HISTORY How Buganda became politically insignificant

How Buganda became politically insignificant

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Recently, Ssaabasajja Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II complained bitterly that the Buganda Kingdom had disappeared from the maps of Uganda while the other constituent parts of Uganda retained their identities.

It is this humiliation that the Baganda have been subjected to since 1890 when Captain Frederick Lugard signed an agreement with Ssekabaka Mwanga II.

The genesis

Mwanga II, Kabaka of Buganda (1884-1897) resisted the imposition of British colonial rule, was deposed and exiled to British Somaliland and from there to the Seychelles, where he died in 1903.

Since the loss of the Buganda War of Independence, the institutions of the Buganda nation have been heavily shackled and the monarchy, the glue that held Buganda together, emasculated and even abolished (1966-1993).

Lawyer and author Apollo N. Makubuya captures this in his book, Protection, Patronage, Or Plunder? British Machinations and (B)Uganda’s Struggle for Independence (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2018).

In this seminal and groundbreaking study of Anglo-Buganda and Uganda-Buganda relations, the author taps hitherto unused Foreign and Colonial Office (FCO) and the recently released “migrated files” to lay bare the secrets and inequities of British imperialism.

More than ever before in the writing of the colonial and post-colonial history of Buganda, Makubuya deploys his legal arsenal to great effect in explaining the colonial “agreements” and the human rights environment during the colonial period and after.

According to Makubuya, British colonialism in Buganda was premised on patronage and plunder, “protection” being the justification for the occupation. The British were so enthused by their protection charade that they dubbed their colony the Uganda Protectorate. But by whatever name, colonies are colonies and nothing else.

Frederick Lugard; Kabaka Mutesa II monument
Frederick Lugard; and right, a monument in remembrance of Kabaka Mutesa II on Speke Road in Kampala. PHOTOS | MONITOR ARCHIVES | MORGAN MBABAZI | NMG

In the 19th century, Buganda was a confident regional superpower that did not need anybody’s protection. However, the kingdom was drawn into the international economy and became exposed to the world.

Europeans, too, were looking for pickings from Africa and it became prestigious and economically wise to acquire chunks of territory in Africa and for the last quarter of the 19th century European countries, especially Britain, France, Italy, Germany and Belgium were engrossed in the Scramble for this virgin territory.

The European countries needed a neat operation in Africa and signed several agreements among themselves to prevent rivalries. To conquer their assigned parts of Africa, the British used local resources wherever and whenever possible.

Buganda, which began to receive and entertain Arabs, Europeans and Indians from the 1840s onwards, became aware of the Scramble and the possible consequences.

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Early signs

Ssekabaka Mutesa I noted in the 1870s that the foreigners were up to no good and were coming to “eat my country.” So he tried his best to play one group of foreigners against the other. He was not aware of the diplomacy they were engaged in in Europe to grab chunks of Africa peacefully.

In a letter published by explorer and historian Henry Morton Stanley in the Daily Telegraph in November 1875, Stanley claimed that Mutesa I was inviting the British to his country.

But if true, which British was he inviting to Buganda? He was inviting technical personnel, first and foremost, because he had been impressed by European goods, especially their guns; he was also inviting teachers because he was impressed by their “talking” pieces of paper. He definitely was not inviting foreigners to rule Buganda. He was keen to maintain the integrity of Buganda as an independent nation.

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By 1890, Buganda was divided into four groups all contesting for power — Muslims, Catholics, Protestants and traditionalists. These are the divisions that Lugard exploited, siding with the Protestants, and establishing their hegemony in Buganda after the Battle of Mengo in January 1892.

That great imperialist, Bishop Alfred Tucker, who was on the ground in Buganda from December 1890, is quoted by the author on the missionary contribution to British imperialism:
“…the history of missionary works of the Church of Uganda is inseparably bound up with the political history of the Protectorate of Uganda as a development of the colonial policy of Great Britain.”

If religion had not divided the Baganda, they would have given the British short thrift and in any case, Lugard would not have trumpeted “protection” because given a unified Buganda, the Baganda would not have needed British protection and neither did Lugard have the means to confront a united Buganda.

But with these divisions, the British established Protestant hegemony and protected them against the other groups of Baganda.

Buganda Kingdom map
The Uganda map showing the Buganda Kingdom. PHOTO | MORGAN MBABAZI | NMG

Although by 1900, the collaborating chiefly oligarchy the British had created and made wealthy through the allocation of the booty and land, thought everything had been wrapped up nicely, they then had to contend with the remnants of the Mwanga II resistance and later with the child-Kabaka Daudi Chwa, who would not remain a child forever. The problem was how to deal with the Uganda monarchies and the Buganda monarchy in particular.

