Yoga Adhola’s article on the Buganda question which appeared in the Sunday Monitor of December 23 2012 under the heading “Fifty years after our independence: What is the Buganda question?” makes the mistake of answering the question from a sociological and cultural standpoint instead of treating it as a constitutional impasse and it is necessary to correct Adhola from a historical perspective.
Historically, the Buganda question concerns the existence, in the Uganda protectorate, of two types of administrative systems based on a central province (Buganda) which was a traditional political unit on the one hand and districts as units which were ethnically and administratively fragmented on the other.
Apart from creating these administrative structures, the British made no attempt to develop the country as a nation-state until the 1950s and as such Ugandans got used to their separateness as a people. The Buganda question became prominent as soon as it became necessary to fit the kingdom into the scheme of a future nation-state.
When Sir Andrew Cohen became governor of the protectorate in 1952, he had the ambition of incorporating Buganda into an eventually independent, African nation governed under a unitary system of government. To this end he reached an agreement with the Kabaka of Buganda in March 1953 in which Buganda agreed for the first time to send representatives to the legislative council.
However, Cohen’s masters in London seem to have had different plans for the country for soon afterwards the Colonial Secretary, Mr Allan Lyttleton (later Lord Chandos), announced in London that the British government’s future policy for the east African territories was to merge them into a federation along the lines of the central African federation.
The London announcement
The announcement in London disturbed the Kabaka who reneged on his earlier agreement with Cohen with the result that the Kabaka was deported to London. This put the Buganda question which Cohen had settled with the Kabaka in the balance basically because Buganda feared that her agreement status within a federation with Kenya, where white settlers ruled, would be endangered. The events which took place between the Kabaka’s deportation in 1953 and his triumphant return in 1955 went a long way in shaping the events that characterised our post-independence period.
As Christopher Wriggley writes in “Uganda Now: Between Decay and Development”, “ Thanks to Sir Keith Hancock’s brilliantly conducted seminars with the Baganda politicians, the impasse was apparently broken and all parties got what they most wanted. The Baganda got their king back, but they conceded what to Cohen was an essential point: they agreed to elect representatives to the legislative council, and thus accepted in principle that there would be a Uganda state that would have the right to control their destiny, since they had consented to its formation.
But there would also be a kingdom of Buganda, and its exact position in the scheme of things was left deliberately obscure. Hancock rejected the federal solution for he knew federations are the most difficult of all political systems, requiring a political consensus and a political tradition of restraint, a willingness to abide by the rules, such as could not be expected in anewly-formed political society.”
Wriggley goes on, “So the Uganda that began to take shape in 1955 was a unitary state, but unitariness was concealed by the continued functioning of a kingdom too large and too ceremonious to easily be cast in the role of a local government unit.” This is the basis of the Buganda question.
In its historical perspective, the Buganda question can be traced to pre-protectorate times when Buganda had a different relationship with its British rulers. Under the Buganda agreement of 1892 Britain provided protection to the kingdom through its Foreign Office which gave her the status of a quasi-state.
When the 1900 Agreement was made, this quasi-state status was preserved by making Buganda a province of Uganda as one political unit with its own government and local administration. Clause 3 of the agreement provided: “The kingdom of Buganda, in the administration of the Uganda Protectorate, shall rank as a province of equal rank with any other provinces into which the protectorate may be divided.”
Two things can be observed from this provision. First Buganda got its special status in 1900 or two years before the Uganda protectorate was formed in 1902. It is therefore not true to say, as Adhola does, that “…the colonial authorities were to accord Buganda different treatment throughout the colonial period.” Secondly Buganda was given a provincial status “with equal rank with any other provinces into which the protectorate is to be divided”; which means that if other districts had demanded provincial governments they would be at the same status as Buganda.
Adhola is wrong to claim that the unintended consequence of Mutesa’s return was to make the Baganda feel that they could negotiate with the British without taking into account the views of the rest of Ugandans. The Buganda agreement of 1955 under which Mutesa was able to return provided in clause 6 that no major changes would be made to the Buganda constitution for a period of six years after it came into force; which meant that fresh negotiations were to be held in 1961. Accordingly the negotiations Adhola refers to were provided for in an agreement and were not the result of Buganda’s chauvinism.
Indeed Adhola is also wrong to allege that in the negotiations that followed the views of the rest of Ugandans were not taken into account. The preamble to the Buganda agreement, 1961, reads in part: “And whereas at discussions held in London in the months of September and October, 1961, between representatives of Her Majesty’s Government and representatives of Uganda (including representatives of the government of Uganda and of the Kabaka’s government) it was decided to recommend that a new constitution should be established for Uganda under which Uganda would enjoy internal self-government and Buganda would be united with the rest of Uganda in a federal relationship…”
In relation to the Wild Committee Adhola writes “The Wild Committee which had been tasked to study and make recommendations on constitutional development in the colony made its report in 1959. While the setting up of the committee was inspired by Buganda’s refusal to participate in the 1958 Legco elections, ironically Buganda refused to participate in this committee.” In the first place not only Buganda found the Wild committee unsatisfactory. Its composition was not representative in the sense that out of the 13 members, four were non-Africans, the government had six nominees on its side and Buganda and other kingdoms which had agreements with Britain not represented.
Only seven districts had representatives on the committee. As for Buganda’s opposition to the committee one may disagree with the statement made by Michael Kintu, the Katikkiro of Buganda, but its logic is persuasive. Kintu wrote in a pamphlet entitled “Buganda’s position” which was published by the Kabaka’s government information department on January 17, 1960, that “It greatly surprised every Muganda to know that Her Majesty’s government, with whom the Kabaka concluded the agreements, says constantly that when it gives up its protection, it will hand Buganda over to some other government with whom Buganda has no agreement relationship. This is a clear warning to every Muganda to insist on their demands.” This legalistic reasoning, and not cultural chauvinism, has always been at the centre of the Buganda question which has been widely misunderstood.
Three things have rendered the Buganda question intractable. First failure to appreciate the fact that when the British created the Uganda protectorate they did not create a nation as such but just put in place administrative structures which were handed over to us at independence. In our efforts to create a nation-state out of these structures we all too often regard uniformity as the solution and any deviation from this uniformity is seen as an obstacle to be resisted. Secondly, there is failure to accommodate the reasoning of people like Michael Kintu quoted above although it lies at the root of the problem. Thirdly, Buganda’s obstinate politics makes it difficult for others to reach out to them which makes it difficult to accommodate each other.