On Kabaka Mutebi’s 25th, I think of his grandfather Mwanga

Wednesday August 8 2018

Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa data

Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa data visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com.  

By Charles Onyango Obbo

On July 31, Kabaka Ronald Mutebi II celebrated the 25th anniversary of his coronation as King of Buganda, following the restoration of kingdoms after they were abolished in 1966.
An article in The Monitor noted that Kabaka Mutebi became the 35th – and currently the longest serving – [Buganda] king…since the kingdom’s founding in the 11th Century by Kabaka Kato Kintu”.
In a kingdom that is 1,000 years old, Mutebi’s reign represents just 2.5 per cent of its existence.
The Monitor story noted, ‘Kabaka Mutebi’s grandfather King Mwanga died in exile in Seychelles where he was sent by the colonialists. His own father, Sir Edward Muteesa II, also died [in 1969] in exile [after fleeing the country] after the 1966 crisis”.
Now, I have been fascinated by the phenomenally successful American musical Hamilton. Alexander Hamilton, who died in 1804, was an American statesman and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
My dream is to see, if not to write, a musical on Kabaka Mutebi’s grandfather Mwanga. In all, there are just five figures who lived in what is present-day Uganda, whom I would love to see a play about. Among the other being the Omukama of Bunyoro Kabalega, who was exiled to the Seychelles with Mwanga.
Kabaka Mutebi is 63 years old. Mwanga died at the tender age of 34 (or 35 depending on the record). By that time he had 16 wives, but that was nothing compared to his father Muteesa I’s 85 wives. You will see the political significance of this shortly.
I am fascinated by Mwanga because he is easily the most complex and contradictory man to rule in these lands. At 34, he had been there, and done it all.
He came to the throne at 16. Before long, he had to deal with Muslim and Christian missionaries, and also British colonialists.
Unlike his father, whom a historical account notes, “played-off the three religions, Catholics, Protestants and Muslims, against each other and thus balanced the influence of the European colonial powers…Mwanga II took a much more aggressive approach, expelling missionaries and insisting that Christian converts abandon their faith or face death”.
Some resisted, and Mwanga had them executed, thus giving us the Martyrs whom we celebrate at Namugongo today.
Mwanga also, famously, had Archbishop James Hannington killed in Busoga, to prevent him setting foot in his kingdom.
The British were alarmed by Mwanga’s independence and opposition, and helped overthrow him in 1888, replacing him with his brother, Kiweewa Nnyonyintono, and in quick order with another brother, Kabaka Kalema Muguluma.
From his refuge, wily Mwanga cut a deal with the British, who then backed him to oust Kalema and restore him to the throne in 1889. With a weakened hand, Mwanga led Buganda to become a Protectorate, but he had regrouped by 1897 and declared war on the British. He was defeated in days and fled to Tanzania, where he was arrested.
He escaped and returned with a rebel army, but was again defeated in January 1898. He was captured and in April 1899 exiled to the Seychelles.
He spent the rest of his life in exile. He died there on May 8, 1903. His remains were returned on August 2, 1910, and buried at Kasubi.
Most of the foregoing is available in books and form a large part of the Wikipedia entry on Mwanga.
That record also notes that Mwanga was a homosexual, and some of the martyrs whom he executed were palace pages who resisted his sexual advances. Conflicted by how to reconcile this, Mwanga’s supporters usually sweep it away as part of his nationalist resistance to foreign religion and colonialism. And his critics paint it as deviance.
But that is ahistorical. Many great kings and generals all over the world were homosexual, one of the most notable being Alexander the Great (July 356 BC –June 323 BC).
A man who has 16 wives like Mwanga or his father Mutesa I with 85, is not marrying for companionship or sex (usually one – or even none - is enough for that). He is doing it for politics and, as writer and philosopher Bertrand Russell might have argued, for procreation.
At The Monitor, I debated Mwanga many times with Wafula Oguttu, who took an enlightened view that I found persuasive. For characters like Mwanga, he liked to argue, sex with women was ordinary and came with a sense of duty. The real conquest for them, he held, was in laying with other men.
Men like Mwanga did something no generation of Ugandan leaders have done since – and perhaps no other will do. They were the last to fight against a global empire, which Britain was. And the last to fight for country. Since independence, all the rest have fought not for country, but for power. How many musicals is that worth?

Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa.
datavisualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. [email protected]