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Mwanga had been deported, banished and died in exile. A 13-month old baby was put on the throne, given a British tutor and came under the thumb of Sir Apolo Kaggwa, the leading British collaborator.

Now what Kaggwa and his ilk needed was the further emasculation of kingship when Chwa came into the age of majority in 1914. As the author shows, Kaggwa tried to achieve this through a British administrator — Postlethwaite, a district commissioner for Mengo.

The author quotes Postlethwaite:
“I received a visit from Apolo very early in the morning when he offered me what seemed a very unholy alliance, promising me support for my selection of chiefs and indeed for almost everything else, if I would afford him my support for keeping His Highness the Kabaka as a titular non-entity who should in no way interfere with the executive powers of his Katikkiro.”

The problem with Chwa and his son and successor, Mutesa II, was that they were on the side of the people — who abhorred British rule as much as they abhorred the rule of the “over-mighty chiefs.” The British did not promote dialogue with natives; the natives’ role was to obey the dictates of British colonialism.

So they would do to these kings what they did to Mwanga II.

In the 1930s, Sir Bernard Bourdillion (1932-1935) wanted Chwa II (1897-1939) to “visit” Seychelles (meaning exile).

In August 1939, the deposition of Chwa II was considered and approved because he did not co-operate with chiefs and the Protectorate government but before the deportation plan could be executed Chwa II died in November 1939.

Mutesa II (1939-1967), it was determined by Sir John Harthorn Hall (governor, 1945-1952) was sympathetic to the people during the failed revolution of 1945. So Sir John arranged Mutesa II’s first exile to Cambridge University (1945-48) to remove him from “bad” revolutionary company and apparently to Anglicise him. The exile did not achieve the desired results and Mutesa II’s people attempted another revolution in 1949, shortly after his return from Cambridge. And when Mutesa II demanded Buganda’s independence in 1953, he was deported to Britain where he stayed until the end of 1955.

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A picture of Kabaka Mutesa and his heir, Ronald
A picture of Kabaka Mutesa and his heir, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II, shown proudly at a stall at the Buganda cultural exhibition in Lubiri. PHOTO | MORGAN MBABAZI | NMG

Escalation

Taking the governor’s lesson seriously, first president Milton Obote, an erstwhile ally attacked Mutesa II in his Mengo Palace in 1966 to kill him and “solve” the “problem” for good but Mutesa II escaped and ended up again in exile in Britain.

Why had the monarch of Buganda become a problem to be dealt with decisively?

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Mwanga II had fought to maintain the sovereignty of Buganda, nor were Chwa II and Mutesa II enthusiastic about the colonial project, Uganda and Mutesa II said so openly.

From the 1920s when the idea of an East African Federation was mooted, Baganda, including the chiefly oligarchy colonialism had spawned in 1900, were opposed to the project. Serwano Kulubya, a member of the oligarchy, addressed a joint committee of the British parliament in 1930, an address so powerful that the idea of federation was shelved.

After World War II, there was rapid decolonisation and by the 1960s the British Empire qua empire was breathing its last.

The problem for Buganda now was: How was it to operate in a British construct called Uganda, when the British left?

There were two solutions: One, exit Uganda and retain the evolutionary and 700-year old construct called Buganda; or two, suffer the 68-year old construct called Uganda.

Since 1900, Britain has used patronage and the opportunities it offered the chiefs to plunder Buganda to contain the situation.

The “protecting agreements” especially the 1900 agreement that offered the chiefs much wealth and “power” had become also sacrosanct by the 1950s.

The oligarchy still deluded themselves that British protection against Uganda was still on the cards. It is unfortunate that the Baganda believed in alliances to deliver their interests.

The Anglo-Buganda alliance did not deliver the protection the Baganda had hoped for; the UPC-KY alliance was a mere marriage of convenience which the clever Obote used to take power in 1962; the armed alliance between Yoweri Museveni the rebel and the Baganda ended in frustration.

Milton Obote being sworn in, in 1962
First prime minister and later president of Uganda, Milton Obote being sworn in, in 1962. PHOTO | MONITOR ARCHIVES | NMG

But why?

In all these alliances, Baganda were the junior partners, always believing that the senior partners would deliver. But this has not been the case. So for the past 128 years, the Baganda have been betrayed and humiliated by their allies. But they never learn their lessons.

Makubuya tells us that Sir Andrew Cohen’s mandate (1952-1957) was to prepare a unitary, self-governing and eventually an independent Uganda. Up to 1952 indirect rule and divide-and-rule was the prevailing policy.

That rule was based on the districts of Uganda, except for Buganda, which was too big to be a district. Now suddenly these various parts of Uganda were being told that they had to become one political entity.

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