My tribe is my pain

uganda-ethnic-diversityIf you live in Uganda you must come across these sentiments. My last name begins with Kag-Kagumire. My blog is not under that name for many reasons but this is one of them. When I say my last name to people sometimes they will say: Kaguta, so you’re from the west, Museveni’s relative etc. Even if it’s a slight joke it evokes a feeling that I can’t describe. To associate me with someone that is increasingly becoming negative makes me mad and in my tribe most times it’s okay to be mad and show it. I take time to explain to friends, sometimes gently other times with some emotion that I am from Bushenyi and I have never been to Rwakitura and that my father doesn’t own a single head of cattle. I am a private person but for the sake of clarity I am forced to talk about all these things and now i am writing about them.

The conversation  is only possible when the person saying this is civil enough to listen. Other times I am shopping in down town Owino and I believe a buyer should be free to check the garments and see if they like it. If they don’t they should be free to leave. For many times because I speak Luganda with a heavy Kinyankole accent, my tribe shows up in reactions from the trader.

Abanyankole nwatutama, Mulowooza mujja ku fira kuntebbe?” loosely translated as we are tired and you Banyankole, do you think you will die in power? Of course being in Owino I keep my cool and gently shake my head and I walk away. It happens many times and I look around to see whether others disagree with the sentiment but most keep mum and a few support this.

One in particular said that ‘we’ actually don’t come to buy but to check their suffering.

I like  bodas and I get to discuss with the riders that take me around Kampala. they will at times talk ill about my tribe with no idea that am one of the ‘evil people’ simply because sometimes it’s difficult for some to tell where am from. All this attacks  hurt more than any other abuse I have experienced in life.

But this kind of view is not limited to the ‘uneducated’ Ugandans. A friend once told me that his Ugandan female friend hates ‘westerners’ so much that at her work place when job applications are brought in, she sorts out the west first.  This personal level of disdain for a group of people  is unfathomable. Others point out how rich you’re and how many opportunities you get. Many times I tell the people about my life which is not the most difficult one but is not any better than that of an educated person from the east, north or central.

I am forced to tell them that I am not just a product of Museveni’s love for power that my story goes a few generations ago. That am what I am because my grandfather, late Paskali Bwantamu happened to be a teacher (who by the way died without getting his pension despite many attempts, he served  government for over 30 years). And that he rose above society attitudes about educating a woman to give my mother an education. That my father’s side, my grandfather made several trips to Buganda to till gardens for most of the year to buy himself and his family chunks of land and that these trips enlightened him and that he valued education too and sent my father to school. That my mother was not educated because of Museveni or Banyankole in power, but she went to school during Idi Amin’s era when education was not a hassle. She still values her picture from her graduation day where Amin was holding her hand. That she simply went to school on merit and became a Vet doctor on merit. Without having a relative in the Bushenyi district administration she got a job there.

I am still forced to say that I am what I am because my mother struggled to get loans and all sorts of help to see me and my five siblings through school. I can’t easily convince these people who say tribalistic words to me that I spent most of early years tilling land to get food and money with family. That I have learnt from my mother that  hard work pays and that I don’t need to know anyone to be somebody. I have learnt also from many people’s experience that you can’t keep a good man down. That from this motivation I have literally taken on any chances that have come my way including working in three newsrooms in four years.

All I am, I have learnt from friends many of whom are not even from the ‘west’. My friends are a mixed bag of all tribes and races. It’s hard to convince some people that my generation is unfortunate because Uganda has become no man’s land with many not caring about the effects of their actions. That to get a job you must know someone who will get a bribe from you, sometimes your first salary goes to this person. We are facing high levels of unemployment that at 25 years sometimes 30, many of us still live on handouts from relatives and our old parents.

I try to tell people that I worked for over 4 years but I still have no savings that If I lost a job I would probably go back to Kibona or look for a relative in Kampala who cannot easily allow me to stay under their roof. I try to say that we face the same challenges but these people disagree. That because Makerere increased fees I don’t get much sleep here in Costa Rica where I am studying because I worry much about my little brother who’s just enrolled.

And when I say study, they will ask, was that state scholarship? I get mad and  ask why would a state sponsor someone that disagrees with them. And because I know why the question came up I already know the answer, my tribe is the ‘fortunate one’. They don’t believe that I am at UPEACE because I dared to apply many times.

In the wake of these riots in Kampala, I fear that tribalism is consuming us bit by bit. I also fear that because sometimes I can’t say the L without calling it R, it may translate the earlier stated sentiments into an attack.

Because these people wont listen to my cries or my confession that my father is no cattle herder and  that my siblings don’t have jobs despite having a good education, that I have to work not only for myself but also for my little cousins who are less fortunate. They will not see me as facing the same predicament as they are. They will not believe that everyday I long for the day Museveni will decide to leave that seat peacefully. They don’t get it that I dream of a Uganda where my gains and progress are not tied to my long nose (which is not even long by Ankole standards). They will not listen that I have traversed Uganda and have seen people in inhumane conditions in northern Uganda. That many times I think about children that I once interviewed who had been forced to kill their parents by LRA. That I feel hopeless and helpless and wonder what their lives will be with no proper rehabilitation in the area.

