The present-day Uganda was forged by the British between 1890 and 1926. The name Uganda was derived from the Buganda Kingdom.It is important to note that the British were not the first people to unite Uganda.
Before the British united Uganda, the Bachwezi dynasty controlled or influenced parts of Uganda, Rwanda, Congo and Tanzania between 1100 AD and 1600AD. Names like Ndahura (Ndawula), Mulindwa, Wamala, Kagoro, Kyomya, Mugasha (Mukasa), which are Bachwezi names are found throughout these areas.
Further evidence is provided by historical sites like Bigo bya Mugyenyi and Omunsa. Also, the Luo were linked to the Banyoro and Batoro through the Babiito dynasty.
Names like Olimi, Oyo, Winyi and Achaki that are found amongst the Babiito of Bunyoro and Toro are Luo names. The Luo equivalents of these royal names are Olum, Oyo, Owiny and Acak, respectively. Buganda was also linked to the Luo.
For instance the main entrance at the Lubiri (palace) is called wankaki, the same word as Wangkac, which in Luo also means entrance.
The Bachwezi dynasty collapsed around 1600. It was replaced by Kingdoms of Buganda, Bunyoro, Ankole, Toro and Busoga, and the chieftains of Beni-Butembo and Husi (in Congo); and Karagwe and Buhaya (in Tanzania). Parts of Rwanda such as Mutara were also part of this domain.
Before colonialism, present-day Uganda was made up of Kingdoms and societies that were headed by chiefs or clan leaders.
These societies i.e. those without a central leadership, included the langi, Lugbara, Acholi, Karimojong, Bakiga, Iteso, Bagishu, Sebei and the various Bantu and Padhola groups of Bukedi.
Power in these societies was wielded by clan leaders. Inter-clan feuds were common among the non-kingdom societies. Land was owned communally under clan leaderships.
On the other hand, societies of the present-day Bunyoro, Buganda, Ankole and Toro were organized as Kingdoms each with a central leadership under a king who exercised power through chiefs and clan leaders.
The kingdom areas had developed into small states that had at times fought each other for supremacy and expansion of territory. This state of affairs was to change with the arrival of foreigners.
POLITICAL TURMOIL DUE TO CONTACT WITH FOREIGNERS
The first foreigners to arrive in Uganda were Arab traders in 1845. In 1862, John Hannington Speke arrived in Buganda followed by Grant in 1865, and by Henry Morton Stanley in 1865.
These Europeans were referred to as ‘explorers’ – exploring territory for British expansion. Stanley helped Buganda raid the Islands of Buvuma and extracted a letter of invitation from Kabaka Mutesa I, inviting the white men to come to his kingdom.
Mutesa felt threatened by the spread of Egyptian imperialism and the old rivalry from the Kingdom of Bunyoro. He wanted guns to defend his kingdom and invited the whites thinking that they would help him in this task.
In his letter of March 24 1876, inviting missionaries, Kabaka Mutesa explained that he wanted to be “a friend to the white man”.This letter was published in London in the Daily Telegraph.
After the publication of the letter, a follow up article was published a week later in the same paper enjoining missionaries who might respond to Mutesa’s invitation to “teach the natives to wear clothes” and design such clothing to be “slightly longer than the normal” with the assertion that “if the Africans increase their clothing by even two inches longer than the normal that would keep the Lancaster Mills in operation for a full year.”
The two extra inches on African clothes showed how colonialism was the battering ram for the expansion of European economic interests in the search for markets.
The colonization of Africa took different forms and different methods were used in different places. These included the use of anthropology, the Bible and the gun.
The gun, assisted by the Bible and the Koran were the most effective means through which Uganda was colonized.
The Bible and Koran teachings were so effective that a decade within the arrival of missionaries some Baganda had offered themselves to “die for God and fighting other men of God”, something that had rarely happened in other places where organized religion had existed for centuries.
By 1867, Islam was established in Buganda, having been introduced by Arabs during the reign of Kabaka Ssuna II. It is recorded that Mutesa I was already observing the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and had learned to read the Koran.
He also exchanged gifts with parts of the Islamic world, like Zanzibar, but never converted fully to Islam. However the young pages at his court went further than the king and eagerly accepted initiation into Islam.
They refused beef from the king’s table saying beef from that was not slain by a Muslim was unfit for consumption. Muteesa responded by ordering the execution of all pages that had converted to Islam.
In June 1877, the Church Missionary Society (CMS) arrived in Buganda from England led by Shergold Smith and Reverend CT Wilson.They started preaching “the good news” to the pages at the Kabaka’s court.
Two years later, in February 1879, another batch of preachers arrived. These were the Roman Catholic White Fathers, Father Lourdel and Brother Amans.
Fathers Barbot, Girault and Livinhac reinforced them in June the same year. Thus, in Buganda, within a period of two years, there were to different groups both teaching Christianity. This confused the Baganda as to which one was right or better.
The competition among Catholics and Protestants in Buganda was a reflection of the global rivalry between France and England for spheres of influence where they could sell their products and obtain cheap raw materials.
Suspicious of their motives, Mutesa had confined the missionaries at the court and hence, the conversions started with loyal chiefs and the pages. As the two religious sects started advancing their agendas, they started conflicting with each other.
