’Let Them Go’ (Part One)

Part XXIV of these series is a speech that President Museveni made on July 12, 2005 on the occasion of the referendum for opening of political space in Uganda. In the first section of this speech, titled ‘Let them go (Mubaleke Bagende), Museveni traces the history of governance in Uganda:-

Dear countrymen and women,

I have come here, today, to address you on the question of the referendum that is due on the 28th of July 2005.

Before I talk about the referendum, let me give you a brief history of the peoples of Uganda, their fortunes and misfortunes in governance over the centuries and the recent minimum recovery, superintended over by the NRM.

Even before 900 AD, a number of areas that are now Uganda and parts of our sister neighbouring countries such as Tanzania, Congo, Rwanda, etc. were living under varying degrees of centralised administration. By centralised administration I mean having a government beyond the clan.

Some of the earliest records have been recovered through archaeological work at areas like Ntutsi and Bigobyamugyenyi in Sembabule district as well as areas like Hippos’ bay, near Entebbe and Omuunsa, near Mubende. The carbon-dating of cattle bones and pottery pieces (engusyo) recovered from some of these areas by archaeologists from Britain shows that by 900 AD there was a very large settlement, bigger than the city of London at that time.

Folklore confirms these archaeological findings. If you take the whole of western Uganda, including much of West Buganda as well as parts of Tanzania and Rwanda, the communities talk of three dynasties: Abatembuzi, Abachwezi and, then, the more recent dynasties such as the Kabaka of Buganda, the Babiito in Bunyoro, Tooro, Busoga, Bunia (DRC) and Kooki as well as Bahinda in Ankole, Karagwe, Buhaya, Bujinja (in Tanzania), etc.

Our communities evolved a very sophisticated civilisation in terms of language, culture and governance. Although the rulers could, in some instance, be despotic, nevertheless, some achievements in terms of stability were achieved at different stages.

The only great weakness of these traditional rulers was their inability to get together to confront the foreign invaders when they came to this area after 1850 AD. The coming of the foreigners was prophesied or predicted, especially by a sage from Karagwe, Tanzania, known as Kakara-ka-Shagama, Kamango, Katondagira ka-Rukunyu. He, for instance, said that this area would be invaded by abatetonderwa (people who cannot recognise your ancestry – in other words foreigners or strangers).

Since he was coming from the Bahinda-controlled area of Ankole – Karagwe – Buhaya (in Tanzania), he asked the princesses of that area (Bahindakazi) the following question: “Enyungu ku erisya yaatukura akabunu, muryagiteruzaki?” – How will you remove a red-hot cooking-pot from the fire-stones since you are not used to working with your own hands?”


There were also other wise-men who had made very wise exhortations. One such wise-man was called Jejere from Buha (the area of Tanzania near Kigoma). Unfortunately, our rulers did not get together when the time came for the foreigners to, actually, invade our land.

Mwanga and Kabalega tried to form a common front but belatedly. It was too late. They were all taken into captivity in the Seychelles. Mwanga died there and Kabalega only came back to Uganda in 1923 only to die in Jinja before he got back to Bunyoro.

Once the foreigners had taken over this area, they planted a new seed of poison. Our people had been in touch with the East African coast for millennia through long-distance traders known as Balungaanwa (Waungwana – freed slaves). Apparently, these were, mainly, Wanyamwezi from Tabora in Tanzania. They would bring merchandise from the East African coast and take back ivory.

The first non-black person to come to Uganda was an Arab, Ahmed Bin Ibrahim, in 1844, during the reign of Kabaka Suuna in Buganda. The first European to come to Uganda was Hannington Speke in 1862. The Church Missionary Society (CMS) came to Uganda in 1877 and the Roman Catholic Society (RCS) came in 1879.

Killing each other:

As you can see, both Islam and Christianity were introduced into Uganda in the second half of the 1800s. What is amazing, therefore, is that by 1890, Ugandans were killing each other on behalf of the new concepts of looking at God. One God was not a new concept to the Ugandans.

Our Baganda people called God “Katonda” w’obutonde ow’e Namakwa, Kyaggwe. Apart from one God, there were the spiritual mediums of our ancestors that interceded for us with Katonda. These spiritual mediums were specialised in terms of roles. The spiritual mediums were called Lubaales – Balubaale.

There would be Lubaale of the lake (ennyanja), the one of war, etc. The Banyankore, Banyoro, etc. called God “Ruhanga” – the Creator. The Acholis adopted the Runyakitara version with a slight variation by calling God – “Lubanga” (Ruhanga). Therefore, the concept of one God was not new.

What was new to our people was that God had sent his son Jesus Christ to come and intercede for the human race and that a Prophet known as Muhammad had brought a message from God. Since these events had taken place in the Middle East in the two previous millennia, the Africans in our area had not heard about them. They, however, independently, had developed the concept of one God – Katonda, Ruhanga, Lubanga, etc.

