What does installation of parallel cultural leader mean to the Bagisu

What does installation of parallel cultural leader mean to the Bagisu

David Mafabi

Bududa- On 2 September, Leaders in Bududa ignored the high court order and installed Umukhungu Bukusu a parallel cultural leader in Bugisu sub-region.

Although Bamasaba [Bagisu] are one ethnic tribe living at the slopes of Mt Elgon and united by their common culture male circumcision, the installation of Mr Joseph Wash Kanyanya as a new parallel cultural leader for Babukusu in Bududa [Umukhungu Bukusu] has put a knife on the unity of Bamasaba.

According to Mr Abassa Wetaka the relationship between Inzu Ya Masaba, the official cultural institution of Bugisu and self styled Umukhungu Bukusu for Ibududa cultural institution Mr Wash Joseph Kanyanya has worsened.

“The Bamasaba Cultural institution has been involved in a feud with the self styled cultural leader Mr Kanyaanya and although they they claim he cannot qualify to be a cultural leader in Bugisu region, Mr Kanyanya is exploiting the gaps that are existing in the Bamasaba cultural institution,” said Mr Wetaka.



The Bamasaba cultural institution [Inzu Ya Masaba]

Umukhungu Bukusu Joseph Kanyanya Wash II started in early 2004 at Bumutoto talking about the cultural institution of Bamasaba, he spread literature about the institution and went around the Bugisu sub-region districts awakening people about the institution.

Although he later in 2005 declared himself Umukukha Uwe Bamasaba [cultural leader of Bamasaba], he received a lot of confrontation and rejection from Bugisu parliamentary group and district chairpersons from Bugisu then who vowed to have him arrested and prosecuted.

“Bugisu had never had a king, how does this boy confuse us that he is a king? Who elected him? We are all Bakukha in our homes and we are only administered at clan level. This boy should stop provoking us into annoyance,” said the chairman Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee then and now Leader of Opposition Mr Nathan Nandala Mafabi.

Mr Kanyanya then fled Mbale district and later transferred the Institution of traditional leader to Babukusu Ibuduuda Kingdom in his Ancestral Homeland of Babukusu ethnic Community Bududa district. And according to him the Kingdom has five tribes and 258 Ancestral Clans, Located in Bududa District.

was sworn in as a fully reorganized cultural leader of Babukusu in Bududa by Ms Rachael Nakase, the Bududa Grade One Magistrate on 08, November 2012.

And on 2 September 2013, in  a controversial function presided over by the area woman MP Ms Khainza, Mr Kanyanya was fully installed and crowned as Umukhongo Bukusu in the Ibududa cultural kingdom.

Although MPs from Bugisu region have disowned Mr Wash Kanyanya, the self styled cultural leader of the Ibuududa cultural Kingdom for Babukusu, the fact that Bududa district Woman MP Ms Justine Khainza presided over his installation speaks volumes about the kingdom.

The Election of Umukukha for Inzu Ya Masaba [cultural leader]

Mr Wilson Wamimbi, 75, Uganda’s former High Commissioner to Canada, was elected cultural chief of the Bamasaba [Inzu Ya Masaba] in August 2010 by representatives of the 26 Bamasaba clansmen, at a ceremony that took place in Mbale Municipal Chambers.

Mr Wamimbi was however elected amid bickering from a group of elders, who include Prof late Dan Nabuderere, Prof Timothy Wangusa and Mr Edward Masika the former Chief Justice of Uganda and other elders from across Bugisu sub-region
The elders were particularly concerned about how the Bugisu Cultural Board chose only two out of seven candidates originally short-listed for the post of the cultural chief.

“The board under unclear circumstances removed five candidates leaving only two candidates- Wilson Wamimbi and Canon Kodovia Wakiro, we want to know the criteria used and how they arrived at these two without consulting widely,” said Late Prof Nabudere.

This is what Mr Kanyanya has exploited to declare himself Umukhongo Bukusu, a parallel kingdom that is in Bududa district.



