The Resurrection of the Egret Throne
"I have restored what was cast down. I have built up what was uncompleted."
[Maatkare Hatshepsut, 18th Dynasty Pharaoh]
The cattle egret is a bird which BaSongora particularly esteem. It is considered elegant and beautiful. Moreover, the egret likes places with water, and also cares for cows. One of the ancient titles of the monarch of BuSongora was ‘Nyangye’ [Egret], and it is also used for someone who is good or graceful and beautiful. The Egret represents the ideals of BaSongora.
The monarchy of BuSongora is part of our cultural heritage. The monarchy, along with the other social and cultural institutions of BuSongora, are vital to the survival of the community, and serve as important sources of the social cohesion and mutual respect between members - especially in times of global crisis when social atomization and territorial balkanization are pervasive.
Because of the modern awareness of human rights and the social benefit of protecting community rights, it has become accepted practice everywhere now on the planet to help impoverished cultural institutions by documenting and trying to preserve their unique artistic skills and history narratives.
The BaSongora as a People are entitled - under the tenets of international law - to pursue and to preserve for posterity its community’s cultural heritage. Moreover, natural law confers upon the BaSongora community such powers as include the right to have customs and norms. The BaSongora have a long history of constitutional monarchy dating back hundreds of years.
Moreover there is now a constitutional basis for the legality of the BuSongora Kingdom. The community of the BaSongora is also empowered by various international, regional and state organs, to preserve, and enjoy benefit of its own cultural heritage. In this regard, the Constitution of Uganda is clear. Pursuant to Chapter Sixteen of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, 1995.,
 Sc 246. - Institution of traditional or cultural leaders:-
(1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the institution of traditional leader or cultural leader may exist in any area of Uganda in accordance with the culture, customs and traditions or wishes and aspirations of the people to whom it applies.
(2) In any community, where the issue of traditional or cultural leader has not been resolved, the issue shall be resolved by the community concerned using a method prescribed by Parliament.
(3) The following provisions shall apply in relation to traditional leaders or cultural leaders—
(a) the institution of traditional leader or a cultural leader shall be a corporation sole with perpetual succession and with capacity to sue and be sued and to hold assets or properties in trust for itself and the people concerned;
(b) nothing in paragraph (a) shall be taken to prohibit a traditional leader or cultural leader from holding any asset or property acquired in a personal capacity;
(c) a traditional leader or cultural leader shall enjoy such privileges and benefits as may be conferred by the Government and local government or as that leader may be entitled to under culture, custom and tradition;
(d) subject to paragraph (c) of this clause, no person shall be compelled to pay allegiance or contribute to the cost of maintaining a traditional leader or cultural leader;
(e) a person shall not, while remaining a traditional leader or cultural leader, join or participate in partisan politics;
(f) a traditional leader or cultural leader shall not have or exercise any administrative, legislative or executive powers of Government or local government.
(4) The allegiance and privileges accorded to a traditional leader or a cultural leader by virtue of that office shall not be regarded as a discriminatory practice prohibited under article 21 of this Constitution; but any custom, practice, usage or tradition relating to a traditional leader or cultural leader which detracts from the rights of any person as guaranteed by this Constitution, shall be taken to be prohibited under that article.
(5) For the avoidance of doubt, the institution of traditional leader or cultural leader existing immediately before the coming into force of this Constitution shall be taken to exist in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.
(6) For the purposes of this article, “traditional leader or cultural leader” means a king or similar traditional leader or cultural leader by whatever name called, who derives allegiance from the fact of birth or descent in accordance with the customs, traditions, usage or consent of the people led by that traditional or cultural leader.
The BaSongora have always existed with a unique, separate and well-defined community self-identity, culture and spirituality. For most of their history, BaSongora had an independent and sovereign state - known as BuSongora - that dates back to at least the 1100s. That state was extinguished under the colonial occupation of Britain, Germany and Belgium under circumstances that were obviously illegal and unacceptable to BaSongora, who have had to live with the terrible consequences of the conflicts that the colonial occupation generated.
Today, more than at any other time in history, the BaSongora are being threatened with cultural genocide and the extinction of their heritage and traditions. Our lands have already been appropriated, our place-names eliminated and changed, our unique and distinctive language is being lost at an alarming rate, and we continue to suffer exclusion and distortion of our ancestry and history, as well as the revision of the record of ownership and effective possession of our homeland.
