Uganda Since Independence: A story of Unfulfilled Hopes.
Colonialism: A Bible in One Hand, A Gun in the Other.
October 9,1962 will forever be a historic year in Uganda for it was when the country gained independence from Great Britain. It would be worthwhile to explore the story behind from the beginning by my recollections of Uganda Since Independence: A Story of Unfulfilled Hopes, a book by Ugandan political historian Dr Phares Mutibwa.
According to the book, the first documented arrival of Europeans to the inland Uganda of the “Dark Continent” was a visit to Buganda kingdom 100 years before independence in 1862 by the Royal Geographical Society explorers John Speke and James Grant. They were looking for the source of the mysterious River Nile- the longest river in the world that appeared to emerge from downstream and poured into the Mediterranean sea through Egypt. Many historians hold that their visit was more of a geographic importance than political.
The next European to step in Uganda was the American-Welsh journalist and explorer Henry Morton Stanley who had become a celebrity in the Western world for his Central Africa adventures stories in the media.
It is Stanley who first told Kabaka Mutesa I of Buganda about Christianity and charmed him so much; the King wrote the famous letter that he couriered and was published in London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper in November 1975 asking Queen Victoria to send missionaries to his kingdom to teach his people the new Christian religion and “Western Knowledge.” The historian Phares Mutibwa notes that the Kabaka’s motivation should be seen in the context of the prevailing political atmosphere at the time.
His kingdom was under immense threat of a looming invasion by Egypt which was expanding down south to dominate the Nile regions and a tribal war with its historical archival Bunyoro Kingdom.
Another letter written by Stanley was published by the newspaper calling on missionaries to go to Buganda a week after Mutesa’s. Three months later the Protestant Church Missionary Society in England had raised enough funds and the first missionaries led by C.T Wilson set off from England arriving in Uganda in June 1877. They would be followed two years later in February 1879 by Father Lourdel ‘Mapeera’ and Brother Amans of the French Roman Catholic missionaries’ order of White Fathers.
Both groups based at the King’s court and started their missionary work around the Kingdom. It wasn’t long before religious disagreements erupted. These would quickly escalate into political disagreements and widening divisions among the faithful resulting into the full scale ‘battle of Mengo’ in 1892.
When the home countries of Britain and France backed their church group in what in Uganda became known as the Wa-Ingleza and Wa-Fransa wars; it became apparent that the battle was beyond religion and was now about the sovereignty of Buganda. The British Protestant group would emerge victorious with the effort of soldier and machinery Capt Frederick Lugard; a new order was established sowing the first discord among the elite and peasantry society where power was shifted from kinship to which religious denomination one subscribed to.
The Catholics despite their numerical strength were relegated to the bottom together with the Muslims even further down though they ironically wielded considerable power in the 1800s due to the coastal Arab influence prior to the arrival of Europeans. According to Dr Phares, this is partly because the Muslims did not emphasize modern education but studying the Koran while Christianity promoted modern western education and as a result, their children with little education would become milk carriers, traders and butchers in the new British Protectorate.
It is this civil war of 1892 that caused Lord Rosebery, British foreign secretary, to formally declare Uganda a British protectorate on Monday June 18, 1894!
The Extension of British Rule Outside Buganda.
Throughout the nineteenth century, Buganda had fought with it arch enemy Bunyoro kingdom even assisting its clans of Toro and Ankole ward off the Great Bunyoro-Kitara Empire. Naturally, the British during their expansion out of Uganda sided with Buganda to suppress and deflate the ‘hostile’ Bunyoro.
The British used Baganda to fight and conquer Bunyoro rewarding them BIG with what has become known as the six lost counties sowing eternal discord between the two kingdoms for the contested area contained the burial sites or former kings of Bunyoro. The British used Buganda agents to extend their rule all over Uganda mainly due to lack of financial resources and the manpower. In most places they faced resistance like in the North and East while in the South and West like Toro and Ankole it was calm. Local Chiefs in Buganda became land lords overnight for their role in building the Pax-Britannica for example Samei Kakungulu was awarded chunks of land Eastern Uganda and established his own town in Mbale.
In 1900, the Buganda agreement was signed with the British conveniently letting the king of Buganda rule over Uganda on their behalf with complete loyalty to the British monarchy. The King, Daundi Cwa II was only fours old; he had ascended to the throne in August 1897 aged just one year following the deposition of his father Kabaka Mwanga II by British Forces for resisting colonialism. The reagents who sealed the agreement deal were awarded chunks of land tilting the customary land hold in Buganda.
In 1884–5 at the Berlin conference; the imperial world powers did not look at the peoples but at mountains, rivers, lakes, resources to divide people up in different states. These were different ethic groups, with dissimilar levels of socio-economic development being hoarded into the new political geographies called African states to date. That is how you got the former Presidential aspirant Aggrey Awori be a Ugandan and his brother former Kenyan Vice President Moody Awori be a Kenyan- same family. But was the colonial policy of divide and rule.
