The Songora or Shongora (pl. Basongora, sing. Musongora) also known as "Bacwezi", "Chwezi", Huma or "Bahuma") are a traditionally a pastoralist people of the Great Lakes region of Central Africa located in Western Uganda and Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. They have distinctive customs and speak 'Rusongora' an African language that is originates from Proto-Kordofanian and is similar to Runyankole and Rutoro. The Basongora population has reported as numbering 25,000 in 2015 in Uganda. Some Basongora also live in Eastern Congo.
The colonial and neo-colonial governments in Central Africa instituted programs to encourage the Basongora to abandon their traditional lifestyle, and most of the territory traditionally owned by the Songora community has been appropriated for use as national parks or has been settled and occupied by other communities, notably the Batoro and Bakonzo. Also Songora territory has been partitioned into several districts and is distributed across Uganda and Congo.
The Basongora are a mixed Nilotic/Bantu group in East and Central Africa, traditionally residing in the foothills and plains at the floor of the western arm of the Great Rift Valley and the hills around the base of the Rwenzori Mountain Range. The Songora traditional economy was largely based on cattle-rearing, as well as salt-manufacture and trade in iron. The political organization of the Songora was a form confederacy of several states united by a parliament called Muhabuzi, and a constitutional monarchy led by a trimviate that consisted of an empress dowager (Omu'Gabe'kati), a female ruler (Omu'Go), and a male ruler (Omu'Kama). The confederacy emerged from a single Songora state that dates back to the 12th century consisted of several provinces including Kisaka-Makara, Kitagwenda, Bugaya, Bunyaruguru and Kiyanja.
According to their own oral history, the Basongora emerged from the ancient empires of the Batembuzi constituted by the dynasties of the Kushites, Axumites, the Shenzi [Zenj], and the Chwezi. The traditional homelands of he Basongora is the region centred in the foothills and plains that surround the Rutshuru and Rwenzori mountain ranges.
After the collapse of the Shenzi Empire, around 1100 AD, the region fell into a period of strife that lasted about 150 years. Gradually order was restored as several powerful clans emerged and founded small but relatively stable states out of the territory of what was once the Shenzi empire. Among these powerful clans the earliest ones to emerge were the Balebeki, Singo, Shengya, Siita, Shambo, Hinda, and the Bito clan.
The ancient Shenzi state was founded in 630 AD by a man named Hangi who had served as a governor and General of the Axumite Empire. As the Aumite Empire weakened under the attacks by the nscent Islamic armies, the Axumite control of Central Africa collapsed. Emperor Hangi maintained the ancient name of the region for his new empire, and was able to resist the Arab-Islamic armies, as well as the armies of the Christian Nubian Federation to the north, despite loss of many citizens to slave raids. The Shenzi Empire began to disintegrated at its edges about 900 AD, as its nobles moved their headquarters in land to the African interior. The heartlands around Rwenjura range [Rwenzori] were maintained as military training grounds - hence the name Busongora meaning "place of Refinement/Training". Several of the later rulers of the Empire - including Emperors Kakama, Bada, Ngonzaki, and Empress Kogyere - were indigenous to the Shenzi province of Busongora.
Around 1090 AD Kogyere came out of retirement to lead a revolt against the Emperor Bukuku. The Shenzi Empire did not collapse, but split into three states. Busongora became independent, Bukuku retained the northern half of the Shenzi Empire, and Emperor Ruyonga retained the southern half. Eventually many other new states were to emerge in the years after the founding of Busongora. However, many people in the region continued to refer to themselves as Shenzi as late as the 1800s. The word Shenzi - and its variants means "citizen". In Rusongora - the language of the Basongora - the word "obweshenze" means "independence" or "autonomy".
The state of Busongora under Kogyere I became a refuge for many nobles fleeing persecution from the Norther Shenzi Emperor Bukuku. The name given to the new leaders of the Songora state was "baChwa" and baCwezi. The root word "chwa" means "to decree" or to "ex communicate". The name "BaChwezi" translates as "people of the land of those who give decrees". The name "BaChwezi" refers to the people of the independent kingdom of Busongora formed by Kogyere I [also known as Kogere, Kogelo, and as Kogyere I Rumeza-Milyango].
