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Mbale: Four injured as police disrupts Imbalu ceremony

Imbalu is a ritual, practised among the Bagisu communities in the Elgon region to signify the cultural transition from boyhood to manhood.

Four police officers and two civilians have been admitted in hospital after sustaining injuries from fierce clashes between the police and local youth who were holding a circumcision ritual ceremony in Manafwa district on Saturday.

The injured currently admitted at Mbale regional hospital include officers; ASP David Wakasero, the officer in charge of Kaato police station in Manafwa district, Sgt. Okiriya Ochom, Cpl. Kasakya and David Bameka as well as two civilians; Rogers Welikhe and Bernard Shimanya.

The police officers had stormed Bunekesa village in Manafwa district to disperse thousands of people who had thronged the village to engage in the imbalu initiation ceremonies. Imbalu is a ritual, practised among the Bagisu communities in the Elgon region to signify the cultural transition from boyhood to manhood.

Groups of people came from the clans of Bunabutsale, Bumukhama, Butuwa, Bumukari, Bunamalota and Bunapodi in Manafwa and Bududa districts and converged at the cultural grounds commonly known as Namboole in Bunekesa village on Saturday for the ceremonies, despite a ban on public gatherings amidst the outbreak of COVID-19.

The cultural ground is where all the rituals between different clans are held as they prepare the Bagisu boys into the general circumcision celebrations which are due for next month at Mutoto Cultural Grounds in Mbale.

But the situation slipped into violence when the crowds became rowdy and ignored the directives issued by the officer in charge of the area to disperse. Police used tear gas and live bullets to disperse the defiant crowd. Eyewitnesses say that the police officers used up all the bullets and teargas that they had and later surrendered to the crowds.

Elgon Region Police spokesperson Rogers Taitika says that as the officers surrendered, the people turned against them and started pelting stones injuring four of the officers. He said that in the process, one of the community members was also hit by a stray bullet and another by a stone. Taitika said that police have already launched a manhunt for the ring leaders of the mob.

“What caused the clash was that our officers were responding to block these guys from continuing with the planned imbalu session and in the due process, these guys saw that they were against them and they had to turn violent.

That caused them to stone our officers, and actually the officers had to fire some bullets, and like I told you, a stray bullet had to get one and is also undergoing treatment. They stoned them on the head and actually sustained serious injuries,” said Taitika.

Sam Kamoti, a resident of Bunekesa village said that the police officers who were on the ground were overwhelmed by the numbers of people at the grounds. He said that although the whole incident happened in Bunekesa village, the people who participated were from the neighbouring villages who had come to witness the ceremonies.

Jackson Weboya, another resident says that the police tried talking to the people at first, asking them to disperse but they did not listen. He said that although the police in Manafwa had allowed the residents to continue with the ceremonies, their colleagues from Bududa did not allow the event to take place, which sparked off the clash.

Isaac Matanda, a former cultural leader of one of the clans regretted the incident. He said that the cultural and local leaders of the area had been stopped from converging but the youths from different parts of Bududa and Manafwa district insisted on holding the event. He, however, faults the police for taking on the youth well knowing that It didn’t have the required manpower.

Manafwa district resident commissioner Ahamada Washaki condemned the actions of residents saying all activities that bring crowds of people including the imbalu in Bugisu were suspended as a measure of mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

Washaki added that those intending to get circumcised should do it scientifically under the standard operating procedures as put by the ministry of Health.

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