Written by Robert Ilukol
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The Iteso King papa Emorimor born on 12the August 1934 whose kingdom is recognized among the eleven by the constitution of Uganda, Article 246 that provides for the institution of traditional Cultural leaders, he talks about his kingdom, the challenges it faces and how it can be sustained in the globalized world. Robert Ilukol in an exclusive interview with him unearths truths behind the kingdom.
IIukol: Emorimor Papa Iteso, thank you very much for sparing some time out of your busy schedule to have this interview.
Emorimor Papa Iteso: We are always happy to receive visitors in that we also do our public relations. So you are most welcome to my kingdom.
Ilukol: How has your kingdom evolved since its inception?
Emorimor Papa Iteso: I must tell you that the Iteso are an egalitarian society. They do not have kings in their culture, but we have had a segmentary system of governance right from the time the Iteso separated out Abyssinia 700 years ago.
That system of administration was based on the clan and the clan represented the full governance of the people because the clan leader was elected by the people of that clan in order to ensure that the clan’s property is ensured and it lived harmoniously with the neighboring clans.
The idea of having an overall leader who would combine all clans is a new phenomenon because the institution of Emorimor which I hold now was at clan level. Each clan had its Emorimor.
The institution has taken time to evolve this is because it’s alien and secondly the selection of who will lead was contentious until the constitution was drawn to ensure that the person to occupy the thrown was elected by the clans and his term of office was determined and that he is not succeeded by his own sons or daughters.
Ilukol: Does it mean it’s rotational?
Emorimor Papa Iteso: Yes. It’s rotational around all the clans. After my time, anybody else who is Etesot, has the interest and the desired qualities can become Emorimor.
Ilukol: Emorimor Papa Iteso, what are the characteristics one should have so as to hold your office?
Emorimor Papa Iteso: First of all you must be a wise old man - breaks into laughter- I don’t mean I am wise but this are some of the things needed. One should at least be sixty years of age. We believe that the older you are, the wiser you become and that you have gathered enough experience to lead your people to live harmoniously and peacefully.
Ilukol: This year marks sixty years since her Majesty the Queen of England Elizabeth the 2nd ascended to the throne. How do you compare your Kingdom and her Monarch?
Emorimor Papa Iteso: (keeps quite a bit) we are very far from the monarchy. As I said the iteso are essentially an egalitarian people. In other words we believe in inequality of men. So whoever occupies the office is elected.
Ilukol: Can a woman be elected to the throne of the Iteso?
Emorimor Papa Iteso: Women are in the disadvantaged position in the sense that each time a woman is married, she adopts the clan of the husband and as a result the woman really cannot be elected because her clan is not certain. So it’s a man’s job.
Ilukol: What are some of the challenges facing your subjects?
Emorimor Papa Iteso: As I said the institution is new and alien. It’s about ten years old.
The inkling for the institution of Emorimor began much earlier at the arrival of the colonial government, but regional loyalties militated against the appointment of any particular person.
As I said the Iteso had a segmentary administration based on the clan and even for purposes of security, the clans would combine to form a confederacy in the event of external aggression , so you would find that the clans were obliged to maintain good relations amongst themselves as a result there was no need for one overall leader. In fact even the Iteso themselves were skeptical about the need for an overall leader. This was one major challenge.
The Iteso have had a rather rough time in the past 30-40 years. There have been wars in the area. There have many problems that have affected them because at the time of the arrival of the colonial government, the Iteso were very stable people. They were wealthy, they lived happily and peacefully. They were singled out as a model for the rest of Uganda.
At that time there were only 18 districts in the country and Teso was one large district. Now it’s divided into several smaller districts.
In the last thirty or so years we have had a lot of problems, we had so many insurgencies, Lords Resistance Army, LRA and before that we had Lakwena and cattle rustling.