Some of the most notable Songora monarchs include Kyomya Bwachali who died around 1850, and was the grandfather of King Ntare V of Nkore kingdom. The last precolonial King of Busongora was King Kasigano. He was deposed in 1907 by the British, austensiby for his having sought to ally himself with the Belgians in the Congo. Busongora was then partitioned and divided between the Congo and Uganda Protectorate, and the portions that fell within Uganda were further sub-divided into several districts, all of which were then annexed to the kingdoms of Toro and Nkore. The Kingdom of Rwenzururu formed in the later part of the 20th century on the territory of Busongora.
Between 1924 and 1933 there was an outbreak of the rinderpest that decimated the cattle populations of the Basongora especially in Bwengo, forcing them to disperse to other areas of Uganda and the eastern Congo. Basongora believe the outbreak began as a result of a virulent drugs vaccination program started by the colonial government. The biggest group that fled to the Congo did not return to the area until 1964 due to the strife caused by the Mulele rebellion there.
In 1925, Parc Nationale des Virunga was created by the Belgian colonial authorities encompassing areas of the chiefdom of Kiyanja (of the Bamooli clan), Kakunda (now called Kyavinyonge), Rwemango, Makara, Kashansha and Bugaya among others and pressure to protect the adjoining ecosystem in Uganda led to the establishment of game reserves around Lake George (Known as Matsyoro by Basongora) and the area surrounding it (known as Rweishamba by Basongora) and Lake Edward (known as Rweru) between 1906 and 1950. Several name changes followed and Kazinga National Park was gazetted in 1952 and in 1954 it was renamed Queen Elizabeth National Park by the colonial administration. This left only limited land for the pastoral Basongora. In 1940s the colonial government introduced cotton growing in Busongora. By coincidence, the best soil and suitable climate for cotton growing was in the Bwengo area and other plains of the Busongora County in Kasese. Although some remained in the park – albeit illegally, thousands of others moved across the border with their herds into the Virunga National Park in the Congo.
Between the 1940 and 1950s,the cotton growing enterprise lured particularly the Bakonjo from the highlands to the lowlands. By 1962, the Rwenzururu Freedom Movement had also displaced some Bakonjo from the mountains, forcing them to settle in parts of Busongora that had not been gazetted as protected areas.In 1962 Basongora started returning to their original areas only to find that the Toro Development Company (TDC) that wound up in 1970, had leased some of their land, and was running projects such as the Mubuku Irrigation Scheme.
When the cotton industry plummeted in the 1970s, the general Ugandan public lost interest in cotton, thus giving the Basongora pastoralists a chance to resettle in vast plains of Nyakatonzi.When the NRM government introduced the decentralization policy,it was hijacked by the extremist fringe of the Bakonjo and was seen as an opportunity to displace and subjugate the Basongora. This coincided with peak cotton production between 1987 and 1989 and it is in the same period that Basongora were displaced from their ancestral lands of Bukangara and Rweihingo.
On 12 May 2012 Basongora revived their ancient kingdom that had been dismembered and abolished during the colonial occupation one hundred years prior. On 1 July 2012, the Songora installed Bwebale Ivan Rutakirwa Rwigi IV as the king of "BuSongora Kingdom", and claimed twenty sub-counties of Uganda as their territory. The sub-counties include: Muhokya, Bugoye, Nyakatonzi, Katwe, Karusandara, Mubuku, Ibuga, Hamukungu, Kasenyi, Busunga, and Katunguru, among others. The kingdom also claimed their ancestral areas of Shema, Bunyaruguru and Kitagwenda in Uganda, as well as Virunga National Park in the Congo, as part of the kingdom.
