Why is Uganda: What happened stayed happened
What you need to know:
- In the third and last part of the series, “Why is Uganda”, Ernest Bazanye writes about how things did not improve even when Ugandans were finally able to remove the shackles of colonisation from themselves.
Uganda is a great place. This soil has bred some of the warmest, kindest, and most loveable mothers, grannies, daughters and friends. This is where some of the most ecstatic meals you have ever enjoyed have been served and ingested. Put a Ugandan rolex in your belly and you will hear your spirit itself sigh with contentment. And though I have not done the research myself, reasonably reliable sources tell me that Ugandan sex is the best in the world.
There are indicators that seem to support this: We moved from HIV/Aids hotspot to highest growing population in the world, so it stands to reason that something in our copulation is spicier than Europe's. Either way, yours and my greatest blessings have fallen from Ugandan skies. Plus, of course, we have Irene Ntale, so you can’t dispute that Uganda is an amazing place.
It’s a crap country, though. Really bogus as a nation.
A country isn’t just a place where people live. It is a political-economic unit/system. A complex machine which can’t be described without hyphens and slashes. It’s not just a place, it’s an organisation. And in this regard, bogus.
Great nations prosper because of fraternity, generations of tradition honed and sculpted down to efficiency, unity of identity and vision. But Uganda? Uganda is a clumsy wreck, the result of bad move compounded by other bad move after subsequent bad move, and then more bad moves introduced to counteract the effects of the previous bad moves.
The national symbol should be boda bodas riding backwards. And not just white moves. The white mess-ups would not have messed that far up or for that long without the assistant thrust of black messes eager to join in and hoist the mess up higher.
This is not a happy ending. This is Why is Uganda Part 3.
READ: Why is Uganda…Uganda?
Remember lockdown? When more people lost their lives by being murdered by overzealous cops and LDUs ostensibly enforcing curfew than actually died of Covid-19? Remember that? What kind of Babylon Armageddon is this? Even in hell you have to sin first before you get punished. But in Uganda, just exist, that’s fine with the LDUs.
Remember Amin? Remember Kondos in Obote days? Remember last night when a drop of rain fell on your suburb, causing electricity to flee and so your leftovers died in the fridge?
We have a road network that would be fine for donkey carts and horses but is rapidly choked and strangled by a few Toyota Vitzes. I’m not exaggerating. We thought it was big cars, but I have seen a line of a dozen Vitzes, Starlets and little Mazdas trapped in the jam. Moving forward like our economy. What’s wrong with Uganda doesn’t end. And it's probably because we were made badly.
Previously on “The Life Chose Us”
Fred Lugard lugged his lu-gun up to Kampala and, like the more accomplished iron bar thugs of Kulambiro, robbed Kabaka Muwanga: Took his kingdom and then, from his newly-pilfered Buganda, set about corralling in neighbouring and surrounding territories until we have what was, roughly, Uganda.
The manoeuvre was accomplished with the courage of a fool who runs into the wilderness to wrestle lions. It sounds impressive, yes, and the bravery is not in doubt. And when you succeed in pinning the lion down, you will deserve some props.
But after you win, then what?
We have been educated to believe that protectorates and colonies were created with the aim of “exploiting Africa's natural resources”. If said over a reggae beat it comes down to “steal our wealth”.
But the actual events as they transpired show a more embarrassing story.
Lugard and cohorts set about with firm-set jaws under firm beards, guns cocked and demeanour cocky, to take the land. But no clear long-term thinking is apparent because once they had her they clearly couldn't figure out what to do with her. Like the guy who has got the lion in a headlock. Or, even better, like a guy with no fashion sense snatching pearls off a glamorous beauty.
The Pearl of Africa
There’s a phrase that comes up a lot when people want to enthuse about Uganda's beauty.
It was probably coined by Henry Morton Stanley, but was made famous by Winston Churchill in a book he wrote. He said this of Uganda.
“For magnificence, for variety of form and color, for profusion of brilliant life — bird, insect, reptile, beast — for vast scale — Uganda is truly ‘the Pearl of Africa’," he wrote in his travel book My African Journey in 1908.
This needs further explaining because, unfortunately, we don’t have pearls in Uganda. They are objects found deep in oceans, miles away from Uganda and so to call Uganda the pearl of Africa would seem at first to be a massive stretch. A stretch a thousand miles long – that’s the distance from Busia border to the Indian Ocean where you will find the nearest pearl.
It would be more appropriate to call ourselves the kapotato in African Luwombo. Or the kamuli in Africa’s Gomesi. Or the left dimple in Africa’s girlfriend’s face: that's more relatable than rhapsodising about pearls.
And then there is the issue of what exactly a pearl is.
