Banyarukiga, there is power in unity

Edited by Admin
Banyarukiga, there is power in unity

The advent of Rukiga’s transformation into a district filled me with hope for positive change. I was born in Kabaare, Kigyezi, to a Munyakabaare mother and a Munyakahondo father who went to Mparo to work in 1954. There they settled and we became dual citizens of Ndorwa and Rukiga counties. My parents’ passion for our two counties was passed down to us.


Even after all these years away from home, I remain nostalgic about the Rukiga County in which I grew up. It was a time when our county, led by outstanding men and women, professionals, school headmasters, church leaders and community elders, was a model of rural development. 


Gaburieri Katabaazi, Oweishaza (county chief) of Rukiga who received my parents in 1954, was a man of exceptional abilities. He provided exemplary leadership, founded on honesty, transparency, respect for citizens, hard work and a can-do spirit that galvanized Banyarukiga to maintain and grow our community. His territory, which consisted of the sub-counties of Nyarushanje, Nyakishenyi, Kashambya, Rwamucuucu, Kamuheesi (Kamwezi) and Bukinda, had a challenging terrain that did not deter him from reaching remote villages across treacherous swamps and rivers. 


 When Mr. Katabaazi honorably retired in 1965, he was succeeded by Peter Kabagambe, another fine gentleman and administrator whose dedication to the job was from the same script as his predecessor’s. Rukiga flourished. Its primary and junior secondary schools were among the finest in Uganda. Its health centers, agricultural and veterinary services, prison service, road maintenance, forestry, swamp management, hillside tree planting, community water wells and boreholes, markets, trading centers and many other development activities attracted admiration. 


The cooperative movement anchored our elders’ efforts to transform their nuclear families and the larger community. For example, Kigezi District Growers Cooperative Society Limited (KDGCSL) had a lucrative vegetable market at Bukinda, where members sold their produce at decent prices. 


Kangondo, a modest town that was the largest and most flourishing commercial center in the county, had an efficient post office, complete with private numbered boxes, operated by Mr. Kwatiraaho, a Uganda Transport Company bus stop operated by Mr. Fred Kyereere, and a Rajput Singh (Rushaaki) bus stop operated by Mr. Musa Rwaheru rwa Kanyooma.  


There was a thriving katare (weekly market) at Kangondo, and a monthly kikomera (cattle and other merchandise market) at Rwamucuucu. Other up-and-coming towns like Bukinda, Muhanga, and Kisiizi were clean and well organized. 


Above all, the population of Rukiga County in 1969, which was probably about 50,000 people, did not put excessive stress on the land or social services. However, outward migration was still necessary to reduce pressure on the limited arable land.


Memories of people climbing onto lorries to be transported to very distant places like Bunyaruguru, Tooro, Isingiro and Bunyoro linger. I see Kilembe Mines workers disembarking from the buses, loaded with material possessions and cash, to be injected into the local economy, to the benefit of our county.  


The advent of military rule in Uganda in 1971 did not spare Rukiga in the havoc that followed. Besides losing the sub-counties of Nyarushanje and Nyakishenyi to a rearranged territory, (the future Rukungiri District), Rukiga lost its beat and its vibrant soul. Its schools and health services went into decline. Environmental degradation, including drainage of swamps and destruction of the tree cover, created conditions for destructive gongo (landslides and flooding) that worsened peasant farmers’ despair. 


The eleven-kilometer tarmacked road from Rwahi to Bukinda that existed in 1969 remained the only all-weather stretch in the entire county. The Muhanga- Kamuheesi (Kamwezi)-Rwamatunguru road continued to be a back-breaking affair. The other roads in the county were not much better. Even those that received attention were regularly ruined by heavy flooding during the rainy seasons. The bad roads discouraged traders, which made peasant agriculture a poor investment. 


Happily, not all was negative. Whereas Idi Amin’s expulsion of Asian-Ugandans was an illegal and racist act, his subsequent declaration of an economic war triggered Africans’ interest in commerce. Some wise businessmen from Muhanga, hitherto a small hamlet, seized the opportunity to establish thriving free-trade arrangements with counterparts in Eastern Congo and Rwanda. The hamlet quickly became a hub of trade and real estate development. With its excellent location along the international highway, Muhanga soon became the largest town in Rukiga. Notwithstanding its unplanned and rather haphazard growth, Muhanga became a blessing, offering employment opportunities, and easy access to household commodities and services for Banyarukiga. 


