Cultural institutions strife: It’s not about monarchies but control over natural resources

By Muhindo JamesMuhindo James

A day after police made public a plot to poison the King of the Great Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, Omukama Solomon Iguru Gafabusa, I was astonished to read a pronouncement by Prince David Kijanangoma of Tooro in light of his resolution to over throw Tooro Kingdom’s youthful Monarch, Omukama Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru. These two otherwise isolated cases follow last year’s bloody cultural strife in the Rwenzori Region between two tribal Groups that had previously enjoyed a decades-long alliance; The Bamba and Bankonzo. This is without prejudice to other tribes like Banyabinde, Basongora and Batuku in the Rwenzoris and the Bagungu Bunyoro, who have also continued to assert their claim for a stake in the region.

Before the strife in the Albertine got where it is today, there was a whistle blowing report by the Kabarole Research and Resource Centre entitled “Stuck in the Mist; Contextual Analysis of the Conflicts in the Rwenzori Region”. This report clearly stated that upon the discovery of oil and Gas in 2006, there was high anxiety in the region with individuals and institutions speculating high return to those who have access to the resource. The research findings foretold the possibility of these conflicts with so much precision that I cannot help but connect what is happening to, among other things, the need to have control over Natural Resource Wealth of the region.

Looking at the map of Uganda, the oil rich Albertine Graben stretches from West Nile across Lake Albert and the Rwenzori Ranges down to parts of north Kigezi. Anyone who has been paying keen attention to this region can testify that issues of land ownership and “Strangers” buying big chunks of land from natives has never been as high as it has been in the past eight years. These speculative purchases of land have since caused both the locals and the cultural institutions in the region to believe that there is more to their land causing an unprecedented quest for autonomy of cultures and Tribes.

During the enactment of the upstream oil and gas laws such as The Petroleum (Exploration, Development and Production) Act No. 3 of 2013, what was of most concern to the Kingdoms especially Bunyoro in this case, was their percentage of oil revenue. In fact, in a meeting between Global Rights Alert and Bunyoro Kingdom officials in November last year, one thing that was not disputed whatsoever was that the kingdom hand somewhat unrealistic expectations from oil vis-à-vis  what the legislators planned to allocate to them, given that the resource has to be enjoyed nationally. The Unfortunate news however is that if the Bagungu of Buliisa got the cultural self-rule they need, Bunyoro may lose some of the oil wells, which self-rule I believe may not come on a silver platter.

Besides the Albertine Graben and the Oil and Gas talk, this region is equally rich in other underground minerals just like many other places of Uganda. This means that as the predominantly minerals/Natural resources reliant National Development Plan II (NDP II) is implemented; the scuffle over land ownership and control over these areas will only intensify. In fact the Mining Act Cap. 148 is very clear on the issue of royalty as it provides that the land owner is always entitled to 3% of the proceeds from the minerals mined in their land. This legally clear-cut entitlement to a monetary benefit may result into unmitigated disaster for Ugandan citizens if the masses are not sensitized on the matter.

Thanks to the government’s rapid response in the 2014 Rwenzori conflicts, police and the military successfully moved in and cubed the situation. In the case of these Cultural Institutions’ internal rivalry, Government should not treat them as isolated cases because they have the potential to turn all Kingdom areas into dystopias. The call by some groups to get Kingdoms and others to internally challenge existing Monarchies needs to be seen beyond the need for traditional power, but rather as a deep sited desire to galvanize control over natural resources in these areas.

[author image=”” ]James Muhindo is a lawyer, Researcher and Human Rights advocate. He is currently working as a Project Officer at Global Rights Alert. You can reach him through these emails /[/author]

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