Non-BaSongora communities, kingdoms and cultural institutions that have in the past tried to assimilate us into theirs - especially Toro Kingdom and Rwenzururu - invariably have a conflict of interest where their institutions are constrained by lack of expertise in implementing programs that benefit the BaSongora. Toro Kingdom and Rwenzururu have been responsible for marginalizing BuSongora in the past - and are not now in any position to promote the institutions, language, place-names, culture, or well-being of BuSongora. Instead BuSongora was subjected to a media campaign whose goal was to absorb BuSongora culturally and territorially and place it under their jurisdiction - acts which amount to cultural appropriation or even cultural genocide, and certainly sub-imperialism on the part of Toro and the Rwenzururu.
The failure of non-Songora cultural institutions to include, recognize, or educate their membership in matters concerning the welfare, culture and history of the BaSongora, has led to concerns that they cannot be made accountable to BaSongora. Yet until 2012 the BaSongora had remained without a formally recognized institution of their own that could legally or legitimately represent their collective concerns in the halls of justice. Consequently some of the members of our neighbouring communities - especially members of the Toro and Konzo communities - had been erroneously led to believe that all the land in Kasese District belongs to them, and that BaSongora did not have a claim to the land or cultural sites and artefacts which ancient BaSongora has once possessed. Some people in Kasese felt entitled to divide or appropriate land property belonging to members of BaSongora community collectively or individually.
Because of past disasters and crises that have adversely affected the BaSongora - and the glaring lack of a representative cultural institution mandated and protected by the constitution of Uganda - the work of representing our community has inadvertently fallen on local and international NGOs and CBOs, which have their own peculiar constraints and which suffer competing claims for their attention and resources.
The BaSongora community needed a cultural institution designed solely for the purpose of addressing all the concerns of BaSongora collectively, and that is not dependent on competing for NGO and CBO and private resources, nor just concerned only by the lack of access to one or two resources or projects.
In the years leading up to 2012, the elders of the BaSongora - faced with the multiple issues concerning the threats to the community’s survival - felt compelled to revive their cultural institution and Invest a new monarch of BuSongora. The elders were concerned about a host of repressive measures directed against the BaSongora by the Konzo-dominated municipal and local governments especially. The BaSongora had been victims in numerous ways and were subjected to a relentless campaign of intimidation and land-grabbing, destruction of cultural sites and animal habitats, as well as unfair decisions by the district authorities in Kasese, including the threat to subdivide and rename BuSongora County without consultation.
In the early months of 2012 it became increasing clear that BuSongora County might be dismembered and renamed by initiatives led by district authorities and local councillors, and that under the electoral system [FPTP] used in Uganda - given the population distribution and chauvinistic tendencies of the some prominent politicians - would effectively end any hopes of BaSongora ever again having representation in the municipal councils, the state parliament, the regional parliaments, and the Pan-African Parliament. Consequently, some of the BaSongora elders called a general council, which over the course of many weeks of deliberations, opted to take the only constitutional avenue available to the community - in order to prevent a complete loss of social order or coherence.
BuSongora had to have an institution to represent the BaSongora, as well as other marginalized communities in the Rwenzori Region. There was a sense of urgency - even despair - at some of these deliberations, as one after another of the BaSongora delegates explained or pleaded the need to revive the ancient throne of BuSongora, as a last ditch effort to forestall complete chaos in their community.
The deliberations by BaSongora elders and leaders held in 2011 and early 2012 gradually matured into a concrete agenda, which necessitated the convening of a Council of Accession. The elders had planned on soliciting meetings with the President of Uganda and other senior government officials in order to obtain advice on how to proceed with the modalities of restoring the ancient BuSongora Kingdom. However, the actual decision to carry out the accession procedure was triggered prematurely by the actions of the Kasese District councillors when reports were released in the media stating that the decision to split BuSongora into three districts had already been made sometime in the early months of 2012, and was being deliberated and waiting for confirmation in the Uganda Parliament. The understanding at the time was that the three districts would be formally announced within days or weeks. These reports created a sense of apprehension and panic among BaSongora.
