Prince Barigye was against his kingdom

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Written by Michael Mubangizi
Prince John Barigye

The demise of Prince John Barigye has resurrected debate about the fate of Ankole kingdom, the only major cultural institution that the government has refused to recognise.In 1993, Prince Barigye was enthroned, but government declared his coronation null and void. Later, in a meeting at the President’s home in Rwakitura, Ankole leaders overwhelmingly rejected the Obugabe [monarchy].

Michael Mubangizi explores the past, present and future of the Obugabe, beginning with the revelation that the deposed king Sir Charles Godfrey Gasyonga II, his son Prince Barigye, and other kingdom leaders asked Idi Amin in 1971 not to restore the Obugabe.

Ankole split

Banyankore can’t agree on whether or not they want their kingdom back. At the height of the disagreement, two groups, the Nkore Cultural Trust and the Banyankore Cultural Foundation, were formed in support and against the restoration, respectively.

This is not surprising, as the kingdom has always been a divisive institution. When Apolo Milton Obote abolished the Ankole monarchy alongside other kingdoms in 1967, not all Banyankore were unhappy.

In his book, The Ankole Kingship Controversy: Regalia Galore Revisited, Martin R. Doornbos writes: “Among the opinions then expressed, some clearly suggested that the changes would upset Ankole. And as a matter of fact, some people were upset. Others, however, didn’t hesitate to express their satisfaction over the fall of the monarchy and one especially vocal group immediately staged celebrations in Mbarara, the (then Ankole) district capital.”

Omugabe Rubambansi Nyakusinga Sir Charles Godfrey Gasyonga II was given one month to vacate his palace. By September 1967, a central symbol of the kingdom – Bagyendanwa – the Ankole royal drums, had been dumped in a government warehouse, effectively bringing to an end the 600-year-old monarchy.

Unlike Buganda where there was agitation for the kingdom’s restoration, in Ankole there was a campaign against it. This crusade was, ironically, backed by the deposed king, Sir Charles Godfrey Gasyonga II; his heir, Prince John Barigye; as well as the former Ankole prime minister, Zekyeria Mungonya.

In memoranda sent to Idi Amin following the 1971 coup, the king, prince and prime minister, among other opinion leaders, opposed the restoration of the kingdom. (We shall reproduce the petitions in subsequent editions.)

“Your Excellency, in our view, the question concerning the restoration of kingdoms is one of those crucial matters which we feel should not be raised or even discussed in the Second Republic of Uganda,” read part of their memo.

They feared that the monarchy would revive political divisions and lead to the imposition of new taxes by the kingdom to the detriment of the people. They reasoned that the government lacked the financial resources “to enhance the prestige of a few individuals.”

This contrasted with Baganda elders, who told Amin that they were ready to raise the money to run the kingdom and support their Kabaka. But some people, like former Ankole Enganzi (prime minister) John Kabeireho, 89, say the drafters of the petitions opposing Obugabe were Ankole district officials, mainly UPC members, whose party had banned kingdoms in the first place.

The anti-monarchy memo was signed by 15 people, including prominent UPC members like Z. C. K. Mungonya, Basil Bataringaya, C.B. Katiti, Yowasi Makaru, N.K. Bananuka and W. Mukaira.

The opposition of the Omugabe [King] to his own kingdom gave ammunition to those opposed to its restoration. If the Omugabe himself was opposed to the kingdom, they asked, who is Barigye to claim it back?

Royal U-turn

William Katatumba, the Ankole Enganzi and chairman of the Nkore Cultural Trust, a pro-Obugabe lobby whose patron was the late Barigye, defended the prince and his father in an earlier interview.

“Banyankore elders, who included the former King of Ankole, Sir Charles Gasyonga and Prince John Barigye, felt that it was too dangerous to demand the reinstatement of Obugabe and informed President Amin accordingly,” he says.

Along the way, it seems, the royal family’s stand changed. In 1993, Nkore Cultural Trust was formed with Barigye as its patron to, among other things, “encourage the preservation and promotion of Nkore culture, including the restoration and preservation of Obugabe as an integral part of that culture.”

Their campaign appeared to have borne fruit when, on November 20, 1993, Prince Barigye was installed as Omugabe four months after Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II had been crowned Kabaka of Buganda. However, it didn’t take long for the government to declare Barigye’s coronation null and void.

Government’s brief explanation that the “people of Ankole had to decide” left a lot of room for speculation over its motives. Some people argued that President Museveni never wanted an alternative centre of power in his home area.

It was also argued that the President feared losing the support of the majority Bairu in Ankole who are generally opposed to Obugabe. He could also have feared that Obugabe would resurrect the old Bahima-Bairu ethnic tensions.

The fact that Barigye was installed rather clandestinely did not help matters. Until the last minute, the organisers of the event at Nkokonjeru, Mbarara, insisted that they were organising the last funeral rites of the former king.

