Kabarole clashes: Is it ethnicity or criminality?

Reports about fresh clashes in Kabarole have raised queries whether the incident was ethnic in nature as some media outlets have reported.

The New Vision on Thursday, 15 September 2016 reported that a group of criminals in Bukara Village, Kabarole District attacked police officers following the arrest of a suspect for assault. The story adds that two police officers died and three others were injured in the attack. A follow up story in the paper on Friday, titled “Seven killed in Kabarole attacks”, states that “the police also gunned down five attackers”. In the story, Kabarole Internal Security Officer, Mr Edmond Kamanyire is quoted saying that the attack was not due to tribal tension between the Bakonjo and the Batoro living in the area.

On Thursday, The Observer, published a story sourced from Uganda Radio Network titled, “Two police officers, 5 civilians killed in Kabarole attack”. The story states that “the [police] officers were attacked by a group of armed youths while conducting a community meeting at Bukara village in Kabonero sub-county”.

The story adds that the “bodies of the attackers had fetishes, similar to the ones the attackers of the 2015 Bundibugyo police attacks”.

Daily Monitor of Thursday, 15 September 2016 on the other hand, had a story titled, “Six killed in fresh Rwenzori clashes”. The story states that “two policemen and four civilians have been killed in a suspected tribal clash in Kabonero sub-county, Kabarole District”. It adds:  “According to eye witnesses, a fight erupted between the Batooro and the Bakonzo in Bukara B village in Kabonero sub-county at about 1pm on Wednesday.”

The paper also quotes the Kabarole Resident District Commissioner Stephen Asiimwe saying: “Yes there have been clashes today (Wednesday) evening in areas of the hilly Kabonero sub-county, although others are referring to them as tribal clashes. Information so far I am receiving is that this is the same group that attacked Kasese and Bundibugyo districts in February and March”.

NTV Uganda also aired the story, “Police and army intensify patrols in Kabarole after violent ethnic clashes” in which Rwenzori regional police spokesperson Lydia Tumushabe explains the incident and the situation on the ground.

In 2014, clashes erupted in Rwenzori sub-region between the Bakonzo and the Bazongora. At least 90 people died according to media reports.

In February 2016, fresh clashes erupted in Kasese and Bundibugyo, lasting for about two months before calm was restored. The clashes, according to Daily Monitor, left “at least 40 people dead, scores injured and thousands displaced with property worth millions lost”.

However, the Wednesday incident has sparked speculation on whether it was an ethnic clash or purely criminal activity.

Mubatsi Asinja Habati, a journalist who hails from the Rwenzori area, weighs in on how the media has reported this latest incident, highlighting what he knows in the [slightly edited] opinion article below.


Kabarole police-civilians clash exposes Ugandan media

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati

(This article first appeared on the author’s blog and is republished with his permission)

After reading several media reports about some officers of Uganda Police clashing with locals in Bukara, Kabarole District, I’m wondering if editors are doing enough; putting their reporters to task.

First Bukara village is about 40km from Fort Portal town, where the headquarters of Kabarole District are located. Fort Portal town is 320km from Kampala, Uganda’s capital.

That a newspaper or media house for that matter fails to send a reporter to the ground to gather facts, but instead relies on telephone interviews with officials in police and other government agents, is appalling. Fort Portal, being a major town, has representatives of most major media houses in Uganda.

The clash between police and some residents of Bukara occurred at 1pm on September 14. Why would a media house worth its name fail to send its reporters to a conflict area that is just 40km from Fort Portal town?

Why is the media rushing to brand the clash between police and some Bukara residents an ethnic conflict? It is because they are not on the ground? If the reporters were on ground, then they did little to source the story and only relied on the official account.

Social media reporters who always copy and paste mainstream media reports are not doing any better.

Basing on what I have gathered from the ground, this is what happened:

A man (whom I will call X) caught his wife in bed with another man (let’s call him Y). The two men happen to be of different ethnic backgrounds.

The matter was reported to the area police post in Nyakigumba which is 10km from Bukara village. The suspect (Y) was later released and went to a bigger police station in Kibiito, the headquarters of Bunyangabu County, to report that he was assaulted and tortured by Mr X.

On September 13, Kibiito sent police officers to arrest Mr X to answer to charges of assault. The villagers were enraged and resisted this arrest. They even assaulted the police officers, which is another offence.

In the afternoon of September 14, a group of seven police officers arrived in Bukara village to arrest Mr X and those who assaulted the police officers the previous day.

Unfortunately, the villagers attacked the police officers. This is wrong. I think it’s plain ignorance and stupidity to attack people in authority or even resist arrest.

There might be mistakes on either side, which should be corrected, but I don’t understand why the media is calling this clash between police and civilians ethnic. How many people have been killed from the different ethnic groups?

The dead are police officers and people who speak the same language of Mr X.

The deployment of police and army in the area was a good thing. Today [Friday], the security officials and local politicians are meeting the residents of Bukara to resolve the matter and calm the situation.

May peace and the spirit of tolerance prevail!

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