King Rwigi IV died on 28 April 2015. King Rwigi IV, when he was first hospitalised in 2013, appointed his nephew the Prince Imara Kashagama - who also frequently served as Acting Prime Minister and minister for Community Rights - to serve in his stead on the throne as Caretaker or Acting-King whenever Rwigi was outside Busongora, or in event Rwigi was unable to perform his duties for any reason. Kashagama acceded to the throne on April 29, 2015 - the day following the death of King Rwigi IV - after a resolution of the Council of Accession [AbaShoganisa] appointing him King of Busongora. However, Kashagama abdicated the throne on May 1, 2015 in favour of his cousin Kyomya V Apollo Bwebale Rubyahi on account of failure of the Council of Accession to follow through on resolutions ensuring proper succession procedures - a situation that could have caused chaos in the kingdom and aggravated the insecurity in the Rwenzori Region.
However, by July 2015 Kyomya IV had remained unavailable and ineligible to serve as king. He had technically resigned on account of remaining unresponsive and outside Busongora in excess of the amount of time stipulated by the Constitution of Busongora. The Council passed a vote censuring Kyomya V and formally recalling him. The Council of Accession also directed Kashagama to resume duties as King-Elect and Acting-King. Kashagama had been serving in these capacities formally during the reign of Rwigi IV, when occasionally the late king was ill or had travelled outside Busongora.
On September 9, 2015 Kashagama resigned from all offices in the kingdom in protest of the failure by key officials of the kingdom to follow due-process in effecting resolutions mandated by the laws of Uganda and by the Constitution of Busongora. Nevertheless, Kashagama continued to support the kingdom's efforts and to work for the community.
Kashagama was summoned to the banks of Nyamugasani River at Kabirizi on 28 November 2015, and there he was formally Installed as the King of Busongora, after joint No-Confidence resolutions of the Council of Accession and Council of Elders effectively and formally ended the reign of Kyomya V. According to the Constitution of Busongora Kingdom, the Council of Accession has the authority to remove a monarch on account of absence, futility, idleness, negligence, alcoholism, or ignobility. Upon his Installation, Kashagama adopted the regnal name Ndahura II.
List of Monarchs of Busongora
NB: The dates are approximate for most of the early rulers.
1 Kogyere I Rusija-Miryango [Empress] [1090-1120]
2 Kogyere II [Empress] [1120-1130]
3 Kyomya I kya Isiimbwa [1130-1140]
4 Mugarra I [1140-1150]
5 Ndahura I kya Rubumbi [1150-1160]
6 Mulindwa [1160-1170]
7 Wamara Bbala Bwigunda [1170-1200]
8 Kyomya II Rurema [1200-1210]
9 Kagoro [1210-1220]
10 Kakara-ka-Shagama [1220-1250]
11 Njunaki Kamaranga [Empress] [1250-1280]
12 Shagama-rwa-Njunaki [1280-1300]
13 Wahaiguru Rukuba-Ntondo [1300-1310]
14 Kateboha [1310-1330]
15 Nyakahuma [Queen Regnant] [1330-1375]
16 Kirobozi [1375-1400]
17 Mugarra II wa Kirobozi [1400-1420]
18 Buyonga bwa Kirobozi [1420-1430]
19 Kyomya III [1430-1460]
20 Nkome [1460-1485]
21 Ihiingo [1485-1500]
22 Goro [1500-1525]
23 Kasheshe [1525-1550]
24 Kazoba [1550-1575]
25 Nyabongo I [1575-1600]
26 Makora [1600-1625]
27 Nyabongo II Kikundi Nyakwirigita [1625-1655]
28 Mugonga Rutegwankondo [1655-1685]
29 Kitami kya Nyawera [Queen Regnant] [1685-1725]
30 Rwigi I Wakoli [1725-1730]
31 Buremu I Rushoita [1730-1740]
32 Kantunguru [Queen Regnant] [1740-1750]
33 Kyokoora [1750-1775]
34 Mairanga ga Kyokoora [1775-1800]
35 Kyomya IV Bwachali bwa Mairanga [1825-1850]
36 Kikamba [1850-1860]
37 Rwigi II Kyeramaino Rweshakaramyambi [1860-1880]
38 Buremu II Kigwamabere [1880-1886]
39 Kogyere III Ikamiro [Queen Regnant] [1886-1889]
