Kabuga

Mr. Kabuga studied a BA in Economics, History and Political Science at Makerere. He had taught at Kigezi High School prior, and was employed as we have seen as a Resident Tutor at Makerere later on. About the Kabale conference of Kigezi historians, he writes:

“One of the greatest favours the History Department ever did to me was to request me to chair a conference of Kigezi historians in Kabale at Easter in 1970.

(…)

Some of the elders who attended included abagurusi Paulo Ngologoza, author of Kigezi and its People, Festo Karwemera, author of many books on the Bakiga, Nuha Karaaza, a recognized library of Rukiga history though he could not write, Zakayo Rwandusya, M.M.R. Rwankwenda, and S.B Ndebesa. The other participants that I remember were Phoebe Biteete (today Mrs. Prof. Edward Rugumayo), Rev. Sam Kakiza and Charles Haba Gashumba (RIP).

The result of the conference was a book on the history of Kigezi written by the Kigezi people themselves. Some of them could neither read nor write at all but were able to compile sections of the book. To this book, I contributed a chapter titled: “The Banyama Baboga Controversy”. (Pages 123-4).

In a follow-up post, we shall talk more about this controversy. From the autobiography, we learn that Mr. Kabuga was more than a mere observer of the Banyama Baboga controversy. He was actually an active participant, which makes for interesting perspectives. At the time he writes about the controversy, he had since left active politics, a fact that can lead us to assume that he was more reflective and distant enough from the subject to write about it.

The controversy he wrote about, as we shall find out later on in a different blog post, involved Mr. John Bikangaga, who was a relative of Mr. Kabuga’s. These connections are intriguing. They make it possible for Mr. Kabuga to be neutral as a historian looking at the events he participated in.

Mr. Kabuga’s academic career unfortunately did not follow the path of History as a discipline. He went to the United States, at Howard University to study Adult Education. On return, he continued his work with the Extra Mural Department at Makerere and the Centre for Continuing Education, in charge of the South Western Uganda area based at Kabale. His path stayed in adult education with a new branch into the cooperatives, as he migrated to Tanzania to work for the International Cooperative Alliance in 1977. He returned to Uganda in 1986 to head the Uganda Cooperative Alliance, from where he retired in 1999. He moved on to the International Federation of Agricultural Producers in 2000, till 2003. Since then, he has been a consultant on cooperatives and adult education. He is widely published in these areas.

Whereas Mr, Kabuga’s academic light shone towards adult education and cooperatives, the historian in him is at play in his autobiography. He says that he wrote the autobiography as a family document, for the descendants to know where they come from. Indeed, he does a good job detailing their genealogy. It is a historical document. It is not only important for his family, his life journey is instructive and reflects the various historical periods and moments of interest to this blog, for example. The historian in Mr. Kabuga is alive and awake.

Prof. Murindwa Rutanga on Indigenous Banyakigezi, Mutambuka and Kiga Foods

Prof. Murindwa Rutanga, a professor of Political Science at Makerere University has written about the Nyabingyi resistance, agrarian revolutions, land use in the Kigezi region among other themes. His seminal work todate is the 2011 book titled Politics, Religion and Power in the Great Lakes Region. The book was published by CODESRIA and Fountain Publishers and in it, the professor explores various conflicts in the Great Lakes region, covering the DRC, Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan among other states in the region. Of interest to this blog are the things the professor, himself a Munyakigezi says about Kigezi in terms of the peopling of the region, a few notes about one of the anti-Nyabingyi fighters and indigenous Kiga foods. Enjoy the excerpts below.

Rutanga cover

 

The Peopling of Kigezi

The various indigenous peoples inhabiting Kigezi region are the Abakiga, the Abahororo, the Abafumbira, the Abanya-Butumbi, the Abahunde and the Abatwa. These are invariably collectively classified as Abanya-Kigezi (people of Kigezi). It should be noted that these ethnic groupings stretched across the borders into Rwanda and the DRC and share different characteristics – socio-cultural, linguistic, religious, economic, philosophical, demographic and morbidity. Intermarriages, visits, entrusting one’s livestock and/or fowls to the care of another person (okuhereka), and other socio-economic and cultural activities and arrangements like seeking social brew or free booze (okuvuumba); plus cooperatives locally known as ebibiina, still disregard the logic, dictates and imperatives of international borders. Seen in broader terms, these peoples have retained their larger communities despite the separatist measures by the colonial and post-colonial states. Seen from the peasant’s perspectives, the post-colonial states can be said to be returning to these people’s position through the resurrection of the East African Community.  – pages 15-16

