The joint war of resistance between Kabaka Mwanga of Buganda and Omukama Kabalega of Bunyoro were the best – albeit belated – effort by traditional leaders in the region to keep the yoke of colonialism at bay.
Kabalega had never really warmed to Mwanga and had supported his brother, Kiweewa, who had briefly, been Muslim Kabaka of Buganda.
The historian Shane Doyle reports that Kabalega also referred to Mwanga as “the cause of all the troubles that have occurred since many years” probably due to the latter’s earlier acquiescence to the foreign powers. But the two leaders now joined forces to make a last stand against colonialism.
As seen earlier, Mwanga’s decision to stage his resistance in Bunyoro, rather than attack the British at their base in Kampala, and the splitting of his forces into two when his top general, Gabudyeri Kintu, refused to move to Bunyoro, had weakened him.
The resistance efforts of the two kings were now hamstrung by the arrival in Kampala in March 1898 of reinforcements from the 27th Bombay Light Infantry, part of the British Army in India. After disarming many of the Sudanese mercenaries, the re-energised British forces then launched a major offensive in August 1898 against the mutineers.
“Two columns, one under Major C.H.V Price of the 27th Bombay Light Infantry with 327 men and officers and 24 men of Uganda Rifles and the other column commanded by Major Cyril Martyr composed of two officers and 159 men of the Uganda Rifles, one officer and 53 men of East African Rifles, several Maxim guns and a seven pounder gun stormed a Sudanese mutineers’ stronghold near Mruli and defeated them,” Prof. Lunyiigo recounts in his book, Mwanga II. “This operation ended the main thrust against the mutineers.”
Although the scattered Sudanese mutineers continued to carry out guerrilla attacks against the British forces, they were dealt a further body blow on December 6, 1898, when their leader, Bilal Amin, was killed in action.
“The death of Bilal Amin must have greatly affected the alliance between the mutineers on the one hand and Kabalega and Mwanga on the other,” Prof. Lunyiigo argues. “The Sudanese mutineers lost their fighting spirit.”
By the end of 1898, therefore, the British had regained the upper hand militarily, putting down the mutiny, the uprising in Busoga, and paring off the attacks by Kintu’s forces in Buganda.
They, however, desperately needed to reel in the two big fish – Mwanga and Kabalega – who were still at large and who had enlisted the support of the Langi fighters for shelter around the Lake Kyoga areas.
The fact that the main forces of resistance were now massed in Bunyoro then allowed the British to concentrate their firepower on the two kings and their fighters. Although the two kings managed to evade the British, their luck ran out on April 9, 1899, when they were betrayed by their Langi/Bakedi allies and taken by surprise by an attack led by two Baganda collaborators; Semei Kakungulu – who was married to Mwanga’s sister – and Andereya Luwandaga.
British correspondence from the time notes that the Langi betrayed the kings because they had suffered “severe handling” by the British for harbouring Kabalega while the Omukama always evaded punishment.
The kings and their bodyguards fled to a swamp but the pursuing fighters killed 200 of their men and shot Kabalega in the arm before the two kings surrendered.
Kabalega remained defiant right to the end, however, as noted by Doyle: “Kabalega’s courage and antipathy towards the British, which sustained Nyoro resistance for so long, was best demonstrated when the captured king’s injured arm was amputated by a British surgeon. The [Omukama] was very brave and all he said was ‘I suppose you will want to cut off my other arm and probably my legs’.”
The two kings were marched to Kampala, with Kabalega carried on a stretcher for most of the way as the British made preparations to send them off into exile and cut them off from the massive support they continued to enjoy in most parts of the country.
The war of resistance would continue for a few more months but the capture of the two kings had dealt the kingdoms of Bunyoro and Buganda a decisive blow from which neither would ever fully recover.
And in a sign of predatory and opportunistic politics that would come to dominate the country, the final, decisive blow against Ugandan independence had not been struck by the British but by African collaborators against their own.
Fact behind the capture
“The capture was effected owing to a clever scheme of the two Baganda generals, Semei Kakungulu and Andereya Luwandaga, making friends with the Bakedi who led them to the village where the rebels were hiding, after first sending word that all the Baganda had returned home beyond the river. Semei Kakungulu captured Kabalega and Andereya Luwandaga captured Mwanga. They will be rewarded for excellent service to the whole Protectorate in clearing up such a cesspool,” Extract from A.B. Fisher’s journal.
Baby Chwa takes over the throne as Mwanga is deposed
After declaring war on the British, Kabaka Mwanga was deposed by Chiefs-in-Council led by Katikkiro Apolo Kaggwa on August 9, 1897.
Both the Catholics and Protestant factions led by Stanislaus Mugwanya and Kaggwa respectively, had, for all intents and purposes, earlier kidnapped one of Mwanga’s wives each awaiting an heir to the throne. A son who had earlier been born to the Catholic wife had died in infancy.
The British administrator, Henry Colville, had in April 1894 cut Mwanga’s nephews, Joseph Musanje and Augustine Tebandeke, who had grown up under the care of the Catholics in Bukumbi, out of the succession line claiming they had not grown up in Buganda.
Kingdom without king
On August 14, 1897, Daudi Chwa II, the thirteen-month old baby who had been born to the Protestant wife in Kaggwa’s court, was crowned as Buganda’s youngest-ever Kabaka.
On hearing the news, Mwanga proclaimed that his kingdom had been left without a leader.