They don’t see my story and lots of other people’s stories that I carry with me everyday especially that child soldier at a rehab centre in Gulu that I played football with and when I tried to wash my hands at a tap he was abit agressive and  told me that I was washing my hands in blood. Yes blood, thats what he sees when most of us see water. They won’t believe me that this brings tears to my eyes because my tribe is supposed to only look for power. They will not see me in this way because my tribe blurs their vision. I am not denying that some people in my tribe have enriched themselves on state money but why should I pay for their deeds? I don’t fear judgement for sometimes it avails a chance for self assesment but judge me by character as Dr.King said.  Why should my tribe be my pain?

25 thoughts on “My tribe is my pain

  1. I hear you, Rosebell. I think that we all have to grow up. As it were, it’s all about individual responsibility. In Uganda of today, with all the tribal sentiments swirling around, it’s easy for everyone, even those who are educated and have seen the world, to become tainted with cynicism. I think that journalists, especially the broadcast ones, need to navigate this issue carefully– and with much professionalism.

  2. I remember having a conversation along these lines with you many years ago … Your reaction was quite different then, particularly when I said I had no tribe. Remember?

  3. I remember that well. I think my position is I can hold my roots to heart without seeing another person’s roots as bad or with contempt. So I have a tribe but not the one the people want to paint. I am not going to say that proud of my tribe for I learnt from a certain author that it is not something I have achieved but I see no problem with people looking at themselves in terms of tribe as long their intentions aren’t harmful to others. And I think it is achievable.

  4. Couldnt agree with you more. There is a common phrase these days. “Mwabalimukintu”. (you are the people in things). It has become obvious that tribe has become centre stage of socio-economic and political issues.
    Good piece.

  5. I share with you those sentiments but what M7 is doing will be paid by many like you. This happened with westnile, northern Ugamda and most likely with westrn Uganda after his eminent downfall. The reverence of your treatment has reversely happened to the Ganda for nearly fouty years;subjugate them and we rule. That is just the begining more in terms of physical, economic and spacial percecution is on the way. It is very unfortunate but looks to be the trend. Pray that m7 streamlines our politics and treats the ‘others’ equally. I realy share your misery.

  6. In the same boat with you ROSEBELL! it’s futile trying to explain to Ugandans who think of themselves as less fortunate! I gave up long agooo

  7. What an impassioned post!

    Is this the Rosalinda I know, or someone else?

    I think you should share this with the newspapers.


  8. Hmm Rosebell, we all have lived your experience with tribalism – and even worse. But since you are now deep into peace studies, I encourage you to read widely around the conflicts in Uganda’s surrounding countries particularly Rwanda and Burundi – but even Kenya.

    What you will realize is that Uganda as a country does not, luckily, suffer from MOBILIZED ETHNICITY/TRIBALISM. And this is why: We don’t have distinctly strong antagonistic tribes facing each other e.g. TUTSI vs HUTU or LUO Vs KIKUYU. We Banyankore are somewhat internally divided (UPC Bushenyi and NRM or Bairu-Bahima). The Acholi are still recovering from years of conflict and they would be the last to engage in another internal conflict. The Banyoro are fighting their internal wars with Bafuruki. You know the state of division of Basoga with their kingdom scribbles. This leaves only the BAGANDA, who fortunately happen to be the most de-tribalised people in Uganda. We know that they are by far the most expressive and loud CULTURALLY, but they will hardly ever act in unison to purge their region of other tribes. All the noise is really hullabaloo….Ask any Muganda and they will tell you how they intrinsically don’t naturally support each other’s success. In jobs, the Baganda are the least nepotistic (save your rare friend who sorts applications). Baganda are the single-most intermarried of all tribes. They have welcomed the most other tribes into their homeland. So, RELAX! Baganda should be the least of your worries. Their noise is “byooya bya nswa”!!!

    Of course I know your EMOTIONAL reaction is due to the skirmishes that we see happening in Uganda right now concerning Mutebi and his visit to Kayunga. But if you analyze the events well, what is driving all this is not necessarily tribalism but UNEMPLOYMENT and frustration of the OPPOSITION PARTIES. The latter will use any opportunity right now, including ridding on tribal sentiments, to USE frustrated HOOLIGANS. I consider Mengo, in this case, as part and parcel of the OPPOSITION. At this point, they clearly have a political agenda.

    Concering the riots, ask yourself the following: If it was tribalism, how come Besigye, a westerner and his wife, a Muhima, would be most welcome to address these rampaging youth?? By the way, Mr. Nagenda wrote the most incisive piece this week. He makes a veiled warning to Baganda about Dr. Besigye. I can almost guarantee you that the kingdoms would be banned if that nonsense was happening with our Mukiga-Muhororo in power – not that many of us would shade a tear at all – of course.

    To support my claim that REAL Baganda have nothing to do with this madness, look at the victims of the riots: naturally the police; but also women dressed in trousers irrespective of tribe; traders irrespective of tribe; travellers irrespective of tribe and many other innocents.

