Was Colonialism Good for Uganda?

Was Colonialism Good for Uganda?

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Was Colonialism Good for Uganda?

Introduction The past is another country, where it is only possible to go as a tourist, and which we will never fully understand. We can describe what we see, but it is far more difficult to know why people acted in the way they did, or what they believed, and why they believed it.

Uganda too is another country, which did not even exist before the white man went there. Even the name reflects the ideas of the first explorers, whose gateway into the new territory was via the Buganda tribe, whom they were later to use as their colonial agents as British rule was extended.

Those who 'discovered' Ugandan and the source of the Nile which the first explorers were seeking - men such as Speke and Stanley - and the soldiers and administrators who came after them undoubtedly believed in the superiority of European culture in a way which we today would consider unacceptably racist. Although they were impressed by the sophistication of Bugandan society, they implicitly assumed that Africa was more backward than Europe, that Africans would benefit from exposure to Western standards and practises, and of course from Christianity. To a degree this allowed them either to justify or even to suppress what now looks to be the crude reality that their underlying agenda was the extension of British influence, the promotion of British commerce, and the expansion of the British Empire, all without reference to the actual wishes of the Ugandan people. But then, even in Britain at thattime, democracy was a new idea and many people, including women, still did not have the vote.

Having said that, many Ugandans would today accept that their country had at some stage to be brought into contact with the modern world, and even that they were comparatively lucky in being colonised by the British rather than by, for instance, the Belgians whose brutal rule in the Congo was far crueller than that of the British Protectorate in Uganda. Moreover, the fact that the arrival of the British in Uganda was not accompanied by the theft of African land for white farmers - as it was in Zimbabwe or Kenya - meant that some of the bitterness and resentment felt about European rule in some African countries was not a feature in Uganda. So race relations, even today, are more relaxed in Uganda than in many parts of the Continent.

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In this project I have tried to explain the history of the arrival of white men in Uganda, and how this process left some important fault lines in Ugandan society which were to haunt the newly independent stage once the British had left.

Can the Victorian explorers who first came to Mutesa's tent be blamed for what was to happen a hundred years' later? Even if they could, what would be the point of doing so? It seems to me that the best we can hope to do is to try and understand how and why things happened, in order to try harder to think about what might be the cultural assumptions with which we see the world, and which the future will surely find to be similarly strange and foreign.

For one day we shall be the past, the inhabitants of another country for those who will look back and wonder why we acted in the way we did, what we believed, and why we believed it. The beginning of foreign intrusion- Kabaka Mutesa- King of the Baganda
By 1800, the tribal groups in the country we now call Uganda were fairly cut off from the outside world.. But in the mid-19th Century the first Swahili-speaking slave traders arrived on the East Coast of Uganda. Their leader was a man called Ahmed Bin Ibrahim. He soon made contact with the dominant regional power, Buganda . Buganda at that stage was ruled by a man called Kabaka (i.e. King) Mutesa, who allowed Ibrahim to operate from Kampala, the capital. Mutesa even collaborated with the traders in slave-raiding parties in the neighbouring regions. But soon Ibrahim, although claiming he had merely come for business purposes, tried to impose the idea of embracing Islam upon Kabaka Mutesa, and more Arabs arrived in Buganda.

After 1850 Europeans started to trickle into Buganda and the region. The first was John Hanning Speke who came in 1862 in search of the source of the Nile.

It is important not to be too romantic about life in the Kingdom of Buganda when white men arrived. When Speke showed Mutesa how guns worked by shooting four cows, Mutese gave a rifle to a page and asked him to test it by shooting a man in the outer court, which the page promptly did. From Speke's account, nobody around Mutesa even bothered to ask who had been killed.The discovery of the source of the Nile prompted interest in the area from Egypt, which feared that the source could fall into hostile hands given the importance of the Nile for the economic life of Egypt. But attempts by the ruler of Egypt, Khedive Ismail, to incorporate the source of the Nile into the Equatoria Province of the Egyptian Empire were thwarted by Mutesa and the Bunyoro King Kabelaga, who defeated armies and Egyptian agents such as Samuel Banker. The Buganda and the Bunyoro had long been rivals for supremacy, but found themselves as partners in the effort to resist colonialism.The final blow to the Egyptian scheme was eventually to be delivered by the Mahdist revolt in the Sudan (included in the Egyptian empire since the 1820s), which effectively blocked Egyptian advances into Uganda.

