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.
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)
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.