When Churchill visited Uganda

Winston Churchill

What you need to know:

In the first of our series From the Archives with Henry Lubega, we take you back to 1907 when Winston Churchill visited Uganda and described it as a beacon of hope in “the heart of the dark continent”.

Henry Lubega

The first ever 17-gun-salute in Uganda was in 1907 in honour of the visiting secretary of colonies to the Uganda Protectorate. The gun salute was shot, not by Ugandans, but by Sikh soldiers who had mounted the guard of honour.

The secretary (minister) for British colonies, Sir Winston Churchill, embarked on a tour of the territory outside Great Britain but under the British Empire. Among the places he visited was what came to be known as Uganda.

Coming through the east coast, through Kenya and onto Lake Victoria up to Port Alice (Entebbe), Churchill reached the then government seat (British administration base in Entebbe) on November 18, 1907, where he was received by then colonial administrator Sir Hesketh Bell.

On his visit, Churchill informed his host that he had been elevated to the title of governor, and he was the guest of honour at his installation at a ceremony presided over by the principal judge in Kampala Judge Ennis.

After a two days’ rest in Entebbe, Churchill in the company of resident governor Bell travelled to Kampala where triumphal arches were erected on the roads entering Kampala. Shops were decorated with flowers and banana leaves to welcome him.
According to the Uganda Notes of December 1907 (the newspaper of the time) when in Kampala, Churchill inspected a guard of honour mounted by the Sikh.

At the coronation hall he met all Europeans in Uganda before attending a special sitting of the Lukiiko (Buganda parliament).

Four-day visit
During the four-day visit, he toured the Church Missionary Society in Mengo and the Roman missionary bases in Rubaga and Nsambya before going on to visit the only factory in the country at that time belonging to the Uganda Company.

According to the Uganda Notes of December 1907, Churchill paid homage to the Kabaka at his palace at Lubiri and met with the local chiefs in Buganda. The next day, he paid a visit to Kabaka Daudi Chwa II for the second time in two days where a Ganda war dance was performed in his honour, and he was presented with two spears and a shield, and he addressed the Lukiiko. Below is his full speech:

“I am very glad indeed to come to Uganda. I am glad to be here upon an occasion which is one of importance in the history of this country.

His Most Gracious Majesty king has been pleased to raise his excellency from the rank of commissioner to that of governor, that is a recognition of the high esteem in which the services of his excellency is held.

It is also a recognition of Uganda amongst the possession of the British Crown, but that the alteration in the position of his excellency involves as he has told you, no alteration whatever in the position of the government he regulates.

The basis of these regulations is the Uganda agreement-a human document and like all earthly things it is not perhaps in every way perfect, but it is a bargain and guarantee and it will faithfully be observed by both sides.

Rights and liberties
The chiefs who are gathered together here today need have no fear that it will be encroached upon or melted away.

So long as they themselves and the people of Uganda faithfully adhere to their portion of the contract. Under the agreement, all their rights and liberties are guaranteed and all their lands, possessions and ancient privileges.

Under the agreement they may preserve all their old grace and simplicity of their lives which has always so honourably distinguished the Waganda people.
The power of the British government is great.

It’s not easy to measure or describe how great that power is, but that powerful government will be the friends and staunch friends of Uganda and its people.
The Baganda chiefs must look upon the British government as their friend and guide.

As a sharp sword against their enemies and as a power always anxious to promote the prosperity of their people in times of trouble, in times of famine, in times of pestilence, and the just of the British Crown will be very evenly administered between all classes and all those who come under the authority of the king.

Therefore, let them take heart and labour reverently and piously with the government and help the governor to the advancement of the people committed to their charge.

I offer them my largest congratulations upon the elevated degree of civilisation and advancement to which they have already attained.
When I return to England I shall tell His Majesty the King how beautiful their country is and how good its people are.
That’s all I have to say.”

Way to the Sudan
From Lubiri, Churchill went to open Mengo Boys High School, now Mengo S.S.

From Mengo Boys High School, he headed straight to Munyonyo to board a boat to take him across the Nile on his way to the Sudan. On his journey up north, he saw the other part of Uganda beyond the Buganda region he had seen, taking time to travel inland other than on water alone.

Upon his return home in 1908, he wrote a book about his journey which had started from the Cape in South Africa and ended in Cairo.

In his book, My African Journey, he says “My journey is at an end, the tale has been told. The reader who has followed so faithfully and so far has a right to ask what message I bring back. It can be stated in three words concentrate on Uganda.”

He went on to say, ” …in my view in spite of its insects and diseases, it ought in the course of time, to become the most prosperous of all our East African possessions and perhaps the financial driving wheel of this part of the world.”

So impressed he was with the natural vegetation and potential of the country compared to the rest he toured all the way from the Cape to Cairo that he continued to write in his book that “My counsel plainly is- concentrate on Uganda!