But by this stage Islam had started to take root. Indeed, Kabaka Mutesa had half-heartedly welcomed this faith although he had resisted actual conversion. There ensued conflict between the Muslims and Mutesa in 1867, leading to the burning of many Arabs. These were the first of many Ugandan martyrs.

When Henry Morton Stanley a Welsh (but pretending to be American) explorer reached Buganda in 1875, Mutesa asked him to arrange for Christian missionaries to come to Buganda. It is highly unlikely that Mutesa knew exactly what he was doing. His principal aim was probably that the Christians would bring guns with them which he could use to ward off the Egyptians.Stanley wrote a letter to Britain appealing for Christian missionaries to be sent to Buganda. This received an immediate response, with generous financial donations pouring into the coffers of the Anglican missionaries of the Church Missionary Society who arrived in Uganda in 1877 as the first group of Christian missionaries. Two years later they were followed by the Catholic White Fathers lead by Father Lourdel who was called by the Bagandans 'mapera'. But the separate Protestant and Catholic missionary efforts sadly set the stage for some of the religious conflicts to come. Mutesa and his courtiers were bewildered by the two sets of white men each claiming to represent a brand of Christianity more valid than the other.

When Kabaka Mutesa died in 1884, his son Mwanga was a volatile head-strong teenager who took the throne just as the complex religious rivalries in Buganda were building to a climax. Things were getting out of control. The Muslims, Catholics and Protestants had turned themselves into incipient political parties and were competing for political influences around the royal family and the court noblemen.

The Muslims took advantage of their longer stay in the country and argued to Mwanga that the actual intentions of the Christians were not religious but to colonise Buganda and take the land. Mwanga therefore decided to stop any Christians entering Buganda. When he heard that Bishop Hannington was about to arrive in Buganda, Mwanga ordered that Hannigton be killed before he reached Buganda. He also tried to prevent the Baganda people from attending the missionaries' classes, but many of them resisted his efforts. In February 1886 he had a few of them burned to death at Namugongo, followed by a mass burning of Christian converts in June that year, many of them roasted on a spit. This move misfired badly, since instead of turning away from Christianity the Baganda sought to be baptised in growing numbers. Mwanga was increasingly disturbed by the religious activities in Buganda and planned to chase away from his kingdom all foreign religious groups. But he failed, and in fact his plot to chase themaway provoked open rebellion against him by the two Christian groups and the Muslims. In 1888 Mwanga was overthrown.
But as soon as Mwanga had left the scene, the Christian-Muslim alliance broke up The Muslims staged their coup by installing a Muslim- Kalema - as the Kabaka. Hostilities ensued between the Muslims and the Christians, with the Christians forcing the Muslims to flee from Kampala, the capital of Buganda. The Christians groups then rallied behind their former persecutor Mwanga and finally managed to overthrow the Muslim regime in 1889. Mwanga was reinstated but real power had actually passed to the Christian leaders who had a huge influence over the people.

The British take over. The above events were happening against the background of an increasing scramble for Africa by the major European powers. The Congress of Berlin had decided in 1885 that the whole of Eastern Africa was to be a German and British sphere of influence.

Trading companies were therefore formed to claim areas of East Africa on behalf of their respective countries . The Germans moved fast and made several treaties around Mount Kilimanjaro and within areas on the Tanzanian coast. The British also plunged into the race but fearing that the Germans might get ahead of them they pressed for an Anglo- German agreement which was signed in 1886. This agreement practically gave Kenya to Britain and Tanganyika to Germany. Neither the British nor the Germans asked the local people for their views.

