Binaisa’s anti-colonial legal battles

HAPPIER DAYS: Binaisa (R) with Yusuf Lule on the left who had introduced a bank for Africans in 1959. FILE PHOTOS

We continue with our researched series on the life of late president Godfrey Binaisa. Today, read about his days as a lawyer and his anti-colonial engagements, writes Saturday Monitor's Fred Guweddeko.

In 1956, the power dam had just opened in Uganda but the colonial law barred Africans from using electricity for industrial and commercial purposes. Africans could only use electricity for domestic purposes. The initial cases Binaisa handled were against colonial laws preventing Africans at Katwe in Kampala from manufacturing electricity-welded products, and a one Mr Kayondo from manufacturing shoes, etc. On these suits, Binaisa fell out with his British partner and worked with Grace Ibingira.

The racist language and political approach of the late Binaisa led to the breakdown of the partnership with the British lawyer. Binaisa then went into law partnership with John Kazoora. Incidentally, Mr Kazoora had at the time just adopted a niece, Janat Kataha who was to become the wife of one of the future political adversaries of Binaisa.

The Kazoora and Binaisa legal partnership was short-lived as the two were always sought in major political suits. They separated, as they could not represent different sides of political suits when under one firm.

Binaisa and Kazoora were on opposite sides in major cases such as between Buganda government vs Mataayo Mugwanya, in the landmark suit that hightlighted the Catholics vs Buganda rift and precipitated the founding of the Democratic Party in Uganda.

Binaisa, Kazoora and Ben Kiwanuka were the three leading lawyers contesting the high profile political cases in Uganda from 1957 to 1971. To his credit, Binaisa is so far the most successful lawyer in the political court contests in Uganda history. He won all the major political suits he was involved in between 1957-1971.

Anti-colonialism politics
Returning to Uganda in July 1956, Binaisa immediately became one of the leaders of the popular opposition to the Buganda Lukiiko policy of sharing among the friends of the Kabaka, 154 square miles of Buganda public land. This land had been returned by the colonial government to the Buganda government under the 1955 Buganda Agreement. The land was eventually shared among the friends of the Kabaka after leaders of the opposition campaign were added to the list of beneficiaries.

In August 1956, Binaisa became one of the leaders of the agitation over the extension of the Governorship of Sir Andrew Cohen in Uganda for another five year term. A popular advocacy which included UNC leader, Ignatius K. Musaazi, wanted another term for Sir Cohen. An equally, popular Mengo sponsored advocacy, with Binaisa as the leader, wanted Sir Cohen out of Uganda. After winning the anti-Sir Cohen drive, Binaisa started another campaign to punish UNC leader, Musaazi, for supporting Sir Cohen.

In September 1956, Binaisa led the supporters of the Katikkiro Michael Kintu-led Mengo government against the Progressive Party led by E.M.K Mulira and the newly-formed Democratic Party under Matayo Mugwanya. The politicians had evidence of corruption and were using it to oust the Mengo government. Binaisa argued that the critical issue was to fight for independence and not corruption.
Binaisa addressed public rallies accusing Mulira and Matayo Mugwanya of working to retain British colonial rule in Uganda.

Fighting for Buganda
At the end of 1956, Binaisa and his partner F S Troughton were involved in Court battles between the Buganda Government and the Katikiro Michael Kintu, and the Progressive Party President E M K Mulira. In this situation Binaisa was actually defending undemocratic and corrupt governance in Buganda Kingdom. Binaisa argued that politicians should fight against the bigger enemy of colonial rule and not against Buganda.

As if it was a kick-back, the Mengo government also assisted Binaisa to hurriedly establish and lead a UNC branch in Mengo Township. Incidentally, Mengo had banned political party branches from Mengo Township. Binaisa immediately used his UNC branch for election to the Buganda region UNC Executive Committee. In Buganda region, Binaisa became the “Congress Week Drive Committee’ chairman. Charged with political rallies, Binaisa worked with Paulo Muwanga to raise intense Buganda region hostility to British rule.

The highly-successful Binaisa and Paulo Muwanga UNC Buganda campaign was based almost on threats and lies about destroying instead of freeing Buganda. It created a suspicious and hostile attitude against British motives for the future of Buganda in independent Uganda. Besides making Buganda entrust its seats in the Legislative Council to the UNC, this complicated subsequent independence politics in which Binaisa and Muwanga were key players.

In July 1957, Binaisa, who was exactly seven months in the UNC, was among the 46 UNC National Council members who opposed, and walked out of the Annual Delegates Conference, upon the re-election of the Musaazi and Joel Kiwanuka leadership. In the UNC executive committee response, Binaisa was among the 16 rebels accused of conspiracy and ambition, and dismissed from the UNC.

Binaisa was eventually among the 23 UNC leaders who formed a breakaway United Congress Party, where he became the secretary general. At the inauguration of the United Congress Party, Binaisa said the UNC was delaying and leading the Uganda independence struggle on the road to ‘nowhere’. Binaisa made stinging personal accusations against UNC founding leaders, Musazi and Kiwanuka, who he had not worked with for more than six months.

Though he was officially only the secretary general, Binaisa was the de-facto leader of the United Congress Party. He declared ‘war’ against the presence of non-Africans in the Uganda Legislative Council and national politics. He declared ‘war’ for immediate independence instead of following the British protracted plans. Binaisa warned that UCP will resort to force to free Uganda from British rule. Binaisa, as leader of the UCP, launched a campaign to show that all the alleged development and welfare plans by the colonial regime were actually geared to delay independence. He announced that UCP was recalling all the African Representatives from the Uganda Legislative Council because of the refusal by Britain to grant independence. Two representatives; Hon. Lubogo and Hon. Dr Muwazi, resigned. Binaisa announced that Africans will henceforth boycott electing their people to Legislative Council.

