Uganda’s Bakonzo: From the Unknown to the Known

Book Cover: Tom Stacey in 1963  just across the border in Congo from Uganda flanked by the rebel Bakonzo  leadership of those days.  Among the group is the 10-year-old Charles Wesley Mumbere, today’s King of Rwenzururu.”

By Tom Stacey

‘My’ Bakonzo tribe of equatorial Africa’s Mountains of the Moon, aka the Ruwenzori Mountains, the glaciered and snow-peaked range on the Uganda-Congo border, exemplify ethnic groups which so easily can be eliminated by sheer demographic ruthlessness, amid a welter of suffering and sorrow.

By God’s grace and a twist of political fortune, in which I have been privileged to play a key part, that potential suffering has been countered and, today, eliminated. The suffering of course is the result of the destruction of a people’s sense of who they are, be that in the form of the loss of their territory, language, way of life, or cultural or administrative autonomy. The Bakonzo now have their presence in their mountains in their own `Kingdom of Rwenzururu’ recognized by the government of Uganda, within whose borders the majority of Bakonzo have their traditional homeland.

Rwenzururu, with a population of around 800,000, is now one of the five constituent Bantu kingdoms which, as cultural entities, like with widely known kingdoms of Buganda and Toro, constitute most of the southern (Bantu) half of Uganda.

When I was first among these hardy mountain tribesmen exactly 60 years ago they were reckoned to number some 150,000 people. The British Governor in the capital in Kampala had accepted their original administrative lumping-together within the pre-existing Kingdom of Toro because of the inaccessibility of their steep and roadless terrain of the Ruwenzori foothills. The colonial hand, having taken hold a mere 60 years previously, was still only lightly felt in that remote region.

Albeit neighbours, the Batoro (of Toro) were an unrelated tribe in the plains east of the mountains, with a tradition of powerful kingship operating from their regional capital of Fort Portal in Western Uganda. Their way of life markedly contrasted with that of the Bakonzo. The Batoro looked down on the stocky Bakonzo, on their hail-stormed slopes with their strange crops, as lesser beings. There were no schools in the mountains. Any Bakonzo seeking education would be taught only in the Batoro linguistic medium. The evolving fate of the mountain people would surely be – for sheer administrative convenience – assimilation within the dominant Batoro, already then rapidly benefitting from the sophistication provided by the colonial presence.

The Batoro spoke English as their second language, went to mission schools, had their own churches, had access to medical care, and wore shirts and trousers. The Bakonzo had none of these things. They wore goatskins and monkey-pelts and bark-cloth. They could neither read nor write. But they were hardy, and knew who they were with the stubborn independence of mountain people everywhere.

When I was living with them in 1954, my principal companion was one of the very rare schooled members of the tribe. He imbued me with his own passionate commitment to Bakonzo survival as a people. He and I created the grandly entitled Bakonzo Life History Research Society. In the years following my tramp of 1954 through the eighty-mile length of the mountain range, the BLHRS was to develop under its Mukonzo co-founder into a tribal political movement demanding, originally, proportional political representation within the parliament of Toro which in the course of continued frustration led to a declaration of independence in their mountains by the Bakonzo and related inhabitants, under the declared presidency, and then kingship, of my devoted companion.

Back in England, fully active in a journalistic, writing and political career, I was called in to settle this rebellion by a newly independent Uganda. I can’t say I succeeded, but was intimately (and dramatically) re-acquainted with a people on whom I had already written the first of, so far, three books. After 20 years of defiance in the mountains, with their own schools, courts, uniformed police, army, tax-collection and self-administration, the second Bakonzo king (son of my companion) reconciled his ‘Kingdom’ with Uganda as totally separate from Toro. I remained close to the tribal leadership in its claim to the further right to full status, as Rwenzururu (effectively, Bakonzo), as one Uganda’s existing ‘cultural’ tribal Kingdoms.

It was quite a struggle. But astonishingly it was achieved, as recently as 2009. The effect on the people has been to transform the esteem in which they are held by the fellow Ugandans, and of course their self-esteem. Their numbers have grown by natural progression by a factor of five since was first among them. No longer do they seek to hide their tribal identity when moving about in the broader Ugandan community. Their allegiance to their national (Ugandan) identity is reinforced by their more intimate ethnic self-confidence, a phenomenon I have observed elsewhere. Their economic contribution, commanding the site of a flourishing coffee industry and mineral wealth, reinforces their authority.

Their own Rwenzururu capital in the eastern foothills has grown to be a major regional hub, linking them with their ethnic brothers (some 4 million of them) across the border on the Congo side. Its local airstrip is now mooted as an international airport to serve the equatorial centre of 1the continent. Radio stations transmit in their language, books and journals are beginning to appear in it. Cathedrals of the two great episcopal denominations flourish; a university is in view.

