By Justus Muhanguzi
The current bloody power struggle among the family members of the little-known and self-styled ‘king’ of Ankole Umar Asiimwe has accordingly to political and cultural pundits been caused by economic rather than cultural interests.
It has also been reported that the disgraced king has been receiving some secret external funding it could be the major reason that caused his ouster.
The war which has been raging on after the recent ‘palace coup’ has not only left the self-appointed ‘King Ntare V1Rubambansi’ not only banished but also hiding after abandoning his hospital bed where he was admitted with life-threatening injuries sustained during the counter attack he staged to recapture his palace on December 31st 2018.
His father, Edirisa Kaweesa-the coup plotter and executor is also nursing a broken arm and is yet to recover from the shock he got after the recent arson attack that left part of the now contested palace razed to the ground.
But as the war rages on between with the two protagonists craving for territorial supremacy, the one million dollar is; “Who are these new claimants to the 600-year old ‘endangered’ Kingdom of Ankole – Could they be related in in way to the hitherto known rulers of the Bahinda dynasty which produced the last king of Ankole, Godfrey Gatsyonga-Rutahaba, the father and grandfather to the late prince Barigye and prince Charles Rwebishengye, respectively?”.
Before I reveal the shocking facts about the true origin and identity of Umar Asiimwe and his father Ediriisa Kaweesa (the kingmaker), it is worthwhile to also note that the emergence of the self-styled and now embattled claimants of throne is according to pundits a result of a vacuum created by the current government’s refusal to restore one the world’s oldest cultural institution which was abolished in 1966 under the Obote one regime.
Cultural and Political analysts say the selective application of the 1997 Constitution provisions regarding the restoration of kingdoms abolished in 1966 has left the Banyankole cultural enthusiasts groping in darkness while a whole generation has lost its cultural identity.
Only recently, the government embarked on the a multi-billion shilling rehabilitation project of the hitherto dilapidated Mugaba Palace at Kamukuzi hill where the last king of Ankole King Charles Gatsyonga-Rutahaba lived and administered his vast territory from.
Sadly the Nkore Cultural Trust (NCT), the official entity charged with the protection and promotion of Banyankole culture was seemingly left in cold and was never involved in the planning and implementation of the project which the government says will promote its Tourism industry as a lucrative tourist attraction. The Nkokonjeru royal burial grounds in neighborhood which had been totally neglected only got an ‘emergency’ facelift after the death of prince John Barigye (October 14th 2011) while the royal drum (Bagyendanwa) and other artifacts which were confiscated by the Obote 1 regime have since been rotting away at the Uganda museum in Kampala.
It is a fact that the current government has been consistent and has refused to restore the Ankole kingdom in particular. While other old kingdoms were allowed (by the 1997 Constitution) while ‘new’ ones have since been created with silent support from the NRM government, president museveni has declared himself the Ssbagabe of Ankole, much to the discontent of Banyankole cultural enthusiasts.
It should be recalled that The November 20th 1993 Coronation of the late Prince John Barigye as the King of Ankole was annulled by the government before a presidential warning was issued against future similar attempts. At the time of his death in October 2011, Barigye and his silent subjects had become ‘total orphans.’ His son Prince Rwebishengye was merely installed and has since looked on helplessly and silently prayed for divine intervention. What is happening at Itaaba must according to one analyst “must be making the late Barigye turn in his grave!!”
The paradox however is; the current now disgraced and deposed ‘king Ntare VI’ (Umar Asiimwe) is suddenly emerged from “Mars’ and on October 29 2016 declared himself ‘King Ntare V1 Rubambasi’ and has apart from a brief stint of confrontation with the government, reportedly been attracting moral and financial support from the government.
