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In the Rwenzori region, a range of historical, socioeconomic and political tensions have in past years resulted in a series of deadly clashes between different ethnic communities. Patronage politics of recognition of cultural kingdoms and district creation critically drives the manifestation of these tensions in ethnic violence, especially in the context of electoral contest.
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Beyond ethnicity: the violence in Western Uganda
and Rwenzori’s 99 problems
Anna Reuss & Kristof Titeca
To cite this article: Anna Reuss & Kristof Titeca (2016): Beyond ethnicity: the violence in
Western Uganda and Rwenzori’s 99 problems, Review of African Political Economy
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Beyond ethnicity: the violence in Western Uganda and
Rwenzoris 99 problems
Anna Reuss
and Kristof Titeca
Institute for Development Studies and Management, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium;
of Conflict and Development Studies, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium
In the Rwenzori region, a range of historical, socio-economic and
political tensions have in past years resulted in a series of deadly
clashes between different ethnic communities. Patronage politics
of recognition of cultural kingdoms and district creation critically
drives the manifestation of these tensions in ethnic violence,
especially in the context of electoral contest.
During violence in July 2014, over 100 people were killed in the Rwenzori region on the
border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in western Uganda.
The violence
was started by small groups, mainly youth, of the Bakonzo ethnic group, which attacked
police and army posts in three districts. This in turn led to revenge attacks by members of
other ethnic groups, and to brutal counter-security operations against the Bakonzo (HRW
2014). After the February 2016 general elections, clashes in the wider region left more than
50 dead, hundreds of homes razed and thousands displaced (HRW 2016). Government
explanation in both instances focused on the clear ethnic overtones of the clashes, and
in 2016 prominently singled out alleged ethno-nationalist mobilisation among the
Bakonzo, the majority ethnic group in the region, as responsible for the violence. This
briefing aims to show how ethnicity is an outward layer beneath which there is a host
of historical, social-economic and political conflict dynamics a process we have titled
Rwenzoris 99 problems. It argues that government failure to effectively address the
root causes of long-standing tensions in the Rwenzori region has led to resurgent violence
often expressed in ethnic terms. The range of conflict drivers is similar to those plaguing
communities across Uganda: they revolve around competition over the use and ownership
of land, access to public office, natural resource exploitation, and a burgeoning youth
population in the face of development challenges, and are fuelled by securitisation, and
patronage politics, especially in the context of electoral contests. In the next sections,
we unpack these various root causes.
© 2016 ROAPE Publications Ltd
CONTACT Kristof Titeca
Historical roots: oppression, marginalisation and resistance
The Rwenzori region comprises three districts Kasese, Bundibugyo, and Ntoroko at the
foothills of the Rwenzori mountain range that constitutes Ugandas natural border with
the DRC. The districts of Kasese and Bundibugyo are at the heart of the Rwenzori
region, and are inhabited mainly by the Bakonzo, the Basongora and the Bamba ethnic
The Rwenzori region has a long history of armed resistance, revolving around two
interlinked key elements: the struggle of minority ethnic groups against a majority, and
the recognition of cultural institutions or kingdoms.
In the Rwenzori heartland, a minority tribe faces the overwhelming dominance of a
majority ethnic group. In Kasese District, the Bakonzo are the largest ethnic group,
with the Basongora and the Banyabindi ethnic groups being the minority. The cattle-
keeping Basongora were the original inhabitants of the area before the peasant Bakonzo
migrated to the area, and today the former make up only 1% of the population. The Bason-
gora and Banyabindi feel displaced by the Bakonzo and feel that their collective identity
and cultural institutions have been undermined by years of oppression –“we are
victims of cultural genocide”’ (CCFU 2014a, 12). In Bundibugyo District, the role of the
Bakonzo role is reversed: they present a minority against a majority of the Bamba.
The struggle between a minority and a majority group date from the precolonial times,
when the Bakonzo, the Basongora and the Bamba all were subjects of the Tooro kingdom,
situated in Fort Portal. The complexity of colonial rule accentuated the problem of tribe
and tribal identity; the Bakonzo were seen as labourers; the Tooro were given more clerical
work. Much of the ethnic differentiation and a perception of the Batooro as oppressors
dates from this period (CCFU 2014a, 12). During the colonial rule, the Bakonzo launched
a first armed rebellion against the Tooro kingdom.
Afterwards, the Rwenzururu rebellion
launched in 1962 sought independence from Tooro and the establishment of a Rwenzur-
uru kingdom. As Doornbos (1970, 1069) argued, the Rwenzururu movement was an
attempt to redress inequalities in the distribution of power; in access to the political
centre for the allocation of benefits; in wealth and welfare; and in dignity and social
status. In 1974, the regime of Idi Amin created Rwenzori District for Bakonzo (roughly
Kasese District today), Semliki District for Bamba (Bundibugyo today) and Kabarole Dis-
trict for the Batooro. However, the Rwenzururu rebellions aspiration to an independent
state was not addressed, and Rwenzururu leaders were excluded from the district leader-
ship structure (Syahuka-Muhindo and Titeca 2016). In 1982, a political settlement for-
mally ended the low-intensity rebellion. Rwenzururu forces laid down their arms in
return for a degree of local autonomy and the integration of their leaders in the Kasese
administration. However, some secessionist Rwenzururians who rejected this reconcilia-
tion took up arms again, by forming the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda
(NALU). In 1989, NALU fighters carried out attacks, killing some local council leaders
in the highlands of Kasese. In 1993, NALU was defeated and its leader killed (Syahuka-
Muhindo and Titeca 2016).
