Road to independence: There was more than one school of thought

Tuesday September 10 2019


By Peter Mulira

As we prepare to mark our the 57th independence anniversary, it is appropriate to recall the work of political activists who used memoranda, petitions, strikes, demonstrations and negotiations to engage the authorities. Four months before the 1945 general strike I. K. Musaazi visited his friend E. M. K. Mulira to enlist his support for the strike. Musaazi asked his host to think through a memorandum the strikers planned to submit to the authorities. This memorandum called for the Buganda’s Lukiiko to be dismissed and reconstituted with a new breed of chiefs who would champion the political rights of rural farmers. He also advocated a strong monarchy, which would be well placed to protect the ordinary peoples’ rights.
According to his personal papers which are now deposited at Cambridge University, Mulira disagreed with Musazi’s arguments and countered them by writing his own memorandum, which was later published by Uganda Bookshop Press under the title: “Government of the People for the People by the People.” Little did the two former school teachers realise that they had started a political conversation which would end up in setting Uganda’s date for self-government in the Buganda Agreement of 1955.
In his proposals, Mulira argued for representation of abakopi (urban and rural commoners) with no royal or chiefly distinction and make their voices heard through legislative incorporation. To Mulira, development required the political incorporation of commoners. Mulira’s proposals resulted in the passing by the Buganda Lukiiko of the Law to Elect Peoples’ Representatives to Lower Councils, which provided for popular election of people’s representatives on county and sub-county councils. This was followed in 1951 by the passing of another law, which provided for popular election of 60 of the 80 members of the Lukiko.
In April 1949, Musaazi as president of Uganda African Farmer’s Union, organised five thousand farmers in a demonstration to demand for better prices for their crops and for removal of middlemen in marketing cash crops. This resulted in the creation of Coffee Marketing Board and Lint Marketing Board. In his reaction to these riots, Mulira wrote a book, Troubled Uganda, which was published by the Fabian Society of the Labour Party in the UK, where as president of the East and Central Africa Students’ Union, Mulira collaborated with other African students, including Kenya’s Peter Koinange, Tanzania’s Godfrey Kayamba and Harry Nkumbula to draft memoranda after memoranda to governments. In 1956, Ben Kiwanuka replaced Matayo Mugwanya as the third president-general of the Democratic Party. Mugwanya who won election to the Lukiiko, was prevented from taking his seat on spurious grounds and later his prospects for election as Katikkiro were sabotaged. It was only natural that the party needed a new leader.
A recent researcher writes: “For Kiwanuka, “DP’s motto of ‘Amazima n’Obwenkanya (Truth and Justice) promised the possibility of creating a liberal kingdom, where political representation in Buganda and Uganda was not predetermined by religious boundaries….” Kiwanuka’s politics was influenced by Western political theorists, especially John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau as well as Richard Crossman’s book, Government and the Governed: A History of Political Ideas and Political Practice.”
To this group belongs Semakula Mulumba, spokesman of the Bataka of Uganda, who wrote that the priority of the Bataka “to see that the indigenous customs and traditions of Uganda are most carefully preserved in their purity and integrity for the perpetuation of that national culture of Uganda.” This examination of the work of these four activists shows that the conversation leading to our independence had many tendencies. The mistake we made after independence was to think that there was only one tendency, which led to wrong policies.
Mr Mulira is a lawyer