50 years after our independence: What is the Buganda Question?

Kabaka Edward Muteesa II (C) upon his return from two years of exile in Britain on October 18,1955.

What you need to know:

What is the answer? The theme of the Buganda Conference just concluded was, “Prospects and challenges of resolving the Buganda question after 50 years of Uganda’s independence.” What, however, is the Buganda question? Writes Yoga Adhola

Way back in the early 60s a young American researcher, Terence K. Hopkins, of the Department of Sociology, Columbia University, sought to put this question. She wrote in an article, “Politics in Uganda: The Buganda Question,” which was published in the book, “Boston University Papers on Africa,” edited by A. A. Castagino and Jeffrey Butler and published by Praeger of New York, 1967.
It is an article which every Ugandan, and particularly the Baganda, should read. Incidentally, the Baganda should also read Prof. Ali Mazrui’s article, “Privilege and Protest as integrative factors: The case of Buganda’s status in Uganda,” published in the book, “Protest and Power in Black Africa,” edited by Robert I. Rothberg and Ali A. Mazrui. (Anyone interested in reading these two articles can contact me by e-mail, and I will make them available)
In her article, Terence K. Hopkins argued: “Politically, this tension takes the form of the “Buganda question”, the dimensions and ramifications of which are many, but the core of which can be simply stated: What place should Buganda, its ruler the Kabaka, and its people the Baganda, occupy in the emerging national society? It has not been an easy question for Ugandans to answer.
To many Baganda they are an elite people, endowed with a superior culture, superior economic wealth, and superior political traditions. To those among them who have thought about the matter at all, it was until fairly recently almost inconceivable that they should not provide the leadership for the new state.
To many non-Baganda such claims have appeared pretentious, the wealth not wholly deserved, and the traditions a liability. While valuing much that Buganda has attained, particularly the relative well-being of its people and its political successes during the colonial period, the others have been no more prepared to put up with the Baganda overrule than with British overrule.”
As put by Hopkins, the Buganda question is an identity question. Prof. Kiwanuka, himself a Muganda, tells us Buganda became a dominant power in the region that now encompasses Uganda from around 1600. He did this in an article he published in the Makerere Historical Journal Volume 1 No. 1975 pages 19-32. The title of the article is, “The Emergence of Buganda as a dominant power in the interlacustrine region of East Africa, 1600-1900.”
To many less thoughtful Baganda, this was a heroic period when they were a great power. It is this greatness which is sang about in the Buganda national anthem (ekiitibwa kya Buganda), which talks about the glory (greatness) of Buganda which came from way back in history, and we (the present generation of Baganda) must also uphold it. While this period of dominance and conquest fills some Baganda with immense pride, the unthinking Baganda who celebrate it, don’t realise other identities view the period as one of their domination, humiliation and conquest by Buganda.
The 300 years of dominance and conquest of the other identities (tribes), lasted uninterrupted until the eve of colonisation. That is the period when under the able leadership of Omukama Kabalega, the kingdom of Bunyoro began to resist the dominance of Buganda. It was waging war against Buganda and sometimes retaking its lost territory when the British arrived with the intention of colonising the area.
British-Buganda alliance
The British who needed an ally in the subjugation of the other natives, immediately allied with the Baganda who were being pressurised by the resurgent Bunyoro. The two formed a formidable alliance and went on to defeat Bunyoro in the war of 1893/1894, and forced Kabalega to take refuge in Lango.
For such services and many others that followed, the colonial authorities were to accord Buganda differential treatment throughout the colonial period. In 1900, for instance, the British signed a quasi-treaty with Buganda, in which Buganda was to be treated differently from the rest of the colony. The 1900 agreement was to constitute the parameters of Buganda’s relations with the colonial authorities until the mid 50s when Governor Andrew Cohen rattled the relations.
The Baganda also had a head start in adapting to the new things brought about by colonialism. They adopted Christianity earlier than the rest of the colony. They began growing cash crops such as cotton and coffee before all the other identities. They also went to school earlier and ended up having the best schools based in their territory. A combination of these factors was to imbue the Baganda with an ideology of a superior identity.
In 1952, Sir Cohen became governor of Uganda. As part of his efforts to prepare Uganda for independence, he sought to make changes in the governance of Buganda and the Kabaka refused. The Governor then deported Kabaka Mutesa to Britain. The intention of the deportation was to replace Mutesa as Kabaka with a prince who would accept the changes that Cohen was proposing. This strategy did not work and Mutesa had to come back and resume the kabakaship in 1955.