They had endless quarrels and disputes in front of Mutesa but failed to provide arms and ammunition to the expectant king.
In this atmosphere, the Arabs took advantage of the conflicts and started spreading Islam; they improved trade and generally discredited the Christian factions in front of Mutesa, thus gaining ground.
The traditional religious and political leaders, who had lost ground with the arrival of the new religions, came back and gained momentum.
Mutesa himself lost confidence in missionaries and, consequently, the Roman Catholics thought it important to remove themselves and establish a station at Kagei south of Lake Victoria in 1882. They remained there until Mwanga summoned them back to Rubaga in 1885.
Mutesa died in 1884 and was succeeded by Mwanga, who was threatened by outside events like the news of Karl Peters signing treaties with local leaders in present-day Tanzania.
Then there was the coming of Bishop James Hannington who came from the east, a route superstitiously believed to cause trouble to the kingdom. Mwanga ordered the arrest of the bishop, his detention and later execution.
With the coming of the missionaries and their idea of a supreme God, the influence of the Kabaka started waning and the ‘readers’ (abasomi) were gaining ground.
Religion started spreading to the entire kingdom; the pages started giving respect to the preachers; they started questioning the Kabaka, denouncing authoritarian rule and preaching what they regarded as the new ‘democracy’. This marked the decline in the traditional system of governance.
Increasingly seeing his authority being undermined, in 1885, Kabaka Mwanga ordered the execution of three converts in a bid to re-assert his authority.
By 1886, Mwanga who was ill advised by traditionalists ordered the denunciation of religion by every Muganda. Those who refused to denounce their faith were burnt alive at Namugongo.
This changed the pace of events, for Christians were determined to have a political platform. This perturbed Mwanga so much that he was determined to get rid of the preachers and the ‘readers’ from his kingdom.
He planned to lure them onto a boat and maroon them on one of the islands on Lake Victoria and starve them to death. The plot did not succeed as the very people who were supposed to implement it leaked it to the concerned parties.
In the same year, 1888, Christians and Muslims combined forces and deposed Mwanga. For the first time since the establishment of the kingdom, the king was overthrown by his subjects with the help of foreigners.
Therefore, within a decade of their arrival, the missionaries had created a new class in Buganda. This ‘class’ of the readers had become a powerful interest group, which, although supposed to be religious, had turned itself into a political faction.
This may have been inevitable, given the lack of knowledge of the traditional rulers about affairs beyond their immediate areas; their decadence; and their authoritarianism.
The new Christians and Muslims opposed the attempt to exterminate the readers but in the process they weakened the kingdom in their fight for ascendancy over one another.
In October 1888, following Mwanga’s defeat, the Muslim converts wanted to trim the influence of Christians and they chased them out of Kampala.
They attempted for force Kiwewa, the then reigning king, to undergo circumcision. He resisted, was overthrown and replaced by his brother, Kalema, who agreed to be circumcised.
The Catholics fled south and later regrouped in Buddu (present day Masaka). The Protestants took cover in Nkore where the Omugabe (king) gave them the counties of Kabula and Mawogola.
They later co-coordinated and twice but separately, tried to overthrow the reigning Islamic order. But in both cases they were defeated by Kalema’s forces.
Mwanga later joined the Catholics in Buddu. They coordinated with the Protestants and an agreement was reached to mount a joint attack to restore Mwanga.
In October 1889, they defeated the Muslims and restored Mwanga to power. With these developments, the rulers of Buganda had become mere instruments in the hands of the religious factions.
In reality the groups were not fighting for religion, but they had become vehicles for politically ambitious commoners seeking power.
The Muslims were not ready to relinquish power easily. They went northwestwards, befriended Omukama (king) Kabalega of Bunyoro, taking advantage of the old rivalry between Bunyoro and Buganda and the whites that regarded Bunyoro as a white man’s grave ever since Samuel Baker’s defeat.
Baker, who had been appointed governor of Equatorial Province by King Ismail of Egypt had attempted to annex Bunyoro but was defeated by Kabalega in 1872.
This defeat had created hostility between the British and Bunyoro. The Muslims acquired more soldiers and guns and in November 1889, they found their way back to Mengo.
Again the Christians were on the run with Mwanga who was exiled to the island of Bulingugwe in Lake Victoria. Kalema was reinstated. In 1890, Christians again combined and defeated the Muslims and Mwanga took the throne a third time.
This time he was no longer the powerful king he had been because his authority had been curbed – the real power now lay in the hands of the Christians, his pages and chiefs.
By this time, religious affiliation had become more of a source of political power than a source of faith, and more disorder awaited the kingdom. Since Mwanga had been kept in exile by the Wafaransa (as Catholic converts were known, since they had come from France), they took a leading role in the aftermath of the war and the Wangereza (English or Protestant converts) saw themselves as less privileged. The Kabaka was seen as an instrument of the Catholics who were promoting French interests.
The Christians who had earlier united against the Muslims became divided and hatred between Catholics and Protestants ensued. The Baganda converts did not seem to realize that they were fighting the wars of the Arabs, the British and French imperialists.