Speech at the Annual Convention of Banyakigezi
Saturday July 23, 2016
It is always a great pleasure to stand before a gathering of the International Community of Banyakigezi and friends of Kigezi.
My special joy comes from the realization that what we started in Toronto 13 years ago has survived, and has brought us together into this large family of Banyakigezi.
ICOB has not only made a modest contribution to the education sector in Kigezi, it has reawakened our pride of identity as Banyakigezi.
ICOB has also set the foundation for maintaining our unity even when Kigezi has been administratively divided into five districts, with the sixth due to be born next year.
Surviving childhood is never easy. I have seen many organizations come and go during the last 13 years. Happily, ICOB has reached this milestone and now looks ahead to the teen years with great hope and confidence.
Now, many people say and even write in the press and social media that I founded ICOB. I would like to correct that myth. I am not the founder of ICOB.
I was only one of a group of people who conceived the idea and brought to fruition the hopes that are embodied in ICOB.
For many years, a number of Banyakigezi in North America expressed the desire to organize a strong and sustainable forum through which we could:
- Contribute to the socio-economic development of Kigezi.
- Protect and promote our culture;
- Network and support each other.
We repeatedly lamented the daily struggles of our people, all of which boiled down to one word: POVERTY.
We believed that while our culture of rugged individualism had enabled Banyakigezi to achieve a lot, the results of our individual efforts were unlikely to be sustainable without a collective and coordinated approach.
At a meeting in Atlanta, Georgia in 1999, a group of Banyakigezi, namely Charles Kwesiga, Cliff Musiimenta, Gaston Ndyajunwoha, Languida Rama and Muniini K. Mulera, agreed to call a meeting to turn our dreams into action.
A year later, I requested Robert Kyamureesire Rutaagi to convene and chair an exploratory meeting of Banyakigezi in Kampala. We met on Friday December 29, 2000.
Among those who attended was Emmanuel Tumusiime Mutebile, who took me aside and pledged to support our effort.
“You can count on me,” Mutebile told me, and true to his word, he has been one of the central pillars of ICOB.
There was unanimous agreement that we should form a Kigezi-wide organization. We agreed on the name International Community of Banyakigezi (ICOB), with a founders’ meeting to be held in 2001 in Las Vegas, USA.
That plan was sabotaged by the political events in Uganda in 2001 that polarized the Banyakigezi family.
Then the 9/11 attacks on the United States destroyed what remained of the desire to proceed.
In the circumstances, we shelved the plans to meet, but continued to discuss options for collective efforts to give back to our community.
In late 2002, my wife Florence, my friends Grace Kobusingye of Maryland, Andrew Katarikawe of Colorado, Nkunda Kabateraine and Peter Bikangaga of Ontario, readily agreed with me that we should organize a conference of Banyakigezi.
We convened a group of Banyakigezi in Toronto who agreed to form the Kigezi-Canada Association Inc.
Our initial task was to organise the first international convention of Banyakigezi, to be held in Toronto, Canada.
The conference opened on Friday July 4, 2003. Banyakigezi from different ethnic communities, different religions and different political leanings and visions came together in fellowship.
We were joined by a Uganda government delegation led by George Mondo Kagonyera. Its members were Hope Mwesigye, Jim Muhwezi, Kale Kayihura and Robert Rutaagi.
Whereas they had initially feared that we were up to some mischief, within hours of their arrival, these colleagues discovered that our agenda was entirely non-partisan, Kigezi-focused, and very friendly.
They made great contributions to the formative documents of what would become the International Community of Banyakigezi [ICOB].
ICOB, a non-profit, non-partisan organization would:
- Protect and promote our Culture;
- Support the Socio-economic development of Kigezi;
- Facilitate networking (Okumanyana), and…
- Promote Partnership with Bafuruki Organization in Uganda;
It would consist of an apex international organization with strong regional chapters that would be its affiliates.
We elected an Interim leadership team, with Dr. Frank Byamugisha as our chairperson, to steer us towards the formal launch of ICOB. It was an incredibly committed, focused and results oriented team that worked very hard to prepare for Washington, DC.
Andrew Katarikawe and Nkunda Kabateraine developed draft Bylaws that, with a few amendments, continue to be the basis of ICOB’s governance.
