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The stupid mistake that hammered the final nail in Buganda’s political coffin


ARTICLE SUMMARY: Whereas Milton Obote had publicly vowed to crush Buganda once he assumes power, Kabaka Muteesa II went ahead and gave him the support that propelled him to the helm in 1962. The apologists of Buganda often downplay this Kabaka’s act of insanity, blaming instead the kingdom’s collapse on Obote. The truth is that Obote’s assault was only the conclusion of the breakdown of a monarchy that had long been torn apart by religious sectarianism.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY: Yahya Sseremba is the publisher of The Campus Journal current affairs website.

The people of Buganda didn’t lose their number one status until they shattered their own unity. Their disunity hit the peak in the 1960s when Kabaka Muteesa II allied with a Langi politician to prevent his tribesmen from assuming power, empowering an outsider who had vowed to crush Buganda Kingdom.[1]These internal divisions that undermined Buganda’s supremacy had been building up for about 100 years.

The first major internal division in the kingdom appeared with the arrival of Islam in the middle of the 19th Century. The new monotheistic faith divided the Baganda into monotheists and polytheists, believers and unbelievers, Muslims and non-Muslims; camps that treated one another with deep contempt and approached each other with antagonism and even outright violence. For the first time in the history of the palace of the Kabaka, mere peasants who had only recently moved away from “the worship of creatures to the worship of Allah alone” viewed themselves as superior to their polytheist king, let alone their fellow peasants.

And why couldn’t they feel superior when their newly-adopted religion teaches that the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the most righteous of you? Even when Kabaka Muteesa I embraced Islam, a section of the Muslims felt that he could not lead them in salah (prayer) because he had refused to circumcise.[2]For the first time the people of Buganda shifted their loyalty from their master to one whom they believed was the master of their master, and that was Allah. Irreparable cracks had developed in the mighty Buganda wall.

The coming of the Christian missionaries in the latter part of the Century widened these cracks and the wall started crumbling. The latest faith raised the number of enemy lines to four – the Muslims, Catholics, Protestants and Traditionalists – with each of them sparing no effort to discredit and weaken the other. In the process chaos ensued and the kingdom became ungovernable, prompting King Mwanga to suppress what he considered the root cause of the problem – religion – and to eliminate the most passionate of its adherents. He burnt to death a number of them in the 1880s before he lost the contest and found himself in exile.

Mwanga’s consignment to exile demonstrated the gravity of the upheaval that religion constituted in Buganda. Bogged down in the disputatious and divisive affair that religion can sometimes be, the people of this once-rapidly expanding monarchy could by no means avoid faltering and withering. Their strength was bound to depart. No sooner had they deposed their king than they turned against themselves, mounting a series of bloody religious wars that ended in the triumph of the imperialist-backed Protestant sect at the dusk of the 19th Century.

The triumph of the Protestants was followed with a systematic and ruthless discrimination of members of others religions, particularly the Catholics but most heartlessly the Muslims. This discrimination, far from solving anything, worsened division in this tribe.

Convinced that they had no place in the Anglican-dominated political establishment, the Catholics formed their own Democratic Party in 1954 to contend for power, two years after the Anglicans had founded their own Uganda National Congress. This religious animosity became so grave that it blinded Muteesa, driving him to forsake the party of his tribesmen – DP – and enter into an alliance with the party of his fellow Anglicans even though they were not Baganda – UPC.

The decision of the Kabaka ally his Kabaka Yekka (KY) party with the UPC was surprising in two ways. First and foremost the UPC leader Milton Obote had vowed to crush Buganda. Secondly, the UPC emerged from the merger of two parties, one of which – Uganda Peoples Union – had been founded primarily to fight what it considered to be Buganda’s arrogance.[3]To ally with and empower such a hostile entity was Buganda’s most stupid and most fatal mistake ever, a mistake that sealed its political doom. Phares Mutibwa (2009) aptly notes, “It was this alliance and this alliance alone – and let there be no doubt about it – which enabled Milton Obote to become the first Prime Minister of an independent Uganda.”[4]And by extension, it was this alliance that empowered Obote to realize his dream of crushing Buganda.

There has been debate on why exactly did Kabaka Muteesa desert his fellow Muganda, DP leader Benedicto Kiwanuka, in favor of a Langi from the North, UPC leader Milton Obote, even though the latter had openly expressed hostility to Buganda. Muteesa himself, besides saying that he didn’t take Obote’s threat to crush Buganda as serious, argues that Kiwanuka was arrogant and lacked respect for the Kabaka. In his Desecration of My Kingdom, Muteesa writes:

After the [1961] election [which DP won], Kiwanuka was puffed up with pride and success… he must have understood as clearly as everyone else that his support was fictitious, the result of the boycott, and that his position was therefore insecure, to say the least. Yet he made little effort to make friends… until then I had seen him as a friend from whom I had drifted apart. Now he became intolerable. He made personal attacks on me, and said that I had arranged the boycott [of the 1961 election]… Feeling against D.P. in Buganda remained intense, and it was our vision of life under such a government as the worst of all possible futures that led us astray.[5]

Even if Benidicto was arrogant and disrespectful, as the Kabaka says, his behavior could not be compared to Obote’s blatant threat to crush Buganda. Muteesa took such an open threat merely “as an impetuous remark made to please crowds”, allied with Obote “without misgivings” and saw him as “the obvious and best ally against Kiwanuka and the hated D.P.”[6]This attitude reflects how prejudice – religious or otherwise – can disable ones discerning faculty.

The religious sectarianism with which the Kabaka’s government identified could only alienate significant sections of Buganda society. It was not surprising that sections of the Muslim society celebrated following the attack on the Kabaka’s palace in 1966. Sheikh Abdu Obeid Kamulegeya, the leader of one of the two Muslim factions then, remarked in a major mosque in Kampala, “It was inevitable that the Mengo throne and the Kabaka who sat on it had to fall by God’s will, because the institution had perpetuated injustices unacceptable to the will of God and all His written Law.”[7]  

Sheikh Kamulegeya’s opinion of Buganda was by no means a minority view among Baganda Muslims. To this date, Muslims still recount the aspects in which the sectarian Mengo government treated them as third-class citizens. When the Mengo establishment recently attempted to oppose the construction of King Fahd Plaza on what it called its land on Kampala Road, Muslim intellectuals led by Prof. Abasi Kiyimba threatened to enthrone a rival Muslim Kabaka on grounds that the Muslims had suffered enough of Buganda’s discrimination.

It is such deep-rooted religious divisions that the enemies of Buganda exploited to grab political power from the largest and once-strongest tribe in the 1960s, and it’s the same differences that partly keep Buganda far away from State Power.


[1]Kabaka Muteesa says that Obote had vowed to crush Buganda, a statement that the king ignored “as an impetuous remark made to please crowds”. See Kabaka Muteesa II, Desecration of My Kingdom. Constable London1967, p160.

[2] According to Buganda tradition, the blood of the Kabaka cannot be shed in anyway, including circumcision.

[3] Phares Mutibwa, The Buganda Factor in Uganda Politics. Fountain Publishers Kampala, 2009 p31

[4] Ibid pp47

[5] Ibid pp159-160

[6] Ibid pp160


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