History of the Bagisu or Bamasaba

The Bagisu- have no tradition of an early migration from somewhere. They assert that their ancestors were called Mundu and Sera whom tradition says came out of a hole in Mountain Masaba (Elgon).

Their early life seems to have been anti-social, almost based on the principle “survival of the fittest”. Very little is so far known about their history but they are known to be related to a sub-group of the Luhya of Kenya known as the Bukusu. The Bagisu are believed to have separated from the Bukusu sometime in the 19th century.

The tradition claiming that they have always lived where they are throughout history is not fashionable. The earliest immigrants into Bugisu area are believed to have moved into the Mt. Elgon area during the 16th century from the eastern plains.

Their earliest home is said to have been in the Uasin Gishu plateau of Kenya. They seem to have been an end product of the mixing of peoples of different origins and cultures, but since their language is Bantu, their predecessors should have been Bantu speakers as well.

Political Set-up of the Bagisu The Bagisu had a loose political structure based on clans. Every clan had an elder known as Umwami we sikoka (chief of the clan). These men were chosen on the basis of age and wealth.

They were responsible for maintaining law and order, and unity and the continuity of the clan. They were also responsible for keeping and maintaining the cultural values of the clan and for making sacrifices to the ancestral spirits. Often, stronger chiefs would extend their influence to other clans but no chief managed to subdue other clans into one single political entity. Other important figures in Bugisu included the rainmakers and the sorcerers

But according to Mr Simon Mulongo the chairman of Bugisu parliamentary group who doubles as Bubulo East MP they pay their allegiance to Umukuuka Wilson Weasa Wamimbi, the leader of Inzu Ya Masaba because they elected him to lead the Bagisu [Bamasaba].

“Mr Wamimbi was unanimously elected by clan leaders in Masaba land and nobody else should to disrupt his leadership. We are asking government to desist from dividing the Bamasaba and vowed to fight the leadership of Mr Kanyanya,” said Mr Mulongo.

Mr Mulongo explains that people have rejected Mr Kanyanya because his cultural leadership style, is based on Kingship which the Bagisu have never had in their history. 

But Mr Kanyanya has a big following in Bududa; the Bududa political and traditional leaders, a chiefdom or kingdom means a better life for them which is why they are determined to get through Mr Kanyanya as their Unukhongo. Whether Inzu Ya Masaba, Bugisu cultural union wants it or not is another debate altogether.

Mr Kanyanya says the new king Wilson Wamimbi is a former politician who was elected by clan representatives instead of clan chiefs, as is the case with him. He dismissed Wamimbi as a leader of a socio-political cultural non governmental organization.

He explains that they opted to form their own kingdom because they belong to two different ethnic communities adding that Ibuduuda Cultural Kingdom belongs to Babukusu ethnic community while the Bamasaba belongs to Bagisu. 

Constitutionally correct

And this is why, according to him, the Constitution carries Articles 37 and 246 which advocate the right to culture and institutions of traditional/cultural leaders for all tribes and cultures who might desire them.

 “The problem with the Bamasaba is that they do not understand that the formation of kingdoms does not belong to them alone. Many ethnic independent tribes in Uganda can have as many kings as they choose. And we don’t have to be an old royal tribe to qualify our cultural autonomy, the constitution mandates us,” said Mr Abdul Situma, the Speaker of the breakaway kingdom; Babukusu Ibududa cultural institution.

He adds that as an institution they are waiting for anybody who will come to challenge them on being Babukusu because the constitution Uganda recognizes them.

Umukukha Wamimbi’s visit to Bududa cancelled

In the month of August the Umukukha Wammbi was scheduled to visit Bududa district but police stopped him from visiting after groups loyal to Umukhongo Bukusu threatened to beat them up.

The subjects of the parallel Ibuduuda Kingdom who comprised of youths blocked the on-going familiarization tour of Umukukha Wamimbi [the official cultural leader of Inzu ya Masaba] to Bududa district last month. 

Armed with machetes, clubs and sticks, Kanyaanya subjects said they wouldn’t allow Wamimbi to visit the area.
Prior to the incident, Kanyaanya had issued several warnings to Umukukha Wamimbi in writing and announcements on local FM radio stations not to step foot in his territory on matters concerning cultural issues. 

