A claimant to the Rwenzururu Kingdom throne has been allocated armed protection from the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), raising eyebrows over the fate of Omusinga Charles Wesley Mumbere at a time when Mumbere is barred from even visiting his kingdom.
Robert Tibamwenda has also been introduced, at least twice, as the “king of the Bakonzo” at public functions in the last five months.
On April 13, at the 47th birthday celebration of the Kamuswaga of Kooki, Apollo Sansa Kabumbuli, Tibamwenda was invited and, subsequently, introduced as the King of the Bakonzo. He was seen guarded by men UPDF uniform.
Clad in the leopard skin, Tibamwenda was on December 10, 2017 a guest at the cultural ceremony of the Buruli chiefdom in Nakasongola District, where he was introduced as the King of the Bakonzo.
Tibamwenda then said he had state security although police spokesperson Emilian Kayima refuted the claims.
Since November 2016, Mumbere has not stepped in Kasese or any part of his kingdom after he was arrested during a military raid on his palace.
Claims to the throne
Tibamwenda says he is a grandson to Tibamwenda, one of the three Bakonzo political activists who were executed and buried in a single grave in 1921. Together with Kapolyo and Nyamutswa, their execution took place at Kaghando Trading Centre, Kisinga Sub County in the present day Kasese district which was part of Tooro Kingdom at the time.
Tibamwenda claims he was crowned prince by the elders of his clan on December 18, 1998 in Kaghando Village, where his grandfather was buried. Rwenzururu King Charles Wesley Mumbere was, at the time, still living in exile in the United States where he went after renouncing rebellion and signing a peace accord with government in 1982.
Many other claimants sprouted, including Tibamwenda’s uncle Ibrahim Makoma and Swalleh Tibamwenda of the Basu Clan. However, with the recognition of Mumbere as the Omusinga of Rwenzururu, the hopes of the other claimants were dampened.
Government officially recognised Rwenzururu Kingdom in 2009 with Mumbere at the helm. This followed a 2005 report by a cabinet ministerial committee led by the then deputy prime minister Henry Muganwa Kajura, which established that over 90 percent of the Bakonzo in Kasese and 100 percent of those in Bundibugyo were in support of the kingdom with Mumbere as their leader.
When the relationship between government and Mumbere became acrimonious, however, Tibamwenda reawakened his claims to the throne.
In 2014, after the July 5 simultaneous conflicts in Kasese, Bundibugyo and Ntoroko districts, Tibamwenda dared Mumbere to hold a sacrifice at Mountain Rwenzori to prove his kingship. It is believed that the god of the mountain – Kithasamba – is seated on Margherita, the tallest peak on the Rwenzori.
Tibamwenda argued that whoever was not rightful king would not survive during the sacrifice.
He stated that Mumbere was not king but rather a leader of a political movement called Rwenzururu Freedom Movement. Mumbere’s father, Isaya Mukirania, was one of the three Bakonzo and Bamba leaders who walked out of the Tooro Kingdom parliament – Orukurato – to start the Rwenzururu Movement in March 1962.
Cyril Makoma, an elder in the Baswagha clan, where Tibamwenda belongs, denounced the self-proclaimed king. Makoma said Tibamwenda was simply brought up in a Baswagha family and therefore could not claim inheritance from Baswagha Clan.
Makoma instead affirmed allegiance to Mumbere. Tibamwenda’s assertion in 2014 was swept under the carpet as attention and media-seeking rants. Neither Mumbere nor any Rwenzururu Kingdom official responded to his claims.
In November 2016, the restive Rwenzori region was again plunged in unrest when the army raided Mumbere’s palace in an operation that left over 100 people dead. During the operation commanded by Maj. Gen. Peter Elwelu, the current commander of Land Forces, Mumbere was arrested together with close to 200 of his supporters.
They were charged with several counts of murder, attempted murder, and terrorism among others. While Mumbere and his Prime Minister Johnson Thembo Kitsumbire were granted bail last year, the rest of the suspects are still detained at Kirinya Prisons, facing a plethora of charges including terrorism, treason, malicious damage, murder and arson.
With a legal battle on Mumbere’s head, and with the government restricting his movements within Kampala, Tibamwenda saw it as another golden opportunity to make his claims to the throne again.
Unlike in 2014, this time Tibamwenda seemed more serious and well-connected. He claimed to be having the support of the government; he also broke ground for the construction of his cultural shrine at his ancestral home in Nsenyi Village, Kisinga Sub-county in Kasese District.
He added that he would officially be crowned king of “Bukonzo kingdom” soon, under the title “Omwami Wa Bakonzo” which translates for Lord of the Bakonzo.
Although he was formerly financially struggling, he has been seen driven in a black Toyota Harrier and a white Land Cruiser Prado with military guards.
UPDF Spokesperson, Brigadier Richard Karemire, told URN that the army has not deployed any officer to protect Tibamwenda.
Pictures of a UPDF corporal opening a car door for Tibamwenda have been making rounds on social media, especially on platforms for people in Kasese and Bundibugyo. Karemire said the matter was going to be investigated to establish what exactly happened.
“Maybe the soldier was just opening the car for the visitor, we shall investigate the matter to its logical conclusion; otherwise, we have not deployed any guards to that man,” Karemire said.
Apollo Sande, the leader of The Dream Team, a social and peace advocacy group in Rwenzori, believes it is more than a picture. He says actions like Tibamwenda’s continue to undermine the peace processes in western Uganda sub-region.
“When we say that all is not well in the Rwenzori, they call us alarmists. How does Tibamwenda help in the peace-building process? Hopefully, we get a way to handle the situation amicably,” he said.
Attempts to get a comment from Tibamwenda were futile as his known mobile phone contact has been off for two days now.
However, Rwenzururu Kingdom spokesperson Clarence Bwambale said the kingdom is not fighting for social space with anybody.
He declined to give further comments and said: “If the kingdom deems it fit, we shall release a comment, for now we have nothing to say about what Tibamwenda is doing.”
But Kasese district chairman Geoffrey Sibendire Bigogo believes there are people hell-bent on disorganising the Rwenzori sub-region and could be funding Tibamwenda’s activities.
Bigogo said Tibamwenda’s source of money ought to be investigated. He said: “Of course, Tibamwenda personally knows that he can’t hold any event at Rwenzori Square in Kasese town. One day, all that they are doing shall come to the light.”
Early this year, Tibamwenda’s uncle, Ibrahim Makoma, who also claims to be the rightful king dragged Rwenzururu Kingdom and government to court for allowing Mumbere to “masquerade” as king.
Makoma, who is a partner with Makoma and Company Advocates, denied claims that there was anybody funding him to disorganise the kingdom.
-Uganda Radio Network