There is an animal in the ocean called an oyster. Inside this oyster you sometimes find a round, white and beautiful jewel called a pearl that you can take away from the oyster and carry away to your home and use for… well, its jewellery, so it’s as useful as jewellery is: Jewellery is a thing that, beyond the attribute of looking good, is fundamentally useless.
That was pretty much the Uganda Lugard made. He took it because it was, as Lugard had seen, fertile and temperate and filled with promise and potential. But the thing with potential is that it needs work and, more essentially, capital to extract the potential and unfortunately, the Imperial British East Africa Company didn’t have the money.
The administration of the protectorate now called Uganda was carried out under the mode that came to be known as indirect rule or divide and rule.
What it entailed was, rather than bringing Britons in to Uganda to sit in the offices and be the new chiefs of all the sub territories, districts and other administrative units, they picked Baganda from Buganda and sent them out to sit in those offices.
The Ganda appointees reported to the white governor and this was why it was called indirect rule.
Wait. Don’t react yet.
If you are going to think to yourself, “What a cunning and shrewd strategy this was. This way they could trick the Africans into thinking they were still in charge of their own affairs when in reality the white puppet master was hiding in the shadows controlling the whole charade like an evil genius,” then no. It wasn’t that.
If you are going to say, “Then what a Machiavellian stroke of political planning; by having Baganda rule the districts, enforcing the unpopular dictates, collecting the unpopular taxes and on the whole disenfranchising the previously self-governing peoples, the anger and resentment would be aimed at the Baganda, not at the British who put them there. And so the resentment would prevent them from uniting against the British dominating, making it easier to rule. How brilliantly devious.”
Also no. It wasn’t that.
It was that they didn’t have enough money to do it themselves.
So indirect rule was a cheap alternative. You got a bunch of Baganda and sent them out as administrators. They were asked to collect taxes (from which their pay, presumably, came) and awarded freehold land (which didn’t cost Britain anything). And Britain was able to administer a protectorate on the cheap. It was about as cunning as Frejje, the muchomo guy who cuts costs by laying traps for stray cats so that in the event that he cannot afford to replenish his goat meat stocks, he can still continue to make sales.
There was one successful aspect of the Uganda project, Stanley's dream: Buganda administrators did become very much like the British. In the book Baganda at Home by C. W. Hattersley, Henry Morton Stanley is cited as falling into fits of bliss over how the new Kabakas were doing under the new protectorate. I am going to call him Stano as if he is my gateman because I think he was disrespectful towards the Kabaka and Ganda culture. Therefore I shall not use the honorific Sir Henry and shall instead reciprocate the disrespect.
Soon after Muwanga capitulated, he was replaced on the throne by his son. A lucky son named Kabaka Daudi Cwa. Lucky because he didn’t have to murder dozens of his brothers to get his seat and lucky because none of them were able to murder him. His ascension was decided by the maxim gun and British Foreign office.
Kabaka Cwa took the throne at the age of one, just one year old, and was pretty much built from the ground up by the protectors. From the letters Stano wrote we see that him and his successor Mutesa II sent them into mad tizzies of glee through such delightful acts as moving into a brick house with iron sheets on the roof, furnished with carpets and lampshades and portraits of the British King and Queen in his living room, learning English, and riding the bicycle which was a gift to him from King George V of England.
Did you just feel your eyes burn? I mean we know that the UK was a bit cash-strapped when it came to spending on the protectorates, but a bike? A bike? Mswwwww. We should buy that satellite, train a flock of Marabou storks to fly into space and then aim themselves straight at Buckingham Palace, which they will then spray with their signature white paint as our response to this level of nerve.
So patronising! This is a Kabaka. This is a man grey-haired fathers of other grey-haired fathers don’t even look in the face; they lie on their bellies while they talk to him. And you give him a little bike as if he is your shamba boy.
Stano was greatly enthused by the way the young kings were turning out. Specifically in the ways they were adopting British culture. In an infamous letter to the king he called “Mtesa” he swooned all over the page with joy at how keen the Africans were to learn football, English, trousers and houses with corners. He gushed… “You become more and more like us each day!”
So what was the endgame then? To make the occupied territories little extra Britains? Fork and knife, brolly and bowler hat, Aston Martin and classical music? Or was Stano just naive. After all, he was an explorer, not a politician. Leadership, rulership, management of nations, what we call politics, is generally made of two things: What it pretends to be and what it is. Or rather, what is said and what the truth is. Or rather, the rhetoric and the reality.
The stated aim of spreading civilisation and building the empire was just a bit of razzle dazzle to blind the voters back home from what was really a battle of national egos and short term powerplays. They were not even doing a great job of exploiting our natural fecundity because for ages the Protectorate actually cost Britain, rather than earned her money.
