Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom on April 6, celebrated 100 years since the death of Omukama Chwa II Kabaleega.
The main function was held at Buyanja Secondary School, Kibaale Town Council, Kibaale district, a place where he was enthroned and also the burial place of his father- Omukama Kamurasi Mirundi Kyebambe IV, who reigned from 1822-1869.
The day was celebrated with a launch of a book written by Isaac Kalembe who is also the Omutalindwa (Speaker) of Rukurato (Parliament) of the kingdom about Kabaleega’s successes and challenges during his 28-year reign over Bunyoro.
In the book titled: “Omukama Chwa II Kabaleega: A life and Legacy, 1853-1923,” the author recounts memories of the legendary Kabaleega told to them as young boys by elders seated around the fireplace in rural Hoima.
At the event, various speakers hailed him as a man who did so much to further Pan-Africanism, freedom, unity and development, inclusivity and good governance.
He is revered for fighting discrimination, tribalism and slave trade, the latter of which made him a darling of the subjects.
Various troupes performed traditional dances and songs. In attendance were politicians and traditional leaders from the Kingdom.
However, the low attendance of youths at the event is what raised questions with suggestions that while there is interest from the elders, the fallen “hero” is still of little interest to the young generation.
“It would appear that the young generation in particular, is not bothered. This reveals a growing distance from culture, a question preoccupying the kingdom while the invasion of many cultures in the area in pursuance of opportunities in the nascent oil industry continue to dominate conversations among elders fearful of a possibility of cultural erosion,” Joab Kabigumire, a youth told The Albertine Journal at the sidelines.
“The Kingdom can use, or develop Kabaleega’s image and make it become another leg on the tourist trail and this way they will know the fallen hero,” 20-year-old Kabigumire added.
The minister for tourism, wildlife and antiquities, Tom Butiime, promised that the Kabaleega tourist trail will be done to bring tourists to the country.
Kabaleega with commanders of his Abarusura (army) such as Ireeta, Rwabudongo, Kikukule and his son Jasi bravely fought British colonialism-occupation. They were joined by Kabaka Daniel Mwanga.
Kabaleega died on April 6, 1923 on his way back home. He was returning from Seychelles Island where he was held by the British colonialists for 23 years following a fierce but ultimately unsuccessful resistance to colonisation.
There are also pictures of Kabaleega and Kabaka Mwanga of Buganda smiling and laughing-bright and optimistic about a new era and a continued pursuit of self-definition for Africa after their release from exile.
And, given the way the British and other colonial masters tried to kill evidence by destroying and hiding information that would incriminate them, Kalembe’s writing digs out a lot.
The book states that British conquest and subjugation of Bunyoro-Kitara was essentially responsible for the decline and fall of the once powerful Kitara Empire.
According to the book, this ‘mighty’ empire was emasculated, weakened, exploited, underpopulated and underdeveloped by the British colonialists and their cronies.
Kalembe recounts in the book that the war which the British waged against Kabaleega did not only end his hopes of making a new Kitara but also left Bunyoro in a very desperate state.
In 2009, Kabaleega was posthumously honoured as a national hero by President Yoweri Museveni for his nine-year resistance against the British colonialists and accorded a three-gun salute.
His burial place at Mparo cell in Hoima City is crammed with large posters and artefacts of him.
To settle previous demands from subjects, the tourism ministry plan to build a monument at Kangai Sub-County in Dokolo district in Lango Sub-region where Kabaka Mwanga and Omukama Kabaleega were forced to take refuge in 1897 before they were captured on April 9, 1899 by British colonialists.
The two kings were then marched to Kampala on their way to exile. Currently, a 50-acre piece of land remains redundant with only two monuments erected in their memory but in derelict state.
Butiime who represented President Yoweri Museveni at the centenary anniversary, said they acknowledged Kabaleega’s contributions and everything is being done to keep his legacy blazoning like light.
Hoima International Airport which is currently under construction to enable oil production had a week earlier been named after Omukama Kabaleega by President Museveni on the recommendation of cabinet.
So what of Kabaleega trail?
The Kingdom Prime Minister, Andrew Kirungi Byakutaga, named subsequent activities and projects in honour of Kabaleega such as renovation of Mparo tombs and Rukurato (parliament) building.