The 1886 agreement left the question of who was to take over Uganda unsettled, and, conflict soon arose with the German agent, Carl Peters concluding a treaty of protection with Mwanga. Peters achieved this with the support of the French Catholic missionaries who hadhelped to put Mwanga back on the throne. The British worried that the German government might make Peters' protectorate official, and so engaged in some frantic diplomacy leading to an Anglo-German agreement in 1890. Under this agreement, the British gave the Germans - at that stage dreaming of building up their naval power - an island called Heligoland in the North South (only about three miles around, a barren rock covered with seagull droppings), in exchange for the Germans giving up any claim to Uganda, or Zanzibar or Equatoria (about 100.000 square miles of Africa in all), which would become British protectorates.

Captain Lugard of the Imperial British East African Company (IBEA Co) was the pivotal figure in the establishment of real British rule. He arrived in 1890 and started to work out a way of colonising the whole of Uganda. Immediately, when he arrived he concluded a treaty of protection with Mwanga.

The Bunyoro remained a significant obstacle. From 1869 Kabalega, the ruler of Bunyoro, had re-organised his forces and embarked on the reconquest of lost territories that had once belonged to him. By 1890 Kabalega ha already chased away Kasagama of the Kingdom of Toro, who fled to Buganda.

Lugard moved on to Toro to restore Kasagama, and then he turned his attention to Ankole. He returned to Buganda in 1892 only to find that the Protestants and Catholics - with the Muslims now defeated -had fallen out. Lugard intervened on the side of the Protestants giving them the guns to ensure their victory .Thereafter Buganda was carved up along religious lines. The Catholics were given Buddu, the Muslims retired to Butambala and Gomba and the Protestants took the counties near to and surrounding the town of Kampala. Unfortunately, these religious divisions were to be replicated elsewhere in Uganda as British influence spread.

By 1982, the IBEA Co. was already in financial difficulties . The company threatened to pull out of Buganda unless the British government built a railway to link from Uganda to the coast. The debate in Britain was whether to retain Uganda or not. In 1892, Sir Gerald Portalwas sent to Uganda to assess the country's potential, to see if Uganda was worth colonising. The key point was that African countries like Uganda were primarily seen in terms of their economic potential for the imperial power. There was indeed some relucatance in Britain to occupy Uganda because at first there did not seem to be an obvious material advantage in doing so. But the other argument used by those wanting to control Uganda was that the presence of the source of the Nile in that country gave it strategic importance both in relation to Egypt and the Suez Canal through which ships sailed to the jewel in the imperial crown, India. Moreover, there was concern that if Britain did not occupy Uganda, someone else would - most probably France - thus putting wider British interests at risk.

Portal actually arrived in Buganda in 1893 and made a favourable report and in 1894 Uganda was formally declared a British Protectorate.

But still the situation in Uganda was not calm, Colonel Colville, who was sent out as the Acting Commissioner to Uganda in 1894, had many problems to resolve. His first task was to contain the Bunyoro ruler Kabalega who had chased away Kasagama from the Toro throne for a second time. In 1896 a combined force of Sudanese, Baganda and British soldiers defeated Kabalega and chased him from his capital at Mparo. In order to gratify the Baganda part of the Bunyoro land was given to Buganda. These so-called 'lost counties' were to remain a hotly disputed political issue into the early days of Uganda's independence.

But in 1897 trouble broke out again when the Bugandan Kabaka Mwanga, unhappy with his new subordinate position, rose against the British and joined Kabalega in the swamps of Langa. On top of that, some Sudanese soldiers who had been engaged by Captain Lugard revolted against being overworked and underpaid..

The British called in Indian regiments stationed in Mombassa and defeated the Sudanese soldiers. They then proceeded to capture Kabalega and Mwanga, and sent them into exile, first to Kismayu then to the Seychelles Islands where Mwanga died. Kabalega waseventually allowed to return in 1923 but he died in Busoga on his way home to Bunyoro.

The troubles with Kabalega, Mwanga and the Sudanese soldiers meant that the British had to spend more money than they expected putting down the various revolts. As the British tax-payers were bitterly complaining, the British Government sent Sir Harry Johnstone as a Special Commissioner to Uganda to look into the situation, to devise ways through which Uganda could pay for administration, and to seek a permanent alliance with Baganda thereby making them contribute to the colonisation of the rest of Uganda. Sir Harry Johnstone arrived late in 1899. His discussions and negotiations with the Christian leaders and the Baganda chiefs in 1900 led to signature of the Buganda Agreement in that year.