President Museveni’s absence from the function was a setback for Obugabe supporters.

“We expected the President to grace the joyful occasion. Many top officials in government were also invited to accompany him.

Unfortunately, and to our surprise, neither the President nor his representative attended the function . . . By the time we realised that President Museveni was not going to attend, it was too late to put it off,” writes James Kahigiriza (RIP), the former Ankole Kingdom prime minister in his book, Bridging the Gap: Struggling Against Sectarianism and Violence in Ankole and Uganda.

Later, President Museveni met Ankole leaders at his Rwakitura home and this gathering overwhelmingly rejected the restoration of the kingdom. However, says Katatumba, those at the meeting “were intimidated into rejecting Obugabe . . . Banyankore were not freely expressing their views.”
If the NRM government hoped to bury the issue with the cancellation of Barigye’s coronation and the Rwakitura meeting, it did not succeed.

Conflicting views

During the Benjamin Odoki Constitutional Commission (1989-1994) and, later, the Frederick Ssempebwa Constitutional Review Commission (2001-2004), Banyankore gave conflicting views on Obugabe.

In its submission to the Ssempebwa commission, the Nkore Cultural Trust called for the restoration of Obugabe. They argued that no matter how few the pro-Obugabe people might be, they had every right to enjoy their culture. They said wrongs of past Ankole kings should not be used as an excuse to reject the restoration of the monarchy, since the new king would not have absolute power.

Before the same commission, the Banyankore Cultural Foundation opposed the restoration of Obugabe, saying the kingdom was a symbol of Bahinda oppression over other clans, and that most Banyankore clans have no blood relationship with the Obugabe. They claimed restoring Obugabe would undermine the unity “that the Banyankore built in the post-Obugabe times.”

Other people opposed to Obugabe say it was divisive and an instrument of Bahima domination over Bairu. However, people like the late Enganzi Kahigiriza dismissed such claims.

“Between 1962 and 1967, Sir Charles Gasyonga reigned constitutionally. When Obote abolished the kingdoms in 1967, he could not accuse Sir Charles Gasyonga of threatening the stability or unity of Uganda,” Kahigiriza wrote in Bridging the Gap.

‘Spitting’ allegation

Kahigiriza defended the monarchy on the often-cited claims that Ankole kings used to spit in the mouths of their Bairu subjects. He said this was a ritual symbolising the special relationship between the Omugabe and the Basingo clan, who were his confidants and messengers.

“Whenever a Musingo messenger delivered the Omugabe’s message or directive, he would say Omugabe yancwera omukanwa (the Omugabe has spat in my mouth), meaning that the message was transmitted in full without distortion or deviation…”

He also countered claims that Obugabe was an instrument of Bahima domination, saying that by the 1950s, this dominance had been eliminated. Kahigiriza cited the last four prime ministers of Ankole kingdom, who were all Bairu: Zekyeria Mungonya, Kesi Nganwa, John Kabeireho and Kahigiriza himself.

He further noted that some Bahima kings, like Sir Gasyonga, did not necessarily favour fellow Bahima.

“He was aware of the sentiments and sensibilities of the Bairu community, whose support was crucial to the survival of the kingdom. He was also somewhat uneasy about the aloofness and conservatism of the Bahima who, on occasion, embarrassed him and his official institutional etiquette.”

Kahigiriza said some Bahima used to greet the Omugabe Kahaya loudly and casually, without any show of respect. “Orairegye Kahaya (good morning, Kahaya),” they would say.

“Of course, the Omugabe was never pleased with this sort of familiarity, which tended to undermine his royal status and esteem,” Kahigiriza wrote.

Indeed, an analysis of the 1901 Ankole agreement bears some defence against the perceived cruelty of Ankole kings. Unlike before, when kings allocated land, heard cases and prescribed sentences which included death, the agreement gave kings no such powers. The Omugabe and his chiefs would be deposed if they failed “at any time to abide by any portion of the terms of [the] agreement.”

Under the agreement, land, forests, mines, minerals, and salt deposits in Ankole were controlled by the British colonial government. The Omugabe was deprived of powers to levy taxes. Interestingly, the agreement used Buganda titles to describe Ankole kingdom officials.

The Omugabe is referred to as the Kabaka, the Enganzi (prime minister) as the Katikkiro and the Ankole parliament, Eishengyero, as the Lukiiko.
This is attributed to the Baganda who, as chiefs in Ankole, could have been involved in drafting the agreements.

By independence in 1962, the Omugabe had lost most powers and become a constitutional head. He even had little say in the appointment of his prime minister, who was chosen by the Eishengyero (Ankole parliament), often on the basis of party politics.