The Colonial Outlook
Once the Kingdom of Buganda had firmly established the British rule. The armed forces that helped expand this rule were suddenly not required and the Baganda were all disarmed by 1905. Instead, the colonial government reserved security forces recruitment for the Northern and Easter tribes saying the Baganda were too short and not physically up to the task as compared to the Northern Nilotes and Semi Hermites tribes. These were the most marginalized regions of Uganda in terms of economic development at the time and unsurprisingly to date.
Being in the armed forces became despised by the people from the Southern regions and was seen as a thing for the uneducated and under privileged. The Southerners joined civil service and private businesses as the Northern and Easterners joined the army, police and prisons. This is also still unsurprisingly the general composition of these institutions in Uganda to date.
The British economic, social and educational policies accentuated divisions in Uganda. According to Phares, the Southern region which entrenched colonialism was rewarded with development of the best schools, hospitals, cinemas, sports facilities, infrastructure etc. while the other regions only provided labor as suitable to the South. Economic activity soon thrived disproportionately in Uganda; both the commercial center Kampala and administrative center were in Buganda. Through cash crops and patronage, the Southern bourgeoisie were the first to build permanent house, see movies, own bicycles and cars all virtually non existent in other regions until the late 1950s.
The most remarkable disparity was in the field of education, in 1922 when the first University in East and Central Africa was started, all the students were Baganda and some courses were taught in Luganda. According to the author, by 1920 there were already 328 elementary schools in Buganda and non in the north. The Southerners were eager to edge out the rest and still the match ahead of them.
In 1921 the first Legislative Council (Legco) was set up, only made of Asians and Whites. Many Africans did not even know of its existence. It was until 1945 that the first 3 Africans were nominated to it. Later the major kingdoms were to be represented by the Prime Minters, Eastern region by district secretary generals, Buganda’s Katikiro was to be a permanent representative while Northen Uganda was completely ignored.
The biggest beneficiaries of these schemes were the colonialists of course, followed by Asians who had become the affluent middlemen in trade and commerce Then agents of the state ate well too but the indigenous common wanaici gained the least or nothing. The pillage of Uganda’s resources will take long to calculate.
The Road Towards Independence
Across Africa, the first nationalist movements that articulated African grievances were based on tribal rather than nationalist basis rightly because there were no nations then. But the politician of the 1950s could be to blame for not looking beyond their tribal noses according to Phares. By the 1930s, the first movements were formed not to fight colonialism but to minimize its effects. The Young Baganda Association was the first known politically active organization formed by urban workers as a welfare association but would also give political views of its members. The Baganda Bataka Party like other teachers, taxi drivers, traders, farmers unions also articulated issues of grievances of the common man in Uganda fitting in their niche.
The first riots of 1940s were the first signs of resistance, but the Baganda did not see their political destiny as that of Uganda till the early 1960s. So you had all political organizations fighting for the right of Baganda. All through colonial policies viewed Uganda through Buganda’s lenses, though it was clearly stated in the 1900 Buganda agreement that Buganda would remain a province in a united Uganda.
Between 1945–49, more riots broke out across Uganda calling for the deployment of African King Rifles Army. It was the first major rise of the working class against the ruling oligarchy (Asians traders and Colonialists) including the Kabakaship according to Marxist theorists. They wanted more representation in the Lukiiko, right to elect own chiefs, gin cotton and freely trade internationally. These were aptly quashed by the state and had no support outside the working class and the larger Uganda population.
The first political party however was the Uganda National Congress (UNC) formed in 1952. Shortly after, one the most defining moments in Uganda was a development in 1953 known as the Kabaka Crisis- the deposition and deportation of the Kabaka from his kingdom.
By 1952 when Andrew Cohen was posted to Uganda as its colonial administrator, the Kabaka Edward Mutesa II had lost so much popularity and his rule that was characterized by the 1945–49 riots against his Mengo establishment. He was looking for a cause to reinvent his authority and himself and that chance came in 1953 when the British announced the formation of the East African Federation like the one just formed in West Africa. Kabaka Mutesa not only out-rightly reject the proposal but also demanded that Bugnda’s affairs be transfred from the colonial office to the foreign office and that the British draw up a time table for Buganda’s independence from Uganda and Britain.
When he refused to a sign a document accepting the Federation proposal with a clause that stated that Buganda would remain a province of Uganda, he was dethroned and exiled to Britain by the colonial government.
This mistreatment and deportation of the Kabaka was greatly condemned by the western kingdoms; Busoga, Lango and Acholi even sent delegations in support of Buganda. Many historians note that at the time most of these Ugandans did not even understand the issue that led to the Kings downfall but that solidarity was driven by the spirit of the nationalism and unity in the face of the common enemy- the foreigner. How would the Kabaka embrace this opportunity for Uganda’s unity for independence.