It wasn’t until the Hail Mary shot called the Uganda Railway was completed. It was first called Lunatic Express, because the colonisers crunched the numbers and found it ludicrous. It would be massively expensive and would cost a lot more in terms of lives. The famous man-eating lions of the Tsavo which famously feasted on railway workers probably had another name for it. Something in Lunampologoma or Lion Language that translates to Fresh Meat Delivery.
But while it cost the Brits so much, it had the mitigating consequence of making cash crop farming and export from Uganda finally profitable, which meant the protectorate could start paying for itself, and become financially self-sustaining with cotton sales, followed by coffee.
But someone had to come along and fart in the kitchen. The policy was to have Indians build the railway-- the ones who were called, "coolies" before we understood the derogatory undertones it sometimes carries. (I say "sometimes" because, apparently the Hindi term “Kuli” is still used in Hindi as synonymous with porter. But, still, don't call our countrymen of Indian decent coolies. It's rude and racist and just be a better person and don't do it).
After the railway was complete the Brits felt it more prudent to install the Indians who remained here in preferential positions in the cotton trade. For example, they were allowed to run cotton gins and blacks weren't. This would forment more division in what was already spectacularly failing to become a united nation.
The more credible reasons are two.
There was still Speke and his discovery. The key that opened the whole latrine and let the flies and flying cockroaches swarm the homestead and contaminate our food. There was still the fact that we had the source of the Nile. It appeared to be of paramount importance for Britain to control the source of the Nile. They couldn't let the Germans have it. They couldn’t let the French have it. It had to be the British.
If I could find Churchill or Salisbury or whichever Prime Minister was in the office at the time this decision was made I would ask, “Oi, Bruv, loike, even if you controlled the source of the Nile, what if someone decided to block it, loike, up in Khartoum?" Never mind that Sudan was itself a British colony. Work with me here.
Then there was the mutual suspicion and simmering hostility amongst those squabbling siblings France, Germany and Britain. It looks like a simplification of things but in the paradoxical circle of global history, simple questions spiral out into complex swirls and then spin back to the simple answer. If the other guys had colonies, Britain had to have some, too. We were like a fashionable haircut.
Winston was historically regarded as an intelligent man. A renaissance man they called him. He was a writer, a geographer, an astronomer, a historian, a musical composer as well as a statesman. He was considered a clever man. But you have to pause and reconsider how much confidence you place in a poet who nicknames inland African nations pearls. Really, have a sense of context, Winno. Let the place inspire its own name.
“What a beautiful land. Well beautiful fam, ya git me? All the geography is like well fit, Speke and Lugard said it was fit but cor blimely! It’s the bees knees. The cats whiskers. No, wait. I’m Winston Churchill. All me mates say I’m like renowned as a painter, musician and poet as well as a statesman. I can’t just say the same old cliché. I need a different phrase, innit? Let me see. What is a beautiful thing that you just snatch from geezers while disregarding morals and ethical considerations and ting? I know. It’s like when me and the blokes are going a-promenading down Piccadilly and we spots milady with her pearl necklace and we snatch it! Hah! That’s right. Cos we is gonna snatch this country like a pearl off an old lady. Yeah. I’m calling this the pearl of Africa,” goes my reading between the lines of his earlier-cited journal quote.
So as we were saying, this was Stanley's Ugandan dream: Buganda administrators did become very much like the British. Where they were posted they tended to act like colonisers. They often insisted on the kanzu as the regional attire, regardless of what was traditionally worn, enforced Luganda language usage and made the natives grow matooke.
Just as Britain saw its purpose as a leader as turning the subjugated into a copy of itself, Baganda administrator chiefs did the same thing.
That’s the problem with racism: there is no superior race, we all suck. Every one. From Britain and Rome to Africa. Ever heard of the Kingdom of Buzongola? Of course not. Kabaka Suuna got rid of it. He conquered it, assimilated its peoples and lands and obliterated its identity. He had every trace of it wiped out and replaced with Buganda. Much like the British, Spanish, Vikings, Aztecs, Hebrews did. It was pretty much standard mode for conquering states throughout history. You conquer another country, you crush its culture and replace it with yours.
So don’t say I'm attacking Buganda here. I'm just not defending Buganda. I'm attacking vainglorious power-abusers and tyrants of every race and tribe because every race and tribe has them.
Even though I, myself, consider it an honour and my good fortune to have been born into this astoundingly beautiful culture of drums and song called Buganda, this culture of colour and grace, creators of my favourite entontome and luwombo and engero and empisa, even though I feel it a blessing to have been born into the culture of the Ganda people, I know that I would feel the same way about Bunyoro culture if I was born in Hoima.