Until his ouster (the palace coup of December 20th 2018)Umar Asiimwe had according to reports got funding from president Museveni. It is said that it is this money that sparked off the misunderstanding with the family members before his sacking by the father who claimed that he (Umar) strayed from his instructions of preparing ground(and not declaring himself a king) for the restoration of the next king of Ankole. “I sent him here and financially empowered him to recover our sacred land from the encroachers and thereafter prepare ground for the restoration of the kingdom and not to install himself a king” Edirisa Kaweesa recently told me during a phone interview.
Be as it may, the government’s current ‘non-interference’ stance into ‘war’ raging among Edirisa Kaweesa family members fighting for the throne the crown of Ankole kingdom and the uninterrupted establishment and development of Itaaba ‘Palace’ has according to analysts sparked off a silent debate whether the government does not have a hidden agenda in regard to the fate of last King of Ankole, Godfrey Gatsyonga’s successor. This unanswered question is what political and cultural pundits call the ‘Unresolved Ankole Kingdom Question’ which can only resolved by The Ssabagabe (president).
On the otherhand, the main two protagonists, Umar Asiimwe, the deposed and banished self-styled King Ntare VI and his father Edirisa Kaweesa alias Igumira Kitobobo are yet to recover from serious injuries sustained during the bloody fight that took place during the counterattack commanded by the now deposed and banished ‘King’.
The so-called Itaaba palace (located in Nyakayoojo, Rwampara, near Mbarara district) has since been attacked by arsonists who left two shrines burnt into ashes and property worth millions destroyed.
While both the embattled self-styled ‘King’ (Umar) and the old man (Edirisa)individually claim to have spent a ‘fortune’ to secure, expand and develop their ancestral sacred land into a magnificent ‘palace’, unconfirmed reports say that it is actually some external funding and the sharing formula of ‘the spoils from Kampala’ that sparked of the war.
Unconfirmed reports say that the central government (read president Museveni) could be the now invisible hand that has either intentionally or unknowingly fueled the bloody ‘palace coup’ following a reported secret meeting he held with the embattled Umar Asiimwe –hitherto referred to as King Ntare VI.
Mr Umar Asiimwe’s former ‘press secretary’ Max Muhumuza told me that the meeting was reportedly organised and facilitated under the ausipices of another controversial Buruuli Kingdom of Butamanya-Mwogezi. Although Umar Asiimwe could neither confirm or deny the meeting president Museveni for funding, he told me that he has established relations with another controversial king Mwogeza Butamanya of Buruuli is ‘a sympathizer and a friend who has been very supportive’.
Asked about the source of the funds he has been using to develop what used to be regarded by locals as the so-called Bachwezi sacred enclave at Itaaba -Kyabarongo in Nyakayojo, the disgraced youngman told me “I am hardworking and a successful businessman but most importantly, I have friends and sympathizers like the Buruuli king(Ssebaruli Butamanya –Mwogezi) who has connected me to high places including King’s Forum (the umbrella body that unites and facilitates all Ugandan cultural leaders)” That was during the first phone interview held on January 14th 2019.
In another interview held two days later (Wednesday 17th ), he said that his father’s action were driven by greed and this could be explained by his recent move to illegally ‘desecrate his palace’.
During the last 15-minute phone interview from an undislosed hideout, the disowned Asiimwe said he was on December 31st 2018 beaten into a coma by his father and brothers and was still nursing his left injured eye after reportedly being ‘evacuated’ from the Mayanja Memorial Hospital in Mbarara where he was admitted after the ill-fated attempt to drive out his father from his Itaaba ‘Palace’
Unmasking Umar Asiimwe
A few years ago when Umar Asiimwe suddenly appeared on the scene and started making headlines, I took time to inquire from the both the widow of the late prince John Barigye (locally known known as Omwigarire (Queen mother) and Chairman of Nkore Cultural Trust Arch. Dr. William Katatumba (the prime minister of endangered kingdom). My simple question to the duo then was “Who is this Umar Asiimwe claiming the throne and Bagyendanwa (the royal drum). Is he a member of the famous Ankole’s Bahinda dynasty or any other recognized royal lineage?.”