The Council of Accession was convened in urgency in the early morning of 12 May 2012. It consisted of BaSongora elders and community leaders. They convened at Kabirizi, on the banks of the River Nyamugasani in BuSongora. Included in the council were representatives of the royal families of BuSongora, as well as people who understood the history of BuSongora, or who remembered the special protocols used in the accession, installation or coronation of the ancient monarchs of BuSongora. The meeting opened with prayers, after which deliberations followed about various matters relating to division of the district and the accession of a monarch. The meeting then formally initiated the required procedures that had to be observed in selecting one person to be enthroned from among several eligible candidates.
Upon completion of deliberations for accession, the Council subjected all those eligible for the office of the monarch to the required procedures, including consideration and instructions about the implications of reviving the monarchy. After close inquiry into various personal and procedural matters, the process resulted in the members present asking those eligible for the office of monarch to leave the precinct of the deliberations. Several eligible princes declined consideration, and one by one they stood up and gave their reasons for not accepting the throne. Those who declined also nominated others.
The seniors citizens in the meeting declined one by one - pointing out health concerns or work obligations that would make it impossible to give the office the attention and time it would require. Sam Ntungwa and Ivan Bwebale were both eligible for the office of monarch owing to their ancestral lineage, and also the fact that they had done a great deal of work to promote the community. However, both declined the office of monarch and insisted that the Council pick someone younger and more robust than either of the two gentlemen. However, all of the younger men and women in the meeting decided in the end that the office should devolve on someone senior.
The Council held a closed session. At mid-day the Council of Accession declared that it had reached a decision. The Council confirmed accession to the Office of the King of BuSongora the Prince Ivan Bwebale. He had been made to wait outside at a different location, and wasn’t party to key decision that led to his appointment. The Council could have declined or adjourned or picked another candidate. However, when deliberations and the decision to confirm him as king was made, Prince Ivan Bwebale was sent a message and asked to return to the to where the Council hearing was taking place. All those present made public homage to the new king.
Following accession, the Council of Accession set Sunday 1 July 2012 - 50 days after Accession - as the official date for the Investiture of the new King of BuSongora. Days after his accession, Prince Ivan Bwebale chose as his regnal name Rwigi IV. The official date of the accession of King Rwigi IV Ivan Bwebale Rutakirwa to the throne of BuSongora is Saturday 12 May 2012 - the 132nd day of the year. That date is also the official Day of the Restoration of the Kingdom of BuSongora.
Despite the stresses and strains and threats and violence that the community was being subjected to at that time, the Investiture of King Rwigi IV Ivan Bwebale Rutakirwa took place on Sunday 1 July 2012 - the 182 day of the year - at Muhokya, in BuSongora. It was a ceremony designed for the formalization and consecration of the kingship among the people of BuSongora, not so much for the national or international audience. The investiture was a great success and the new King of BuSongora, Rwigi IV Ivan Bwebale Rutakirwa, was introduced to his people.
In the weeks and months following the 2012 his coronation, the King Rwigi IV established BuSongora's modern legislature [Muhabuzi] – to promote a more democratic form of governance. He set up a Royal Advisory Council, and formed a Cabinet.
The most immediate and noticeable effects of the revival of the monarchy, included the end of reprisal attacks against Rwenzururu attackers and land-grabbers. In the past every time the BaSongora were attacked they responded in kind. However, the fear and respect for the elders and the prospect of pursuing formal restitution through the cultural institution has made redundant the need to take law into their own hands. Another effect has been the return of a sense of security and pride in the community. Increasingly BaSongora are dressing in their traditional attire, and speaking their language, in public.
As a result of the restoration of the monarchy, the community of BaSongora and interested members of the public - as well as scholars and researchers interested in services of academic and social value - can find each other more easily. Many projects have since started on Shongora culture and history, that involve the systematic research - carried out by various public and private agencies - in a grand effort to recover the broken or forgotten narratives about BuSongora.
The Restoration of BuSongora Kingdom may help to spur new interest in the Great Lakes Region, and help us make discoveries that will add more to our understanding of the history of all the communities in Africa. BuSongora had a vital role to play in the rise of the pre-colonial African states, as well as in the formation of Uganda and Congo during the colonial occupation. Much knowledge and many artefacts are still to be discovered by exploring BuSongora’s mythology, art, ecology, history, archeological sites, social relations and spiritual life. In past times, due to the lack of a visible cultural institution, opportunities have been too few to allow for appreciation of BuSongora’s unique contributions to history and culture.