Aware of the threats, police led by Mr Jacob Opolot, the Elgon Regional Police Commander blocked Umukukha Wamimbi, the Bamasaba cultural chief and his team from crossing to Bududa.

Mr Opolot argued that his action was strictly aimed at avoiding violent clashes between supporters of the parallel cultural institutions. He advised that Umukukha Wamimbi and his team to suspend his cultural tour in Bududa until the impasse between the two cultural kingdoms is sorted out which did not go down well with the people who pay allegiance to Umukukha.

The conflicts;


Many Bagisu argue that Inzu Ye Masaba under Umukukha Wamimbi should have given  Umukhongo Kanyanya a ministerial position in Bamasaba cultural institution to cool him down because he is the one who started it.

“Our elders rejected Mr Kanyanya, they regarded him imposter, abused him, this should not have happened. They should have treated him as human, pulled him in the new kingdom as a minister to cool him down but now he has started a kingdom which we cant fight to get back because he has support,” said Mr Idris Kutosi, an elder and minister of state for cultural affairs in the parallel kingdom {Ibududa kingdom for Babukusu].

Although Bududa leaders led by the area woman MP Ms Justine Khainza declared that the installation of Mr Kanyanya as a cultural leader of Babukusu in Ibududa kingdom is legitimate according to the constitution under article 37 that provides for any culture to have a king, the Inzu Ya Masaba argue that Mr Kanyanya is an imposter being used by some people to divide the Bagisu.

“For us we are not against Umukukha cultural institution but we are following the constitution that provides for this, we want this cultural leader to solve the problems of Babukusu,” Ms Khainza when asked about the Ibududa cultural institution.

All though tension is now mounting amongst the Bamasaba [those hailing from Bududa, Manafwa, Mbale, Sironko and Bulambuli] Bugisu sub-region over the creation of a parallel cultural institution, Ms Khainza say the Bagisu [Bamasaba] should go slow on the matter to unite to solve the problems amicably.

The new cultural leader Mr Kanyanya, the self styled leader of Babukusu haling from Bududa said Babukusu don’t belong to Inzu Ya Masaba kingdom and he wonders why they are being fought.

 “We the Babukusu are not Bagisu, we have our own distinct cultures and customs, we must be left alone to manage our cultural institution as the Bagisu under Umukukha manage theirs but we shall respect them and they also need to respect us as an independent cultural institution,” said Mr Kanyanya.

He revealed that their origin is Uasin Gishu plateau near Mt Kenya under the leadership of Ikulubini ye Bamurri Mr Bukusu Wanyaanga the first cultural leader of Babukusu between 476AD to 1011AD who died mysteriously and left throne to his son Mr Bukusu Tolokwa  Mundu who reined up to 1200 AD and gave birth to three sons Mr Masaba, [father of Bamasaba] Mr Nabende [a father to Bawanganda clan] and Mr Mukusu [a father to Babukusu who settled in Bududa].

But Mr John Musila, the Bamasaba Cultural Union Information Minister says Mr Kanyanya is distorting history because it is known that the Bagisu [Bamasaba] came from Masaba who produced three sons; Mwambu who went to Sironko and Bulambuli], Wanale who settled in Bungokho and Mubuya who settled in Bududa and Manafwa.

Mr Musira described Mr Kanyanya as an imposter who does not even qualify to be a clan head in Bugisu because he didn’t undergo the traditional cultural circumcision and that he is using the kingdom for economic gains but not to serve the Bagisu.

“The Babukusu who hail from Kenya separated by the artificial colonial boundary are part of the ‘Inzu iya Masaba’ Bamasaba cultural union, we have even given them two ministries how does Mr Kanyanya claim that he is Umubukusu and where are they in Bududa? Mr Kanyanya does not qualify to be an adult in the Bugisu traditions,” said Mr Musila.

Mr Kangala Tumwa, a personal assistant to Umukukha Wamimbi says Mr Kanyanya is being used by politicians to disorganize Bagisu. Ends

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