ICOB was formally launched during the American Independence weekend of July 2004 when over 170 people gathered in Washington DC for the second annual convention of Banyakigezi.
The main outcomes of that convention were:
- The adoption of the organization’s Bylaws;
- The election of our first Board and Officers;
- A collective agreement to mobilize the international community of Banyakigezi towards a common goal of service to our homeland.
- The formation of the Kigezi Education Fund.
The purpose of the Kigezi Education Fund would be to support vocational training of young Banyakigezi, especially graduates of primary and secondary schools, in order to enhance their employability in the region and to offer investors in Kigezi a readily available pool of well-trained artisans.
ICOB has since held thirteen very successful annual conventions that have offered us opportunities to share ideas and plans for the betterment of Banyakigezi.
The conventions have also provided us with opportunities to make new friends, renew friendships, discover relatives and share fun-filled weekends as we explore new cities and communities.
We have accomplished some of what we set out to do, namely:
- Networking and forging the unity of Banyakigezi;
- Giving back through the Kigezi Education Fund;
Through this Fund, ICOB has supported the establishment of three fully equipped ICT centres and an electrical and plumbing college program.
However, before vanity pushes us to congratulate ourselves, we must acknowledge that ICOB was not our idea at all.
It was simply a fulfillment of the exhortation to us that Omugurusi Paulo Ngorogoza wrote in 1967 as he concluded his book “Kigezi N’Abantu Baamwo” (Kigezi and Its People).
Addressing migrant Bakiga, Ngorogoza wrote: “I would, in writing this, like to remind the settlers that even if they become rich and change their mother tongue, they should remember the proverb ‘Gatagata munonga gateebirwe wa beene mbeho.’
“They must never forget the good customs and characteristics of the Bakiga, nor forget their own language; and they must feel in their bones that they are Bakiga, remembering where they used to live.”
Had he been writing today, Mr. Ngorogoza would have addressed himself to all Banyakigezi and all Ugandans who have left their homelands.
Ngorogoza, who died in 1983 at the age of about 86, stands tall in our history because he was an incredibly bright, foresighted and selfless man.
A Mwinika of the Bamuhutu Clan, Ngorogoza, who was endearingly called Ruguusha, served all people of Kigezi and worked hard to create a sense of unity within our diversity.
A Roman Catholic, Ngorogoza was trusted and respected by Protestants at a time of high inter-religious tensions fanned by partisan politics.
Lacking academic qualifications, Ngorogoza was one of the most educated Banyakigezi, supremely confident and able to hold his own as he engaged in dialogue with university and college graduates who spoke a language that was entirely foreign to him. He is one of the few published historians of Kigezi.
A Mukiga, Ngorogoza was a great friend and co-worker of Ediwadi Surumani Karegyesa of Rujumbura and Paulo Rukyeribuga of Bufumbira.
These three men forged a union of Bakiga, Bahororo and Bafumbira that had been considered impossible because of our pre-colonial history of strife.
Of course Ngorogoza was the chief implementer of the greatest social experiment in Kigezi.
Faced with the problem of limited land and a growing population, Chief Mukombe devised a plan for mass migration of our people from the southern highlands to the northern lowlands and plains of Kigezi and beyond.
The colonial administrators embraced the plan and, starting in December 1945, Ngorogoza led a team that crisscrossed the region in search of suitable resettlement land. They found virgin land in Kinkizi and Rujumbura.
They made friends with the Kings of Nkore, Toro and Bunyoro who offered them large tracts of land where the Banyakigezi, mostly Bakiga, settled and flourished.
In short, then, a united group of leaders identified a problem, devised a solution, created opportunities for our people, and served them with focus and resilience.
Today, the children of the migrants to Kinkizi, Rujumbura, Bunyaruguru, Isingiro, Toro and Bunyoro are among the most successful and most notable Banyakigezi.
In this social experiment and many other projects, such as the Kilembe Mines Scholarship Fund, there was an incredibly focused sense of purpose and cooperation among many leaders.
Our great leaders of the distant past worked to shape Kigezi as a union of people with common needs, common interests and common survival strategies.
No doubt they had many disagreements over issues. No doubt they faced the threat of religious, ethnic and political conflict. And, of course, they made errors.
However, their cooperation transcended clan, ethnicity, religion, political party and other cleavages. They were driven by a shared interest to serve their people.
