There has been a lot of confusion about the “lost counties” of Bunyoro. President Museveni once joined in the confusion when he said the counties are not lost; they are in Uganda.
I would like to argue that the lost counties of Bunyoro were/are more than just territory as Museveni would like us to believe. To understand the matter, it is necessary for us to go back to the beginning of the “lost counties” issue. Since around 1600 when Buganda eclipsed Bunyoro as the dominant power in the region, the kingdom had not been challenged. Eventually, an empire, however powerful, gets to be challenged.
This happened to Buganda in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Bunyoro, under the able leadership of Kabalega, not only got reorganised but also acquired muskets from the Arabs.
On account of these two factors, Bunyoro succeeded in driving the Baganda back, only to find that their final victory was frustrated by the arrival of the British who protected the Baganda with riffles and Maxim guns. The Baganda, who were being seriously pressurised by the Banyoro, had gone into alliance with the British who had come to colonise the Nile valley and were looking for an ally.
The first operation the Anglo-Ganda alliance mounted was against their most serious threat, the Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom. This was in December 1893 when Col. Colville led a full military campaign against Kabalega and the Kingdom of Bunyoro. After suffering a series of defeats, Kabalega was driven from his kingdom and forced to take refuge in Lango in 1894.
As a reward for assistance against the Banyoro, Col. Colville in the early part of 1894 promised the Baganda chiefs that all Bunyoro territory south of River Kafu would be incorporated into Buganda.
This was roughly the area comprising Buyaga and Bugangazi (or Bugangaizi as Banyoro call it) northern Singo, Buruli and the formerly semi-independent area of northern Bugerere, which had been part of Bunyoro territory.
Col. Colville was forced by illness to leave Uganda before implementing this promise.
However, when E.J.L. Berkely, who succeeded Colville was in 1896 appointing a Munyoro to be chief of this area, the Ganda chiefs present reminded him that his predecessor had pledged the area to be part of Buganda. Berkely consulted the Foreign Office, which instructed him to implement the promise.
The incorporation into the Buganda Kingdom of this territory, which was clearly part of Bunyoro with Banyoro inhabiting, was so blatantly unjust that two British officers then serving in Bunyoro, Pulteney and Foster, resigned their posts in protest against the decision.
Banyoro never accepted the situation and the loss was to become the festering “lost counties” issue that was a subject of many deputations by the Kingdom of Bunyoro to the British throughout the colonial period.
This is what Berkely wrote to the Colonial Secretary on 19th November 1896: “The annexed provinces in becoming part of the Kingdom of Buganda, must of course recognise the sovereignty of the king of Buganda, the supremacy and authority of the chiefs selected to govern them and they must understand that henceforth they are subject to all laws, regulations, obligations as to local taxation and tribute, etc that are in force in the other parts of the kingdom.
At the same time, however, that these provinces became part of the Kingdom of Buganda so would their native inhabitants become Waganda, and as such, entitled to all public and private rights of Waganda in any other part of the kingdom.”
The obvious interpretation of Berkely’s words is that since these Banyoro had been transferred into the administrative sphere of Buganda, they were now Baganda. The Banyoro could not accept this and began putting up resistance.
Matters did not get any better for the colonial administrators when they found out afterwards that the lost counties were home to all the tombs of all dead kings of Bunyoro. They dealt with this embarrassment by allowing the Bunyoro Native Government to appoint a special salaried chief (the Mugema) to reside in Buganda and take care of the tombs.
The Banyoro in the lost counties were subjected to various forms of cultural oppression. They were not allowed to engage in Kinyoro dances. This kind of oppression was brought into the open by the area Member of Parliament, Mr N.K. Rugemwa, before the Uganda Constitutional Conference in 1961. He claimed that “if the Banyoro do anything in a way different from and practiced by Baganda, they are liable to be prosecuted for breach of Ganda customary law. These breaches included dancing and singing in their Kinyoro traditional style.”
About this, Omukama Tito Winyi expressed himself in the following words: “Dancing in Kinyoro style is illegal, and all dancing must be in Kiganda style, which is foreign to the Banyoro people.”
The use of Lunyoro, the language of Banyoro, was discouraged. In 1960, the Mubende Bunyoro Committee (MBC), a pressure group, noted: “The suppression of our mother tongue, Lunyoro, hurts beyond imagination. Our children are taught in a foreign language in the very first year of their education, and our language has been banned in courts, offices, and churches in addition to schools.”
The Banyoro were being forced to register the births of their children with Kiganda names. In 1958, the Omukama addressed this issue thus: “…when the Banyoro go to register births at Gombolola (sub-county) offices, they are compeleld to enter in the register Luganda names for their children, and register their clans according to the Kiganda clan system. The Banyoro were also discriminated against in the award of scholarships.
A British MP, Eirene White, who went to the area in 1957, reported to the House of Commons and it was recorded in the House of Commons Hansard of May 6, 1957, page 738-739 that the only way a Munyoro from the lost counties would get a scholarship is declare himself/herself a Muganda.
The following year, in a petition to the Queen, Omukama Winyi claimed that only “pure Baganda” could be considered for a bursary or scholarship. “If an applicant for such a scholarship states on his application form that he is a member of any other tribe than Baganda, his application is not considered,” he said.
Between 1931 and 1958 various Bakama of Bunyoro petitioned the British government nine times to have the matter investigated but their petitions were simply ignored.
Prior to that in 1921, the MBC had been formed to: To fight for the return of Omukama Kabalega, to recover Banyoro land from Buganda which was registered as Mailo, Crown and Estates land, to reinstate socio-cultural freedom to Bunyoro society and to resist non-Banyoro rule, exploitation and other forms of subjugation.
The group petitioned the Colonial Secretary in 1951, 1953 and 1955. The Legislative Council member for Bunyoro, Mr George Magezi, also petitioned in 1955. The British responses to the petitions took rather standard forms as exemplified by the response of two officials.
In 1957 Governor Crawford, for instance, said: “...nothing can be done about that now” and later in 1931 the Secretary for the Colonies argued “it is a long time [since the lost counties were incorporated into Buganda] and this matter was settled during the time of fighting, so we cannot now do anything further in the matter.”
The persistence of the petitions annoyed some British officials.
In 1955 C.H. Hartwell, the Chief Secretary, was exasperated enough to burst out “...in a matter of this kind there must be a finality, and in this case it must be accepted that the final decision has been taken.”
Eventually the matter came before the Constitutional Conference, which was preparing for independence in London in 1962.
The matter was discussed and on June 27, as the Buganda delegation was walking out of the Conference, having sensed the dominant mood, the Colonial Secretary, Mr Maudling, delivered the verdict of the British government.
Buyaga and Bugangazi were to remain part of Buganda while being administered by the Central Government, and “after not less than two years, the National Assembly shall decide on the date for a referendum - in which the people of the counties will say whether they prefer to be in Buganda or Bunyoro, or remain under the Central Government.”