Much as a new agreement to update the 1900 agreement was put in place, the unintended consequence of Mutesa’s return, in a manner which appeared he had won, was to make the Baganda feel they could negotiate with the British without taking into account the views and feelings of the rest of Ugandans. Some extremist Baganda even felt that independence should be handed to them. Thus for instance, a meeting of the Lukiiko in 1957, the Omuwanika (Treasurer) of Buganda let slip a remark that Uganda ought to become a “Federal state under the Kabaka”.
These acts of chauvinism gave rise to a crescendo of hostility in the rest of the country. The Katikiros (Chancellors) of the Western Province kingdoms talked of forming the Western Provincial Council to resist Buganda. In the rest of the country, contrary to earlier expectations by the Baganda, Legico members organized the District Councils to pass angry resolutions against the chauvinism of the Baganda.
As the resentment to Ganda chauvinism mounted, Professor Anthony Low, then teaching history at Makerere, reported that rumours began to spread that “the old and widespread hostility against them (the Baganda chauvinists) would be channelled into a new-style political party.” (Low, D.A. 1971: 190)
As all this was going on amongst the political groupings of Ugandans, the British methodically continued preparing the country for independence. On October 10, 1957 the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, while in Uganda as part of an East African fact finding mission, gave his approval to the unanimous view in the colony that direct elections for the Legico be held in 1958.
However, by this time, the Buganda Government’s initially positive stance toward direct elections had eroded, as had its concomitant enthusiasm to be involved in the Legico. Not only did Buganda view an accelerated movement toward independence with foreboding, but the neo-traditionalist had come to realise that direct elections in Buganda, whether to the Legico or to the Lukiiko, represented a serious threat to their hold on power in Buganda. This is what informed the boycott of the Legico elections in 1958.
The following year, two things which stoked the fires of the Buganda Question occurred. One, following internal contradictions within the Uganda National Congress, Milton Obote was elected to lead the UNC. With Obote’s election as President of UNC, both the leadership of the UNC, the most significant political organisation in the country, and the unofficial members of the Legico, had dovetailed into one person. Furthermore, for the first time in about three centuries, the initiative was in the hands of the non-Baganda. The Baganda had not only lost the leadership of the forces then moving history at the time, but their opponents had the upper hand in the Wild Committee, which was setting up the ground rules for independence.
Secondy, The Wild Committee which had been tasked to study and make recommendations on constitutional development in the colony made its report in 1959. While the setting up of this committee was clearly inspired by Buganda’s refusal to participate in the 1958 Legico elections, ironically Buganda refused to participate in this committee. The one thing the Wild Committee recommended which incensed the Baganda, was the principle of direct elections to the Legico with no special safeguards for Buganda, should be accepted as a prelude to government through representation.
About these two events, Prof. Mutibwa has written: “As a reaction to the publication of the Wild Report, whose committee Mengo had boycotted, Buganda authorities decided to demand once again separate independence for their kingdom.” The Baganda appear to have been in a near panic. There were attempts to form a party of their own - the Uganda National Party (UNP) - which, it was even suggested, could merge with the new UPC. It was all a gamble, especially as the Mengo Establishment was faced, apparently for the first time, with fears that Obote might become Uganda’s first Prime Minister. Certainly the prospects of being governed by a non-Muganda filled the Baganda with dismay.
It is against this background that the decision to renew the demand for separate independence by January 1, 1961 should be viewed. The British Government refused to be drawn into any fresh arguments with Buganda on this topic. They simply ignored the Buganda Lukiiko’s resolution when it was submitted to Westminster via Entebbe, and when January 1, 1961 arrived, Buganda was as much a part of the Uganda Protectorate as before. In short, that was the end of the matter.
While ignoring Buganda’s declaration of independence, the colonial authorities also continued preparing for elections. And to this the Baganda responded by boycotting the elections. Buganda, with 24 electoral constituencies, had 36,000 voters, a mere 4 to 5 per cent of the eligible voters registering. This was in stark contrast to the rest of the country that consisted of 58 electoral constituencies, and where 1,300,433 out of the estimated 1,500,000 to 1,750,000 registered to vote, a figure which represented over 75 per cent of those enfranchised.