Under Binaisa, the UCP replaced the Uganda National Congress in the independence struggle in Buganda and Busoga. Binaisa started mobilising for independence with pamphlet messages to the people ‘to prepare for tough times ahead as the struggle for independence was about to take a critical turn’.
Beginning with January 1,1958, Binaisa through the ‘United Front’ which represented five political parties, declared Africans boycott of all colonial government activities if Uganda politics continues to be dominated by Europeans and Indians. He introduced a division between the political parties that were recognising, operating under and cooperating with the colonial regime and those that were not.

The collaborators were; UNC, DP, PP, etc, while the resisters were; UCP, UNP, EU, All-Buganda Party, etc. The collaborating political parties were prevented from operating in Buganda and Busoga. The resisting political parties were allowed and facilitated.

The ‘collaborating’ political parties and the colonial government contacted Binaisa through an astute non-politician called Daudi Ocheng. Through Ocheng, a longtime friend of Kabaka Mutesa of Buganda and Kyabazinga Muloki of Busoga, private personal level negotiations involving all the groups were opened with Binaisa. Without consultation, Binaisa suddenly stopped the ‘United Front’ anti-colonial campaign.

Political parties and individual supporters of the Binaisa generated hard line anti-colonial militant struggle, addressed rallies condemning him as a traitor and vowing to continue. From February 15, 958, Binaisa countered through public rallies, explaining that in politics ‘change of strategy’ is one of the ‘tactics’ that will lead Uganda to independence.

Making U-turn
In spite of Binaisa, the Buganda Lukiiko rejected the March 1958 Legislative Council elections. Not to be outdone, Binaisa turned round and publicly praised Buganda for rejecting the Legislative Council elections.

For most of 1958, the UCP engaged in global, Africa and regional (East and Central Africa) self government initiatives and conferences. This was a period for Uganda political party leaders, Binaisa inclusive, to enjoy numerous costs and allowances paid for international trips. The foreign demands were for the numerous small Uganda political parties to merge.

A conference to unite Uganda political parties was sponsored in Kampala by foreign patrons of the independence struggle in November 1958. It had technical advisers and politicians like Julius Nyerere and Tom Mboya to assist. For UCP, Binaisa said he accepted the principle of merging but could not concede to surrendering leadership or winding up. Other parties did not accept any formula of unity in pursuing Uganda independence.

Militant anti-colonialism
In December 1958, Binaisa led the political parties reaction to the colonial government release of a development plan that offered prospects to Africans. The plan was welcomed by all native kingdoms and local governments except Buganda Kingdom. Binaisa organised political parties to denounce British rule and the right of Britain to develop Uganda. He launched a campaign that only Ugandans should develop Uganda, not Britain, European companies and local minority Indians.

The next campaign Binaisa launched was against the 1959 Education Bill which gave powers to the colonial government minister, Hon Cartland, to license and inspect all non-government schools in Uganda.

Prior, the education sector was open to entry by religious, cultural, native local government and private native entrepreneurs. Binaisa sent messages to all native stakeholders that this Bill was designed was a declaration of war on African Education in Uganda. He organised a national public rally to denounce this Bill and launch the campaign. Before the conclusion of the anti-Education Bill struggle, Binaisa launched the collection of signatures from Uganda Africans petitioning against the 1959 Constitution Committee.

The Committee was soliciting public views to draft a Uganda Constitution based on three races; Africans, Europeans and Indians. Binaisa called on Ugandans to boycott the Committee, arguing that Uganda is only for African Ugandans.

The campaign was also launched with a public rally at Katwe. After the Katwe rally, the colonial government and British companies in Uganda reached a private agreement with Binaisa not to oppose the goodwill visit of the Queen Mother. The British Queen Mother visit was a greater contradiction to Uganda independence struggle but Binaisa usually compromised especially where, as in this case, he negotiated with financial interests.

In February 1959, the governor removed Mr Yusuf Kironde Lule from the post of Minister of Rural Development responsible for improving Africans. Lule had established a Bank for Africans (later Uganda Commercial Bank), African Cooperatives, African shops and ginneries. At a Katwe rally to denounce the removal of Lule, resolutions were drawn to end peaceful intercourse with colonialists and fight for economic rights.

Binaisa was one of the principal speakers at the rally where the mob forced Musaazi to retract his invitation to non-Africans to join the UNC. The final resolution drawn by Binaisa was to create the Uganda National Movement to show by proactive action (boycott) that Ugandans were tired of British rule. Binaisa was chairman of the finance committee and the only member of all other committees. The most powerful committee was one determining the (British) goods, companies, shops and services to boycott. The UNM boycott list was more than a religion to the local public in Buganda, Jinja, Mbale and Tororo.

Any African sighted working, transporting, buying or associating with boycotted goods, services, company, shop or racial group suffered mob violence, burning of the house and slashing the garden.
Binaisa was on the committee which determined the items most associated with colonial rule and exploiting natives. The committee listed and de-listed boycott items.

The late Binaisa was empowered to negotiate with business interests subject to boycott. Within three months the UNM organised boycott had brought to a standstill each of the industries, goods and services under African boycott. Binaisa engaged in private negotiations, on his terms, with companies to overlook their products or de-list them from the boycott.