    That said, I am fully aware of the possible consequences to some few unfortunate Banyankore who will be in the wrong place at the wrong time – and it could be you or me – when Museveni is forced out of power. They will be victimized by some angry elements.

    Our prayers for now Robell should be thus: GOD, KEEP THE PURGE OF THE ARMY IN CHECK. KEEP OUR ARMY DISCIPLINED. I can assure you that most elements in the army are getting very upset with these riots and the effects on the economy and Uganda’s image. The next one will be crashed with lots of live bullets into those youths. Make sure not to be on the streets when that happens. And that will be yet another sad chapter in Uganda’s history.

  9. Rosebell ,this is a very good article.

    No amount of explaining will salvage the situation.Over the weekend most people were joking about how banyankole should go for nose surgery(yet most are innocent).Much as it was a joke,tribalism in uganda is taking a horrible turn.

    We can only pray that God watches over our country.

  10. Thanks for the comments and Daphine I am not shocked but I read Onyango Obbo’s column today and I find the pertinent question for Ugandans is, are they going to respond to Museveni’s government sectarianism with sectarian violence? And what will they gain from this?

  11. I think what is really sad about is that some of us who are living away from home in europe or america are facing racism and we keep blaming the europeans on how they destroyed africa, how they will never look at us black people as equals to them, believe it or not, racism is very strong in these countries. Anyway, my point is, not only do we have to face and fight discrimination from europeans or asians, we are now so divided in petty tribalism, hence unable to fight the discrimination as a race.

    It is so sad that africa is still divided, has greedy leaders both (political and mornachy leaders) that are only out there to get what they want for themselves and are dividing the people immensely.

    The blame game will never go away, everytime a leader of a different comes in place, there will always be something to complain about. IT’s so sad indeed that this divide and rule policy that was once used against us by europeans is still existing and this time it’s our own flesh and blood that is usng it.

    Very nice article, and so sad at the same time. I can see another genocide coming and maybe colonialism being reintroduced to control the africans that can never control themselves.

    1. Rita, thanks for your comment. I guess it is easier to blame someone else than do a real self assessment and reflectiton to fix our own part in what is going in all these African countries. And we will continue crying colonialism but practice the same and our dear leaders will keep siphoning our hard earned money and go and ask for more aid and once they have the strong hand of these ‘generous’ countries, they can oppress and divide us till God knows when.

  12. That is very true. I always complain about aid and tell people, africa is not really that poor. Leaders have fooled the world the world and us that we are poor, i refuse to believe it.

    The thing is, the hold and manipulation that european governments still practise on poor countries is evident. They dictate so many things to us with aid. But they have the upper hand because of the greed of these leaders and the ignorance and division of the people. Sincerely, why should tribe be a problem? Of people knew how some europeans look at black people as a race, they would work so hard, unite and be independent of them. But i do not see that happening with the leaders we have. They cannot even educate people on television but can show european matches. The tradition of hospitality and not hostility is going by the day. How much of our history do people know? It could be used to unite us but i see it beng used as an opposite. Sad indeed.

  13. Hey Kags! Don’t sound so desperate/angry. Believe that human beings are innately good, reasonable, rational and not stupid.
    Of course, there is tribal discrimination butI have one consolation: In these riots, not a single person was killed because of their tribe! Almost all the dead were a result of police/state brutality. In fact, if anyone attacked anyone in Uganda, in this day and age on the basis of tribe, then they have learnt nothing from our tragic history. Who doesn’t know that at the slightest whiff of trouble, the privileged flee? In any case does Natasha know that there is a place called Owino, let alone where it is. My dear, I should stop here. I am getting angry too!

  14. By the way Rosbell, i like your blog and your ideas. Stumbled on it today and i am glad i found it. It’s good to know that there’s a female Ugandan blogger out there.

  15. Hey Jo, I am desperate or angry but am rather worried. I think if one person is killed because of their tribe we should be as concerned as we have been in situations when they are 10 or millions. My friend always jokes about the western media coverage of African issues by saying “Africans don’t die in tens but in thousands” atleast that’s what it takes for a conflict to get attention. But my thinking is different that we should be concerned about tribe overtones just as we are with the brutal police because the two only work to benefit those leaders in power alone.

  16. Rosebell,
    Imagine that I flagged down a taxi on Kampala road, driver stopped, took a closer look at me as I prepared to board and angrily shouted at his conductor to shut the door because tatwala banyankole (he doesn’t take Banyankole in his public passenger vehicle)… I simply couldn’t believe it and was overwhelmed by emotion that my eyes started tearing! I don’t want to imagine what would happen to people like us if all hell broke loose…

    1. Dear Hilda,
      You are not alone. Sometime back I went to purchase a bag in Owino market.
      While bargaining, the trader scrutinized me closely and said “Sagara kuguza Munyankole” literally translated as I do not want to sell to a Munyankole! That’s how far things we’ve gone. I left Owino cursing and since then I haven’t gone back. While some of these sentiments may be down played, they reflect what is on some people’s minds which is a sign of deep routed anger over a certain tribe thus a ground for future violence.
      Ezra Mbonye

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