This was not the end of the armed resistance: NALU remnants later joined the anti-gov-
ernment Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) that destabilised the Rwenzori region between
1996 and 2000. By 2001, ADF/NALU no longer posed any serious threat to the Ugandan
government. The remaining parts of the rebel group retreated to DRC (Titeca and
Vlassenroot 2012, 160; Titeca and Fahey 2016). Nevertheless, the history of rebellion in the
area still is an important frame through which contemporary events are understood. This
is particularly important in the light of continuing tensions between the majority and the
minority ethnic groups, which are discussed further in the next section.
The defining role of ownership and use of land
One way in which the majorityminority tensions have historically been defined is
through competition over the use and ownership of land, particularly between the agricul-
turalist Bakonzo and the Basongora herders. The traditionaltensions between the pastor-
alist Basongora and cultivating Bakonzo are aggravated by unclear land titles and a general
scarcity of habitable land and grazing grounds (New Vision 2007). The gazetted areas of
Rwenzori and the Queen Elizabeth National Parks cover large swathes of the district.
For a long time, the national parks have been sources of contention between the people
neighbouring them, the encroachers and the government authorities (CARE 2009).
Moreover, tensions around perceived preferential treatment of particular groups in
the area contribute to a mutual sense of marginalisation of both minority and majority
ethnic groups. The minority Basongora feel marginalised and dominated by the
Bakonzo majority, while many Bakonzo harbour a sense that the Basongora cattle-
keepers are favoured by the government in land allocation and development projects
(CCFU 2014a, 10). Such situations have led to violent clashes between the Basongora
and the Bakonzo. For example, in 2008 over 80 Basongora houses were set on fire,
and over 500 cattle killed following the eviction of Bakonzo cultivators from a disputed
200-hectare area of land (Musinguzi et al. 2014, 4).
Today, Kasese is the fifth most populous district of Uganda, aided by a stream of
migrants and immigrants in the region (RFPJ 2016a, 5).
The combination of historical
tensions between cultivators and cattle-keepers, rapid population growth, and the scarcity
of habitable land make fierce competition over land inevitable. Moreover, in recent years,
oil prospects in the Albertine Rift have led to speculative land deals and a sharp rise in
cases of land-grabbing (KRC and RFPJ 2012, 21).
The role of the national government and increased tensions
National political calculations came to play a central role in this situation, and further
fuelled the tensions. Crucially, since the re-establishment of multiparty elections, the
region has been an opposition stronghold. In this situation, the recognition of kingdoms
and the creation of districts has become hard currency in (strategies of) vote winning for
the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government: given that both institutions
kingdoms and districts create a whole range of public jobs and guarantee financial
transfers from the national level, they have become central elements in President
Yoweri Musevenis regimes patronage politics. It has been widely shown how the creation
of districts has traditionally been used for electoral reasons (Green 2010), and the recog-
nition of kingdoms has been used in a similar manner. As we will show below, instead of
solving existing tensions, the creation of new districts and the recognition of new king-
doms have instead further entrenched and fuelled them: ethnic identities have become
further crystallised, and tensions between majority and minority groups have increased.
The recognition of kingdoms
When the Rwenzururu rebels laid down arms, the Rwenzururians did not abandon the
pursuit of a Rwenzururu kingdom. In 1993, the government restored traditional kingdoms
as cultural institutions in the Traditional Rulers Act (Government of Uganda 1993). The
legal recognition of cultural leaders is enshrined in the 1995 Constitution (CCFU 2014b).
But the Rwenzururiansclaim to a recognised Rwenzururu kingdom, which they contin-
ued to press for over the following decade, continued to be rejected by government. As a
result of this, the opposition (and more particularly the Forum for Democratic Change
[FDC]) strongly grew in popularity, resulting in a number of harsh electoral battles
(Titeca 2007).
In order to increase its popularity in the region, the government recognised the Obu-
singa bwa Rwenzururu (OBR) kingdom in 2009 (RFPJ 2014) and in the following year
crowned Charles Mumbere, the Mukonzo
son of an erstwhile Rwenzururu rebellion
leader, king. But Kasese District again voted for the opposition in the 2011 parliamentary
elections and, rather than pacifying the region, the recognition of the OBR kingdom
further aggravated existent tensions over domination and marginalisation between and
within ethnic groups. Because the Rwenzururu king is a Mukonzo, minority tribes
regard the OBR as a representation of the Bakonzo people, thus institutionalising the min-
ority groupsmarginalisation by the majority Bakonzo (CCFU 2014a,911). This sense of
cultural domination through the Bakonzo and their language to some extent feels similar
to the cultural oppression the Rwenzori regions tribes once experienced under the
Batooro (Daily Monitor 2016c). A report on the 2014 clashes (Musinguzi et al. 2014)
describes how minorities consider the attitude of the Bakonzo to be intended assimilation
and imperialismthrough for example the adoption of Bakonzo names, the OBR flag in the
communities, and the claim that the Basongora are only a clan group among the Bakonzo
(Musinguzi et al. 2014, 3).