In July 2012, UNESCO chose BaSongora to get funding for the inventorying of its intangible cultural heritage. Whereas consideration to include BaSongora in the UNESCO project had been on going for several decades prior to the formation of the monarchy, the UNESCO team was present in Kasese, on the 27 July 2012, when the Rwenzururu attacked the king’s residence and police post at Muhokya. The incident left the UNESCO team in no doubt as to the danger the BaSongora were facing. The attackers had inadvertently spurred UNESCO’s decision to award BaSongora the ICH project. The king was asked to endorse 12 members of the BaSongora community to receive UNESCO training in ICH. Subsequently, other communities in the region began demanding government funding for cultural inventories of their own. Observers - district cultural officers - from other parts of Uganda also attended the BaSongora ICH training and review sessions with a view to helping organize future training for other communities.
The revival of BuSongora’s cultural institutions - after over a hundred years in abeyance - brought a sense of relief and restored to BuSongora a natural and intuitive centre of social organization. The cultural institution has stimulated an enabling environment that didn’t exist prior, and the community and interested members of the public - as well as scholars and researchers - can find each other more easily. They are systematically comparing, notes, sharing original and old research, in an effort to recover the broken or forgotten narratives.
BuSongora had a vital role to play in the rise of the pre-colonial African states, as well as in the formation of Uganda and Congo during the colonial occupation. Much knowledge and many artefacts are still to be discovered by exploring BuSongora’s mythology, art, ecology, history, archeological sites, social relations and spiritual life. In past times, due to the lack of a visible cultural institution, opportunities have been too few to allow for appreciation of BuSongora’s unique contributions to history and culture. The Restoration of BuSongora Kingdom may help to spur new interest in the Great Lakes Region, and help us make discoveries that will add more to our understanding of the history of all the communities in Africa.
The existence of a recognized cultural institution has helped to minimize and reduce marginalization and exclusion in the decision-making processes of government and public institutions. By promoting those positive and constructive customs, which are the historic and traditional right of our people, the cultural institution will help to bring to an end the negative residual colonial and ideological conceptions of BaSongora.
The cultural institution has a duty to engage the public and educate members of the community and the general public about the spiritual and material benefits our history, language, aesthetics, arts and cultural heritage. We need to be able to learn from the past success and failures of our community and our leaders, so that we can improve our lives and the lives of our neigbours. This learning cannot happen if we have no historical memory, if we lack cultivation in the arts of civil society, such as literature or farming. If we are unable to appreciate the accomplishments of our ancestors, we cannot also develop the skills to appreciate the challenges faced by our neighbours and the rest of humanity.
The cultural institution has a duty to promote recognition of the cultural events and protect the integrity of ancestral heritage lands and historic sites. This heritage is the entitlement of all human civilization and it would be unfortunate to lose it on account of neglect and disrepair. We gain more as persons and as community, and benefit our neighbours and the rest of humanity more, by safeguarding our community's ancestral legacy, cultural autonomy, unity and uniqueness.
Recognizing the fact that no other institution from outside our community can do for us what we should do for ourselves, we have an obligation to our families and neighbours to promote those civic virtues in our heritage that are of benefit to everyone. The lack of cultural values and community support continues to leave many BaSongora to grow up disoriented, and at the mercy of judicial, medical, political and cultural institutions around the world that are not answerable or accountable to us. We must be able make legitimate claims for accountability on any and all institutions that affect our well-being, but cannot do so effectively at present because we are not properly organised, or supported, under any legal framework recognized under international law - except for our status as victims of the vagaries of the colonial occupation.
Finally, it is important to note that our history, language and culture inform and shape our intuitive, natural and historical sensibilities, which in turn determine how we navigate the challenges and opportunities that this world presents to us as individuals or as a community. To allow our cultural heritage to disappear would impoverish us spiritually and psychologically and materially, and it would also be a great loss for the world and for our neighbours too, who will have been left with a disoriented, disaffected, disunited and rootless group of persons who will have lost respect for any civil order, social mores, or aesthetic sensibilities. We must not allow the BaSongora to end up without a historical memory or a culture of their own.