Bukinda, about 5 kilometers up the road, grew into a thriving town. Better planned than Muhanga, Bukinda became home to Bukinda Core Primary Teachers’ College, a well-regarded institution. County-wide community water supplies, rural electrification, new murram roads to previously hard to reach villages, establishment of many Savings and Credit Co-Operative Societies (SACCOs), increased secondary schools, and universal primary education (UPE) offered the citizens hope for improved standards of living.


Three major challenges have undermined Rukiga County’s potential opportunities for growth. First, its population has grown faster than its resources can support. With a population of 106,000 in 2021, it is double what it was 50 years ago. Enlarged families have had to farm the same small land holdings of their parents and grandparents. Indeed, some families have sold parts of their land to meet the new reality of privatized medicine and education, leaving them to squeeze themselves on dwindling parcels of tillable land. To what extent this evident overuse of the land has affected its productivity is debatable. What is clear is that the land is simply not enough for the population.


Second, Rukiga’s highly educated and skilled professionals have chosen or have been forced to work and live far from home. They contribute money to their families, to their churches and to their schools, all of which is highly commendable and very helpful. However, their knowledge and skills are not available to the community. 


Whereas Rukiga has, for the most part, found good and capable political leaders and representatives, the collective experience and wisdom of physically present sons and daughters, which is central to the development of successful societies, has been lacking. Like many parts of Uganda, Rukiga has educated her sons and daughters for the benefit of strangers, not its own citizens. I plead guilty.


Third, the central government seems to have chosen benign neglect as its operating policy on Rukiga. The 11 kilometers of tarmacked road from 1969 remains the only all-weather stretch of highway in the entire district. We are grateful that a 1.5 km stretch in Bukinda, connecting the highway to Bukinda subcounty headquarters, was tarmacked recently. We appreciate the efforts of Roland Ndyomugyenyi Bishoberwa, our current MP, that secured this development.


Whereas many districts have significant public infrastructural investments, Rukiga has remained an orphaned child of the Republic. The efforts of our honourable MPs have always hit a roadblock that can only be removed by the president of the country.


Nevertheless, the conversion of Rukiga into a district on July 1, 2017, was an opportunity for a new beginning and change of direction. Of course, many of us understood the difficulties that lay ahead. According to the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Finance, the start-up cost of a new district was Sh.16.63billion ($4,632,287). The operating cost in the first year of a new district was Sh. 59.25billion ($16,594,089). This was not pocket change, even before the financial ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic. 


These financial limitations have not stopped Robert Mbabazi Kakwerere, the current LCV Chairman, and our MPs Caroline Kamusiime and Roland Ndyomugyenyi Bisherurwa from pressing on with their efforts to get help from the central government. That is how it should be, and I hope the people of Rukiga will get an opportunity to respectfully ask President Yoweri K. Museveni what it is that seems to have blinded him to the existence of Rukiga District.


That said, I have been positively impressed by the passion with which some of our District leaders and representatives have discharged their duties. However, their work has been challenged by very limited funding. The dependence on the central government for the district’s budget, and the lack of local revenue, hamstring the efforts for development. 


Furthermore, the elite’s focus on partisan politics, sabotages urgently needed cooperative efforts with the elected leaders to secure funding and investment in Rukiga. As I write, prospective candidates for parliament in 2026, together with some of their supporters, have flooded various Rukiga District social media groups with candidates’ campaign posters, supportive and flattering messages about their favored candidates, and name calling against opponents.  


While it is their right to do this, I would love to see more concrete discussions about Rukiga’s challenges and opportunities, with proposed solutions and strategies for pulling ourselves up. After all, does it matter who brings development partners or government-funded projects to our district?


Should we not rally behind today’s elected leaders and representatives and empower them to speak with the country’s president from a position of strength backed by a formidable electoral constituency? There will be plenty of time to campaign for, or to challenge and oppose our elected leaders when the next election is called.


Our people say: Omugoye gw’enyabushatu tigurahuka kushumuuruka. There is power in unity. 


© Muniini K. Mulera


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