Ear to The Ground
By Charles Onyango-Obbo

97.5% of Banyoro ‘lost’ in Kabalega wars; how many will die in Kony’s?
Nov 26, 2003 - Monitor

When 34 MPs from the north walked out of Parliament demanding that the government do more to deal with the suffering of the people in the region because of the Joseph Kony-led Lords’ Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency, they were mocked by some of the Kampala regime’s functionaries.

President Yoweri Museveni, to his credit, met the MPs and promised some fresh actions to deal with the crisis.

These are desperate times in northern Uganda; notwithstanding signals that the rebellion is either going into one of its usual “holidays”, or the LRA has been scattered by the UPDF.

Reports say that over two million people in the north and north east of Uganda are internally displaced persons (IDPs). If that is true, then Uganda has the world’s largest number of IDPs.

Some people who say the 34 protesting MPs should go and hang, think the suffering of fellow Ugandans from the north is just revenge for the atrocities of “northern armies” in Luwero and other parts of the country during Milton Obote’s rule (1981-July 1985), or the military junta of the Okellos (July 1985 - January 1986).

So we might as well go to Luwero’s neighbour, Bunyoro region, to help us understand the consequences of the war in the north a little better.

I had never been an admirer of Bunyoro’s King Solomon Gafabusa Iguru I; but his great grandfather the brave king patriot of Bunyoro-Kitara, Kabalega is easily the greatest Ugandan of all time.

Lately, a new side of Iguru, that suggests that some traces of Kabalega are in his blood, has began to emerge.

Kabalega is the king who most fought British expansion. The colonialists had to assemble a large army, which included Sudanese mercenaries, to put down the Banyoro’s resistance, and defeat the alliance between Kabalega and controversial, but truly nationalist King Mwanga, of Buganda.

The colonialists then made “an example” of Bunyoro, so as to totally discourage natives from armed rebellion. Iguru, as most will know, has threatened to take Britain to court for war crimes committed by its colonial troops.

Iguru is seeking £ 2.8 billion compensation from Britain for “acts of pillage, rape and murder”.

Iguru says these actions, according to British press reports, were committed by soldiers - under the command of Col. Henry Colville (in case you did not know where Colville Street got its name), the consul of Uganda - against the kingdom. After his capture Kabalega was jailed without trial in the Seychelles for 22 years.

Iguru, according to the Sunday Observer, gained data from the Public Record Office in London, Oxford’s Rhodes House, and the Churchill archives in Cambridge.

The records tell of vast looting by British soldiers under orders from Colville, and devastation of villages and slaughtering of civilians by Nubian soldiers.

The diary of Capt. A.B. Thruston, who led troops to annex the Bunyoro Kingdom in 1894, boasts of wanton destruction. “I have, and will in the future, burn their houses, destroy their crops and cut down the banana plantations,” he writes.

The value of this is that we have a sense of the cost in money terms of the war against Kabalega: The equivalent of about Shs 8.5 trillion. However, early this year King Iguru made rather shocking revelations about the human toll of the “pacification” of Bunyoro.

By the end of the formal war, the population of Bunyoro-Kitara was down to 2,500,000.

However, by the time the colonial regime had finished punishing Bunyoro in 1899 – there were only 100,000 of them left!

The relative economic “backwardness” of Bunyoro today, and its sparse population of locals is a result of that war over 100 years ago.

What this tells us is that the more serious casualties of the northern war are not those that happen in the battlefield as such – but away from it in the camps, e.g. where the IDPs live and during the “mopping up” exercises.

So while it is important to focus on ending the war, an equal priority for the MPs and international community should be the interventions that save the lives of the two million IDPs.

Secondly, since the northern war has gone on longer and with more ferocity than the Bunyoro campaign, we can reasonably assume that the cost to Uganda is far more than Shs 8 trillion.
As a country, we must ask whether that is a cost we are willing to continue paying.

We shall never know how many people have died in the north and north east, until well after President Yoweri Museveni’s rule has ended, and Kony and his disciples no longer terrorise the region.

I hope we will not find, like in Kabelega’s Bunyoro, that 97.5 percent of the people in the north fled their homeland or died. Unfortunately, the “total elimination” mindset of both the government and LRA, makes this prospect the more likely one.

Thirdly, last year and in 2001 there were uprisings by Banyoro against other Ugandans, whom they called “foreigners” who had come and grabbed their land, and marginalised them.

I found, and still find, the Banyoro’s actions outrageous, but yet I can see where they were coming from.

Several of their leaders said it was wrong for other Ugandans to take advantage of their historical misfortune which left them weakened and their land little settled by themselves, to disinherit them.

In other words, these grievances always come back to haunt us. What goes round, comes round.

If we accept that the north/north east is justly paying for the sins of the “northern” regimes that ruled Uganda until Museveni broke that in 1986, then we must concede that someone will someday pay for the sins of a southern/western regime.

I think it is still not too late to change the course of our history.


© 2003 The Monitor Publications

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