40 Rwigi III Mugasa Kakinture [1889-1891]
41 Rutairuka 
42 Njuganja Katurumba 
43 Kuriafire [1891-1894]
44 Kaihura [1894-1901]
45 Kasigano [1901-1907]
46 Rwigi IV Bwebale Rutakirwa [2012-2015]
47 Kyomya V Bwebale Rubyahi [May 2015 - Nov. 2015]
48 Ndahura II Imara Kashagama Ruguuvu [Nov. 2015 - N/A]
Other notable figures in ancient Songora history include at least two empresses; Nyakahuma, and Kitami rwa Nyawera. The Queen Kiboga of Nkore was a Songora. She was also mother to Nkore's King Ntare V, and sister to King Kaihura of the Songora. Princess Kantunguru of Nkore was also a Songora and has a town named after her in western Uganda. Many of the rulers of states of Rwanda, Mpororo, Bunyoro, Toro and Nkore chose their wives from among the Songora. Other notable Songora kings in the pre-colonial era include: Kyomya III father of the founder of Bunyoro - Rukidi Mpuga; Bulemu I Rushoita, Rwigi II Kyeramaino Rweshakaramyambi, Nyabongo Kikundi Nyakwirigita, Ihiingo, Goro, Nyabongo I, Kasheshe (for whom the municipality/city of Kasese is named), Rutairuka, Makora, and Kaihura.
During the post colonial era, beginning in the early 1960s, the Songora didn't formally have rulers recognized by the central governments in Uganda and Congo/Zaire. However, there are several notable Songora personalities in various fields that have played a key role in maintaining the presence of the community. Among them are Timothy Bazarrabusa (RIP) an educationalist who served as Uganda's first High Commissioner to London, Amon Bazira (RIP), who served as Director of Intelligence, as Chair of the Security & Defence Parliamentary Committee, and as State Minister of Lands, Waters and Mineral resources in Uganda from 1981-85. Gen. James Kazini (RIP) was commander of the Uganda people's defense force, Lt Col Jet Mwebaze (RIP) a commander within the UPDF. Other notable Basongora include the Noble Sirasi Kisankara (RIP), The Prophet Yombo Yowasi [RIP], the Rwabukurukuru family in Sheema, Wilson Isingoma, Boaz Kafuda, Prof. Mbabi-Katana, Enoch Rukidi, Kosia Mpazi, the Rwamashonje family, the Rwakashamba family, Yefesi Saiba, and Ananais Mulumba.
Songora society is strongly pastoral. Cattle motifs form an important part of the language. Cattle have an important place in the imagination, poetry and art of the community. The disciplines required in the management of cattle have a great import impact on the diet, health and appearance of the Songora. Age determines seniority in social relations, and men and women are considered equal. The Songora are generally monogamous. Traditionally the Songora were monotheistic.
The Songora reacted to a tetanus epidermic in the 1880s by requiring everyone in the community to remove the four front lower teeth, as a means to force-feed medication to victims of the disease. When the epidermic ended, many Songora continued with the teeth removal even though it was no longer necessary in the era of syringes and other means of treatment.
In recent decades the traditional Songora territory has yielded interesting artefacts that are of great value to general human history. The Ishango Bone is one of the items that was found in Songora territory. While the Eastern Arm of the Great Rift Valley located in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania has yielded the greatest amount of ancient human fossils, the northern portion of the Western Arm of the Rift Valley - home of the Songora - remains largely unexplored, although it appears to contain important fossils. The lack of exploration has been caused by the high level of war and civil conflict in the region.
- "Rwenzururu kingdom accuse government of siding with Basongora". Ugpulse (Ultimate Media). 2 August 2012.
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