This week marks exactly 10 years since the riots in Kampala and different parts of Buganda following a standoff between the central government and the Mengo administration. The central government, in what it termed security reasons, barred Kabaka Ronald Mutebi from visiting Kayunga District, an action which provoked his subjects to take to the streets in many parts of Buganda, especially in Kayunga and Kampala.
For three days – September 10 to September 12, 2009 – security forces were engaged in running battles with demonstrators, mostly Baganda youth, challenging the government’s decision to bar their king from going to Kayunga. In the three days, more than 30 people died, several were injured and property worth millions of shillings destroyed.
To examine the origin of the incident, it is important to look back at the love-hate relations between the central government and Mengo, dating back to colonial days.
During the Kayunga riots, President Museveni declared that some Buganda Kingdom officials had received foreign funding to fight his government.
“I also got information that Mengo elements got foreign funds to further their aims of fighting the NRM and undermining the Constitution... I encourage my friend, His Highness Kabaka Mutebi, to distance himself from the Judases,” said Mr Museveni in his address to the nation on September 10, 2009.
The President’s statement was not far from what Milton Obote told Parliament on May 24, 1966, a day after attacking the Buganda Kingdom palace. Obote said: “It is my duty to inform the House that there has been an open declaration of rebellion by Buganda Lukiiko and by Sir Edward Mutesa.
The government is in possession of documentary evidence that Sir Edward Mutesa had already decided by April 12, 1966 to mount a full-scale rebellion against the authority of the Government of Uganda….”
The relationship between Buganda and the colonial regime based in Entebbe with a resident representative in Buganda started simmering in the 1920s.
In June 1924, the British secretary for colonies, James Henry Thomas, through the British Parliament, set up a commission titled ‘The East African Commission’ headed by William Ormsby-Gore, with a view to advising the British government on how their territory in the region was to be devolved and governed. The secretary of colonies wanted a closer union of the British territory in East Africa.
Buganda Kingdom was not ready for such a union. It feared that the European settlers’ dominance experienced in Kenya would come with the closer union to Buganda.
Realising Buganda’s opposition, the plan was shelved but not discarded. In 1952, Governor Sir John Hall was replaced by Sir Andrew Cohen, who had been a technocrat at the African Division in the colonial office in Britain. Under Cohen, the issue of the union was not resuscitated but instead he came up with the plan of driving Uganda to Independence. A memorandum on constitutional development and reforms in Buganda was signed less than a year after his posting to Uganda.
The memorandum signed in March 1953 read in part: “Uganda had been and would continue to be developed as a unitary state.” Cohen increased the number of African representation in the Legislative Council (Legico), proposed having majority of the Lukiiko members elected other than all being appointed by the Kabaka. Having members of the Lukiiko elected was not welcomed by the Mengo administration and it was from this reform that the seed of Mutesa’s deportation later the same year was planned.
Though members of the Lukiiko appointed by the Kabaka were opposed to the idea of elected members, Mutesa managed to prevail upon them and have some elected members. It was not, however, the numbers that the governor had wanted. In his argument, Mutesa said it would be more difficult for the governor to ignore the views of an elected Lukiiko, as opposed to the one that is appointed by the Kabaka.
In a speech by then secretary of colonies Oliver Lyttleton at the East African Dinner Club in London on June 30, 1953, he brought back the idea of bringing the East African countries together.
The idea reawakened the old fears of the unimplemented closer union. In his book ‘Desecration of My Kingdom’, Mutesa says: “It was clear that a crisis was underway. The mention of a federation in East Africa was enough to bring all Baganda anxiety frothing to the surface.”
From that moment, the Lukiiko agreed not to be party to any reforms suggested by the governor. However, the kingdom’s parliament and the king seemed not to be reading from the same page on the issue.
The two leaders held meetings to settle the growing reforms dispute. Cohen wanted whatever was being discussed in the meetings kept secret. Though Cohen was reporting the proceedings of their meeting to the colonial office back in Britain, he never wanted Mutesa to inform the Lukiiko of their deliberations.