Teso district had the largest cattle herd in the whole country almost a million herd of cattle in the 60’s and 70’s but during the livestock census in 1994 the cattle population was less than 50,0000. You can see, we had a very rough time and as a result the urge for an overall leader to guide the people became strong. This is when the institution was accepted in the 1990’s.
Ilukol: How do you fund your activities?
Emorimor Papa Iteso: The institution is supposed to be financed by its own members, but in the situation where the members are impoverished obviously they are unable to finance their institution.
This makes us depend on donations from well wishers, we prepare projects and get funding through NGO’s or even government projects.
We also receive government grants. For instance the government has been donating a car to the Emorimor. Government has also been paying some honorarium to Emorimor to enable him to maintain himself.
None the less, we have released that the only way to maintain the institution is to enable it to have income generating activities which will enable it have its own finances thus becoming viable.
Finally we have introduced a commercial arm of the institution – Iteso Cultural Development Foundation ( ICUDEF) which is now writing up projects which can be financed. It’s based under the company law and as such can operate under company’s act.
Ilukol: Can your kingdom propose to the central government ways on how to levy tax on your subjects for its maintenance?
Emorimor Papa Iteso: The constitution does not allow cultural institutions to levy taxes. The institution of Emorimor is entirely voluntary and nobody is forced to be subjected to it.
Ilukol: Would it have been more autonomous had government given it more clout?
Emorimor Papa Iteso: No. You see with the devolution of democratic governance, you may invite more problems by forcing. Its better it remains voluntary rather than compulsory for people to pay allegiance to it.
Ilukol: Some kingdoms for instance the Buganda one their budget is in billions of shillings.
Emorimor Papa Iteso: Buganda kingdom is in a special position. The headquarters of the government of Uganda is based in Buganda and its using a lot of assets of Buganda kingdom so the government is obliged to compensate Buganda kingdom for use of those assets. Its different with us, we don’t have that kind of situation.
Secondly, Buganda kingdom had a relationship with the colonial government, which gave them power over land. You have heard of Mailo land that is free hold land, but it’s held by the Kabaka (King of Buganda) and the people who occupy that land are supposed to pay what is called Busulu ( a form tax) to the Kabaka and that is another source of income.
Thirdly, the Buganda kingdom has existed for centuries and its loved by the Baganda and nobody can try to tamper with that.
Our kingdom is just slightly over a decade and it came with the constitution of 1995. That constitution encouraged the creation of the cultural institutions where the people so wished to have them.
Ilukol: Your kingdom cuts across two countries. How does that feel to rule over two countries?
Emorimor Papa Iteso: It’s all over the history of Iteso. We migrated from Abyssinia others moved along the Nile. The Turkana’s are our relatives; we have the Donyiro’s in Ethiopia and Sudan, the Sewu in Sudan all those are our relatives.
Ilukol: The Iteso language is nearly facing extinction. What are you doing to revive it?
Emorimor Papa Iteso: In fact that is one of the reasons why the institution was created, because without a language you cannot have the Iteso. We have worked with the ministry of education to develop suitable curriculum for teaching of Ateso at Primary, Secondary and in tertiary institutions.
You can get a degree in Ateso, the only problem is that we do not have teachers yet who can teach. We also need a lot of literature in Ateso. We are encouraging many people to write books in Ateso. (The Ugandan Government owns a daily publication in Ateso- Etop.)
Ilukol: In your own opinion as Emorimor what is the future of this cultural institutions since the Western countries are pushing for democracy in nearly all aspects of life?
Emorimor Papa Iteso: Fortunately ours is already democratic because Emorimor is elected by all the clans of the Iteso.
I was elected in 1998 and during the elections there were over 2,000 delegates here in Soroti from all parts of Uganda where the Iteso are and Kenya was well represented.
The constitution has changed a bit and is subject to change according to the needs of the people. I believe that depending on how successful we are I know its an uphill battle, the youth of today are more interested in Western culture than in our culture. But we believe the Iteso are what they are because of the cultural traits that were developed by our foe fathers.