Aggravated grievances over marginalisation of non-Bakonzo gave rise to a growth of
ethno-nationalism in the region (CCFU 2014a, 15, 30): also other ethnic groups (more
particularly the Basongora and the Bamba) advocated for government recognition of
(re-)invented cultural institutions. Further fuelling these tensions is the fact that
control over a kingdom gives access to the governments patronage network: besides
legally prescribed entitlement to government allowances, their potential for popular
mobilisation at local level commonly grants kingdoms additional financial and material
In this context, symbolic issues such as royal visits or ceremonies have become
explosive. In 2012, violence erupted between Bamba and Bakonzo when the Rwenzururu
king visited Bwamba County in Bundibugyo, and hissed a Rwenzururu kingdom flag. A
month later, the Basongora in Kasese District crowned their own king, irrespective of
lack of government recognition, triggering clashes between Basongora and Bakonzo
youth who stole the Basongora flag and royal drum (Daily Monitor 2012a; KRC and
RFPJ 2012, 13). Yet another month later, the Banyabindi minority in Kasese District
secretly also installed a cultural leader. In October 2012, tensions flared again between
Bakonzo and Basongora, leaving cattle mutilated and fields razed (Daily Monitor
2012b). In sum, instead of calming down the relations between the various ethnic
groups, the recognition of the Bakonzo kingdom further fuelled these tensions.
District creation
To avoid the establishment of ever more cultural kingdoms, district creation has been the
primary government response to ethno-nationalist sentiments at local level. As mentioned
above, Idi Amin in 1976 sought to appease Rwenzururu leaders by dividing Kabarole Dis-
trict into three, essentially giving to each of the Bakonzo, the Bamba, and the Batooro their
own district. Since 2002, the number of Ugandas districts has doubled: Justified by the
countrys decentralisation policy, new district creation has in many cases been primarily
a critical tool of patronage for government to secure votes in elections (Green 2010),
while leaving substantive development challenges unaddressed.
As mentioned above, the OBR was recognised in the lead-up to the 2011 elections in an
attempt to swing Kasese Districts past opposition votes towards government. Yet, Kaseses
persistent opposition vote and the July 2014 violence underscored the intricacies and
explosive potential of the national governments approach to mobilisation of votes at
local level.
The government sought to address ethnic tensions expressed in the 2014 and 2016 vio-
lence with the creation of new districts along ethnic lines. But, like kingdom recognition,
district creation feeds into existent sentiments of domination and marginalisation, and
further crystallises ethnic identities, giving rise to new conflicts (Green 2008).
This became particularly clear in Bundibugyo. This district is dominated by the Bamba,
but youth of the Bakonzo minority had been held responsible for instigating violence in
2014. In the lead-up to the 2016 elections, the President promised to carve a highland dis-
trict out of Bughendera County for the Bakonzo in an attempt to secure the Bakonzo vote
in Bundibugyo (Observer 2016a). This buy-off attempt was underscored by the OBR kings
brother, a long-time opposition politician, switching political allegiance and running for
the county parliamentary seat in the district-to-be (Observer 2016b). But the promise of
a new Bakonzo District heightened tensions in Bundibugyo. The victory of Bughendera
Countys parliamentary seat by the Rwenzururu kings brother in the 2016 elections
was thus symbolic of the Bakonzo minoritys assertion in Bundibugyo and an expansion
of the OBR kingdoms influence. After the polls, clashes in Bughendera left at least 30
dead, hundreds of houses razed, and thousands displaced (New Vision 2016b;2016e).
In sum, while district creation might bring political gain for the national government
and ruling party, it creates a range of tensions on the ground.
Kingdoms, youth, and disruption of social order
The creation of the OBR did not only create tensions between the Bakonzo and other
ethnic groups; segments of the Bakonzo also opposed the new kingdom.
emerged between those who were very actively involved in the rebellion (the freedom
fighters, mainly residing in the mountains) and those who remained on the sidelines
mainly Bakonzo residing in the lowland, who are known to co-exist more easily with
other ethnic groups (CCFU 2014a, 11). Second, tensions emerged between the traditional
and newgovernance structures. Traditionally, political and social organisation was based
on clans, councils of elders, and on ridge leaders who govern Bakonzo life in the mountain
ridges of the Rwenzori (Mugisha and Infield 2012, 245). Under the reinvented, centra-
lised kingdom, the OBR has established a new parallel governance structure of traditional
but moderneducated leaders in each sub-county(CCFU 2014a, 15). This sidelines ridge
leaders and councils of elders, despite the fact that they are in closer contact with the
people. Thus, the establishment of the OBR led to intra-communal tensions surrounding
the legitimacy of the reinvented cultural leadership, and at the same time weakened tra-
ditional institutions such as the ridge leaders, who were considered effective in the resol-
ution of localised conflicts (Sarmiento et al. 2015, 699).
