When Sir Andrew Cohen was appointed Governor of Uganda in 1951, it sent a clear message that his mission was to steer the country to self-government. Cohen had guided Ghana to self-government between 1945 and 1951 when he worked at the colonial office.
The new Governor came from a Jewish background on his paternal side while the Cobbs on his mother’s side were outstanding missionary workers. Cohen’s cousin Timothy Cobb was headmaster of King’s College Budo from 1947 to 1957.
In his memoir, the then colonial secretary Allan Lyttleton (later Lord Chandos) had this to say about Cohen: “He was a man of obvious integrity and of powerful intellectual equipment. Both he and his wife were dedicated perhaps with more enthusiasm than judgment to the swiftest advancement of Africans. Cohen’s wife Hellen caused a stir when it became known that her dressmaker was Ben S. S. Edebe, an African who operated from Katwe, who also made dresses for wives of leading Africans.
The speed with which Cohen introduced programmes to advance Africans and the country as a whole was staggering. However, the reformist govern came unstuck when he tried to advance the country to self-government through evolution within the Legislative Council (Parliament.)
By 1951, the Legislative Council had only three African members namely, Michael Kawalya Kaggwa (Buganda) Y. Zirabamuzaale (Busoga) and K. Nyangabyaki (Bunyoro). Cohen’s plan was to increase the African representation to a majority. To do that, the necessary legislation had to be put in place first, but such a legislation would have to satisfy the provisions of the Buganda Agreement of 1900.
That Agreement provided that the laws made by Her Majesty’s Government would be equally applicable to the kingdom of Buganda except when they conflicted with provisions of the Agreement, in which case, the Agreement would prevail.
To circumvent this, Cohen resorted to a provision in the same Agreement, which provided that Her Majesty’s Government agreed to recognise the Kabaka as native ruler of Buganda Province so long as the Kabaka cooperated with the Her Majesty’s Government.
Pursuant to this provision, the Governor engaged the Kabaka in negotiations to have Buganda send representatives to the Legico, which move would undermine the provisions of the Agreement in a material manner. Subsequently, however, the Kabaka reneged after it was announced in London that there were plans to create an East African federation at the time Mau Mau was fighting to displace domination by settlers. In the stalement that ensued between the Governor and the Kabaka, the Governor withdrew recognition from Mutesa as Kabaka of Buganda and deported him to London.
This was followed by the Lukiiko passing a resolution declaring that Mutesa was still the Kabaka and appointed a delegation of four people to go to London to fight for the Kabaka’s return. The delegation which included Matayo Mugwanya, Thomas Makumbi, Apollo Kironde, E. M. K. Mulira and Amos Sempa as secretary, managed to convince opinion leaders in the UK that the Kabaka was a victim of the 1900 Agreement that required him to co-operate with the British government and the Lukiiko at the same time.
In the end, the British Government appointed an Australian constitutional scholar, Prof Sir Keith Hancock, to chair a committee of 12, which sat for three months and produced a report which resulted in the Buganda Agreement of 1955 and a new constitution for Buganda Kingdom.
Mr Mulira is a lawyer.