Uganda-DRC border

On Mutambuka, the clan head

Mutambuka, head of the Baheesi clan at the time of colonial invasion, had 27 wives. He refused to join the anti-colonial Nyabingyi movement led by Muhumuza and this forced Muhumuza to fight him before attacking the colonialists. Mutambuka sought safety with the invading British forces and his forces combined with the British forces to defeat the anti-colonial Nyabingyi movement. – page 47

Mutambuka

Stigmatisation of Kiga foods

The pre-colonial food crops (in Kigezi) include sorghum, millet, beans, peas, and sweet potatoes. The newly introduced ones include solanum potatoes (emondi), bananas, and the daily intake of meat and other animal products. … The war against indigenous foods came into the open when children who had been sent to colonial boarding schools became alienated from their cultures, ways of life, foods and feeding habits. They began by despising and rejecting their traditional foods. The first victim was local sorghum bread (obuhemba). They. through their limited acquired foreign language named it derogatorily as John kyankarata wanyiha ahabi – meaning that obuhemba was an unpalatable food only eaten as a last resort by desperate people. This war spread like wild fire among the young generation and they abandoned obuhemba and enkumba. (Enkumba is porridge prepared from raw sorghum.) The elite transformed the two types of food into curses. The stigmatisation of local food helped to create a reliable market for European wheat bread. And so graduates of colonial education and modernity were pitted against African Kiga culture and foods. This resulted in cultural conflicts and confusion. Those who ought to have saved their areas from imperialism transformed their people into haters of their own products and consumers of imported foods. This confirms the dependency discourse which argued that imperialism transformed the colonised people into producers of what they did not consume and consumers of what they did not produce. – pages 10 – 12

sorghum

The Nyabingyi Resistance Movement; Ntokibiri and Ndungutse

By Egan Tabaro

 

The origins of the Nyabingi are as mystifying as the religion itself. However according to one account, which this writer believes to be the most plausible, Nyabingi was in fact the name of a Queen cum priestess of the Abashambo dynasty that ruled Mpororo until it disintegrated in the late 19th century. Early accounts of her, including John Hanning Speke’s journal entries, portray her as a feared sorceress. After her death, her spirit was revered as the goddess Nyabingi which possessed specially chosen people named Abagirwa (singular Omugirwa) to speak on her behalf. Prof Rutanga Murindwa in People’s Anti-Colonial Struggles in Kigezi under The Nyabingi Movement, 1910-1930 describes the Nyabingi thus “…was presented to its followers as having been created in the form of a woman; a female spirit which often appeared to people, with rapid transformative powers into feminine personalities…”

 

The Abagirwa, by virtue of their spiritual power held immense influence on the people living around the confluence of the present day boundaries of Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. At the advent of colonialism in East Africa during the late 19th century and early 20th century, the Abagirwa organized natives into armies to attack colonial establishments, refuse to pay tax and provide forced labour to colonial authorities, in what is now called the Nyabingi Resistance/Movement.

Of the several figures at the helm of the Nyabingi Resistance (1910-1930), two stand out; Ntokibiri and Ndungutse. The former was an askari in the Belgian colonial army fighting off the Germans in Tanzania and Rwanda at the turn of the 19th Century. Ntokibiri eventually deserted with a group of fellow African fighters and a large cache of weapons. Using these firearms and the military warfare techniques he learned from the Belgians, Ntokibiri literary turned his guns on his former masters, while using the Nyabingi religion (of which he had become a Mugirwa to recruit men into his ranks). He operated in the Kivu-Mulera-Kigezi area organizing peasants into a rebellion with the goal of dislodging Belgian and British forces. The British colonial army officers wrote of him and his rebellion in a curious blend of scorn and awe.