In an effort to resolve the crisis in the relationship between Buganda and the colonial authorities, Obote secured the appointment of a commission under the chairmanship of Lord Munster. After four months of deliberations and consultations, the Uganda Relationship Commission submitted its report in June 1961.

The Munster Commission recommended that Buganda’s separatist demands should be incorporated in the Constitution as some sort of federal arrangement. In this regard The Munster Commission envisaged a Uganda consisting of a federal Buganda, and semi-federal Toro, Ankole, and Bunyoro.

The Commission also recommended indirect elections for Buganda’s representatives to the National Assembly, the inviolability of Buganda’s constitution, Buganda’s independent treasury, a separate High Court and a semi-independent police force, but not an independent army, or exclusive control of Entebbe and Kampala.

The proposals of the Munster Commission were later discussed at the Lancaster House Conference in October 1961. At the deliberations, with the assistance of UPC (and strongly resisted by the DP), Buganda attained most of its desires. About this, Mutesa was to write in his book: “The talks were successful. With Obote’s support we obtained a great deal of what we wanted and looked to receive the rest later.....”

Notwithstanding this satisfaction with the results of the Constitutional Conference, Buganda, having boycotted the 1961 elections which brought an illegitimate DP government in power, continued its firm resistance to Kiwanuka’s government. Another Constitutional conference to resolve the remaining matters was slated for a time later in the year, but Buganda was in no mood to attend it.

It is at this point in time that UPC (and Obote in particular) took up serious negotiations to persuade Buganda to attend the conference. Subsequently, on September 5, 1961, Obote, as UPC leader, issued a statement in which he outlined a strategy for persuading Buganda to participate in the forthcoming constitutional conference to prepare for independence.

He invited the Lukiiko to join hands with the UPC and form a “partnership” during the conference. He pointed out that it was the Lukiiko, and not the Buganda DP members of Parliament that was supported by the overwhelming majority of the people in Buganda. He argued that since, as evidenced by the results of the elections, UPC represented the majority of those outside Buganda, then “in the event of the opposition party (UPC) coming to an understanding with the Lukiiko, the British Government must accept that understanding with the Lukiiko, as one between Buganda and the rest of the country.”

Obote meets Buganda delegation
Four days later, a UPC delegation led by Obote met a Buganda delegation led by the Katikiro, Michael Kintu. Later in the day a reliable source was quoted by the `Uganda Argus’ as saying: “that full and complete agreement had been reached on points which were either left open when the Constitutional Committee saw the Governor, or on which there was disagreement.”

Following from this accord, Buganda took steps to attend the conference that began on September 18. As expected, the UPC supported Buganda’s desires on the manner of selecting her 21 representatives to the National Assembly. The two parties also advanced their common position on the timetable for the next elections. Against strong opposition from the DP, these two demands were endorsed by the conference, and a de facto alliance between UPC and the neo-traditionalists sealed.

The Constitutional Conference arrived at a unanimous consensus that however important the elections of March 1961 had been, in view of the boycott, they could not constitute the basis for governance. To remedy this, the DP had proposed that fresh elections should be held after independence. Both the UPC and the Buganda delegations had pressed for fresh elections immediately and before independence. The Conference eventually resolved that elections would be held in April 1962.

It was also ruled that the elections of the Lukiiko of Buganda should be early enough for it to take decisions on the form of elections in Buganda at least 14 days before the nomination day for national elections. This deadline was necessary in case the Lukiiko opted for direct elections, and so voters in Buganda would have had to be registered at the same time as those of the rest of the country.

Elections for the Lukiko were held on February 22, 1962 and KY won 69 out of 72 seats and proceeded to elect the 21 representatives from Buganda to the National Assembly. In April, after national elections in which UPC won 37 as against DPs 22 seats, the alliance between UPC and KY formed the government led by Obote as Prime Minister. Later on, as it had been agreed, Kabaka Mutesa was elected ceremonial President of Uganda.

And so going into independence a satisfactory answer to the Buganda Question had been found. Things were to change later, but that is the subject of our next article which will discuss the mistakes that the Nabagereka talked about.

Adhola is a leading ideologue of UPC.