Owen Griffith was the personnel secretary to Cohen. In his book, ‘Looking Back at the Uganda Protectorate: Recollections of District Officers,’ he writes: “The reason for secrecy was twofold; Cohen feared that if the dispute became a public property the attitude of the Baganda would harden…. The overriding reason of Cohen’s fear was based on the views of his advisers that a public quarrel may end up in violence and Cohen was determined to avoid bloodshed.”
Both Mutesa and Cohen led teams that were involved in the talks that were deemed private as the king and his team were under instructions not to discuss anything with the Lukiiko.
In his book, Mutesa writes about the talks he had with Cohen: “We drafted what was to be seen as joint statements by the two of us, which I was to read to the Lukiiko. I withdrew my demands and accepted the re-assurances already given…our talks had been confidential, I had already been refused permission to tell the Lukiiko what was happening.”
“The struggle was now personal, courtesy collapsing. Sir Andrew was talking in threats, and he finally asserted: ‘If you don’t agree, you will have to go.’ My reply was: ‘If anyone has to go, it will certainly be you,” he adds.
On November 20, 1953, the protectorate government officially withdrew its recognition of the Kabaka on grounds that he had failed to give royal cooperation to the British government as required by Article 6 of the 1900 Buganda Agreement.
Cohen and Mutesa found themselves in a stalemate; Mutesa wanted the Lukiiko to advise him on the way forward, while Cohen wanted Mutesa to keep the Lukiiko out of the discussion. Not getting the answer he wanted from Mutesa, Cohen decided to give Mutesa an ultimatum. At this point, Mutesa wrote: “We had reached a curious position where Sir Andrew demanded that I should use all my power to help him implement a policy of which I disapproved as strongly as they (Lukiiko) did.”
The Kabaka was given three days to make a decision. In a meeting on November 30, 1953, he was given deportation orders. The deportation decision was made after the November 6, 1953 meeting at Entebbe with a unanimous decision of Cohen’s advisers.
With no accompanying luggage, Mutesa was escorted to the waiting Royal Airforce plane from the governor’s house to the airport by two police officers who themselves learnt of their assignment that very morning and were not given chance to prepare.
The aftermath and return
Immediately after Mutesa’s departure, a state of emergency was declared over Buganda. With the Kabaka gone, Cohen knew his plans were going to move smoothly and he engaged another gear to persuade the Lukiiko to elect a new Kabaka. He went on to advise them to have three regents in place as the election of the new Kabaka was being worked on.
However, the kingdom officials went to court in London to challenge the powers of the governor, which resulted in the Namirembe conference headed by Sir Keith Hancock to find a solution to the crisis. One of the major outcomes of this conference was the 1955 Buganda agreement and a constitution, which paved the way for Mutesa’s return.
Though his 1955 return was a triumph for the kingdom, it was also a victory for the colonial government as he returned as a constitutional king and his powers and those of the Lukiiko trimmed.
The political reforms Cohen wanted in Uganda were not welcomed in Buganda for it to have directly elected representatives to the Legislative Council in 1958 elections. As the elections for the first self-government were approaching, Buganda not only called for a total boycott but also announced Buganda’s independence from the British. The independence memorandum of September 1960 indicated the proposed independence declaration date.
The elections went ahead without Buganda’s participation. However, the two participating parties, DP and UPC, were pushing for Uganda to develop as one country. The declared independence was inconsequential and they changed tactic and demanded to remain part of Uganda provided they were granted federal status, which would ensure the king remained superior in the independent Uganda.
Conflict. Though members of the Lukiiko appointed by the Kabaka were opposed to the idea of elected members, Mutesa managed to prevail upon them and have some elected members. It was not, however, the numbers that the governor had wanted. In his argument, Mutesa said it would be more difficult for the governor to ignore the views of an elected Lukiiko, as opposed to the one that is appointed by the Kabaka.
Unity. In a speech by then secretary of colonies Oliver Lyttleton at the East African Dinner Club in London on June 30, 1953, he brought back the idea of bringing the East African countries together.
Lyttleton said: “…nor should we exclude from our minds the evolution, as time goes on, of still wider measures of unification and possibly still larger measures of federation of the whole East African territories.”
In the second part tomorrow
We look at events leading to the 1966 crisis.