Disruption of the established social order in rural communities is also driven by the
rapidly growing youth population and unaddressed development challenges, most
importantly high youth under- and unemployment (Magelah and Ntambirweki-Karu-
gonjo 2014). This has contributed to rising levels of crime and an erosion of tra-
ditional mechanisms of conflict resolution through elders and ridge leaders (CCFU
2014a, 19; RFPJ 2016b). Youth, some of them organised in vigilante groups, were
identified as the main perpetrators of attacks in recent outbreaks of violence (RFPJ
2016b). On a regular basis, the government accuses members of the Rwenzururu
kingdom government of mobilising a Bakonzo youth militia for attacks (Daily
Monitor 2014b;Daily Monitor 2016b;East African 2016a). More than 500 youths
who were arrested and arraigned before military courts in July 2014 were eventually
released, and granted amnestywithout due legal process or a demobilisation pro-
gramme (RFPJ 2016a). Rather, many of these youth were recruited into the crime pre-
venters, a controversial police-trained, militia-like force that heightened nationwide
fears of election violence in the lead-up to the 2016 polls. In the series of deadly
clashes in the region following the elections, youth again were the main instigators
of violence (New Vision 2016a).
Government response to the violence and the role of security forces
The governments response to the Rwenzori violence in early 2016 was twofold. First, a
flurry of mediation efforts ensued (New Vision 2016h). President Museveni engaged
with delegations of local political, cultural and religious leaders (New Vision 2016g). On
a tour of the region, Museveni brokered a symbolic peace deal between the king of the
Bamba and the king of Rwenzururu, who both denied their kingdomsinvolvement in
the clashes (New Vision 2016i).
Second, the government engaged through a strong militaristic response, which has been
a dual driver of stability and fragility. The fact that police and army personnel and installa-
tions were the first targets in the outbreaks of violence in 2014 and 2016 points to existing
popular grievances over the role of state security forces in the region (New Vision 2016b).
President and police have blamed grassroots intelligence officers for not only failing to
detect the violence, but also of contributing to local tensions through arbitrary arrests
and abuse of office (Daily Monitor 2014a;New Vision 2016d; Tabaire 2014). Heavily
armed police were deployed to contain clashes, but some units soon had to be withdrawn,
as local political leaders particularly blamed the notorious Flying Squad for fuelling further
unrest (Daily Monitor 2016e;New Vision 2016c). In early March 2016, an officer of the
polices militarised Field Force Unit was filmed shooting an unarmed civilian, sparking
national outrage (Daily Monitor 2016a).
One month later, a Flying Squad officer shot
and killed a Rwenzururu traditional guard (Daily Monitor 2016d). As often in Musevenis
Uganda, the military came in to salvage the situation. The deployment of the army into
Kasese and the mountains of the Rwenzori in April 2016 put a temporary end to the vio-
lence and restored a sense of calm. However, it is unnecessary to state that a military sol-
ution treats symptoms, not causes(MRG 2016).
Third, and in line with the above point on district creation, six months after the elec-
tions the government endorsed the creation of four new districts out of Kasese District. A
plan to carve out new districts to counter a sense of Bakonzo domination had repeatedly
been tabled since 2010 (Daily Monitor 2013), but failure to agree on how the new districts
would be carved out and how many of them there would be
had stalled their creation
(KRC and RFPJ 2012, 23). Following the 2016 elections, which were overwhelmingly won
by the opposition in Kasese District, and particularly following the consequent post-elec-
toral violence, the split of the district was retabled for discussion in order to counter this
violence and the oppositions success. The local ruling party caucus and Crispus Kiyonga,
the ousted long-time NRM Member of Parliament and cabinet minister (and vocal
opponent of the kingdom), endorsed the creation of new districts in a bid to alleviate ten-
sions between different groups. In October, President Museveni approved the division of
Kasese into four new districts: Bwera, Hima, Kasese, and Katwe (Daily Monitor 2016f).
The OBR and the newly elected opposition parliamentarians from Kasese District
opposed the split, regarding it as an attempt by government to weaken their power. At
the Rwenzururu kingdoms50
anniversary celebrations the following week, the OBR cri-
ticised the new district creation as an attempt by illegitimate self-seekersto undermine
the kingdom and the elected district council, since the 2016 elections were dominated
by the opposition FDC (New Vision 2016j).
Peace and justice remain unaddressed in the region. No substantive reconciliation
efforts have been pursued or policy changes effected to address long-standing grievances
over a perceived government neglect of the region (East African 2016b). Up till the present,
no investigations have been conducted into mass graves discovered in 2014 (East African
2016c). Hundreds of youths brought before military tribunals over the violence have
neither been given due legal process nor a demobilisation programme after release
(RFPJ 2016a).
The governments reaction to the recent tensions in the Rwenzori region has consistently
been to blame local political and cultural leaders for instigating ethnic conflict. In response
to the 2014 attacks, the police spokesperson for example argued how There is a tribal con-
flict,while the government, in response to the 2016 killings, alleged that (segments of) the
Bakonzo-led Rwenzururu kingdom in Kasese sought to create an independent Yiira
Republic(New Vision 2016f) together with their tribesmen in Congo popularly known
as the Nande.