Both of them separately and emphatically said that had never had about the youngman. I was however not convinced that someone could simply lay claim to a throne when he did not have any royal blood whatsoever. I would however somehow ‘resign’ to fate and became a blind observer as the whole melodrama kept playing out at Itaaba the current epi-centre of conflict and a potential insecurity blackspot –until recently.
While watching the 9 O’clock NBS news bulletin (January 11th 2019) a news clip about the fight among the self-appointed ‘King’ Umar Asiimwe’s family caught my attention. It was the scene at the Mbarara CPS in which the news anchor described thus; …..the father of the embattled self-stlyed king of Ankole reporting at the Mbarara police to make a statement following a fight that left him with a broken arm. The self-syled king Umar Asiimwe is currently admitted at Mayanja Memorial hospital where he is being treated for the injuries sustained during the fight….’
I could not believe my eyes when I recognized the person they were referring to as the father of ‘King’ Umar not only my villagemate in my remote birthplace village of Buyanja, Kyeizooba Igara (Bushenyi District) but my contemporary as a teenager.
My immediate reaction was like “But this cant be true? How and when did Diriisa (that was how we fondly called him during our teenager days), son of Twaha and Fulumena become a kingmaker?” I suddenly realized that I was unconsciously talking aloud to my bewildered family members with whom I was watching the news bulletin.
After I absorbing the shock, it was then that I recalled in my mind’s eye how indeed Umar was according to my memory, resembled his father’s physical looks during our hey days as village lads. IAt that moment, I called one my villagemates and peer, Melchoir Byaruhanga to express my ‘shock’. Byaruhanga was during our teenager days very intimate and a neighbour to Diriisa. So was Hajji Wahabu Rugasha a prominent senior official at the current Old Kampala Muslim Supreme Council administration.
My question to Byaruhanga was, “Is it true that the Diriisa me and you played and grew up with is the real father of Umar Asiimwe, going by what I have just seen on the television news clip??”
Laughing cynically, he said in Runyankole “Baitushi mwanawe nanye ebya munyani waitu Diriisa kabyanshobiire, nkantakubikyenga!!!” literally translated “I am equally at loss. I cannot comprehend our friend’s issues.” Our conversation lasted for more than an hour as we tried to ‘re-discover’ our childhood friend Diriisa Kaweesa now holding the fort and firing the royal guns at ‘Itaaba Palace.’
Tracing the roots of Umar Asiimwe ancestors
As earlier said, Umar Asiimwe’s father Ediriisa Kaweesa is my villagemate and contemporary (although he is slightly older by 3 years). His father, now deceased was a muslim soft spoken man called Twaha Nkarusigarira who I grew up knowing to a Rwandese national. And this what many people in and around the area believe although none of the Kaweesa family members has openly admitted.
While it is undisputed fact is that Edirisa Kaweesa is the real father Umar Asiimwe but the big question; Who is he and what is he up to?
As earlier said, Umar Asiimwe is indeed one of the 13 children of Ediriisa Kaweesa, who was born and grew up in Buyanja village, Kyeizooba subcounty, Igara county (mentioned in the famous Museveni Mp’enkoni wrap)Bushenyi District. This is the same village where the late Dr Adonia Tiberondwa, the late Maj. Gen Levi Karuhanga, and Col. Jackson Bell Tushabe among other sons of the soil.
It should be known that for many years now, Ediiriisa Kaweesa has been living in Muhokya, Kasese district where he migrated after a misunderstanding with his father Twaha Nkabisigarira who allegedly disowned him and sent him parking. The cause of the fallout could not be established although he(Kaweesa) has and continues using the home as the burial grounds for all his deceased family members. Umar Asiimwe’s great grandfather Kasaana Byabagambi, grandfather Twaha Nkabisigarira, mother Jovia Bonabaana and all other dead relatives are buried in the same village – Buyanja.
