CSOs condemn violence in Uganda’s Rwenzori region and emphasize the need for collaboration between the government and traditional leaders to prevent future conflict

Friday, August 15th, 2014

CSOs condemn violence in Uganda’s Rwenzori region and emphasize the need for collaboration between the government and traditional leaders to prevent future conflict

As Ugandans anticipates a major spike in revenue from oil production, suspicions and mistrust between the two authorities must end to prevent conflict and ensure equitable development

Kampala, 7th August 2014
The undersigned Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) express deep concern at the serious violence that happened last month in the areas of Kasese, Kamwenge and Ntoroko in southwestern Uganda, which resulted in the deaths of over 90 civilians and security personnel as well as the arrest of hundreds of suspects. This is an area which has suffered decades of violence from various armed groups, including the ADF, which in one case slaughtered over 80 students at Kicwamba College. The communities want peace and development but not violence and death.

We strongly condemn all the perpetrators of such violence and call upon the government and traditional leaders to ensure that such violence between civilians and security agencies does not happen again. We commend the efforts of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) who, since the violence to date, has camped in the region to ensure peace. However, we remind him and the government that there can never be peace without truth and reconciliation. While the President, the Minister for Defence, Minister for Internal Affairs and other political leaders have attempted to point at possible causes of the violence, it is not convincing to explain why the different tribes in the Rwenzori region, which have lived together in peace for decades, are now picking up pangas and spears to attack each other and to attack military barracks and police stations.
The President and his ministers’ statements also do not explain the excessive force that was used by police and the army against civilians which resulted into the death of over 90 people. Such violence and the killings cannot be explained or justified politically. Impossible.
The painful truth: we lost Ugandans, both civilians and security personnel, from senseless violence. The security agencies of the government failed in their primary duty of detecting and preventing the violence; this led to the killings. By commission or omission, both the attackers and the security forces who may have killed the attackers should be blamed for the violence and the death. In addition to the IGP camping in the region and the political statements by the President and ministers, an independent commission of inquiry headed by a judge should be initiated to find out the truth and make recommendations for a lasting solution.
The commission should investigate the allegations that the cause of the Ruwenzori violence was the ongoing creation of new cultural institutions, which are viewed by the old Kingdoms as a ploy by the government to weaken the existing traditional institutions. In their view, this enables the government and her agents in the new Chiefdoms to grab land and other natural resources located in the old Kingdoms, which is of particular relevlance as Uganda prepares for oil production in the region.
It should be remembered that the Rwenzori violence came few months after the Rwenzururu King Mumbele was stopped from visiting parts of His Kingdom. This is related to the Buganda violence, which happened as a result of the government stopping the Buganda King Ronald Mutebi from visiting Kayunga, one of the areas in the Buganda Kingdom. At that time, the Banyala, a small tribe in Buganda, was demanding from the government to be declared an independent Kingdom from Buganda. The resulting violence led to the death of over 50 civilians and hundreds of injuries and arrests.
Like the violence in Rwenzori, the Buganda-Kayunga violence was a senseless violence that happened at the time when tensions between the government and the Buganda Kingdom over the Kingdom’s property were high. The Kingdom viewed the Banyala as a creation of the government to weaken Buganda and defeat her efforts to recover her land and property. Unfortunately, to date, after over four years of the violence, there is no evidence about what happened. The police report has never been made public.
If such deep-rooted mistrust and suspicions are not addressed, the development of oil in the Albertan Graben, a region that covers the Ruwenzori and borders with Eastern DRC, may be dangerous and devestating. Many small tribes will struggle to claim their share of oil and protect their land from the growing population arriving to benefit from oil opportunities, while the original kingdoms will struggle to maintain their original boundaries.
While the prosecution of suspects is necessary, the lessons from the Buganda violence clearly indicate that such a step alone cannot provide a lasting solution to problems of mistrust and suspicion between Kingdoms and the government.
To find a lasting solution, there is a need to establish the truth behind the violence and bring all parties involved on the table for truth and reconcilation.
We recommend that, in the initial years of oil development, the creation of new Kingdoms should be suspended across Uganda for at least for 10 years to allow the current wounds to heal. This is a sacrifice that Ugandans should welcome for the sake of preventing further bloodshed. During the time of suspension, both the traditional and government leaders should engage in honest discussions and sensitize the citizens on how to live as one people.

About the undersigned CSOs:
The Ugandan CSOs, together with partners from DRC, Rwanda and Burundi under an IUCN NL-supported transboundary project entitled ‘Empowering Local Communities to Influence Governments & Regional Bodies to Respect Human, Social, Economic and Environmental Needs and Rights in the Graben and the Great Lakes Region’, remain steadfast in their commitment to building the capacity of local communities and engaging with all relevant stakeholders in the Graben to promote socio-economic development, peace and environmental conservation. Our work with communities is done in an impartial, neutral and independent manner.
This press release is undersigned by the following civil society organizations from Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and DRC:
Global Rights Alert, Uganda COPEILE, DRC