The Buganda Agreement of 1900 Although this Agreement was to be the cornerstone of the British presence in Uganda, it only concerned the British and the Buganda.
The Agreement fixed the boundaries of Buganda for the first time, including the two 'lost counties' taken from the Bunyoro in 1896.

The Kabaka was allowed to continue ruling Buganda, but his decisions were to be subject to approval by the British Commissioner resident inUganda. The Bugandan Parliament - the Lukiiko - was confirmed as Buganda's legislative body and its membership was fixed at 89.
All land in Buganda had previously belonged to the Kabaka. But now it was split into crown land on 'mailo'land. The Kabaka and his chiefs, particularly the Protestant ones who had helped the British, benefitted from this agreement and many became successful landlords, charging high rents for their tenants.

On the financial front, the Agreement also introduced hut-tax and gun-tax, so as to finance the running of the protectorate administration without burdening the British tax-payers. From the British point of view, the introduction of these taxes had the added advantage of pushing local farmers into cultivation of cash-crops such as coffee and cotton in order to pay their taxes.

The establishment of British rule Having put down roots in Buganda, the British moved quickly and established their rule over Toro, Bunyoro, Ankole and Kigezi. The task of 'pacifying' the east was effectively done for them by Semei Kakungulu, a Muganda general who had joined in the wars against Bunyoro and had played a big role in the final capture of Kabalega and Mwenga.

Having got hold of the central region, the west and the east, the British moved slowly towards the north. Very slowly - in 1906 indeed they decided not to incorporate territories north of the Nile into Uganda partly on the grounds of the cost and effort which would be required to subdue the northern tribes. But this policy was reversed in 1911, and by 1919 the British had finally completed the conquest of present-day Uganda.
The British had few men at their disposal to rule Uganda. They therefore preferred to use a system called 'indirect rule'. This meant that they ruled through the traditional chiefs of some tribes, mainly the Buganda whom they often posted in other parts of Uganda in a sub-imperialistic role. The Bugandan system of government was therefore transplanted to other parts of Uganda, even those without such a tradition of kingly rule, while Buganda itself was run as a privileged state within a state. This caused considerable resentment against the Buganda agents. Indeed, in 1907 the Bunyoro rose in revolt against the Buganda agents. Over time, the British realised that this system was not sustainable, and after 1920 they replaced the agents with local people. But the memory of this period was to endure, particularly in Bunyoro where there was also continuing ill-feeling over the 'lost' counties.Uganda was generally calm between 1920 and 1938, although Africans were excluded from real political power. In 1921, the colonial government set up a Legislative Council. But this only represented British and Asian interests. The main cause of dissension with the Buganda was over land, with the landlords who had benefited from the 1900 Agreement exacting heavy rents, but these concerns were in the main met with the passage of legislation in 1927 to control the rents on such 'mailo' land. The British also relied on a growing number of Asians as middle-men to run the economy. For instance, in the cotton industry, only Europeans and Asians had the right to own cotton jineries - Africans were forced to remain as merely the growers of the raw produce.
But for all its flaws, the administrative system which was imposed upon Uganda gave indigenous Ugandans far greater autonomy than was found elsewhere in British-ruled Africa.

From the African point of view, the good news was that the protectorate government discouraged white farmers from settling in Uganda as they had in Zimbabwe and Kenya. However restricted the role of Ugandans in the economy, many regions nevertheless attained a high degree of economic self-sufficiency, the Local Government Ordinance of 1949 which divided Ugandan into 18 districts gave considerable powers to local African administrators.

The churches remained mostly responsible for education, with the result that children tended to grow up within a Protestant or a Catholic environment, a division which was later to be reflected in the formation of Ugandan political parties. The Muslims were very much a third, and underprivileged, class.