The author writes it well … ‘What Kabaka Mutesa should have done upon his return from exile in 1955 was to tour Uganda expressing his gratitude to all who had contributed to his return, demonstrating that he realized that the cause of Buganda was the cause of all Uganda; and that If all were to unite the struggle against British colonialism would end in victory.”
However, what did the Kabaka do upon landing from England? He cocooned himself in Mengo surrounded by extremists, loyalists, conservatives isolating himself from the mainstream modern political and popular nationalism sweeping across African states agitating independence. Mutesa II failed to unify the forces of change and let himself get hijacked and imprisoned by a minority conservative oligarchy bent on secession which other politicians outside Mengo had seen as a dead end immediately the British shredded and threw it out of the window in 1953. Buganda would return in fold not out of its own desire but forced by circumstances beyond its control in the 1960s.
In contrast, when Jomo Kenyatta returned to Kenya from exile in 1946; though a leader in the Kikuyu tribe he looked beyond his tribal frontier and famously said ‘in order to to win their freedom, the Kikuyu had to unite with other tribes.’ It is also said Botswana’s King Seretse Khama and future president met Mutesa in exile (himself in exile) and cautioned him that the new wave of Pan-Africanism and Nationalism was sweeping across Africa and it would need monarchies to unite in their states with other tribes to preserve their cultures and peoples in this radically transitional times. Mutesa dint respond.
In 1954 the Bagnda Catholic elite formed the Democratic Party to fight for “Peace and Justice,” All members of the first executive committee were Baganda and Catholic. The following year the Progressive Party was formed by old students of Budo Kings College uniting successful civil servants and entrepreneurs, all protestant, all Baganda party just like DP, also all Budo and was not a big force.
In 1958, elections were called and the Baganda refused to participate. After this the Uganda Peoples Union was the first political party formed by some LEGCO representatives from outside of Buganda as an anti- Buganda party. This party would later merge with the another anti-Baganda faction of UNC to form the Uganda People’s Congress as a result of continuous infighting within UNC.
Apollo Milton Obote, with a humble beginning found himself the leader of the first National Political Party in Uganda in 1960. Now there were two very powerful political parties one Protestant (UPC), the other Catholic (DP) both against the Buganda Mengo Establishment excessive demands for independence.
In 1961, fresh elections were called by the British; that the Mengo again was against. The Baganda Catholic based DP swept almost all the seats in Buganda and Benedicto Kiwanuka its leader emerged as the first non-executive Prime Minister of Uganda.
Now, the clock was ticking fast on the conservative Mengo oligarchy and something had to be done to ‘pay’ the Baganda DP for going against their kingdom and Kabaka. Mengo formed the Kabaka Yekka (KY) party but with a real possibility of now the sworn Mengo enemy, the DP coming to power at independence very imminent; KY found the most unpredictable ally in UPC just to stop DP. Every historian has called this a marriage of convenience that Mengo that also disliked UPC in equal had to make for the sake of its continuity. They had made several concessions including granting Buganda a federal status- a semi-autonomous system of governance, that UPC honored.
Indeed, when the general elections were held in Uganda on 25 April 1962 in preparation for independence on 9 October, the first National assembly of Uganda had the UPC take 43 seats, the Kabaka Yekka 24 seats and the DP 24 seats. The DP leader and Prime Minister dint even make it to house losing his seat in Kampala.
Apollo Milton Obote as leader of UPC became Prime Minister and led Uganda to Independence; with the Kabaka of Buganda Sir Edward Mutesa II becoming the first President of Uganda.
Newly independent Uganda was made of the Kingdoms of Buganda, Toro, Ankole, the territory of Busoga and the districts of Teso, Acholi, Madi, Sebei, Bukedi, Karamoja, Lango, Sebei, Bugisu and Kigezi all represented in parliament.
Milton Obote, a commoner and ‘outsider’ by all standards from an under privileged region had risen to he helm of Ugandan politics. The new government inherited a gazillion problems from the colonial government, weak unprepared institutions, a poor peasant society, the unresolved very contentious issue of Bunyoro’s lost counties all capped by the Pan Africanist movement sweeping across Africa and the looming cold war between the western world super powers seeking dominance.
All these set stage for political disputes ahead that would be settled by more concessions and military fire. Despite the murky future, the face of the new Uganda was painted by the over confident young politicians from the Prime Minister Obote (37 years), President Kabaka Edward Mutesa II (38years) and his Mengo elite, such influential politicians like UPC secretary general Grace Ibingira (30years) and Masaka Lord Mayor John Kakonge (32), Commander of the new Uganda Army Shaban Opolot (36 years) and his Deputy army commander Idi Amin Dada (35years) and army officers like Pierino Okoya and Tito Okello; other prominent personalities were William Wilberforce Nadiope from Busoga, Peter Oola and Daudi Ochieng from Acholi and Felix Onama from West Nile.
The prevailing internal and external climate and the personalities of these individuals would define the complex political maneuvers of their time and define the sad Ugandan story after independence as we know it today.