What was new, however, was the narrow-mindedness of the new preachers (the Christians and the Moslems). Their intolerance and narrow-mindedness was not only in conflict with the teachings of their religions as written in the Bible and Qur’an, but were in marked contrast with the practices of these areas of ours.

As can be seen from the fraternal and sisterly tribes of this area, these communities are both close and different. Many of the dialects are not only close but mutually intelligible. However, the customs, the foods, etc, are quite different. The peoples of the lakes eat fish, chicken, bananas, some forest animals, etc. Some of the savannah peoples such as the Banyankore would have nothing of most of those.

They would not eat fish, chicken, many of the wild animals, etc. Instead, they would drink milk, eat meat, eat coagulated blood meal (enjuba, oburingiri), eat cow-ghee, etc. Some of the Banyankore would, in addition, eat millet and bananas apart from greens and pulses. Some of the highland people like Bakiga would eat sorghum and peas.

Others, like the Acholis, would eat simsim, millet, wild animals, etc. What was remarkable, however, was the symbiosis. While a Munyankore would not touch fish (they called it ekijongoma – something wriggling) or chicken, they would, gladly, keep the chicken in case his Muganda friend came by to eat it nor would he mind if his Muganda friend fished in the nearby swamp for enshoonzi (mud fish).

On the other hand, if a Muganda had cattle and a poor Munyankore came along, he would gladly relinquish the cattle to the latter for safe-keeping knowing he had more skills and interest in relation to the livestock. That was the spirit. Live and let live.

It is, therefore, totally alien to the heritage of this area to see intolerance in relation to other groups. In fact the intolerance was more within respective groups but never between the groups. Wars, where they occurred, were being caused by the rulers on account of greed. Otherwise, the societies were inclined to a symbiotic existence.

They would conduct barter trade (okuchurika) among themselves. They would specialise in different trades: textiles (engoye, emyenda, etc) from the coast by Balungaanwa embugo, ebitooma (bark cloth) by Bakooki medicine would come from the Bahaya good hoes from Bunyoro canoe-making was a speciality of the Baganda, etc.

However. this system of tolerance and symbiosis was replaced by intolerance. Within 13 years following the arrival of the first Christian faction (CMS), there was a religious war with Ugandans killing each other on behalf of God. These religious wars were as follows:

Religious Wars in Buganda (1888 – 1893)

When Mwanga II ascended the throne in October 1884, he found the Baganda already divided into four distinct religious-political groups:-

Traditionalists, composed of the old chiefs inherited from Mutesa I, together with the traditional religious leaders and the majority of the ordinary Baganda who were still practising their traditional religion in Buganda.

Muslims were, apparently, the gest foreign religious group. Mutesa I had embraced Islam and observed Ramadhan for 10 years (1874 -1884) during which period Islam had become more or less the state religion.

Protestants whose CMS missionaries worked hard to convert Mutesa I, as well as members of his court. They began to teach their followers reading and writing and to impart technical skills.

Roman Catholics who also wanted the king and his court to embrace Catholicism and created a lot of confusion because they claimed to be different from the Protestants but they followed the same Jesus Christ.

All the parties worked very hard to have the young Kabaka Mwanga II on their side. The group that Mwanga alienated first was the traditionalists and he took every opportunity to plunder and humiliate its leaders. He developed a close relationship with the young pages at his court, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants alike.

These young pages soon divided their loyalty between their devotion to their king and to their religious leaders and divided their time between the capital and the mission headquarters at Lubaga (Catholics) and Nateete (Protestants). Mwanga was unhappy about this. He resented the growing influence of the missionaries in Buganda and moved quickly to punish the pages.

In January 1885 he had four of them, led by Yusufu Lugalama, burnt at the stake in Busega and followed this up by ordering the execution of Bishop Hannington who was coming to Buganda through Buganda’s backdoor (Busoga) which was not allowed by the superstitions of the Baganda. The real reason, however, Hannington was executed was the fear that the missionaries were intent on strengthening their grip on Buganda possibly to the detriment of her sovereignty.

In spite of the executions, the pages continued to read, (okusoma) and Mwanga had 46 of them rounded up in June 1884 to be executed. Some of them perished at the pyres of Namugongo others like Henry Nyonyintono were castrated and forgiven others like Appolo Kaggwa were severely beaten up and wounded with spears others like Ham Mukasa ran away and lived in hiding in the remote parts of the country.

Taking on the king:

These young men who had embraced new foreign faiths, emboldened by the support of the missionaries, who were privy to whatever they were planning, decided to take on their king if and when he tried to kill them again.