Others are commissioning of Omukama Kabaleega monument and statues, renovation of cultural sites-some which were dwelling places of Kabaleega, sports and charity events, community service, launching books written about Kabaleega, honouring anticolonial fighters, and health camps.
Byakutaga said the Kingdom also plans to renovate the royal burial site of the father of Kabaleega in Kibaale district.
But Kabigumire insists more needs to be done including enticing the young generation and addressing the kingdom’s most neglected issues and popularize Kabaleega’s exploits.
He said this will instill a sense of self-discipline and spirit of patriotism in the country’s youths.
“Most people won’t know who Kabaleega was either and I can tell you that your average youth is not interested in history. They are more concerned how they will survive.”
Historian and renowned political commentator, Prof Mwambutsya Ndebesa, says to learn about Pan-Africanism, history, civil rights and the legacy of Kabaleega is intertwined with concentrating on the present survival needs.
“Kabaleega is somebody who pursued peace and I would like the youths to pursue peace because this is the root of all development,” he says.
Prof. Ndebesa says Kabaleega remains an inspiration to the youths because he ascended the throne at the age of 16.
“You can imagine at such an age, today he would be studying in senior three, but he was already running a country and meeting all these forces. He must have been a genius.”
Ndebesa said Kabaleega was an astute person who blended soft power, through dialogue and indeed had sent overtures of peace to Buganda Kingdom and Egyptians who had earlier collaborated with the British to fight Bunyoro.
He converted difficult situations in his favour which implies he was such a courageous patriot, a man of honour who resurrected the glory of Bunyoro.
“Bunyoro was big but was later conquered and some land taken but Kabaleega in a short time had resurrected its glory and this shows why he should be respected,” Ndebesa adds.
He describes him as nondiscriminatory and an epitome of meritocracy, virtues which must be instilled into the youth.
Prof Ndebesa said Kabaleega appointed commoners and non-Banyoro in his army based on their competencies and irrespective of tribe, which explains why he was strong and the other kingdoms which exclusively relied on tribal armies remained weak.
“Why we have failed to develop is because we select public servants based on exclusion and appoint people who don’t know what to do. The Asian Tigers have developed because of meritocracy. If we don’t promote that, we will have betrayed Kabaleega,” Ndebesa added.
According to him, Kabaleega self-sacrificed for the kingdom and those in public offices should be public servants not self-serving.
He was a man of ideals and he stood for causes, fought for freedom and defended his territory.
Ndebesa wonders why some people nowadays are participating in politics without a cause.
He said the youths of today have a lot to emulate from Kabaleega including Bunyoro being cosmopolitan; it should not discriminate other tribes but stand together if it is to develop.
“In a greater Uganda, Kabaleega is a symbol of resistance, which Ugandans should emulate to resist recolonisation,” Ndebesa said.
Kabigumire urges the elderly and academicians to publish more books about Kabaleega so that this can benefit the next generation and allow them take stoke of the events that predated their existence.
“They continue to betray what he fought for. So, we don’t see a need to associate with them-they are corrupt, they don’t give youths a voice to express themselves on what direction the kingdom is taking and besides they take us to be clueless about history,” added, Jane Kabagabu of Kibaale district.
Kabagabu says even so, judging the attendance of the youths at the event, it may take more than money to develop his trail and image to get young people to feel the connection with him and the colonial rejection experience.
Date of Birth: June 18, 1953.
1870: Ascended the throne.
May 14, 1872: Baker declares Bunyoro part of Equatorial province.
1894-99: The Greater War.
January 1, 1894: British invade Bunyoro.
June 30, 1896: Bunyoro declared a military district.
April 3, 1898: Kabaleega disposed.
April 9, 1899: Captured.
October 7, 1901: Arrives in Seychelles Island.
June 24, 1909: Baptised.
February 14, 1923: Released from exile.
April 6, 1923: Dies.
April 26, 1923: Buried.
April 9, 1999: A century of Kabaleega’s capture (Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom held last funeral rites of Kabaleega and declared end of mourning).
April 6, 2023: Commemoration of a century of his death.