Interesting, Umar’s great grandfather (Kasaana Byabagambi) served as an askari to the last colonial government subcounty of Buyanja gombolola chief Mpurugusi (a Muganda) while the grandfather Twaha Nkarusigarira(Kaweesi’s father served as the LC chairman (since the introduction of Local council system) till he died in 2009.
The same office has since been inherited by his (Umar asiimwe’s) uncle Habib Twaha the current LC 1 Chairman of Buyanja Two LC. According to Habib, the other known close family relative is an uncle (brother to his father Twaha) who lives in Itendero near kabwohe town in the current Sheema district.
In my quest for more information about the shocking claims about the ankole’s ‘endangered’ kingdom, I decided to dig out the truth by reaching out to not only the protagonists (Asiimwe and Kaweesa) but some of the village elders, my peers, opinion leaders and other relatives in our remote and ancestral village of Buyanja.
Apart from Umar Asiimwe, his father (Kaweesa) and his step elder brother Habib Serugo, everybody –including ‘King’ Umar Asiimwe’s minister for culture Mr Eldad Karukiiko (former LC 3 chairman for Kyeizooba Subcounty) no one else seem not to understand or appreciate the claim over the ankole kingdom throne.
I have for the purpose of establishing the truth talked to many people including Umar Asiimwe (the banished ‘King’) his father and brother Habib Serugo.
When I called Kaweesa’s phone last week, it was answered by a feminine voice (who identified herself as Umar’s biological sister) to whom I introduced myself as a muny’Buyanja and a childhood friend to the old man (Kaweesa) before she agreed to inform her father who was resting.
On mentioning my names to him before passing over the phone, Kaweesa whom I have spent many years now without meeting or talking to sounded excited. After my exchanging pleasantries, my first question was; “Diriisa katwakuzire hamwe nkaninkumanyagye eshagama yobugabe n’Obuhinda bikaija bita.?” literary translated “I have known you since our childhood days but when did you become a royal?”
Trying to explain himself, he told me that his family was related to the the late prince Kibwana grandfather to both Col. Jackson Bell Tushabe (former UPDF 2nd Div commander) and Benjamin Katana(former senior Immigration officer and Igara East parliamentary seat contender currently practicing law and representing Bob Wine in the Arua court case). He said, “All along we knew what we were but kept a low profile until recently when the ‘oracles’ impressed it upon us to reclaim our kingdom from impostors (read the late King Charles Gatsyonga the father of prince John Barigye). I have however established that while the last king of Ankole belonged to the Abahinda dynasty, the Kibwana lineage is associated with the now defunct kingdom of Igara whose King Musinga committed suicide as a protest against meeting his Ankole counterpart. The Umar Asiimwe alleged relationship with the Katana’s has been rubbished all the elders and opinion leeaders I have talked to including the same prince Kibwana’s descendants (the Katanas) who say their lineage is known as Baine-Mafundo who include Mr Elly Karuhanga (former Nyabushozi MP)
When asked about the relationship with the Umar Asiimwe family, Mrs Mary Katana, the widow of the late Katana and daughter-in-law of prince Kibwana said the Umar Asiimwe kingship claims were simply outlandish. She added, “Our royal drum was called Kihooza and as you know the Igara king was Musinga of the Abaine-Mafundo dynasty. How do these relate with the Bagyendanwa (royal drum of Ankole kingdom) of the lineage of Abahinda dynasty which these people are talking about?” she asked. She then went on to say that all she knows about the family of Umar Asiimwe is that his great grandfather Kasaana Byabagambi was employed as an askari by the then Muganda (colonial agent) gombolola chief of Buyanja called Mpurungusi. In those days, the gombolola headquarters were located in the very place where the Katana’s home is now located. The late Adonia Tiberondwa’s home used to be in the same locality, sharing the compound with the former Buyanja Muluka headquarters. The Gombolala headquarters has been shifted eight kilometres away at Kyeizooba while the muluka quarters recently relocated at Katerero trading centre, about a kilometer away.
