Oyo of Tooro: Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown

Friday February 17 2017

Uganda's Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukiidi IV, king of the Tooro. PHOTO | CREDIT

Although apolitical, the kingdoms of Uganda are never far from controversy arising from their relationship with the central government or how they manage their internal affairs.

In Tooro Kingdom, 300km west of the capital Kampala, this has been a matter of concern and interest to the public and royalty watchers since the restoration of the kingdoms 24 years ago. 

Uganda’s monarchies — Buganda, Busoga, Ankole, Bunyoro and Tooro — were abolished in 1967. All but one (Ankole) were restored in 1993. Now they thrive as keepers of culture and traditions in agreement with the people of the realm.

The contention in Tooro has mainly arisen from how the kingdom has been run since the death of King Kaboyo Olimi III in 1995 and the ascension to the throne of his three-and-a half year old son Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukiidi IV.

The boy-king was beloved. His father’s untimely and still mysterious death had sent shockwaves through the kingdom. Thus the toddler’s smooth ascension to become Tooro’s 14th monarch was a silver lining to an otherwise tragic event.

The innocence of King Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukiidi IV matched his father’s much admired grace, and became a source of comfort for the people of Tooro.


Oyo received a lot of goodwill. Many people prayed for him to live to adulthood to provide leadership to the kingdom.

Although he assumed full control in 2010, the challenges that have always dogged the kingdom showed no sign of abating.

Bickering and intrigue

Kingdom watchers have attributed the endless controversy over property (both what is privately owned by the royal family and held in public trust), perceptions about a declining sociocultural heritage, and the absence of a clear development agenda to Kaboyo’s untimely death and the deliberate failure of Oyo’s guardians to steer the kingdom properly when he couldn’t and to offer him the best advice how to do so once he took full charge seven years ago when he turned 18 years.

“His tender age affected the development of the kingdom because certain individuals, instead of working for the good of the kingdom, took advantage of the absence of a functional king to engage in diversionary activities,” wrote David Rusa, a short-lived prime minister of the kingdom, in his new self-published book titled The People’s Monarchy, about the kingdom through time.

“Bickering and intrigue, among those in positions of authority within the kingdom became commonplace. There was no accountability for of funds and other kingdom assets… a number of the kingdom’s land assets were sold off by some kingdom officials,” writes Rusa, who grew up close to the monarchy.

Before Oyo came of age, the deep division within the royal family over the running of the affairs of the kingdom came to a climax with the 1999 murder of his cousin, Prince Happy Kiijanangoma — the elder brother of Prince David Kiijanangoma (who is currently the chief agitator against King Oyo).

Prince Happy met his death on the orders of Oyo’s first prime minister John Katuramu, now serving a life sentence for the crime at Luzira Maximum Security Prison on the outskirts of Kampala.

At the time, Prince Happy and a section of the royal family were locked in a court battle over a land dispute that pitted them against Katuramu and Oyo’s mother, Queen Best Kemigisa. The row was a product of the alleged mismanagement of the king that had bitterly divided the royal family.

Prince Happy and others had pointed out Katuramu as the source of the problems that bedevilled the kingdom and spearheaded his removal both as the kingdom’s premier and one of the regents of the young king.

“Some members of the royal family felt Katuramu and the mother had shielded Oyo from everybody else and reserved the kingdom and all its affairs to themselves. Nobody could do anything without the consent of Katuramu or the queen, or question them on anything,” said a family member who did not wish to be named.

Presidential inquiry

Although some people hoped the kingdom’s administration would change once Oyo took full charge, the reign of the 25-year-old monarch has been the subject of endless public agitation, court battles and even a presidential inquiry, all of which are unprecedented in the 187-year old institution.


King Oyo and his mother Queen Best Kemigisa in full royal regalia at a function in Tooro. PHOTO | CREDIT

In 2015, Prince Kiijanangoma, a section of the royal family and the public accused King Oyo of abandoning the kingdom — he lives permanently in Buganda Kingdom and visits occasionally — and ceding control of it to his mother, who also runs it remotely since she lives with her son.

They say she is running down its cultural and administrative institutions, mismanaging its assets held in public trust such as forests and other land holdings, and failing to articulate a development agenda beneficial to the people.

That same year, President Yoweri Museveni — one of King Oyo’s guardians — instituted a probe led by religious leaders to resolve the grievances voiced by a section of the royal family and the public arising from King Oyo’s leadership.

The inquiry was aimed at calming tensions after Kiijanangoma’s group denounced Oyo’s kingship, pronounced Kiijanangoma the new king and took over the second oldest and most culturally significant palace in the royal tradition.

