Did Mwanga kill the martyrs?

Saturday June 4 2016



Last Monday, Final Flames, a movie about the Uganda Martyrs, was premiered at Theatre La Bonita, in Kampala. It is premised on the long-told story that Kabaka Danieri Basammula-Ekkere Mwanga II Mukasa, who reigned as king in Buganda Kingdom between 1868 and 1903, executed some of the Uganda Martyrs, Africa’s only canonised martyrs.

The film however is out to reshape history. The plot is woven in such a manner to prove that it was actually the kingdom’s prime minister (Katikkiro), Mukasa that ordered the killing of the martyrs and not the king as it is widely known.

Mukasa is portrayed as a blood-thirsty, manipulative individual who had no respect for the king. On several occasions, he referred to him as mutoto (young one).

Double faced leader
Mukasa’s other name is not captured in various literature but what is known though is that at the time he was appointed Katikkiro, he was Pokino, a county chief.

When he took on role as Katikkiro, he never gave up his Pokino position so he got the alias of ‘Kalyabugutte’, to insinuate greed. He is a double-faced leader and his thirst for power makes him go to great lengths to unseat Kabaka Mwanga, who had ascended the throne at the age of 19.

He visits a witchdoctor severally in search of ways he can change his destiny to rise from a Katikkiro to a king of Buganda, albeit unsuccessfully. On many occasions, he ordered Mukajjanga to kill the pages in the kingdom but turned around to accuse him before the king.


In the movie, Kabaka Mwanga is portrayed as a king who was an open-minded person who at the advent of religions, first converted to Islam but allowed his subjects to freely worship whatever religion they were comfortable with.

Marketing Uganda?
The entry into the movie is dedicated to marketing Uganda’s beauty through the voice of a narrator, a young girl. Ninety per cent of the movie is shot in Ssese Islands, an archipelago of 84 islands in the north-western part of Lake Victoria, in Kalangala District.

The hotel owners on the islands offered accommodation to the crew and cast which John Ssempebwa, the brainchild behind the film project, says was a relief on his budget that is estimated at Shs50m.

The plot
The characters are expressive which makes their acting convincing. The movie however has subtitles which run rather too fast. The use of dialogue and asides in the movie help strengthen character portrayal, the plot and the main thematic concerns like greed, hypocrisy, self-centredness, power and death.

The narrator helps the viewer understand the context within which the movie is set and the events that informed the outcomes at certain times. The scenes portray the richness of native beliefs in gods (Lubaale) and the conflict that grows between the new religions and culture.

Hits and misses
Ssempebwa uses scores of traditional music with distinct sounds of the drum to deliver his audience to an African or Ugandan setting.

The costumes comprise African wear with a traditional touch of backcloth as well as the kanzu and Islam caps. Some more work could have been done on tightening the story, for instance beyond portrayal of defiance by the pages, a viewer needed to know what hardens them to stand-up to Mukajjanga.
The filmmaker shows Muslim converts preaching to locals but not much interaction between locals and Christian missions save when they are attacked like the case was with Bishop James Hannington.

Divulging the roots of Mukasa would have enabled the viewer understand what influences his character since he is the main adversary.
The same should have been done for Kabaka Mwanga whose sexuality has been in doubt yet history tells us that he had some 16 wives and fathered more than a dozen children.
Without losing the main story, of informing history, accommodating different facets of the lead personalities would have contributed to a wholesome story and tightening the plot.

On the whole, Final Flames is a commendable work for a first-timer and actually brings to light interesting findings through a movie. Ssempebwa plans to enter the movie in many movie festivals and hopes it can be translated into different languages for the message to be spread globally.