DP-UPC divide

When the Democratic Party (DP) won the 1960 elections to the Ankole Eishengyero, they named John Kabaireho as the Enganzi, replacing Kesi Nganwa. Later, when DP lost its dominance to the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) party in the 1963 Eishengyero election, James Kahigiriza, a UPC sympathiser, was named Enganzi on June 25, 1963, replacing Kabeireho.

After his election, Kahigiriza said some people told UPC strongman N.K Bananuka, who was slated to be the Enganzi, “that it was a mistake for him to accept me to be Enganzi since I was a mere civil servant who had not played a key role in securing the UPC victory in Ankole.”

Later, when Kahigiriza appointed DP members in his cabinet, he was accused of “appointing people whose loyalty to UPC was debatable.”

When he dismissed Bananuka as minister of health and works in the Ankole government in 1966, Obote sent Kahigiriza emissaries to persuade him to rescind the decision. Kahigiriza defied Obote.
ong before Prince Barigye’s death.

In the next part, we trace the history of Ankole kingdom and the Bahima-Bairu divide, and reproduce the memorandums to Amin by Ankole and Baganda leaders about the restoration of their respective kingdoms – Editor.


The chasm between bairu and Bahima is now deeper and wider than before.

written by Benjamin Nimbimanya , October 17, 2011The real chasm between the Bairu and Bahima of Ankole and indeed elsewhere in Uganda is now worse and pronounced openly with Museveni at the Political helm of our Country.

So why do you have to apportion some blame to our former kings? I am one of those Bairus who support whleheartedly the restoration of the Ankole Monarch.

It is sad that an elite like the late Crown Prince John Barigye was denied this status, by of course M7 who wanted to capture the total royalty of the Bahima and not the Bairu, becuase the Bairu who selectively were vocally anti the Obugabe restoration in Ankole were then those so called pro Museveni bush comrades who adored the quack man.

He has since fallen out with all of them except one Major General, who calls himself ”ekiyenje ekitakuribwa enkoko” …a chicken cannot swallow a croach?

He can’t fit in so you can’t have it
written by Kaheru , October 17, 2011The obugabe is one institution if reinstated that can undo the biggest lie of our time and as such the benefactors of that lie can’t allow it. Funny enough out of greed those who know the truth have decided over the years to keep mute on the matter

Great Information!!
written by Asio , October 18, 2011Thank you for this article. I have always been curious about the history of Nkore Kingdom and whether the reasons cited for the refusal of its restoration are real or perceived.

Why those who were/are pro-Obugabe seem intimidated not to push for it. This is such great information. Often times, most of those considered Uganda’s middle-class speak from an uninformed position (unfortunately)!

It is very interesting to read the role played by the 1901 agreement and (fast forward) – multi-party politics in the 60s. Personally, I think those who want the kingdom restored, should be allowed to have their king.

It is not like they are going to force all of us to pay allegiance to him. I am very fascinated at how this information (history) clearly points/has a huge bearing to the challenges we are facing today as a country. Unless, we acknowledge and begin to have a serious conversation about our history, forget about having an ideal society that we all want Uganda to be.

It is seems to me like we are washing outside of an infested wound and leaving the inside to rot. Unless we come face to face with our history (not the distorted one), then we should accept to always live in an artificial country, with artificial leaders, who in the long run will lead artificial people. This seems to be an objective and well researched article. I can’t wait to read the rest.

written by MUGUME JOSHUA , October 20, 2011nimbimanya benjamin we are not sure if you are from the bairu clan.those are just words,i wannna look at you physically.dont prentend.

ANKOLE much-a-do about nothing.
written by Christopher Muwanga , October 20, 2011The Ankole issues have un-necessarily taken on a national dimension, for long!
1. The Rwakasisi’s are being restored to to their former offices, occupying whole wings of worker’ house because of the ankole schism, because the ‘above’ fears bairu power.

2. After the Republican constitution [8th Sept. 1967], the Ankole king accepted the new status quo and even accepted the ‘national pension’ from Obote. He signed the ankole memorandum accepting the change.

3. On the current debate,some extremists on the bairu side behave as though the 600-year dysnasty were not part of ankole history.This history cannot be wished away but never be changed.

4.On the other side, some hima extremists like gen.tinye are supremacists. they seem to think they are pre-destined to rule.
M7’s position is ambivalent and does not help the situation.

5. Verdict: Ankole history cannot be changed. they were ruled by the hinda dynasty for 600 years. Empires rise and fall, expand and shrink. today, the the way forward is: let those who want to worship the ankole king do so, after all, there are no taxes to be levied and the bushenyi areas of ankole were added to the kingdom by the brits. in other words, let the supporters of the kingdom ,hima or non-hima, be allowed to retain the instution, shrunk or otherwise.those who do not want it should be left to remain ‘republican’.

6. M7 un-necessarily makes the whole thing the national burden,it shouldnot be.The same ankole-factor contributed much to obote-II’s demise.

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