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Islam and Christianity bought plots in Africa

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Mr Daniel K. Kalinaki

This year marks a mid-way point between the time Uganda came under colonial rule with the signing of the 1900 Buganda Agreement and the time it has been an independent state from 1962; sixty-two years in each direction. How much has changed around us in some of the basic aspects of life, like population and religion?

British suzerainty had come six years earlier, in 1894, when the Kingdom of Buganda became a protectorate of the crown. However, the later date, coming after the defeat of Omukama Kabalega and Kabaka Mwanga’s war of resistance, marked the more complete installation of colonial rule. It would take a few more years – and the doggedly persistent self-serving efforts of collaborators like Semei Kakungulu – to bring the rest of what is present-day Uganda into the fold but after Bunyoro and Buganda folded, it was over bar the shouting.

I find history fascinating, Dear Reader. Some of the fascination, I will be the first to admit, is of the navel-gazing variety: a tidbit here, a crumb there, and voila! into the rabbit hole of history one descends; a chocolate factory of sometimes utterly-useless-but-nevertheless-intriguing factoids.

Do you know, for instance, that as early as 1909 indigenous people in Tanganyika, which was then still under the control of the Germans, held half of the 880 bank savings accounts open in the territory, which also had a higher standard of education than Kenya and Uganda? I digress, but such small cookies sometimes speak of bigger themes, like the different approaches to native economic participation between rival colonial powers.

The swinging of the pendulum of time over such a long timeframe allows us to see ways in which society has changed and continues to this day. Take population, for example. A survey in 1906/7 estimated the native population of Buganda at 655,817, including those in the two counties ‘lost’ by Bunyoro.

Surprisingly, a similar survey across the protectorate found the largest population, 1,246,497, to be in the Eastern region, which included Busoga, Bukedi, Lango, Teso and Karamoja. Looking at more contemporary population and demographic data, it is clear that the centre of the country, particularly the Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area but including urban areas upcountry continue to suck populations out of the rural areas. In the case of eastern Uganda, which remains poorer than the south and western parts of the country, researchers might wish to explore how much poverty has been a push or pull factor for migration, or how much it has raised population numbers in more recent years.

Much of the modern state-building of what is currently Uganda has a heavy religious influence, starting with the religious wars in Buganda. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that religious trends make some of the most interesting reading.

First is just how quickly the new religions spread in the young protectorate. By 1913 records showed 1,347 Anglican churches spread out across Uganda with an average attendance of 102,588 – or about half the installed capacity. I could not easily find the figures for the number of Catholic Churches but the number of those baptised but excluding those who were in the pipeline was, at 103,367 slightly higher than that of the ‘ruling Anglican’ class. These numbers would become – and I believe are still quite – political, but it would be interesting to see, more than half a century later, what the most recent census throws up. Here research from the American Pew Center is instructive. By 1900, Muslims and Christians were small minorities across much of sub-Saharan Africa, with the majority still practicing traditional African religions. The World Religion Database estimates Christians and Muslims to have made up less than a quarter of the population.

A century later, research from the Pew Center notes, “the number of Muslims living between the Sahara Desert and the Cape of Good Hope has increased more than 20-fold, rising from an estimated 11 million in 1900 to approximately 234 million in 2010. The number of Christians has grown even faster, soaring almost 70-fold from about seven million to 470 million. Sub-Saharan Africa now is home to about one-in-five of all the Christians in the world (21%) and more than one-in-seven of the world’s Muslims (15%).

With dropping fertility rates in the more developed countries, and with most of the young people in the world now found in sub-Saharan Africa, these trends will have global impacts. It is now estimated that by 2050 there will be nearly as many Muslims as Christians around the world.
One in 10 people in Europe will be Muslim; India will still be majority-Hindu but overtake Indonesia to have the world’s largest Muslim population, while four out of every 10 Christians in the world will live in sub-Saharan Africa.

The shifting sands of the religious landscape will influence many things, from political and education systems, to the uptake of vaccines as well as social policy and rights. If religion is the opium of the masses, we now know those who didn’t get high on their own supply.

Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and  poor man’s freedom fighter. 
[email protected]; @Kalinaki