It is said that it was while working as an askari in chief Mutambuka’s courtyard that Umar Asiimwe’s great grandfather (Kasana) acquired a piece of land in the neighbourhood where he after the tenure of his boss (Mpurungusi) settled with his family including Twaha Nkarusigarura (Umar’s grandfather).
It is this Twaha (Umar’s grandfather) who sold the land (located in the present Buyanja (One) LC to the late Kashokye and bought another piece of land at in the neighbourhood in what is now called Buyanja (Two) local council 1 that initially chaired by Umar’s grandfather before his uncle Habib was during the recent LC elections duly elected to succed his father.
Umar Asimwe’s grandmother (Fulumera) and his step grandmother are all still living on the very land where their departed husband (Twaha) is buried..
More about The Umar Asiimwe family’s checkered background
The common and popular belief in Buyanja (the birthplace of Ediriisa Kaweesa and Twaha Nkarusigarira – Umar Asiimwe’s father and grandfather, respectively is that the family originated from Rwanda. What is however not known is where exactly chief Mpurugusa – the colonial Muganda agent -picked Kasana (Umar Asiimwe’s great grandfather)from before employing him as an askari in his courtyard at Buyanja Subcounty headquarters. But none of the family members wants to be associated with that checkered history. When I asked Umar Asimwe’s uncle Habib (the LC 1 Chairman of Buyanja Two) whether he had ever heard the ‘rumour’ about their family’s Rwandan origins, he said “ I also know that people have been calling us Banyarwanda but as far as I am concerned, I had never heard any of my family members speak Runyarwanda. I used to hear my father swear while referring to a place he fondly called Orwanda-Orwera which I think is our origin”
Similarly both Kaweesa and Asiimwe deny of having any Rwandan origins but insist they are true and real Banyankore whose current business (the kingship issues) is about supernatural powers derived from abarangi (cultural prophets) who have anointed and commissioned them to embark on the mission of pacifying and recovering the lost glory of their kingdom which had been snatched by ‘impostors’ the Abahinda dynasty.
The other fact is that Umar Asiimwe’s maternal side are all from the same parish of Buyanja and the neighbouring subcounty of Bumbaire both in Bushenyi district.
Umar Asiimwe’s mother is the late Jovia Boonabaana , daughter of Constantine Kabirisi and Catherine (a.k.a Katarina)Tingambirirwa a mutooro by tribe.
On the other hand, Umar Asiimwe’s grandmother Fulumera (a catholic who never adopted a Muslim name) Nkarusigarira who is alive and living at their Kayanja home (Buyanja Two) hails from Bumbaire, the neighbouring subcounty. None of Umar’s maternal ancestors have any known connections to the Ankole royal dynasties.
What should be noted is that Umar Asiimwe and his siblings were born and grew up in Kasese district where the father Edirisa Kaweesa migrated after allegedly being banished and chased by his father (Twaha Karusigarira) from the Buyanja home during the early 80’s. Despite that fall out, Buyanja has and remains the family burial grounds where Umar Asiimwe’s late mother (Boonabaana) and siblings are all buried next to their ancestors. Umar’s father has since married and Umar’s step mother and siblings are alive and recently shifted from Kasese to the contested ‘Itaaba palace’ in Mbarara.
On the other hand, it should also be known that Umar Asiimwe’s grandfather Twaha Nkarusigarira was after the fall of Idi Amin banished and declared a persona-non grata by his neighbours who being accused of being a Munyarwanda and a spy employed by Amin’s notorious state research bureau. He had to abandon his home and flee into ‘exile’ in Bwera-Kasese where he kept hiding for many years and only returned after the NRM government came into power in 1986.
Interestingly he would later be elected as the LC one chairman, a position he held until his death in 2005.
Given all the above, one may be tempted to think that kings are appointed and not born!!
The writer is a seasoned reasearcher/journalist hailing from Buyanja, Bushenyi District. He is a childhood friend with Ediriisa Kaweesa, Umar Asiimwe’s father.