Ilukol: You say you were elected in 1998. How long is your term and when is it due to expire?
Emorimor Papa Iteso: I should have relinquished office after five years but the constitution was changed. They said it shouldn’t be like a political office where you stay for five years and go but they said let him be there until he dies. …jokes a bit…I don’t know when am dying, but there is a provision that if I become too tired because of age or whatever I can step down and another one elected.
Ilukol: Emorimor Papa Iteso, would you call that democracy, where you are elected but you rule until you die or get incapacitated?
Emorimor Papa Iteso: Pauses for a while…..Well it depends with the institution. What do you call democracy? It should be rotational all the time?
Ilukol: How many clans take part in the election of Emorimor?
Emorimor Papa Iteso: The Iteso have had seven basic clans from time immemorial but there has been very many subdivision of these clans due to migration and squabbles among clans. You can imagine had we remained seven clans as it were, it would have become too difficult to marry because we do not not encourage in breeding. So these divisions have occurred and extended the horizon of clans and now we have over 100 clans.
Ilukol: There has been a very low uptake of family planning particularly vasectomy by your subjects in Kenya. What is your take on family planning?
Emorimor Papa Iteso: (Laughs abit) as a cultural institution we object to all the unnatural for instance same sex marriages. Those we object to obviously. It’s abomination, you are called a wizard in our culture and a wizard is not a good element in the community. Those are rejected.
Now these other things that are medically driven, we have to be flexible because science is developing and is coming up with new ideas all the time as such we cannot fight those but we object to things that endanger our values
Ilukol: So you support family planning?
Emorimor Papa Iteso: Prolonged laughter …I see what you mean, but I don’t have very strong views on methods used on family planning.
Family planning is a good thing because if you have a family of fifteen to twenty children and your income are not enough to look after two or three children that is disastrous. We want to encourage a family which is well brought up according to our traditions and citizens who can contribute to the development of the country.
Ilukol: Emorimor Papa Iteso, there is an ongoing campaign on voluntary circumcision for males aged 15 to 49 years of age. The campaign targets the Iteso amongst other communities. Do the Itesot’s circumcise and if they don’t thus the practice erode your cultural values?
Emorimor Papa Iteso: We do not circumcise traditionally, but as you are aware there is a government campaign through the ministry of health to let the males take part in circumcision. They say it reduces incidences of HIV infection, but I don’t know to which extent it reduces.
Ilukol: Do you encourage your subjects to take part?
Emorimor Papa Iteso: This is a government program so we do not have any objection to it.
Ilukol: Kenya is scheduled to have its general election in a year or less time. What is your message to your subjects particularly in Kenya?
Emorimor Papa Iteso: The most important thing the institution stands for is unity. Just a couple of weeks ago I was in Kenya, we lost the retired Bishop Eliud Okiring. I was there at the funeral service and my message was the Iteso should remain united because its with unity that they can achieve anything. And unity does not mean they should be antagonistic to anybody else no. Unity means they have their aims and they should concentrate on those aims to achieve them.
Ilukol: How close are you to your subjects in Kenya?
Emorimor Papa Iteso: We have very close relation with Kenya; in fact some areas of mother Teso complain that Emorimor is more a Kenyan creation because I have been visiting Kenya more frequently. I was there for the Bomas of Kenya to mention but a few.
Ilukol: Anything else that you would want to put a cross?
Emorimor Papa Iteso: If we follow our cultural values, even governance at the central level will be easier because the Iteso culture teaches people to be humble, obedient, honest and to be hardworking. These are the basic characteristics of Iteso culture and if people follow these basic principles they will be very useful citizens to the country and because of this government has found it necessary to cooperate with us because where we are functioning well they don’t have problems also.
We believe that the Western world has brought us a lot good things education to mention but a few but they also have their faults which we should not allow to adulterate our own culture and value system.
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