By Stephen Rwagweri Atwoki
Greetings and best wishes – Mr. President.
While responding to a question from a journalist during a National press conference on 11th June, 2014 at Rwakitura the president’s country home, on King Oyo’s planned fasting because of problems currently facing the Kingdom, President Museveni reportedly referred to king Oyo as a kavubuka ke Tooro. He also referred to the reportedly planned fasting as a good exercise to help “akavubuka” reduce the weight. This is the premise of this letter and thus we proceed as follows;
1. Legal and Historical backing of the status of cultural leaders in Uganda.
Article 246 of the 1995 Uganda constitution recognize cultural leaders who are based on the customs, traditions, wishes and aspirations of the concerned communities. The spirit of this article put obligation to all Ugandans to respect such traditions, even if one does not believe in them or belong to the same community. The President may wish to remember that king Oyo, whom he may prefer to call akavubuka ke Tooro at leisure, through his immediate grand father, is a signatory to the Lancaster conference of 1961 which created the independent Uganda that the President leads. Tooro as a geo-political entity then, moved deliberately and consciously to unite with other entities and form the Uganda we have. This means that Oyo was effectively present at the formation of Uganda, more than anybody who was at the scene where he was described as “akavubuka” in a national press conference.
So the application of the notion “akavubuka” in this context is very disturbing to any serious nationalist. The derogatory use of his human characteristics like small or big boy in a public and official communication defames the sacredness of the institution he represents and torments the minds of millions of people who subscribe to that institution. Moreover it is contradictory and against the spirit of the Uganda constitution, for a head of state of Uganda to publicly ridicule a status of a cultural leader which was conferred upon him, according to the traditions of a Ugandan community.
2. Traditional and cultural backing of the status of a Tooro king.
According to the traditions of Tooro, a king is no ordinary person. During the coronation rituals he loses his ordinary status and assumes the successive status and names in the line of the hereditary Kings of Bunyoro Kitara which was the oldest African Empire, South of the Sahara. These traditions and the legacy the Tooro king represents, was over 2000 years old, stemming from the Batembuzi who established Bunyoro Kitara much before 200 BC.
To publicly belittle the person of the king of Tooro is to abuse the over 2000 years old traditions which have been cherished and transmitted from generation to generation. More over to abuse and discard the Bunyoro Kitara History, Uganda will remain only with the history of a defeated and a colonized people.
The king in Tooro goes through the greatest rituals in the land every year as a ransom for the life and prosperity of all the people in the kingdom. He is the living representation and successor in name and title of 39 great kings of Bunyoro Kitara who defended our identity and dignity as a people across generations. Therefore he is the physical manifestation of our collective memory, imaginations and aspirations as a people.
3. Fasting of Tooro king as a necessary royal custom which should not be ridiculed.
For the king to fast because of unfortunate occurrences affecting his Kingdom is a customary obligation which should not have been ridiculed by anybody. No matter the justification for splitting the kingdom, the king must be understood that from his stand point, it is a great disaster. He is loosing the subjects, the ancestral territories and the sacred sites which were entrusted and handed over to him by his forefathers to protect, defend and project into posterity. It means that he will have to handover to his successors less than he received from his forefathers. This reality is very tormenting and customarily he has to take time off and go in seclusion to spiritually be with his ancestors, to give an account of the loss through fasting, supplications and offering sacrifices. In old days, a king would only lose territory through a defeat at war whereby he would die on frontline or commit suicide but never to return home alive to report the loss.
So Mr. President for a Tooro king to fast, in face of sporadic disintegration of his Kingdom, persistent holding of kingdom resources by the state, denying him any capacity to provide for the children of his kingdom, is not a casual exercise to reduce weight but a customary obligation and sacramental Act to curse evil and prevent the kingdom from further disasters. The act should not be reduced to a modern nation of social actions like hunger strike but it is spiritual, religious and cultural and can have serious consequences.
Imagine if two of Uganda’s provinces were to secede, would president Museveni fast to reduce weight and come to celebrate with the person who has facilitated secession calling him a great friend? It should be noted that this analysis strongly recognize and affirms the cultural rights of any group to self determination and the legal protection against forced allegiance to a cultural leader and the fundamental principle of the diversity of cultural expression. In the same vein affirms the rights of a cultural leader who may be negatively affected by a situation to carryout his customary rituals to cope with the effects with out being belittled or ridiculed. Mutual respect is the fundamental principle of unity in diversity.
What the world should know is that culturally the king of Tooro can not be insulted. He is above such insults. Like Mount Rwenzori ranges creates a fence around Tooro land, the people hold hands and stand in concert, creating a ring around the person of the king to protect the sacredness of the ancestral institution from such attacks. So the people take insults on behalf of the king and they know how to engage with those who insult them.
Officials in the palace have indicated that this year’s rituals- Empango may be skipped. Should this happen, it is not casual again but to abscond compulsory annual rituals to signal state of Emergency in the Kingdom and spill the greatest curse to evil, roaming around the Kingdom as reflected in the problems and disasters affecting integrity and social cohesion that has lived for generations. Butwarane, the royal drum which is sounded once every year at Empaango rituals to signify continuity and prosperity may not be sounded this year.
The kings of Kitara use abscondment of compulsory royal duties in disgust, to tackle the problems facing their kingdom. The extreme of this approach was when the Bacwezi around late 13th century withdraw in disgust and disappeared because of persistent civil disobedience. This act terrified and punished the people. Consequently the Bacwezi were defied and became invisible rulers whom, up to the advent of Christianity in 19th century, every family in Bunyoro Kitara Empire had to offer sacrifices every year to appease them not to strike and cause misfortunes.
