Ankole, Tooro kings arrested after colonialist is speared to death

Sunday August 25 2019

Galt’s death sparked off a series of arrests

Galt’s death sparked off a series of arrests that prompted torture and even death of ordinary Banyankole. ILLUSTRATIONS BY IVAN SENYONJO  

By Felix Ocen

Unlike in Bunyoro and northern Uganda, the British colonialists may have met a few, if not, no recorded resistance from Ankole Kingdom during their colonial expedition in western Uganda, especially after the signing of the 1901 Ankole Agreement.
However, that does not mean that the colonialists did not meet resistance, especially from the peasants.

In mid-1905, a peasant named Rutaraka, angered by the cruel treatment meted on them by George Galt, a British commissioner for the western province of colonial Uganda, plunged a spear through the colonial master’s chest, killing him instantly as he relaxed on a chair at a government compound near Ibanda.

Galt’s death soon sparked off a series of arrests that prompted torture and even death of ordinary Banyankole.
Omugabe Kahaya ( Ankole king at the time) and his prime minister Nuwa Mbaguta as well as seven chiefs did not escape the arrests or interrogations, although some chiefs were later released.
Whereas the motive of Galt’s assassination remains obscure to date, there were two explanations given that shade light to the incident.

According to investigations carried out by deputy colonial commissioner George Wilson, recorded by Edward Steinhart in his book Conflict and Collaboration in the Kingdom of Western Uganda, Galt’s death was politically motivated.
Omugabe Kahaya and his reactionary chief Igumira conspired and sent an assassin who went and speared the commissioner to death in order to discredit his prime minister Nuwa Mbaguta, (Igumira’s arch-rival) who had become a threat to them.

The assassination plot was allegedly carried out at Igumira’s kraal in Kashari and those involved included Mitooma chief Gabriel Rwakakaiga and his sub-chief Isaac Nyakayaga.
Another version goes that the assassin, Rutaraka, killed Galt out of desperation. He was impotent and childless and had consistently told his brothers that one day he would do some amazing thing to disapprove them.
It is thought that he could have killed the White man in order to make a name for himself.

About Galt
According to Edward Steinhart, Galt was born in 1872 to Edwin Galt and Marion W. Galt in Hampshire, the UK. He went to Lancing College up to 1888. It is not clear when he came to Uganda and the only period he received notice was for brutality during tax collection. He was the chief tax collector for Ankole District up to 1903.
Galt was then appointed a sub commissioner for western province of Uganda and served in that capacity until his death in mid-1905.


Galt the wild man
Steinhart describes Galt as a self-willed man of high venality and temper, inflexible, merciless and dangerously ferocious.
He exercised power beyond limit and always carried canes and a whip made of hippopotamus skin which was always fastened to his waist.

These were to enforce punishment on those found acting contrary to the colonial law, such as tax evaders.
Galt did not only torture, but killed his victims. He once ordered the flogging of three brothers who were caught skinning a buffalo and two of them died in the process. The other was released but was too weak to walk.

He could also appoint and dismissed the local chiefs at will. He is said to have directly dismissed two Bahima chiefs, Matsiko and Mazinio, and replaced them with Bairu Mayindo Nyemera in Nyabusozi and Isingiro. He also relieved Chief Nduru, the ruler of Bazimba, of his duty and replaced him with Ryamugizi.

His bodyguards comprised soldiers mainly from northern Uganda and Nubians from South Sudan who effected his orders on local people. All these attracted fierce disgust towards him.

Ill-fated journey
Steinhart writes that Galt left Fort Portal in a caravan a few days prior to his death. On the way, Galt forced people to carry him, first on their shoulders, but later changed the style, probably for more comfort, and forced them to make a stretcher to carry him.

But along the way his workers became exhausted and pleaded with him for some rest. But each time their pleas landed on deaf ears. Instead, he commanded them to continue moving up to Ibanda, several miles ahead.
When they reached Katooma, about two miles from Ibanda where there was a government rest house, Galt then commanded his workers to stop on the evening of May 19, 1905.

It is not clear whether assassin Rutaraka had been part of Galt’s caravan. But at 6:30pm as Galt sat unsuspectingly at the compound, relaxing and reading a book, Rutaraka emerged unnoticed through a wooden fence and tiptoed a few steps and hurled the spear that struck the 33-year-old commissioner in the chest. Rutaraka fled the scene and disappeared.

Galt, unable to remove the spear, crawled towards the kitchen hut and told the cook, “Look, a savage has speared me”. Shortly, he breathed his last in the cook’s arm.
Desperate, the cook made an alarm which attracted the people who hurried to the scene and found Galt lying in a pool of blood.

The news of Galt’s death sent a wave of fear throughout Ankole as the locals were afraid of what the colonialist’s reaction would be.
The government immediately sent a team of investigators headed by deputy commissioner George Wilson to Ibanda. His team included Capt Laughlin, the commanding officer in Ankole.

They started their investigation from Fort Portal where they arrested Omukama Kasagama, his prime minister and seven chiefs who they took along to Ibanda.
In Ankole, the Omugabe, his prime minister and chiefs were rounded up and taken to Ibanda for interrogation. In addition, scores of suspects were arrested and detained in and around Ibanda. However, no clue for Galt’s death was discovered.

After interrogating the suspects and realising that his inquiry was taking him to nowhere, commissioner Wilson came up with a different strategy.
He threatened them with execution which prompted a one Mwagisaki to breakdown and reveal that Galt was speared by Rutaraka who used his close relative Kangwagye’s spear.

Rutaraka’s relatives were promptly arrested and a vigorous search was mounted for Rutaraka.
There are two conflicting stories on what happened thereafter. One source states that Rutaraka’s body was found hanging on a tree on a hilltop on June 13, 1905.

George Galt (in the middle) during his time as
George Galt (in the middle) during his time as British commissioner in Ankole.

However, another source says one of Rutaraka’s arrested relatives revealed that Rutaraka had committed suicide and had been buried.

His body was later exhumed and found with a rope still fastened on his neck, which made Wilson more suspicious, thinking Rutaraka might have been killed by those who sent him to murder Galt.
He categorically dismissed the explanation that in the African tradition, a person who hanged himself was buried the way he is.
Wilson concluded his investigation that Galt had been murdered due to political upheaval in Ankole at the time.

Consequently, he detained two chiefs, Gabriel Rwakakaiga and Isaac Nyakayaga, because of specious behaviour after the murder.
They had delayed to appear at the scene of crime, had not sent important witnesses on time and had tried to block the investigation owing that the crime had occurred in their area.

The two appeared before the East African Court conducted by GFM Ennis in October 1905. However, the colonial government had limited evidence to produce in court and witnesses sent were inconsistent and started contradicting one another.
The two chiefs were acquitted in January 1906 to the shock of Wilson who was now acting commissioner of western province. Wilson then attempted to block the return of the two chiefs to Ankole, saying their presence would damage the order and administration.

Pyramid erected in Galt’s memory
After getting no clue to Galt’s death, Wilson sent a military force, comprising mainly soldiers from the north who raided villages of Mitooma and Kitagwendo.
They flogged people and compelled them to carry rocks for building a structure in Galt’s honour. The work was to be done by both the old and the young; men and women with no exception. There was to be no eating or drinking during the construction and as a result many people perished.
Those stones were piled together in a pyramidal shape of about 3ft tall.
Built more than 113 years ago, the structure is still visible from about 3km from Ibanda Town.