Mwanga, who was increasingly becoming fearful of Europeans for their anticipated retribution for the death of Bishop Hannington, became increasingly uneasy about the relationship between his pages and the missionaries. He, therefore, decided to move against them and planned to maroon them on Nsazi Island in Lake Victoria, The plan was leaked and when they were gathered at Entebbe, they refused to sail, rebelled against their king who fled to Magu, Kiziba in Tanzania.

The three parties, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants then rallied around Prince Kiwewa and made him their king. The Muslims, who were by far the gest party, attempted to have Kiwewa circumcised to embrace their faith, but when he refused, he was dismissed within 30 days.

Catholics and Protestants were driven out and power taken over by Muslims on their own account with a Muslim Prince Kalema as their King. Both Catholics and Protestants sought refuge in Nkore. They were given asylum by King Ntare V of Ankole when they reported to its capital at Nyakakoni near Mbarara (1888). Kabaka Kalema threatened to invade Ankole, but Ntare dared him to do so.

From Kabula, the Christian fugitives established contact with Mwanga, after Kalema had killed Prince Bamweyana who they attempted to smuggle to Kabula so that they may rally around him and fight their way back to Buganda and to power.

While in Tanzania, Mwanga fell under the influence of the Protestants and although both Catholic and Protestants worked together to restore Mwanga to the throne in October 1889, there was a lot of mistrust between them, each party wanted Mwanga to embrace their faith. It is at this time that the Catholics party assumed the Bafalansa (French] and the Protestants the Bangeleza (English) labels a reference to the countries where their religious leaders came from.

This polarisation was deepened by the arrival of the real colonialists Jackson, Dr Karl Peters and, later on, towards the end of 1890, Capt Lugard. The British declared Buganda to be within the British sphere of influence and Karl Peters, a German, declared Buganda to be under Germany and signed a treaty with Mwanga to that effect.

However, the spheres of influence were defined by the two countries, Germany and Britain, in the Anglo-German Treaty of 1890, putting Buganda within the British sphere of influence.

In spite of the Anglo-German Treaty, the Catholic missionaries preferred either Germany or France to take charge of Buganda and influenced their followers in that direction. Protestant missionaries coming from Britain wanted Buganda to belong to Britain and all were caught up in the sticky web of colonialism. So, politics and religion were now fused.

The first shot:

It is not clear who fired the first shot at the Battle of Mengo on 24th January 1892, but the British used the Maxim gun against the Catholics and were clearly on the side of the Protestants who drove away Mwanga and his mainly Catholic supporters from the capital. They made a last stand on Bulingugwe island where they were defeated. and fled to Kiziba (in Tanzania) and Buddu.

Appolo Kaggwa took charge in Buganda, assisted by British officers of the Imperial British East African Company (IBEAC). Buganda was without a king for 66 days. In the meantime, the Muslims tried to make a comeback from their bases in Bulemezi and Singo but were unable to take aantage of the void to restore Kalema to the throne.

Kaggwa was unable to declare a republic because the Baganda could not countenance non-monarchical leadership and, therefore, negotiations went ahead to restore Mwanga II to the throne, once more. There were no eligible princes at this time because Kalema killed almost all of them, including princesses as well because he feared that since the British monarch was a woman, the Baganda could also take on this custom and crown a woman king.

Hence, Kaggwa and his victorious Protestants party invited Mwanga back to the throne. The Catholics, under Stanislus Mugwanya, now bargained for the office of katikkiro and won. For the first time in the history of Buganda she had two prime ministers, Apollo Kaggwa and Stanislus Mugwanya. They also added Mawokota county onto their domain of Buddu and a passage was arranged for them to the capital, Mengo. These compromises ended their rebellion.

The Muslims were not yet done. They solicited support of their co-religionists, the Sudanese soldiers, brought along from Tooro by Captain Lugard under the leadership of Afendi Salim Bey. However, Captain Macdonald successfully disarmed the Sudanese soldiers and dispersed the ringleaders in June 1893.

Prince Nuhu Mbogo was banished to Zanzibar, Salim Bey to Egypt (but died on the way) and other Muslim leaders to Kikuyu (Kenya). That ended the Muslim rebellion and marked the end of the religious wars in Buganda.

These so-called “religious” wars were, in fact, not religious at all. They were colonial. The British were manipulating the newly- converted Church of Uganda the French were manipulating the new converts in the Catholic Church and the Moslems were being manipulated by Turkey through Egypt and Zanzibar.

The effect was to plant seeds of Northern Ireland-like-sectarianism involving Catholics, Protestants and Moslems so much that when the political parties started in the 1950s, they automatically took on the character of that sectarianism. DP was for the Catholics, UPC for the Protestants and KY for only Baganda. This sectarianism was, partly, responsible for the coming into power of Amin and for his stay in power for eight years.

To be continued…

Source : The Observer

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