 

His very first attack, the Acting District Commissioner to Kigezi was described in a letter to the District Commissioner of Ruzizi-Kivu as “a crowd of fanatical natives, with a sacred sheep as an emblem, were with difficulty driven back, with aid of two mitrailleuses, after some hours of fighting”. Realizing that the colonial army was still militarily superior to his own, Ntokibiri switched to guerilla tactics that some African military leaders would utilize some eight decades later! “Ndochibiri,” Maj. Lawrence reported to the Colonial Secretary, “was a master of the situation, there were no roads, very hilly country, look out huts and signal fires on every hill and every native as far as lay in his power apparently under Ndochibiri’s control-none of whom we could touch”! The Acting District Commissioner had a near reverent view of Ntokibiri and his men; “their death or capture will alone ensure peace” he wrote. He was eventually killed in battle after his retreat was cut off and his men dispersed by an inevitably better armed colonial army and his two fingered arm severed and publicly circulated ‘to assure publicity for the death’.

Ndunguste on the other hand was a prince of Rwanda’s Banyiginya dynasty. His mother was Muhumuza, one of Umwami Kigeri IV Rwabugiri Rwabugiri’s wives. His father was Mibabmbwe V Rutalindwa, Kigeri IV Rwabugiri ‘s son and chosen successor who was ousted in the 1896 coup at Rucunshu. Frank Rusagara in Resilience of a Nation: A History of the Military in Rwanda describes Ndungutse a “pretender to the throne” whose attempt to capture the throne was thwarted forcing him and his mother (who was already a Mugirwa) to flee to Rukiga where the two organized peasants in revolt against the colonial authorities. When their resistance was finally crushed, Muhumuza was captured and deported to Kampala, detained until her death in 1945. A photograph of her circulated in the press throughout the British empire just about the same time Black nationalist leaders were emerging in North America and the Caribbean, chief among whom was Marcus Garvey whose followers in Jamaica in due course came to be known as Rastafarians.

 

Ndungutse’s fate remains warped in legends and there are many contradictory accounts of what exactly happened to him after their revolt was crushed. One says he was captured together with Muhumuza, another that he was killed in battle; his head severed by his captors but that his spirit lived on in Kigezi area and continued to posses other men so that there exist more than one Ndungutse in the Nyabingi narrative. Whatever the case, Muhumuza and Ndungutse have been immortalized in Rastafarian and Black Supremacy beliefs and lofty myths with one going so far as to claim the Nyabingi possessed Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie at his enthronement in 1930.

By 1930, all forms of military resistance had been more or less defeated, even though worship of Nyabingi continued. In the late 1940s, a wave of Fundamentalist Christianity that had started and met resistance at the Anglican Mission at Gahini spread to South West Uganda. Its followers or ‘the saved ones’ (Abalokole) for the first time challenged people to repent their sins publicly and destroy all fetishes associated with the African religions, before breaking out into song. The blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, they claimed would destroy the power of sin and lesser deities. Nyabingi had finally met its match in spiritual terms so much that today what once a feared religion and military resistance in Kigezi, Kivu and Rwanda is now only a subject of fascination for history enthusiasts!

The Real Moments of Interest

As I have said in the summary of the project idea, I am not writing a chronology of historical events in and about Kigezi. I am indulging into specific events/moments of interest to me. My list is fluid. I can’t dictate my interests for the next months and years that this project will run. For now, I will say that the topics/events I have in mind are the following (in no particular order);

1. The Buganda Factor in Kigezi; Agency and Self-Rule

2. The Resistance to Colonial Rule in Kigezi

3. The Bafuruki and Resettlement phenomenon in Kigezi

4. The issue of political opinion and religion in Kigezi

5. Land and Farming in Kigezi

I can’t list all the topics as of now. My writing, academic or not usually guides me as to where I should go. I have listed the above four topics because that is where the writing campus has so far shown me. I am sure the campus will project its focus to other areas as time flies. I will keep faithful to this campus throughout. This is meant to be a journey for me and hopefully for those who shall take the trouble to follow this blog. I pray that the zeal and inspiration stays until we reach a stage where we can say we are ready to engage in a deeper research and writing about Kigezi history.

Otherwise, right now, I am going to make sure I plough the land while the rains are still falling. Enjoy and Welcome.