By Stephen Twinoburyo
From time to time, I have seen debates mainly on social media, but sometimes in mainstream media, referring to Uganda’s ethnic groups and this has often turned fiery whenever the discussion has been about the ‘ruling’ Bahiima ethnic group. The most recent hullabaloo concerns comments attributed to an NTV presenter.
I, as a Munyankole, and having partly grown up in a predominantly Bahiima area, Nyabushozi, wish to give my own opinion/analysys with reference to Bahiima viz-a-viz transition from the traditional pastoralists to the national role-players.
Most of my blood relatives live, or used to live, in the Kazo-Kiruhura area in the former Nyabushozi, after my great grandfather migrated into the area according to the history presented by my father in his book “Ruganyirwa’s Grandchildren”. Following on his ancestoral belonging, my father acquired land in the then very rural Kiruhura and went ahead to develop the land i.e fencing it, clearing the shrubs, digging a dam and building the first tile-roofed house that I knew then in Nyabusozi. Most of this happened in the early 1980s when President Museveni was then in the bush. Much as this should have been a good development, the Bahiima neighbours were infuriated that this private land had been developed and fenced off. I remember one time a group of Bahiima pastolists standing by the roadside gazing at my father’s farm and saying “Ekyata kyomwiru eki kikurize obunyatsi! (i.e this mwiru idiot has really nurtured pasture!).
That farm became a nightmare to us as a family, mostly after President Museveni’s NRA took power. Countless times, the pastoralists would cut the fence and graze their cattle within my father’s farm, armed with spears, and later guns. While my father had troughs for properly watering the cows, they would push their cows directly into the dam, hence causing damage to it. This became a hot issue often with people that were then said to be ‘connected’ to State House ‘backing’ the pastoralists and in fact issuing threats. Eventually my father, on our advice for our safety, abandoned his farm, being bought at a throw-away price by an afande (army officer). We were by then no longer living on it due to threats to his life and he in fact survived death at one point from a group of Bahiima by a whisker. Our family left Kiruhura and hopefully I will never live in Nyabushozi again. President Museveni kept promising to meet my father over this matter and resolve it but like many things he has promised, this remained that – air. My father not being a person used to the almost gutter-level lobby environment that has been established around Museveni, let the matter pass. I, a while back, sent a letter to President Museveni to remind him of these events.
So why am I narrating all this, especially making reference to the events surrounding my family? According to history, Bahiima were purely pastoralists and according to them all grazeable land belonged to them. Any place with good pasture was open to them and they had a right to graze that land. Possibly our Bahiima neighbours genuinely felt entitled to the results of my father’s work. After all he was a Mwiru and by default meant to sweat – for them. In the old times, a Muhiima man was recognised according to the number of cows he had and some Bahiima believed that all cows belonged to the Hima race. There was in fact a joke that when the Bahiima were being taken to Teso and Karamoja to fight after Museveni came to power, they were told that the purpose was to recover their ‘stolen’ cows. This traditional belief of being ultimate possessors may in a way have given some Bahiima a nortion they had a right to possession of anything good that belonged to a non-Muhima. In fact some did not consider a non-Muhima to have a human status. For instance, when a Muhima would enter a bus full of people and see no Muhima among them, he would exclaim “egi baasi ketarimu muntu!” (i.e how come there is no person in this bus!).
My narration here is not meant to denigrate Bahiima in any way but to rather give perspective to some of the behaviours I notice. I have close Bahiima friends, some dating from our childhood days, and have had family linkages with Bahiima.
Over the last two decades most Bahiima have immigrated from their pastoral traditions into modern means of living and in the process taking on other skills, for instance, in governance, commerce, the military, professional services e.tc. This is very commendable because any government needs to develop its citizens. However my analysis winds down to reports we hear that under Museveni, Bahiima occupy all top resource areas in the country. They are said to occupy all top army or security positions and those who have acquired wealth, have acquired it massively such that they may not even know what they have. The wanton plunder of national resources by those in power or those connected to them has reached unprecedented levels. There is a belief among some people that those who are in positions of authority don’t care what happens to the country but are rather interested in plundering it as much as they can irrespective of how much they already have and what poverty levels the rest of the Ugandans will sink to. Most of society seeing this as the trend of the rulers seem to have adopted it as the modus operandi and it’s the default position of almost any youth raised in Uganda in the last 30 years.
This brings me to the question that came to my mind and motivated my writing: Did some Bahiima carry their traditional traits onto the national arena?