So this is how the Kings of Bunyoro Kitara tackles the problems where they are not in a position of using coercive methods. It is a non-violent approach where they use moral and spiritual powers to challenge internal disobedience or external aggression and manipulation. He has started with fasting and if the problem is not addressed can abscond from performing rituals and if the situation remains the same anything can happen. A king is a king and nothing less.
4. President Museveni as part of Tooro Royal Rituals- Omujwarakondo;
Implications and dangerous contradictions.
President Museveni in his personal capacity was given the crown of Tooro- Omujwarakondo. This should not be confused with the role of a Guardian and care taker ‘Omukuza’ of the then young king Oyo. These were two separate things. Omujwarakondo is the greatest honour in Tooro royal establishment and is granted through one of the rituals during Empango. It is permanent and can take hereditary form in the family. It has serious customary privileges as well as obligations, norms and taboos. Omujwarakondo is sacramentally linked to the crown, adorns the crown just like the king and accompanies him through some of the key rituals during Empango. This also means that he accompanies the king in his sacred roles of defending and protecting the form and content of his institution.
He is also linked to Butwarane with its attendant norms and taboos. The tragedy is that the president may have accepted and participated in the rituals as a causal populist gesture for political expediency, without reflection on associated obligations and implications. Given the role of the president Museveni in the situation which, from the point of the institution itself, is disastrous and yet at the sometime he is a crowned Mujwarakondo, there is a cultural crisis. Belittling the person of the king is abusing the crown where he is supposes to be a defender. The Tooro subject, who betrays and defames the crown which is like treason in modern states, faces Butwarane. In Rutooro it says “Abagobeza Butwarane Eribemirra” literally translates as those who betrays Butwarane it will swallow them. Butwarane is a royal drum signifying the collective mighty and resilient spirits of all the living dead kings of Bunyoro –Kitara. By taking part in the Tooro royal rituals, Mr. Museveni in his personal capacity, associated himself with those norms and taboos and became liable to their do’s and dont’s.
Peoples’ sacred traditions and rituals can not be taken as mere entertainment and casual business. This would be part of destroying people’s heritage which will be resisted by the bearers of the abused traditions, as well as similar institutions and the global fraternity of people who promote respect for heritage.
It is difficult to imagine that a person who has presided over a government which has refused to return assets of the institution and facilitated sporadic disintegration of the kingdom can, in addition, attempt to insult the person of the king and publicly ridicule the rituals the king is performing to cope with the resultant tremor. It is further devastating to imagine that the person doing all this is part and parcel of Tooro royal rituals, holding the highness honour in the kingdom with its attendant obligation of a crown defender.
5. False political impressions as a basis of undermining the status of Tooro king.
One of the most fascinating contradiction among the political elite in Uganda today, is the dangerous belief and false impression that cultural institutions in Uganda are a gift from the benevolent generosity of the politicians of the day. This could explain the behavior of political operative’s towards Tooro Kingdom. To insult the person of the king of Tooro and ridicule his holy rituals is a deadly attack on the dignity and nationalistic consciousness of the people of Tooro.
President Museveni has been calling Oyo, His Highness the king and his institution, a model kingdom when the unfortunate indisposition of the institution exclusively served the political interests of the president. The same king Oyo suddenly becomes “akavubuka” when he grows to assert the intrinsic value and essence of his institution, other peoples’ political interests not withstanding. The kingdom of Tooro derives its legitimate and existence from the over 2000 years old traditions. It has been around and it will continue to be around beyond the lifespan of any contemporary individual. Even those who overtly attempted to abolish these institutions in 1967, today there are no longer around but the institutions are still around.
6. Adding to the burden of other outstanding Tooro issues.
This would be too much for Tooro, given the burden of thorny outstanding issues which were documented and submitted to the president by Tooro Elders forum but no reply among the issues is failure to avail investigation report of the suspicious death of Prince Noble Mayombo who held our greatest hope in the ranks of your reign and served your government diligently. In a similar vein the catholic priest Rev. Fr. Tonny Kiiza.
7. Deploying operatives to worsen the matters.
Sending operatives like Ofwono Opondo to Tooro to give insensitive and provocative outburst makes matters worse. Those cadres are witty and effective for temporal and street politics but not for engagement with a royal community on deeply entrenched royal culture and sacred traditions. You instead need an accomplished and polished theologian who, in any case, may not disagree with us.
8. Proposed way forward
President Museveni, of necessity, must facilitate immediate return of the institution’s assets and resources as demanded withdraw the unfortunate remarks and pay ransom for the effects of the insults and the loss of sacred lands and ancestral territories. The value and form of the ransom should be determined by the ritual leaders.
9. Possible consequences and prophetic disclaimer
If this is ignored, I am afraid! Butwarane may “Swell”. I wash my hands clean, I am not responsible “Aranga ekibi aba atakiresire”, I am only a grandson to the lineage of kinyamairu kya Karogo –the hereditary priests and prophets of the kings of Tooro.
Ahangirize Entale ya Tooro.
Atwooki Rwagweri – Owa Kyakaana Ow’Itabyama lya Mbogo.
CC: The Omuhikirwa (Prime Minister) Tooro Kingdom.
CC: Clan and Ritual leaders Tooro Kigdom
CC: The Rwigi (Speaker) Supreme Council (Orukurato) Tooro Kingdom.
CC: The Chairperson Isaazi Lyabantu Bakuru ba Tooro.
CC: Religious Leaders