This briefing aimed to show how ethnic tensions are only the outward layer of the
conflict, and how instead various other layers are crucial driving factors: historically, the
differentiation and opposition between majority and minority groups can be traced back
to the colonial intervention and continues to play an important role. This became
further pronounced through increasing (im)migration tendencies, tensions around
land, and increasing youth unemployment. The national governments interventions
played a crucial role in further fuelling these tensions: districts and kingdoms are
popular pawns in the political game of vote winning. Similarly, local elites manipulate
communal identities to ensure their control over voters and resources. Rather than
bringing people together, the recognition of the cultural institutions and the politics
of new district creation has further emphasised division, which make many claim
that they have led to a deterioration of conflicts, by further crystallising ethnic identities
and the consequent tensions surrounding them, both between different ethnic groups
and within them. While the governments securitisation approach helps to temporarily
stop the violence, it also further contributes to it.
What happens in this process is an ethnicisation of politics and politicisation of eth-
nicity for political leverage and expediency(RFPJ 2016b, original emphasis). However,
the unclear process of establishing a kingdom, contested district creation, and the poor
management of the consequences, in turn magnify existing tensions and conflict (CCFU
2014a, 30). What has happened in this process is that the various actors minority/
majority ethnic groups, the kingdoms, local political leadership, and the state have
continuously focused on short-term gain of winning votes or gaining control over
public resources associated with kingdoms and districts, yet they have equally added
fuel to the slow-burning fire of inter- and intra-communal tensions, which overall
has led to an explosive situation in which potentially marginal events achieve highly
symbolic significance.
The violence in the Rwenzori region offers important lessons for the rest of Uganda.
Rwenzoris99 problemsare not unique to the communities in the region. All of the
root causes of the deadly violence in western Uganda are key elements of the overall pol-
itical culture in Uganda: land conflicts, youth unemployment, ethnic tensions, perceptions
of marginalisation, traditional institutions, the involvement of security agencies, political
manipulation and the other factors mentioned above are found in districts and commu-
nities all over Uganda. The Rwenzori case particularly highlights the high risks of ethnic
violence in Uganda implied in the current practice of addressing inter- and intra-commu-
nal grievances primarily through patronage politics of district and kingdom creation in
pursuit of short-term gains.
1. The final version of this paper was submitted on 1 November 2016, before the clashes of late
November 2016 in the Rwenzori region. For this reason, the briefing does not deal with these
events. For a brief analysis incorporating these events, see Reuss and Titeca (2016).
2. The Abayora revolt was a protest against the imposition of colonial rule on the Bakonzo, and
on the cultural oppression of Tooro, in addition to forced labour and taxation (Syahuka-
Muhindo and Titeca 2016).
3. See
4. This (im)migration is related to a variety of issues, such as labour migrants who seek oppor-
tunities in Kaseses mining industry and the oil sector, but also Ankole cattle-herders and
refugees from DRC.
5. Mukonzo is the singular of Bakonzo.
6. Long-time defence minister Crispus Kiyonga, a Mukonzo from Kasese, was one of its most
vocal critics.
7. See
8. And thus who would control more and better habitable land, and whether the Basongora
minority would gain a majority in any of the new districts.
9. Heightened tensions between the kingdom and government became visible at the ceremonial
grounds: royal guards denied access to police, including personal guards of politicians (New
Vision 2016j).
10. See Pennacini (2008) for history, relations and identity politics of the Nande and Bakonzo.
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.
Notes on contributors
Anna Reuss is a joint PhD candidate at the University of Antwerp Institute for Development
Studies and Management, and in the Department of Conflict and Development Studies at Ghent
University. Her doctoral research focuses on regime stability and the security sector in Uganda.
Based in Kampala, Uganda, she works as an independent analyst of political, security and integrity
risks in Eastern Africa. Email:
Kristof Titeca is an assistant professor at the University of Antwerp Institute for Development
Studies and Management. He has published extensively on conflict and governance in Central
and Eastern Africa. Email:
Kristof Titeca
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... This violence, which differs from previous armed struggles in the region, is situated within a broader frame of how the strategies of control used by central-state elites feed and intensify subnational power contestations and social tensions that build up into violence. We use a combination of informal field interviews, the authors' close knowledge of Uganda's broader national political landscape, and secondary sources including news reports, drawing on these sources to reconstruct empirical narratives and theoretical insights that augment a growing body of literature on the politics of violence in the Rwenzori region (see Reuss & Titeca 2017;Sseremba 2020;Syahuka-Muhindo & Titeca 2016;Tshimba 2020a). This article potentially opens avenues for thinking about future indepth research and policy measures on the region's peace and security landscape. ...
... Kingdom officials and local politicians denied the treason charges and blamed government for the worsening insecurity in the region, whose political-administrative districts-Ntoroko, Bundibugyo, Kabarole, Kamwenge, Kyegegwa, Kyenjojo, and Kasese, with an estimated three million people-variously suffered bouts of insecurity during this period. While the region experienced violent episodes and ethnicized political struggles from just before independence in 1962 until the early 1980s (Scorgie 2011;Titeca & Vlassenroot 2012;Reuss & Titeca 2017;Dornbos 2017), the round of violence analyzed here is quite different both in cause and form. ...
