Can a group or organization be politically active but non-partisan? Is it possible for people who support different political parties to engage in healthy, nonpartisan political discussions? Is it possible to ban partisan content from social media discussion groups while promoting robust political dialogue?
The answer to each of these questions is unequivocally yes. Yet these are questions that trouble many people, among them members of Rukiga District Forum (RDF), a WhatsApp Discussion group for all Banyarukiga.
When they started it, the administrators of RDF wisely ruled that content on the forum would be strictly non-partisan. One reason was to create an environment devoid of interpersonal or group hostility.
Second, the administrators did not want to give a campaign platform to some prospective political candidates while their opponents did not have access to the same.
Third, the people of Rukiga and Kigyezi have not yet acquired healthy inter-party and intraparty competition. Nearly sixty years after the start of the pre-independence partisan conflicts in Kigyezi, the majority still view political competition as a form of war.
Obviously Banyakigyezi do not have a monopoly on the high-octane passions of partisan politics. It is the curse in many parts of the world, including the USA.
However, the people of Kigyezi tend to take their partisan fights very seriously, complete with physical altercations and enmities that define generations.
In the run-up to Uganda’s independence in 1962, the UPC-DP competition in Kigyezi became a vicious Protestant-Catholic war. I recall, as though it was yesterday, the Protestants in Mparo, Rukiga, repeatedly taunting and harassing Roman Catholics. Our Catholic and Protestant schools were enemies, frequently settling scores with sticks during soccer matches.
I have an indelible image of a Catholic man who was brought to Mparo Health Centre in 1961 or 1962, with an arrow sticking out of his buttock, his blood stained legs and feet a frightening sight for a lad that was not yet ten years old.
The poor fellow had been shot by a Protestant who had allegedly caught him evacuating his bowels on the altar of Kihanga Church of Uganda. The assailant was an Anglican preacher of the Gospel of the same Jesus Christ that his victim worshipped.
My father, who was the Medical Assistant-in-Charge, summoned us to assist him with holding the man down so that he could extract the weapon from the poor fellow’s behind. The wailing and tears and blood and general horror in that treatment room would shape my view of partisan politics in the years that followed.
Space does not allow us to narrate the DP-UPC wars and the intra-UPC Banyama-Baboga factional fights in Kigyezi. Mr. Charles Kabuga offers an excellent account of this dark and sad period in his fascinating autobiography. I highly recommend that book.
More recently, Kigyezi partisans have consistently won the Ugandan trophy for election-time partisan fighting. Our legendary passion and zeal do not allow us to do anything in half measure.
So when you have a newly formed district, the last thing you want is to create a situation that could result in proverbial arrows in the political buttocks of opponents.
In my view, the survival of Rukiga and the other new districts will depend, in part, on the unity of those who share roots, values, hopes and a common vision. This does not mean that we cease to belong to political parties of our choice.
However, wise are those who shed their party colors and form united coalitions to promote and defend the shared values, goals and interests of their little districts.
As Banyarukiga, for example, we should leave our party colours at the Rukiga-Nkore border, so to speak, and come together to try and influence the decisions of our leaders and representatives that will affect all of us.
We have a duty to examine and pronounce ourselves on issues like governance, corruption, proposed constitutional amendments, environment politics, social and economic policies and reasons why our district has been left behind.
This is the same approach we have taken as the International Community of Banyakigezi (ICOB). Whereas ICOB is strictly non-partisan, we are very politically engaged.
For example, one of the highlights of the ICOB Convention that will be held next week in Orlando, Florida will be two town hall meetings dedicated to the subject of poverty in Kigyezi. Our goal will be to examine the politics and other root causes of widespread poverty in Kigyezi, its consequences and a practical action plan for its alleviation.
We have carefully chosen lead panelists that represent various professions, experiences and political affiliations. The audience will have plenty of time to speak and offer their opinions and recommendations. No doubt sparks will fly. However, we shall not restrain free speech.
In the end, we shall come together as Banyakigyezi to formulate a plan that will include working with the governments of Uganda and of the districts in Kigyezi region to serve our people’s common interests.
This formula of a vigorously political but non-partisan organization is at the heart of ICOB’s success and survival, now 14 years old and counting. It is a formula worth trying by Banyarukiga as we attempt to transform our little district.