Origin of ICOB
In Kigezi N’Abantu Bamwo [Kigezi and its People], Mr. Paulo Ngorogoza 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”, Mr. Ngorogoza wrote his book in 1967. His reference to Bakiga alone was because they were predominantly the ones who had migrated from Kigezi to other lands such as Nkore, Toro and Bunyoro in the preceding two decades. Had he been writing today, Mr. Ngorogoza, one of the most visionary leaders Uganda has produced, would have addressed himself to all Banyakigezi and all Ugandans who have left their homelands.
Mr. Ngorogoza, the chief architect of the massive resettlement of Bakiga in Nkore, Toro and Bunyoro that began in 1946, believed that one did not cease to be a Munyakigezi or to have an obligation to Kigezi simply because one had moved to other lands and better opportunities. Once a Munyakigezi, always a Munyakigezi.
Fulfilling the vision
Not that Banyakigezi needed to be told to give back to their communities. It is within their character to give and to support their kinsmen. Nevertheless, the uniqueness of Mr. Ngorogoza was that he articulated and documented his vision of maintaining strong linkages between the Banyakigezi in the Diaspora and those in Kigezi.
Had he been alive today, Mr. Ngorogoza, who died in 1983 at the age of about 86, would be smiling with pride and satisfaction that numerous sons and daughters of Kigezi have heeded his message over the last four decades. Banyakigezi who went to work in Kilembe Mines in Toro, on farms in Buganda and in factories in Kampala, Lugazi, Jinja, and Kakira remitted large sums of money which built better houses, educated children and provided better standards of living to their families back in Kigezi.
Many Banyakigezi who settled in cities such as Kampala, Entebbe, Jinja and Nairobi built beautiful houses and started businesses all over Kigezi. This provided employment to construction workers in Kigezi; made it attractive for these expatriate Banyakigezi to go home on a regular basis, thus injecting money into the Kigezi economy; and boosted the morale and pride of Banyakigezi as they witnessed development in their midst.
Likewise, many Banyakigezi who settled in lands as far away as Britain, Canada, South Africa and the USA became major financial supporters of their families and communities through periodic remittances.
Many built houses or started businesses in Kigezi, while others shared knowledge and expertise with their counterparts on the ground in Kigezi. Nonetheless, challenges remain.
The visitor to Kigezi today is impressed by the number of houses with corrugated iron or tile roofs, even in villages that did not have such in the 1960s and 1970s; the growth of urban centres like Kabale, Kisoro and Rukungiri; the increased number of primary and secondary schools; new tertiary education centres; and other visible manifestations of our people’s hard work.
Yet Kigezi’s challenges remain enormous, including a high population density; poor basic education; a high functional illiteracy rate; poor performance in national student examinations; a poorly skilled labour force; emergence of new diseases, especially HIV/AIDS and malaria; declining agricultural productivity; worsening nutritional and other indicators of health; environmental degradation; lack of appropriate technology; alcohol and other drug dependency; poor access to market opportunities, partly occasioned by Kigezi’s geographic location very far away from the commercial centre of Uganda; poor road transportation; and lack of major central government-funded projects since the late 1960s.
Furthermore, the dispersion of Banyakigezi to distant lands has caused an erosion of their unique and great culture. Many Banyakigezi, especially those living outside our homeland, have forgotten their cultural practices and values. The younger generations of Banyakigezi stand the risk of assimilation into other cultures.
Recognizing these and other challenges, a number of Banyakigezi in North America began to express the desire to organize themselves into a strong and sustainable forum through which they could protect and promote their culture; network and support each other; and contribute to the socio-economic development of Kigezi.
They believed that while their culture of rugged individualism had enabled them to achieve a lot, the results of their individual efforts were unlikely to be sustainable without a collective and coordinated approach.
In 2002, a group of Banyakigezi in Toronto agreed to form the Kigezi-Canada Association Inc. [KCA], and immediately proceeded to organise the first international convention of Banyakigezi, held at the Delta Chelsea Hotel in owntown Toronto from July 3 to 7, 2003.
Banyakigezi from different ethnic communities [Bakiga, Bahororo and Banyarwanda], different religions and different political leanings and visions came together in fellowship. The delegates agreed to form an organisation to be called the International Community of the Banyakigezi [ICOB].
ICOB’s mission would be to promote the culture and socio-economic development of Banyakigezi in Uganda and in the Diaspora
ICOB would be a non-profit, non-partisan organisation. It would consist of an apex international organization with strong regional chapters.
Full membership would be open to all Banyakigezi who paid a membership fee. There would be associate membership for non-Banyakigezi who supported the mission of ICOB.
The organization would also build partnerships with other entities, such as the Bafuruki Organization in Uganda, on the basis of projects or programs mutually acceptable to the parties.
The dream of forming ICOB became reality during the weekend of July 2-4, 2004, when over 170 people from Britain, Canada, Denmark, Uganda and the USA, gathered in Washington DC for the second annual convention of Banyakigezi.
The main outcomes of the convention were the formal launch of ICOB and the Kigezi Education Fund, and a collective agreement to mobilize the international community of Banyakigezi towards a common goal of service to our homeland.
The purpose of the Kigezi Education Fund would be to support vocational training of young Banyakigezi, especially graduates of primary and secondary schools, in order to enhance their employability in the region and to offer investors in Kigezi a readily available pool of well trained artisans.