Ugandan Cultural activist Dr. Steven Rwangezi is facing stiff opposition from little known cultural group in Kisoro district, known as the Bahinza on Lake Mutanda.
The developer’s woes date back to 2017 when Bahinza Cultural leader Turyagenda Bishubeho Louis filed a land case against the celebrated investor after he acquired two pieces of land in Bucece and Karehe villages, Kirundo Sub County meant for the establishment and expansion of a tourism site.
According to Bishubeho who is also the Kirundo Sub County LCV councilor, the land that is presumably owned by Dr. Rwangezi has cultural significance to the Bahinza clan and cannot be owned by any one individual.
Bishubeho argues that Dr. Rwangezi, founder of Ndere Cultural centre simply wants to exploit the Bahinza cultural burial grounds for profit which is as good as sacrilege.
Back in 2019, the Bahinza Cultural Heritage Foundation, wrote to the office of the President seeking for help against the investor, whom they described as, unreasonable in his pursuit for commercial exploitation and destruction of a historical and cultural site, rich with ancestral artifacts.
The Foundation also forwarded its’ concerns to various Government offices and departments including the director, Land Division in State house (2019), Hon. Minister of Investment Evelyn Anite (2019), Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Gender and Social development (2020).
According to documents seen by Voice of Muhabura, the Bahinza clan claim that the illegal occupation of Dr. Rwangezi on sacred land has resulted in misfortune of clansmen.
The document states that, the ancient royalty, “Bagesera Bahinza“ were buried and preserved on the Archipelago of Islands of Lake Mutanda, until most recently when the dead and their burial grounds were disturbed by the investor, who seemed to appear from thin air, claiming ownership of the heritage site.
The document that was the above mentioned offices, further claims that, since Dr. Rwangezi is not a clan member and simply owns land neighboring the burial grounds, his persistent push to own the Sacrificial Shrine has angered the powerful spirit and residence of “Indyoka“, forcing it to change from its human form into a snake causing numerous deaths among clan members.
According to the document, the Bahinza clan members can no longer perform their rituals because they have been disconnected from their hallowed spirits.
During a mediation meeting last month organized by the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities at the Kisoro district Council hall, between the Bahinza clan leaders and Dr. Stephen Rwangezi, another serious issue was raised.
The Kisoro district Environmental Officer Judith Muja said, part of the land being queried is in violation of the National Environmental Management (NEMA) act 2019.
Act 5 of the NEMA Act 2019 states that, it is illegal to develop permanent structures on the shoreline of the water body.
At least 200 meters from the water body is meant to serve as a buffer zone where no permanent structures should be constructed.
Assistant Commissioner of Sites in the Ministry of Tourism Jackline Nyiracyiza said the ministry has been receiving complaints from the community on Lake Mutanda.
Nyiracyiza said, it is Government’s desire to see a harmonious co-existence between the investor and the community however the communities’ petitions need to be put into serious consideration.
Dr. Rwangezi says his only wish is to develop the area without antagonizing the cultural heritage.
He pointed out that the areas around the heritage sites have been left to regenerate and are well preserved.
Dr. Rwangezi said some of historical bones are being washed away and this is something that can be prevented. He stressed his commitment to getting all the necessary permits from NEMA and other relevant agencies to ensure the smooth co-existence between the community and his enterprise.
Dr. Rwangezi’s pleas seemed to fall on deaf ears as the Kisoro district Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Rita Elizabeth Byiringiro advised that all the land in contestation first get surveyed by Government to ensure that the 200 meters buffet is respected.
Byiringiro said, no further developments on the land should continue until surveying is completed and a report has been compiled.
Facts about the Bahinza on Lake Mutanda
It is believe that the rulers in the pre-aristocratic era who were referred to as the Abahinza were not buried with commoners in communal cemeteries but in selected caves on chosen islands.
The Bagyesera-Bahinza consider the resting places of their former cultural leaders as “ibirwa by’Abahinza” in Lake Mutanda.
The island which is locally referred to as ‘Ichangushu” was used as the main burial place of the Bahinza.
The cultural groups claims that, the island hosts a number of caves housing the skeletons that are now being dismembered by ‘foreign grave robbers’.
In order to preserve the bodies of their revered leaders, bodies had to have been mummified and preserved in bull-hides, never to decompose.
It is believed that, these traditional rulers/prophets played major roles including, blessing of birth, fortune in war, managing evil spells like drought, magic in fighting and hunting weapons i.e. spears, bow and arrows, shield.