... Instead, Museveni's patrimonialism thrives on fragmentation where the ethnicization of districts and kingdoms negates genuine devolution of power to local governments, durable nation building, and the extension of services to the people. The fragmentation strategy crystalizes identity and majority-minority tensions in given areas, diverts local elites from centralstate failures to local squabbles, and renders the otherwise ebbing fires of communal tensions explosive (Green 2010;Reuss & Titeca 2017). What happened in Kasese in November 2016 is emblematic of how the fragmentation strategy fuels mounting tensions and animosities that build up into a deadly climax, to which we turn next. ...
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In November 2016, Uganda’s armed forces raided the Rwenzururu kingdom palace in Kasese Municipality, arresting and detaining the king and other kingdom officials on treason and other charges. This was the climax to a puzzling wave of violence that was then unfolding in the Rwenzori Region. We consider this violence an unintended consequence of the deepening politics of fragmentation, which takes two forms: “kingdomization” and “districtization.” Through fragmentation, Uganda’s ruling elites seek to weaken subnational concentrations of power, resources, and legitimacy wielded by otherwise coalesced, potentially strong, subnational authority structures and sociopolitical groups. Fragmentation fractures preexisting intra-regional unity, generates new conflicts, and reopens old wounds, leading to violent encounters at the sub-national level, between regional sub-groups, and with the central state. This unfolding of violent encounters involving both state and non-state actors has important ramifications for managing national security within socially fragile contexts and a politically fragmented polity.
... This finding was in accordance with the study conducted by Anna & Kristof (2021) on Violence in Uganda, who found out that awareness of the existence of conflict issues in society, always leads to sensitization for better conflict management in any organization. However, these findings are in disagreement to a popular investigation study conducted by Jonathan (2020) on Poverty and conflict who found out that poverty of households does not allow proper rationalization of conflict issues in communities. ...
This scientific investigation study assessed the correlation between recent trends in the tribal conflicts and socio-economic development in Western Uganda particularly in the Rwenzori Region. The systematic study employed a cross sectional survey research design with mixed paradigms (qualitative and quantitative approaches). A sample of 384 participants out of 1.057.000 parent population was selected using a table developed by Morgan & Krejcie (1970). Data was garnered utilizing researcher generated questionnaires and interview schedules and scrutinized applying Descriptive measurements and Pearson Linear Correlation Coefficient (PLCC) for quantitative statistics and content analysis was used for synthesizing qualitative information .The investigation study results came up with a significant correlation between recent trends in the tribal conflicts and socio-economic development in Western Uganda particularly in the Rwenzori Region. It was therefore concluded that the recent trends in the tribal conflicts do affect the socio-economic development in Western Uganda. Conflicts create a deplorable environment that cannot allow development to blossom. The scientific exploration study recommended that the political leadership of the Rwenzori region in Western Uganda should sit together on a round table, assess the causes of conflicts and resolve them amicably for the benefit of humanity. Generally, there is need to be cooperative with all the stakeholders in the said region so that development can be engendered.
... The causes of ethnic conflicts, civil unrest, and generalized insecurity may lie in social, religious, cultural, gender, ethnic tensions arising from failures of governance and competition for scarce resources (Reuss and Titeca, 2017;Christopher, 2013). In some parts of Eastern Africa, areas of conflict often correspond with areas of environmental degradation, chronic food insecurity and overpopulation such as South Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda (van Baalen and Mobjörk, 2018). ...
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Extreme climate events and disasters exacerbate the multiple stressors of the economies of East African countries. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts impacts may exceed current coping strategies, impeding sustainable development and in some extreme cases making some countries uninhabitable. There is hence a critical need for accelerated action to prevent risks, and reinforce current disaster response efforts. One way of preventing risk, enhancing the overall awareness and responsiveness to disasters and climate change is to improve education, develop and leverage advances in modern technologies such as artificial intelligence; application of best practices in citizen science and gender-responsive approaches, which would help bridge the distance, in time and space, between citizens and authorities in those crucial first few moments following the disasters. This publication a) Highlights Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) best practices and climate actions to extreme climate-related events; b) Assesses the extent to which regional and national DRR strategies and programs incorporate AI and gender perspectives in their DRR measures; c) Assesses the institutional landscape, the roles and responsibilities of DRR stakeholders; and d) Elucidates the status of DRR initiatives with a gender and social inclusion lens.
... The study was undertaken from June, 2017 to January, 2019, and data was collected from the local communities living in Kasenyi, Katunguru, Lake Katwe, and Kahokya. The study period [2017][2018][2019] was chosen in light of the numerous processes that occurred during this time period, including severe reports of communities affected by drought episodes, land conflicts and violence, and reprisals (Reuss and Titeca, 2017; US Bureau of Demography Human Rights and Labour, 2017). Based on the nature of the research, multiple data collection methods and tools were used for data collection. ...
... While it has been argued that the distinction between ethnic groups mostly stems from attempts of colonial authorities (Kodesh, 2008), ethnicity currently plays an important role in the construction of identity of individuals and groups (Pennacini, 2007;Stacey, 2003). These ethnic identities should, however, be considered as superficial banners below which a whole lot of historical, socio-economic and political conflicts are at play (Reuss and Titeca, 2017). ...