And if some protectorate stooge was trying to force everyone to abandon their culture they love as much as I love mine, I would resent it. I have deep seated lusidiiku, what they call congenital stubbornness. Us guys from my village in Kyaddondo are known for it. I hate bullies.
World War II changed everything
World War 2 was a European quibble, but they managed to draw the entire globe into it. Including their colonies, and including Africans, who were armed, trained, uniformed and sent to serve as cannon fodder for Germany, France, Britain or whoever their colonisers were. They needed soldiers. So they swept the colonies for whoever they could drag into their quarrel.
Ugandans went out and fought alongside the rest of the British colonial empire shooting and killing and, even though they say the British side won the war, that war began the process of them losing a lot more.
Lion’s history says Ugandan soldiers came back enlightened. They now knew that the white man was mortal. That he could bleed. And was equal to the black man in this regard. And this was enough to shake off the shackles that prevented them from asking the logical question i.e. if the white man was equal to us, why is he ruling us?
Actually fleas had known this forever. Every time you have a group of people, no matter their race, gender or tribe, this statistic will hold: a few of them will be clever, but most of them will be dense. I call it Kadaga’s Law.
So mission corps, Luggie’s troops, every contingent of whites who ever set foot in every part of Africa, statistically speaking, included idiots who the clever Africans would easily recognise as thick morons.
Here’s what I imagine frequently happened:
Chief’s Accountant: We’ve collected taxes as per the mandate of the white man. So let's put them on a convoy of donkeys and send them to Kampala.
Chief: Wait, wait, wait. How many donkeys are those?
Chief’s Accountant: Eight.
Chief: And how many bags on each?
Chief’s Accountant: Six.
Chief: And how much tax in each bag?
Chief’s Accountant: (X amount of tax)
Chief: And how many brain cells in the white guys?
Chief’s Accountant: Um… let me see. Doing the maths that works out to null.
Chief: Do you think he’ll notice if we send one donkey short, and the donkeys we send are each one bag short, and each bag is minus x amount short? Because that guy is really thick. He counts to ten on his fingers. If you need him to count to twelve, he has to take off his shoes. He is so dumb he still thinks the cows moo comes from its horns because it sounds like trumpets. He is so dumb he doesn't even see what a colossal error in strategy his home kingdom has made by installing indirect rule using nasty smug proxy corrupt tyrants like us to be loathed by the people we subjugate in his name.
The forces agitating for self-government were many and diverse and there are too many subtleties and nuances to elaborate on here, but the bottom line is that Ugandan heroes and heroines were asking for their nation. And asking as Ugandans, not as divided and ruled, but as united and aware that this was not London’s shamba.
They weren't alone. Across the British, French and other European colonies the urge for national independence was roaring. The lion that had been wrestled to the ground was straining for its feet.
Meanwhile in Bulaya, Britain was coming to terms with its own foolhardiness. The preeminent world powers didn't include King George and his squad. US President Roosevelt and the USSR's Stalin, of all people to be thankful to for anything at all, were dead set against the concept of colonialism and had strong words with Churchill about it. Those words were codified in what came to be called the Atlantic Charter. It recorded recognition of the right of peoples to self-government and self-determination in their self-owned nations. In summary, "Pack and leave, Winston."
The tide was turning and it was washing away Britain's pearls.
Even though Uganda's freedom fighters were not as fervent as those elsewhere in Africa and Asia, they were swiftly rewarded with the flag and the Coat of Arms.
A bad colony (protectorate or whatever) then shifted to a nation.
From bad to more of the same
This is why we are this way: dependent on the west buying our tea, cotton and coffee and not even able to get rich off it.
This is why we are this way: defining ourselves in western terms, with anthems and coats of arms, and trousers and forks and pizza and hamburgers and English names.
This is why we are this way: defining ourselves as failures because we fall short of that definition, caning whole generations of school kids because, instead of speaking English to one another, they are caught relishing the beauty of our languages.
But we cannot go back to the Uganda we were before their protection, because there was no Uganda before they made one. What happened stays happened, as the great Sir Terry Pratchett, a brilliant British author, says in his scathingly brilliant satire of war, conquest and colonialism, titled simply Jingo. Read it one day.
We are stuck with this.
But there’s hope.
Uganda is 58 years old. The protectorate was 62.
For comparison, the kingdom of Buganda is 400 years old.
Maybe all it takes is time, faith and a bit of effort from each of us and one day, one day, one day, we will be a better nation. Our own Uganda.
And we will replace the national anthem with drums. That part is the cornerstone of my dream Uganda. Drums anthem.