When the International Community of Banyakigezi (ICOB) meets in London, England during the weekend of July 22-24, there will be very good reason to celebrate an organization that has exceeded the modest expectations of a small group of people who midwifed its birth in Toronto, Canada, 13 years ago.
What we thought would be an opportunity for Diaspora Banyakigezi and friends to network and raise funds to help a few of the people back home has become a formidable organization. The people of Kigezi have found their identity and a common voice through ICOB that transcends partisan politics and other cleavages.
The founders of ICOB had the simple idea that it was both necessary and possible to rise to the challenge of reviving the spirit of excellence that was the signature theme of Kigezi of our youth.
We were inspired by Omugurusi Paulo Ngorogoza’s concluding remark in his 1967 book Kigezi N’Abantu Bamwo [Kigezi and its People] in which he 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.’
Literally translated, this statement means: “However warm the water gets, it ought to remember its cold origins.” Ngorogoza helpfully added: “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, Ngorogoza would have addressed himself to all Banyakigezi and Ugandan diaspora in general.
The real and imaginary comforts of life in foreign lands should never dim our attachment and patriotic obligation to one another and to our homelands. This is what has kept ICOB focused on our original goals.
Central to ICOB’s intact survival has been our resolute, uncompromising fidelity to non-partisanship. We have insisted on leaving our figurative party membership cards outside the doors of ICOB, which has enabled us to receive and listen to politicians across the spectrum.
We have firmly resisted efforts to paint ICOB with Ugandan political party colours right from the birth of the organization.Back in 2003, President Yoweri Museveni, uncertain about our intentions, dispatched a five-person delegation to Toronto to attend our founding convention.
Within hours of their arrival, the delegation, comprised of Maj. Gen. Jim Muhwezi, Brigadier Kale Kayihura, Ministers George Mondo Kagonyera and Hope Ruhindi Mwesigye, and Robert Kyamureesire Rutaagi, recognized that ours was a group of Banyakigezi who were engaged in the business of building a healthy community.
Soon the delegation was in the thick of merry-making, with Mondo supplying a torrent of humour that remains as memorable as the faith that propelled us forward as we embarked on the great experiment. More significantly, President Museveni’s emissaries became founder members of ICOB.
That is why a security alarm rang when we detected mild symptoms of national partisan politics threatening the cohesion of the Uganda Chapter of ICOB during the period leading up to the most recent presidential elections. Fortunately, the ever-steadfast leadership of ICOB-International refused to be drawn into the partisan struggle.
What may not be well known is that the three leading presidential candidates in the February 2016 exercise were all Banyakigezi. That’s right. Kizza Besigye, Amama Mbabazi and Yoweri K. Museveni are all Banyakigezi.
“I am also a Munyakigezi,” President Museveni correctly declared on December 29, 2009 when he addressed the ICOB convention in Kabale. We welcomed him into our ranks with the same warmth that we extended to Dr. Besigye who was in the audience.
Just as we successfully encouraged Dr. Besigye and Ms. Hope Ruhindi Mwesigye, at the time a high profile supporter of Mr. Museveni, to embrace as a sign of affirmation of the unity in ICOB that transcended partisan differences, it remains my personal dream to have Mr. Museveni and Dr. Besigye do likewise.
Perhaps – just perhaps – we can get them to embrace one another as two brothers who have a lot to gain by finding common ground and seeking peaceful resolution of their differences. It may sound far-fetched at the moment, but so was the thought that such rapprochement could happen between Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Yitzhak Rabin or between South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk.
Happily, the leaders and members of ICOB have continued to work hard to fulfill the dreams of those who travelled to Toronto in 2003 to start the organization. We have remained focused on our goal, insisting on truthful, transparent and inclusive growth of our community.
That strategy has paid off very well. Banyakigezi and friends of Kigezi have come to understand ICOB to be what it really is, namely, a home that welcomes everyone, regardless of political, religious, ethnic or other label. Our challenge is to grow the membership and take ICOB to the next level.
This is an election year for ICOB. We shall be electing a president, secretary general, treasurer and a board member. From the beginning, we have always chosen our leaders on the basis of their abilities, experience, integrity and commitment to the organization’s long-term vision. Ours has been a leadership that has been blind to our individual religious, political and ethnic labels. It must remain so.