We investigate the presence of redistributive attitudes on the supply side of land markets in a mountainous area in Western Uganda. We test whether observed preferences can be explained with an economic model on informal insurance within social networks or whether alternative explanations, such as normative drivers, are needed. To do so, we first collected detailed data on plot ownership, plot location and exposure to landslides among 401 farmers in Western Uganda. Then a discrete choice experiment (DCE) was conducted on the hypothetical sales of these plots in order to elicit preferences for specific buyer characteristics among respondents. We find that people prefer to sell their plots to family members and are therefore ready to forego some revenue from the sale. Moreover, farmers prefer to sell their land to poorer buyers, but only as long as the plots are not susceptible to landslides. When the plots are susceptible to landslides no preference is shown to sell plots to less wealthy buyers. Our results add to the literature on land markets and norms in the presence of environmental risks by illustrating that attitudes in favour of redistribution and disaster risk reduction cannot be explained by risk pooling and informal insurance considerations alone. Our study illustrates the potential of DCE to measure how redistributive preference might influence decisions during market transactions. This leads to some important recommendations for policies on land markets and disaster risk reduction.
Intervening in the enduring debate on the origins of the African state, this article examines the processes of producing custom in the Ugandan societies of precolonial Bunyoro and colonial Toro to trace the development of despotism. The participatory nature of generating customary truth in Bunyoro before European domination reflects the diffusion of power in a manner that hindered absolute rule. On the contrary, in colonial Toro, the inclusive mechanisms for making custom gave way to customary law produced by the colonial government and its native chiefs. This monopoly to determine customary law disguised as custom constituted the heart of the despotism of Toro Native Authority. Derivatively, the Rwenzururu resistance against Toro domination equally assumed a despotic character because it organised itself along the logic of the authority it confronted. The study interrogates the resurgent literature that associates the contemporary African state with precolonial history.
This thesis consists of a collection of seven essays that address issues of representation, memorialisation and symbolic reparations. Employing a primarily ethnographic approach, it reveals different forms and functions of memory in the aftermath of mass violence. Together, these essays argue for a more nuanced way of understanding how governments, survivors, heritage practitioners, humanitarians, artists and development actors utilise conflict memories, sometimes revealing narrative gaps entrenched in silence. These insights are useful for a better conceptualisation of symbolic repair within the fields of transitional justice, critical heritage and memory studies. Each essay, addresses different geographical and material aspects of conflict memory to create a mosaic of perspectives with a primary focus on Uganda. The Ugandan case studies explore three regions of the country: the Luwero Triangle, Northern Uganda and the Rwenzori Mountain region. Each case shows the need to approach memory work with different types of evidence, including museum displays, monuments, material culture remains from humanitarian assistance, oral literature, sites of trauma, artworks and popular culture. Such evidence both informs the analysis and extends the kinds of data suitable for critical heritage research. Taken together, the essays in this thesis argue that in nations recovering from multiple violent conflicts, whose recovery is absent of holistic statedriven processes for memorialisation, it is critical to understand the everyday negotiations of memory as well as the artistic approaches to repair. Furthermore, the collection highlights the significant role that globalised systems of representation, assistance and peacebuilding have on memory projects within and outside the Ugandan context. Overall, this thesis constitutes a critique of the expectations placed on memory work to repair societies, given the contextual and political barriers to implementing conventional memory projects. By its end, it advocates for a less didactic and more dialogical approach to memorialisation, making space for meaningful work that does not mimic Euro-American models of remembrance.
The disaster risk reduction (DRR) community tends to treat disasters and risks in a managerial and technocratic way, thereby disregarding the highly political nature of DRR. An alternative epistemology of disasters, as “matters of concern”, is proposed and tested. Mobilizing concepts from Chantal Mouffe and Bruno Latour, this paper illustrates how DRR can be transformed into a public issue. It is argued that education and policymaking on DRR would benefit from a recognition of the hybrid nature of disasters. A serious game is used to investigate proposed epistemology. The board game simulates political decision-making on the reduction of risks due to floods and landslides in South-West Uganda. It is hypothesized that the game can generate an ideal speech scenario that fosters discussions among players and possibly even creates a space of political confrontation. Discussions during ten gameplays have been recorded, transcribed and analyzed (1) to understand how the dominant epistemology facilitates an apolitical approach to disasters and (2) to understand the process of politicization and de-politicization brought about when playing the board game in order to derive recommendations for future tools to facilitate a political appreciation of disasters. Our results indicate that participants effectively experience affects, power relations and confrontations during the game, but that a call for consensus and technical solutions is used by the players to close the discussions and move on with concrete solutions. Insights from this paper contribute to understanding why DRR is frequently treated as a technical issue in local and international disaster governance. Epistemology and approaches proposed in this paper are expected to stimulate innovative experiments towards a more political approach to DRR education and policy.
This article examines why the emancipation of ethnic groups has failed to address ethnic conflicts in Uganda. Successive Ugandan governments, especially the current regime of President Yoweri Museveni, have attempted to end the country’s history of ethnic strife by creating separate constituencies, separate districts and separate kingdoms for marginalised ethnic groups to free them from the domination of powerful ethnic groups. Focussing on the Rwenzori area of western Uganda where ethnic violence is severest, I show how the approach of ethnic emancipation reproduces ethnicity as the basis for political inclusion and escalates rather than abates ethnic contestations. This study should shed more light on the challenge of ethnic federalism in other countries like Ethiopia and Nigeria.