Nowhere else in Africa will little money go so far…Uganda is from end to end a ‘beautiful garden’ where ‘staple food’ of the people grows fast without labour.

Does it not sound like paradise on earth? It is the pearl of Africa.”
He went on to write, “For magnificence, for variety of form and colour, for profusion or brilliant life-bird, insect, reptile, beast- for vast scale- Uganda is truly the Pearl of Africa.”

“The Kingdom of Uganda is a fairy tale. The scenery is different, the climate is different and most of all, the people are different from anything elsewhere to be seen in the whole range of Africa…what message I bring back...concentrate upon Uganda.”

Churchill’s speech at opening of Mengo Boys High School

“Your excellency, your highness, my lord ladies and gentlemen, I am very much obliged to His Excellency and to all of you for according me the honour of opening this high school upon the occasion of my flying visit to Uganda.

I can hardly believe until looking at the excellent map provided on the wall, no doubt for that purpose that we are all gathered together here in the heart of Africa.

I am amazed at the spectacular before me and it is one that will be fixed upon my mind and I think that the greatest honour and the greatest respect is due to all those who have done so great a work whether they be representatives of the imperial government, or whether they be the native rulers and chiefs who aid the imperial government in their work or those engaged in fulfilling the purpose of the mission.

In most recent times a large, healthy strong, useful and religious work is daily and hourly lifting the masses of the people from the ordinary toil and routine of life to the contemplation of a world beyond our own.

I am aware that opinions are divergent and men differ as to advantages and disadvantages of missionary enterprise conducted in many parts of the world.

And you my Lord Bishop are centrally not unaware of the fact your work has its critics and difficulties, but I venture to think that serious objections may sometimes be given by the voice of prejudice.

And I think furthermore, that there is no part of the country’s enterprise in which more imminent difficulties have been overcome, and in which the results attained have been a grater reward for those who conducted the missionary work.

Here we have in Uganda an island of hope and progress in the very heart of the Dark Continent and I think as British people come to know more and I hope I shall be one of those to take part in telling them of the results which have been here achieved, their interest, sympathy, and support will be given in an increasing measure to you and on a far larger scale.

And I think when we find these people clothed amid the barbarous races which surround them, anxious to glean information and knowledge from all other races with when they get into contact, it seems to me to be to be a most solemn and scared duty to be impressed upon the British people to shield and guard the natives of Uganda from any danger and peril or suffering which may visit their homes.

I shall certainly carry away with me a vivid impression of those things and shall certainly not neglect to bring it before the colonial office, and I trust that if any difficulties arise in the conduct of their work, I shall be made acquainted at the colonial office through His Excellency the governor.

I understand that the duty His Excellency the governor has placed upon me by his usual kindness and courtesy is to open this school.

I declare this school which has been constructed and which has already been I understand from Mr Gills a reputation of high standard of educational excellency to be open and I hope the boys educated here will as the bishop has said acquire not merely the education of letters and words but also the education of practical things and useful and technical acquirements or at any rate will acquire the facility for comprehending those strong principles of character which will make them straight forward and trustworthy persons fit to be the props and pillars of the people of Uganda, to help and guide others who without those props and pillars would not have been able to develop prosperity.

Who was Churchill?

Born November 30, 1874, to Winston Leonard Spencer and Randolph Churchill at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, his first exposure to education was in Dublin though he went on to three different schools before joining Sandhurst to start his childhood ambition of a military career which he had been exposed to at a tender age in Dublin.

While at school, he realised he had a stutter and a lisp. The lisp continued throughout his career, with Churchill describing himself as having a “speech impediment” which he worked to overcome.

He went on to say “my impediment is no hindrance”. He married Clementine Hozier in 1908 with whom they had five children.
He became Conservative MP in 1900, only to cross to the Liberal Party four years later, re-joining government from 1919-1929.

In 1941, he received the honour of being appointed Regimental Colonel which was increased after the Second World War when he was appointed Colonel in chief; a privilege usually reserved for members of the royal family.

According to biographer Roy Jenkins, Churchill took interest in war correspondence as a way of increasing his income from the annual £300.

His writings brought him to the attention of the public, and earned him significant additional income.

He acted as a war correspondent for several London newspapers and wrote his own books about the campaigns. It was while in Cuba reporting for the Daily Graphic, on the Cuban war of independence that he acquired a taste for Havana cigars, which he smoked for the rest of his life.
Churchill was transferred to Egypt in 1898 and served in the Sudan. While in the Sudan, he participated in what has been described as the last meaningful British Calvary charge at the battle of Omdurman.

Churchill was opposed to India’s self-rule, and he was the first leader to warn the world of the rise of Nazis in Germany. He cemented his war leadership during the Second World War after becoming a prime minister.

He is the only British prime minister to have had two different terms. When he lost power in 1945, he bounced back as a prime minister in 1951 until 1955.

He died on January 24, 1964, and was given a state burial.

In 2002, Winston was voted the best Briton of all times by the British population.


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