KAMPALA – On June 2, a faction of monarchists from Inzu Ya Masaba convened at Malukhu in Mbale in yet another move to start the search for the next Umukukha [cultural leader].
But prior to this meeting, another meeting had been held in Lukhobo chaired by Sister Rose Nelima, the deputy speaker to the cultural institution also intended to start a search for a new cultural leader for Inzu Ya Masaba.
In these two meetings, the two factions are at war with each other; the legitimate cultural council leaders in Bamasaba cultural institution [Rev James Kangala, Dr Christopher Bunoti, Mr Nelson Wadaila [Speaker] and Dr Stephen Mungoma the governing board head with another illegitimate faction headed by Sister Rose Nelima that is loyal to the present Umukukha Mr Bob Mushikori.
Both factions have the aim of rejuvenating their focus on the election of the next Umukukha but with selfish motives.
There are also reports that Bugisu/Bamasaba Cultural Institution is also embroiled in financial scandals where some leaders have been accused of soliciting financial support from different sources without declaring what they receive to the treasury.
In the cultural institution itself, reports show that there are two warring factions opposed to each other; those loyal to Umukukha, Bob Mushikori and those loyal to former speaker Mr Nelson Wadaila.
Mr Wadaila was fired by Inzu Ya Masaba assembly of delegates last year at a meeting in Mabanga Agricultural College in Bungoma County, in Western Kenya and replaced by his deputy Sister Rose Nelima.
This was against the advice from the solicitor general in a letter dated 7 August 2019 which said that the Mabanga-Bungoma [Kenya] General Assembly that sacked Mr Wadaila acted out of law and was not binding because the decisions of cultural institutions involving foreigners are outside the law as showed by Article 246 of the Uganda constitution and section 3 of the institution of cultural leaders Act.
Inzu Ya Masaba has had warring factions for long both in the reign of Umukukha/Umuguga, Wilson Wamimbi I [ 2010–2016, Wanale] and now Umukukha/Umuguga Bob Mushikori II, [2016 -2020-Mubuya] with fights ranging from poor representation, financial scandals and failure to popularise the institution across Bugisu sub-region.
And I want to state that, if you asked the Bagisu/ Bamasaba children and some of the elders about Umukukha, chances are high that the answer you will get will be “We don’t know him” Why? Because very little has been done to educate, sensitise the Bamasaba/Bagisu about Umukukha and his relevance.
Many people are dissatisfied with the Inzu Ya Masaba cultural institution to the level that nobody believes in it, in essence it has become a preserve of the few and famous people who can be close to the elected Umukukha.
Not so long ago, Joseph Kanyanya from Bududa relayed unjustifiable claims to the Bugisu/Bamasaba cultural throne.
As reported in 2008, Kanyanya claimed that President Yoweri Museveni had recognised Bikuuka/Biguga bya Bamasaba (clans of Bamasaba) kingdom. This was, however, refuted as letters purportedly written by the Presidential principal private secretary were said to be forged.
This kind of unpopular politicking yielded no positive results for him and since then he formed Babukusu kingdom in Bududa and declared himself Umukhongo Bukusu.
In another twist of events, an 80-year-old Shaban Wambedde Wataba of Nabugoya village in Namanyonyi sub-county, Mbale district says he is the rightful cultural leader (Umugasha) of the Bamasaba/Bagisu. He says he belongs to the royal family of the Bamasaba, where leadership is not elective, but inherited.
Although there is an approved constitution that governs the institution where Umukukha/Umuguga is to serve for a non-renewable term of five years, there have been attempts to change the constitution by the current leadership to allow the reigning Umukukha/Umuguga more years.
This is a plausible position which is accommodative and focused on cultural restoration should be well-documented and records kept in a safe place for future reference, lest the Bugisu/Bamasaba cultural throne be plunged into political and social disorder again.
The Bamasaba/ Bagisu occupy six districts that Sironko, Bulambuli, Mbale, Bududa, Namisindwa and Manafwa and Western Kenya where they are referred to as the Babukusu that are estimated to be seven million people.
It must be known that the Bagisu [Bamasaba] were previously a united community, bound by the age-old tradition of circumcision who have only descended into confusion for lack of vision in the Inzu Ya Masaba.
Although Inzu Ya Masaba was created in 2010 with the aim of preserving and fostering the culture of the Bamasaba, the cultural institution which comprises members from 26 clans across Bugisu sub region they have embroiled it in confusion and unnecessary fights.
And I want to state that, if you asked the Bagisu/ Bamasaba children and some elders about Umukukha, chances are high that the answer you will get will be “We don’t know him” Why? Because very little has been done to educate the Bamasaba/Bagisu about Umukukha and his relevance.
Many of these elders however admit that they have never met the current cultural Chief and they do not know what that office does although the cultural Chief has visited the area before.
Unlike in other areas that had traditional kings, the Bagisu are not so enthusiastic when the chief visits their area. In fact, many of the local clan leaders and politicians command more respect than the institution of cultural Umukukha/Umuguga.
Many of these sons of Mwambu are quick to add that they are looking forward to their turn to contest for the office and to lead the institution come July 2020.
Historically, the Bagisu, fondly referred to as Bamasaba, did not have a monarchy. The Bamasaba/Bugisu cultural heritage is centred on clanship and these clans play a big role in the local communities here todate.
According to many Bagisu/Bamasaba monarchism [Inzu Ya Masaba] is a recent development among the Bamasaba, an ethnic tribe living at the slopes of Mt Elgon.
But even then, it is imperative to note that the spirit of the 1995 constitution was to “RETURN” not to “CREATE” kings for whoever wanted to assert himself. This implies that the children of Masaba who had historical institutions equivalent to a monarchy do not deserve to have these leaders in whatever name.
It is a well-known fact that the institution of Umukukha/Umuguga has no historical claims, by birth or descent. In fact, the word Umukukha/ Umuguga derives its meaning from the word Kukha/Guga. It is intended to mean chief grandfather or the head of grandfathers which is a fallacy among the Bagisu.
True, we need a cultural institution to preserve our culture, as a people’s productive and innovative thrust in navigating life, is linked to socio-economic development through its food production systems, livelihood choices, tourism, cultural institutions, infrastructure, environmental management, fashion and because it plays an important role in social cohesion and the expression of freedoms but ten years down the road, there is nothing on ground apart from the fights.
Traditionally, the Bagisu had chiefs all over with no supreme leader above them. It is therefore a creation and is a new institution among the Bagisu and this probably explains why the institution is not respected ten years down the road.
Among the Bamasaba/ Bagisu, it was Imbalu and Arabica Coffee uniting them, there is a need to make this cultural institution more acceptable and more relevant to forge unity among the Bagisu/Bamasaba.
The writer, David Mafabi is a veteran journalist