The area which suffered most from British policy was the north, which was neglected in terms of education and never provided with the transport links which would have enabled farmers to export their products to other parts of the country. So the people of the north were forced to send their children south in search of work, and they became a source of recuits for the army and the police force.The build-up to independenceThe demand for independence after World War II was slow to build up in Uganda compared to other African colonies. This was probably due to a number of factors, including the lack of widespread European settlement to act as a trigger for resentment, and also to the fact that the status quo rather suited Buganda's Protestant elite. Uganda's first anti-colonial party, the Uganda National Congress (UNC) was not founded until 1952.

The first serious call for independence came from an unlikely source - the unpopular Kabaka Mutesa II who in 1953 defied the British by vigorously opposing the proposed federation of Uganda with Kenya and Tanzania. Behind this was Bugandan concern that federation would mean the loss of their special status and dominance by Kenya. When the Governor of Uganda refused to give Mutesa any special guarantees regarding a special status for Buganda in such a federation, Mutesa demanded independence for Buganda alone. The Governor then exiled Mutasa to Britain. This made the Kabaka a very popular figure, for standing up to the British, and in 1955 he was allowed to return and to sign a new Buganda Agreement giving him and his government even greater federal powers. Sadly, Mutesa did not use his popularity to help unify Uganda, but continued to focus only on questions such as Buganda's status which only reinforced the fault lines in Ugandan politics.

The country's first important political party, the Democratic Party (DP), was founded in 1956 by a Catholic Bugandan called Matayo Mugwanya. Mutesa had rejected him as a candidate for the Prime Ministership of Buganda because he was a Catholic, and the DP became a platform for the grievances of Catholics who felt themselves to be second-class citizens.The formation of the Uganda People's Union (UPU) came in 1958 when for the first time a quota of Africans was elected to national level government. It was an alliance of non-Baganda leaders, and it merged in 1959 with the non-Baganda element of the older UNC led by Milton Obote, who came from the north of Uganda, top form the predominantly Protestant Uganda People's Congree (UPC). The Baganda element of the UNC combined with members of the federal government of Buganda to form the pro-Protestant and pro-Buganda Kabaka Yekka (meaning 'Kabaka forever', KY).

Independence The stage was set for the tragedy which was to follow Ugandan independence. The DP won the pre-Independence 1961 elections (largely because of a boycott by the Baganda) and their leader Benedicto Kiwanuka became Prime Minister when Uganda was granted self-government in March 1962. But an alliance between the UPC and the KY, based on their anti-Catholicism, gave them victory in the elections which came shortly afterwards, and it was Milton Obote who lead Uganda to independence in October 1962 as Prime Minister, with the Kabaka as head of state..

Uganda at independence was therefore fragmented along religious and ethnic lines, with Buganda having full federal status while the other kingdoms only had semi-federal status, and the rest of the country - including the north - was linked directly to central government. Moreoever, Obote's majority in Parliament was based on an alliance with the Baganda which was based solely on religious grounds. All in all, the situation was decidedly frail.

The issue which tested the new state was the old one of the 'lost counties' of Bunyoro. In 1964, Obote decided to settled the question by holding a referendum in the counties, to ask the people whether they wanted to be part of Bunyoro or Buganda. Inevitably, almost 80%voted in favour of Bunyoro, causing a serious dispute between Obote and the Kabaka and the end of the fragile alliance between the UPC and the KY.
Obote remained Prime Minister because enough DP and KY politicans had defected to his party for him to retain a Parliamentary majority. But continuing tensions between Obote and the Kabaka caused a Constitutional crisis in 1966 when Obote overthrew the Constitution, and stripped the Kabaka of his role as head of state. When the Kabaka appealed to the United Nations to intervene, Obote sent his army - led by an officer called Idi Amin - to attack the royal palace. The Kabaka fled, but several of his supporters were massacred.

Obote then pushed through a new Constitution, making himself Life President and abolishing the Kingdoms, and giving the army unlimited powers to detain people without trial. Faced with continuing Bugandan resentment, Obote had to rely more and more on force to stay in power. He appointed Amin his Army Commander. In 1969 Obote banned the DP and other political parties. He was deposed by Amin in 1971, while in Singapore for a Commonwealth Conference. The main reason seems to have been that Obote was accusing Amin of stealing $4million from the military budget.
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