Perhaps it should not I who says this. But had I not turned up among them at 24 to write a book on a remote and hitherto unstudied people, little or none of what I have described would have happened.


47 thoughts on “Uganda’s Bakonzo: From the Unknown to the Known

  1. Hi.tom thanks for that wonder information
    i wish i had funds,i would set up a university called tom stacey university as a rememberance for your tremendous job well done for the Rwenzururu people for the last 2 decades.thnks

    • Tom Stacey is truly one of the pillars on which the Rwenzururu heritage stands. A polished novelist and journalist, Tom represents the essence of humanity and whoever emulates him should surely count themselves agents of humankind. As a business and media Consultant, am doing any thing possible to ensure that I inspire before I expire. Long live Tom Stacey. Long live Bayira.

  2. True i belong to Bakonzo tribe and we have moved from downing spiral of suffering to upward spiral of hope through prostrated struggle of exchanging stones with guns thanks for articulate our struggle for dignity even we the young ones well defend our humanity even in the face of guns. imagine now at university doing masters of science while my grand father had no right to step in class because he was a Mukonzo! fighting for freedom was good fight.yes you and our community acted rightly. your writings are very telling.forwards ever backwards never

  3. Pingback: Human rights: the top ten blog posts so far | Human Rights Blog

    • There is nothing as worth paying to the savior of the Bakonzo Mr. Tom Stacy for what he did for them.
      Let all the international community see Tom’s wonderful and saving work for this was lost tribe.

      Help !!! We need development, education, medical care, for improved livelihood as maginalized tribe in Africa.
      God bless Tom Stacy.

  4. Oh my God!! Many thanks Mr. Tom for your exploration about the Bakonzo tribe.I like what you did for us, because I belong to the tribe

  5. indeed less has been known about the we bakonzo due to marginalization. thanks for letting the mukonzo and the munyarwenzuru be known to the entire world.

  6. We have no way we can thank Tom for his Indescribable efforts to make us known. Indeed, we shall start Institutions in his name for memory.
    In complementing his great work, as a scholar, I have written 2 novels set in the same Yiraland and about the BAYIRA (otherwise known as the BAKONZO).
    The novels are: 1. The Adopted 2. Exiles in their Land.
    Am now ‘hunting for donors to publish these novels and many other short stories about the TRIBE.

    Thanks once again. Kimulya Adorable.

  7. To help this same marginalised tribe, I have started a school which I plan to upgrade, funds permitting, to help the orphans and those from needy families.
    That is the contribution I want to leave before I follow them that have gone before in cold blood. For up to now we live home as persecuted exiles.
    View my work on these websites:
    2. http://www.facebook.rwenzorivalley.orphans.needy

  8. I cannot stop loving Tom Stacy. The British journalist occupies space in my heart for her relentless role he played and continues to play in salvaging a tribe I belong to, the Bakonzo. I love my fellow Bakonzo in Uganda and those in Congo

  9. great thanks to Tom Stacey for that tramendous work. Following the current situation where MOST bakonzo still face percecution and opression in their own homeland especially the 2014 Jul 5 mascre and detention of innocent bakonzo, i would ask you kindly to continue coming to our rescue

  10. God bless Tom Stacey, God bless Rwenzururu Kingdom, God bless all Bayiira (4,800,00) people in Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo all the time. “Habwa Kayingo, noBusinga Bwethu”

  11. I Thank God For Creating Tom Stacy Who Rescued From The Bondage Of Oppressive,Suffering & Misery By The Terant Batoro.Long Live Tom Stacy and OBR

  12. On Behalf of the Banya’Mulyatha & The Bataangi Clan Of Rwenzururu Kingdom,i Take this honour 2 thank MR TOM STANCY & the Rwenzururu Liberators At Large,4 This Ur Memorable Work Of Fighting 4 Our Liberation As BAKONZO CLAN.There’s Nothing Worthpaying 4 What U Did,On This Planet.LONG LIVE TOM,LONG LIVE CHARLES,LONG LIVE BANYA’RWENZURURU. AMON MULYATHA-0779234978/0752260337.

  13. thankx so much Tom bakonzo we shall never forgot your contribution even father his named Tom senzelya ipromiss set up my company into your names.God bless uu so,much

  14. iused to heare these things kumbe its true.This shows that even government its in the way let us pray and worker hard

  15. Our “Musabuli” literary translated, Savior, Tom Stacey, your underlying efforts and co-operation with King Isaya Mukirania have made us who we are today and we long to re-kindle the recognition The UN had for us in the early 60’s as a sovereign state!