Their reward was the satisfaction that the recipients of that hard work had taken advantage and prospered.
Their belief was that one did not cease to be a Munyakigezi or to have an obligation to Kigezi simply because one had moved to other lands and to better opportunities.
Their hope was that Once a Munyakigezi, Always a Munyakigezi.
Their expectation was that even as we thrived and enjoyed the good fortune in foreign lands, we would give back to Kigezi and Banyakigezi. Gatagata munonga gateebirwe owa?……. Beene mbeho!
So in starting ICOB, we stood on the shoulders of those who had sacrificed so much to bring us to our current stations in life. It is to them that we must give credit. It is their vision that drives us to do what we do. Nothing else.
As a child, ICOB has been learning how to walk, how to communicate, how to make and keep friends, and many other basic skills of living.
As a child, ICOB has had the luxury of making mistakes without incurring severe consequences.
Now, as a teenager, the expectations drastically change. In the olden days, a thirteen-year old would be nearly ready for marriage.
In the modern world, the teenager is still making the transition to independence.
In early childhood, independence was without responsibility. In adolescence, independence carries with it specific expectations and responsibilities.
Like all teenagers, ICOB is at a crossroads. ICOB can choose the straight road towards success and independence, or it can take the tortuous course that is littered with thorns and potholes, temptations and self-destructive indulgencies.
I have no doubt that the majority of us want a successful, well-adjusted teenaged ICOB on a straight journey to maturity. She must therefore take the straight path that requires hard work, discipline and sacrifice.
- ICOB must immediately adopt corporate governance, a mandatory requirement for any organization that wants to survive, prosper, serve its purpose and outlive its founders. It is a mandatory compliance requirement for any organization that is registered under Section 501(c) 3 of the IRS in the USA.
- ICOB’s members must insist on transparency and accountability by their leaders. ICOB’s leaders must demand of themselves and of each other transparency and accountability.
- ICOB must go back to its original vision and develop and adopt a comprehensive Strategic Plan to match its focus with its defined purpose. Without a plan, our efforts amount to wishful thinking.
- ICOB must ensure that its chapters and members are actively engaged in its activities throughout the year, including ongoing fundraising that enables members and supporters to give small amounts on a monthly basis.
- The teenage ICOB must be a home for all Banyakigezi, not just those with money and high status. We have been labeled an elitist Club, and the accusation is not without merit. We need to examine this and strike a balance that accommodates everyone.
- We must keep ICOB free from partisan politics and other divisive engagements. I have written a fair bit about this over the years. So I will not belabor the point.
Suffice to say that as a Section 501(c) 3 Tax-Exempt Organization registered in the United States of America, ICOB is strictly prohibited from engaging in partisan politics, including actions that favour one side over another.
We all need to carefully study the Section 501(c) 3 Guide that is very clear on this.
But even if we were not prohibited by United States Law, I would still urge us to resist partisan politics in ICOB.
Partisan politics has been the curse of Kigezi. The thick mist of divisive partisan politics that hangs over Kigezi is not new.
When our parents’ generation allowed it to take hold in the 1960s, Kigezi began a steep descent that has only been accelerated by the years.
I was old enough to absorb the lessons of the DP/UPC religious wars in Kigezi. I am a child of the Banyama-Baboga conflicts that undermined Kigezi’s opportunities and created life-long bitterness.
I have seen the war-like engagements that have passed for politics every five years, as brother destroys brother, sister destroys sister, with Kigezi being the biggest loser.
You introduce partisan politics into ICOB, you repeat the very mistakes our parents made in the 1960s.
I respectfully submit that effective, non-destructive management of political competition is still a major challenge for us. So to me there is no room for ICOB to be or to appear to be partial to one group or another.
Instead ICOB must be the glue that binds us together. ICOB must belong to no one, because it belongs to everyone. I have insisted on that policy from day one. I will continue to do so.
We in ICOB must be the agents that lift the thick mist of division and open our Kigezi to the warm rays of sunshine that nurture our collective growth.
While I give you these assurances and solemnly pledge to resist any and all attempts to introduce partisan politics into ICOB, I count on each and everyone to do likewise.
As long as I am a member of ICOB I will fight to keep ICOB a melting pot for all Banyakigezi, regardless of the labels and political views that we carry and espouse outside its confines.
