Kasese is a district in the western region of Uganda bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This region is no stranger to conflict and, in fact, was the base of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels in the last two decades. This particular rebel group was easy to counter, but also took place in the shadows of the Lord’s Resistance Movement (LRA) that plagued Northern Uganda.
There have been conflicts, especially, in the past five years, most notably in 2010 and 2012 when one of the tribes installed their king, which resulted in protests. In 2014, there were guerilla-style attacks on army and police barracks that saw some lives lost and early in 2016 there were post-election protests. This history indicates that dissidents continue to sprout every now and then. This may also be why the government has acted with such a stiff hand in ensuring that another uprising does not gain traction.
This story comes on the heels of the latest conflict that saw at least 74 people dead. However, the exact number of people that actually lost their lives is still not clear. The latest of these attacks was on November 27th, 2016, when the Uganda Police Post in the area was attacked by royal guards and guns were, allegedly, stolen. This resulted in the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) swinging into action by taking on the situation as a defence matter.
This particular conflict can be traced to the over five tribes in the Rwenzori region. In Uganda’s Constitution, Article 246 recognizes the Institution of Traditional or Cultural Leaders, however, it forbids them from participation in partisan politics. In 1993, the Rwenzururu Kingdom was officially recognized, as well as their King in 2009. However, this did not please the Tooro kingdom from which they had years before seceded, as well as the other tribes that did not get this kind of official recognition. Hence these on and off conflicts could be tribal clashes. The way they are being handled, however, indicates that there is probably more than meets the eye, especially, when looking at election results and the support for the opposition in the region.
Nonetheless, this, alone, is not the problem. While Uganda is lauded as having one of the strongest military’s and intelligence in the East African region, sometimes, when actions like these are in the public eye, criticism is spewed. It is not difficult to understand why. For instance, in this latest incident, some journalists were arrested and spent some time in custody without any charges being pressed or their families being informed. Yet, in Uganda’s Constitution, Article 26 guarantees the right to personal liberty and that a person shall not be held over 48 hours without charge and if arrested, restricted or detained is entitled to rights, such as being informed of the reasons, informing the next of kin, a lawyer, and a personal doctor.
It is a tight rope to walk between matters of national security and human rights protection. Many activists have demanded the release of the journalist and the media has cried out about media and press freedom, but that is not enough. The reality is that whenever there is an affront to human rights, it jeopardizes the order of peace and that alone is a threat to peace. With that said, the King of the Rwenzururu now stands charged with murder.