  16. thanks Tom S “ise musoki” as the name people commonly speak 4 the great work u did with our grand parents; Isaya M, Fredrick Kinyamusithu, kawamala,….. I Must Strugle to establish yo memory

    i love “yira”

  17. Thanks to God for the God hearted man Tom. May the almighty Reward you and releave us from the remaining problems

  18. I have always advocated for the Tom Stacy development foundation or astreet in kasese town or apeak on rwenzori mountain. He did tremendous work on top of sacrificing his life. Buy his book at only 50k u will be supporting the cause . Dont stop at words. (Sir Laban is my name +256773080844)

  19. “Truely a hidden history” we always get comments from other tribes dispising and doubting the Konzo/Yira in Uganda who question History of Bakonzo/Bayira not taught in schools , not known.
    But Sir Tom Stacey You make the Konzo/Yira proud.

  20. God who know the beginning from the end will bless Tom stancy for the work he did to us the strangle will go on untill the end of the age

  21. All the bayira in the whole of africa should know that we are still maginalised uptoday. we need to be recognised like any other tribe on earth. Mutalinga

  22. True We bakozo had been steped on. Often I asked my mother why 99% of Bakozo elders I new as somehow or well educated hard either a kitoro or a kinyankole name? One day she answared saying that they had to becouse if did not and used kikozo names only, Their national exams w’ld never return. Tom thanks. God had to use you to tell the world we also exist in our lovely home the Rwenzori Mtns.

  23. After silent minute as a sign of recognition of Isaya Mukirania (the Isreal Moses of our time),H.H omusinga Wisley Irema-Ngoma (Aron) and Tom Stancy,i write to strongly say that we shall not abondon the spirit of the above mentioned Heroes until God’s Kingdom comes however we may change the style to diplomatic way to achieving our goal.

  24. What a savior Tom we shant forget you. May your vision grow more than this from sorows to canan.God bless you.

  25. Yes I am a mukonzo and I must confess that by now we are developing at an increasing rate than before in relation to education,modernity,technology and science.But of-course we are always proud of our culture and heritage.Thanks to Tom Stacy for that foundation you laid for us because even if another tribe uses a nuclear weapon on the Rwenzururu,some if not most Bakonzo in different countries and continent all over the world will still servive,defining a strength and continuity of our tribe.This was impossible in the past.
    Habwa-kayingo no Businga bwethu

  26. On behalf of BAGHENI & NDALEGHANA FAMILIES of the Abaswagha clan of Busolhu in Butembo DR.CONGO currently staying in Kinone,Kitholhu, wish to extend my heart felt gratitude to TOM STANCY for the love and compassion that he has shown to ME(4,800,000 bakonzo), getting me from nothing to a man. I feel GOD sent STANCY on earth not only as a journalist but a SAVIOUR for BAKONZO. If my projects doesn’t bear a symbol showing rememberance of stancy’s work i will have cheated him. LONG LIVE “TOM STANCY ISEMUSOKI”, LONG LIVE ABAKONZO, LONGLIVE RWENZURURU KINGDOM ❤ ❤ Thanks! , Merci! , Danke! , Wasinjya! Asante!

  27. We greatly salute you for all the tremendous achievement reached so far around the slopes of the mountains of the moon. May our God grant you a multiplicity of blessings to life eternal. Thx for the work done.

  28. I personally can not thank Tom Stacey enough, you did your part, now it’s upto every mukonzo/ muyira to make you proud.

  29. I greatly wish you a long time here on this earth morely in our (YIIRA KINGDOM), Dear Mzee Tom Stacey.

    Best Regards
    Mumbere Edwin Bayanda

  30. Yes from the unknown to the known. Thanks Tom for your contribution to our struggle. Today Bakonzo people are everywhere in UK, USA, CANADA, Europe and Asia. We are a people who are humble but proud of ourselves. WE are focused on educating our Children. From putting on monkey skin to working in the Ministry of Justice here in London. I have been working in Criminal Justice here in UK since 2006 to date.This Job has taken me to the most beautiful parts of UK Exeter, Stevenage, Slough Thames Valley, Luton and Hereford. While in Hereford I have visited the most beautiful area of UK Craven Arms and I have had chance to cross the Devils bridge after working in London for six years.


    Williams Bukombi

  31. i ask my self how would this be hidden from me all long i wish i would find this book and understand it more but thanks for the good work sir Tom.
    i hope the local man on the ground could get this information.

  32. i also extend my gratitude to this great author.I argue all the educated Bakonzo to emulate stacey by writing novels or documentaries that can erode some of the stereotypes imposed upon us.Above all,lets support our fellow people to attain a decent education.

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