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Published in: The Monkey Cage, The Washington Post, 29 November 2016
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This article discusses the case of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It shows how a variety of actors that have opposed the ADF group have framed the rebels to achieve a range of political and economic objectives, or in response to organizational and individual limitations. The DRC and Ugandan governments have each framed ADF in pursuit of regional, international and national goals separate from their stated desires to eliminate the armed group. The UN stabilization mission in Congo's (MONUSCO) understanding of the ADF was influenced by organizational limitations and the shortcomings of individual analysts, producing flawed assessments and ineffective policy decisions. Indeed, the many ‘faces’ of ADF tell us more about the ADF's adversaries than they do about the rebels themselves. The article shows how the policies towards the ADF may not be directly related to defeating a rebel threat, but rather enable the framers (e.g. DRC and Ugandan governments) to pursue various political and economic objectives, or lead the framers to pursue misguided operational plans (e.g. MONUSCO). In doing so, the article highlights more broadly the importance of the production of knowledge on conflicts and rebel groups: the way in which a rebel group is instrumentalized, or in which organizational structure impact on the understanding of the rebel group, are crucial not only in understanding the context, but also in understanding the interventions on the ground.
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This paper provides a broad introduction to the Rwenzururu protest movement which erupted in the 1960s in western Uganda as well as the subsequent struggle for the recognition of the Rwenzururu kingdom. The struggle for the recognition of the Rwenzururu kingdom had become the defining factor in the politics and security of the Rwenzori region in postindependence Uganda. Underscoring the different perceptions, challenges, and responses to this struggle by successive post-independence governments, the paper describes how the Rwenzururu struggle has taken place on different levels and political contexts, leading to the recognition of the Rwenzururu kingdom (as the Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu) by the NRM government.
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This article provides a detailed analysis of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel movement that is operating from Congolese soil but so far has attracted very limited scholarly attention. Having its roots in Ugandan Islamic community, it has become part of larger transborder dynamics of rebellion and resistance. It is argued that although its institution is linked to several internal dynamics in Uganda, the movement's character has been largely shaped by the specific characteristics of the Uganda–DRC Rwenzori borderland, where it became a key player of local power struggles and conflicts. The article provides a detailed account of the origins, characteristics and strategies of the ADF, its integration into Congolese society and its impact on local and regional dynamics of conflict.
The effects of economic and political reforms on patronage in Africa remains unclear. In particular, there is much disagreement about whether structural adjustment programs and democratization have helped to make patronage less pervasive in African politics. Here, I examine the case study of Uganda, which has received much praise for its large-scale economic and political reforms since the late 1980s. However, at the same time, Uganda has also experienced a near-explosion in the number of districts (the highest level of local government), going from 39 to 80 in less than a decade. I examine a variety of potential reasons why these districts might have been created and argue, through the use of both qualitative and quantitative analysis, that district creation has functioned as a source of patronage. Specifically, I show that President Museveni_s government has created new districts as a means to compensate for other patronage resources lost through reforms and that new districts have helped him to continue to win elections. This paper thus constitutes the first rigorous demonstration that the creation of new sub-national political units can constitute a form of patronage and suggests that similar processes may be currently taking place across Africa
Political economists have long debated the relationship between decentralisation and conflict, with much discussion about how and what functions of government should be decentralised to the local level. There has been little discussion, however, about two key aspects of decentralisation: first, to which levels of local government power should be decentralised, and second, on what basis new decentralised districts should be created. In order to understand the relationship between these two aspects of decentralisation and conflict I investigate here the case of Uganda, where President Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) government embarked on a radical decentralisation programme upon coming into power in 1986. I argue here that Uganda's decentralisation programme, while helping to reduce national-level conflict, has nonetheless replaced it with local-level conflict. This process has taken place in two ways. First, the concentration of local power at the district level has led to struggles over district leadership positions. Second, the huge expansion in the number of new districts has led to local-level conflict by altering relations between local ethnic groups.
The Rwenzori Ethnic Puzzle
  • Cecilia Pennacini
Pennacini, Cecilia. 2008. "The Rwenzori Ethnic Puzzle." In Histories and Cultures of an African mountain, edited by C. Pennacini and Hermann Wittenberg, 59-97, Kampala: Fountain Publishers.
Report Blames Intelligence Officers for Bundibugyo Attacks April 7. New Vision. 2016e13 Men Charged over Bundibugyo Killings New Vision. 2016fUganda Cultural Leaders Visit Rwenzururu King
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New Vision. 2016d. "Report Blames Intelligence Officers for Bundibugyo Attacks." April 7. New Vision. 2016e. "13 Men Charged over Bundibugyo Killings." April 8. New Vision. 2016f. "Uganda Cultural Leaders Visit Rwenzururu King." April 11. New Vision. 2016g. "Kasese FDC Leaders Meet Museveni, Reject Yiira State." April 12.
Uganda Parliament to Probe Rwenzori Violence Accessed October 15, 2016 at
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East African. 2016a. "Uganda Parliament to Probe Rwenzori Violence." April 9. Accessed October 15, 2016 at