As individuals, we are free to belong to political parties and to be very active advocates for our chosen parties. But ICOB must be the neutral zone, where we leave our party colors outside the gate and enjoy the refreshing break from partisan politics.
Perhaps, just, perhaps, we Banyakigezi may then find that we can compete without hating each other; we can compete without destroying each other; we can build each other, even as we offer alternative visions to Ugandans.
Teenage is a period that is as exciting as it is dangerous, one where the teenager seeks independence but needs guidance by alert and firm parents.
ICOB’s founders and all of you senior Banyakigezi have a bigger role to play today than we did at its birth 13 years ago.
I have first hand experience of the dangers of early teenage and the role that loving but firm parents must play. I was at Kigezi High School Junior when I turned thirteen. I had been a good and easygoing student from my primary to Junior One years.
I had ring-fenced a certain position in the examination results. I was on course to passing the Junior Leaving Examinations and moving on to Secondary School.
Then in the second term of Junior Two, I became friends with a classmate, whom I will call Kazambya. His mission in life was to have a good time.
In our teenage world, a good time meant loitering in downtown Kabale, staring at cars and other commercial attractions, eating cakes at Mukisa’s and Rafiki’s Restaurants, dressing up in our clean clothes and losing our way towards Kabale Girls’ School.
My friend’s father owned a shop and bar in Rwakaraaba, so he had very easy access to illegal loans from his father’s till.
He knew how to operate jukeboxes. A gifted soccer player, he was very popular with girls. So there were benefits that accrued from this friendship.
When my second-term report came out, I had dropped to position number 16 and it carried a statement by Stanley Kinyata Bamwanga, my class teacher:
“He has teamed up with Kazambya, son of so-and-so. If he does not break off the friendship, he will fail and be ruined.”
After reading my report card, my mother was unequivocal about what awaited me. “Mbwenuho sho naaza kukwita, (This time your father will kill you)” she told me in her soft and clear voice.
My mother was not going to cover up for me or to justify my poor judgment.
My father gave me six good ones on the buttocks. He assured me that he was ready to kill me before I killed myself.
I broke off my friendship with Kazambya, refocused on my books and saved my life. It would take me a few years to appreciate how much Bamwanga Kinyata and my parents had done to save me from myself. I am forever grateful to them.
Likewise ICOB needs a Stanley Kinyata Bamwanga and firm parents to help us to refocus every time we get distracted.
Banyakigezi, I end as I began, with congratulations from one who is proud to be one of you. In 13 years, we have done a fair bit for our people. In the process, we have honored our forebears, especially Ngorogoza, Karegyesa, Mukombe and Rukyeribuga.
We have honored our friends Gaston Ndyajunwoha and Languida Rama, two people I propose we record in our story as the spiritual guides of ICOB.
I believe that Gaston and Languida, in their dreamless sleep, alongside our revered ancestors, look upon us with the satisfaction that their dreams are becoming reality.
However, whenever I am in Kigezi, I see numerous children and families existing on the edge and I ask myself: “Am I doing enough?” Has ICOB done enough? I am afraid the answer is NO!
In these faces, I see people like my father and his classmates and the lives they would have led had they not been given opportunities by complete strangers to better themselves.
In these faces I see a future that God has blest you and I to shape if we work together to strengthen and mobilize the collective power of Banyakigezi, to change the norms and practices that perpetuate poverty, disease, helplessness and dependency.
I look forward to a Kigezi that is world-famous, not because of its physical beauty and its small population of mountain gorillas, but because of its intellectual power, its skilled and highly dependable workers, its competitive and honest businesspeople, its high quality and well packaged food, its industrial products, its thriving markets, and its place among the most rapidly developing regions of East Africa.
We achieve this by:
Defining our PURPOSE;
Determining our PRIORITIES;
Developing an Action PLAN;
Putting the plan into PRACTICE;
Being PATIENT (PERSEVERENT), even when challenges arise.
I call this the 5Ps of Success, applicable to every aspect of our lives and endeavours.
Bavandimwe! Dushirehamwe twubakye umuryango waacu w’Abanyakigezi. Sibyo?
Aboweitu! Murekye tukwatanise twombeke kandi twimusye Kigezi. Tikwe?
Let us pull together and build our homeland.
We do it for these children, not for us.