The inquiry agreed with all the charges the Kiijanangoma group had brought against King Oyo. It recommended sweeping reforms, which, in its view, were essential to restoring peace and harmony and enabling King Oyo make his reign relevant.


Oyo, the inquiry said, needed to leave Buganda and reside in Tooro to mitigate the sentiment that he was alienated from his homeland. It was also recommended that he replaces seven key officials around him, who were named as the source of misguidance and mismanagement. That he needed to reinstate the kingdom’s constitution that he abrogated and establish systems and structures necessary to restore order, sanity, accountability and transparency.

That he needed to reconcile with his paternal family and the royal clan in general. He was also advised to marry from his own people when time came for him to take a bride in order to consolidate Tooro’s norms, language, values and customs.

“Most people love their kingdom but only say it has been spoilt by King Oyo,” the presidential inquiry noted.

He and his associates, it added, should “not take the people of Tooro for granted and assume that the people will just watch their culture, dignity, heritage, language, norms, values and customs being eroded and destroyed and just keep quiet.” 

It further noted, “The king and all kingdom officials should know that they are accountable to the people of Tooro and cannot therefore manage the institution of Tooro Kingdom as if they were managing their personal estate.”

It has been two years since the release of the report, and neither Oyo nor Museveni have publicly said anything about its recommendations, which received wide public acceptance.

A new chapter?

Oyo’s apparent lack of will to implement reforms has provoked Prince Kiijanangoma to revive his push against him this coming April.

“We were requested to hold off and allow the different parties to look into the issues we were raising and see whether any alternative was possible. But Oyo has continued as usual as if all were well,” he said.

While Kiijanangoma’s quest may not come to much (the religious leaders’ probe warned him against rebellion), it is likely to add energy to the renewed interest by the Tooro Elders Forum and elite in fixing the crises in the kingdom, which they say fuel disunity and cost the institution much needed goodwill.

According to Bishop Reuben Kisembo of Rwenzori Diocese, who chaired the inquiry, Oyo reportedly met with his committee on December 6, 2016 and pledged to change and begin a new chapter.

“We made it clear that that was only possible if the committee’s recommendations were implemented because they are not our views but what we were told by the people of Tooro Kingdom,” said Rev Kisembo on December 22, 2016 at the first ever development conference in the kingdom the elders convened.

But if Oyo’s own actions are anything to go by, the recommendations mean nothing. Just as he ignored them in 2015, he ignored the conference, which, as one of its main resolutions, agreed to set up a joint committee to follow up the implementation of the 2015 recommendations.

Oyo snubbed the conference at the last minute in spite of an earlier promise to attend. He did not even send a representative to apologise. His prime minister made an appearance but declined to “greet” the gathering or have his presence formally recognised.

This action further pushed a wedge between Oyo and the public, whom he had angered in September when he insisted on going ahead with his 21st coronation anniversary (Empango) despite the death of his uncle Jimmy Mugenyi — one of his principal guardians.

'Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown'

The second in line to succession, Mugenyi, brother to Oyo’s father, was loved and respected for his humility. When Oyo ascended to the throne, it was Mugenyi who saw to it that he comfortably went through all the royal customs and norms throughout the stages towards his coronation.

As a result, the flawless coronation owed a lot to Mugenyi’s unwavering dedication to his nephew. Mugenyi also looked after Oyo even after the coronation — until the queen separated them.

Oyo’s disregard therefore for Mugenyi’s dedication incensed a section of royalty and the public.

In a message ostensibly aimed at her nephew, Tooro’s renowned Princess Elizabeth Bagaya remarked cryptically, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” — a phrase from Shakespeare’s drama, Henry IV, which addresses the theme of legitimate rule.


Princess of Tooro Elizabeth Bagaya, King Oyo’s paternal Aunt. PHOTO | CREDIT

“We are at cross purposes now. Everyone says and does what they want. We either unite or perish,” counselled Bagaya, a lawyer who is heading the review of the kingdom’s constitution.

Some of the recommended reforms will be hard for the king to enforce as they directly affect Queen Kemigisa. For instance, she is supposed to refrain from interfering in the kingdom’s administration, especially the appointment of prime ministers; to stop misusing royal guards in the eviction of tenants on kingdom lands; to co-operate in the investigations into the alleged sale of kingdom property and to respect and reconcile with her in-laws.

How will Oyo enforce these reforms if his mother is his first counsel?

According to Rusa, he must rise up to the occasion and assemble a new of advisers to help him run the kingdom properly. He will also need to reach out to the people and earn the goodwill necessary to steer the kingdom to its best future yet. At only 25 years of age, time is still on his side.