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How Buganda lost Uganda


Summary: The Baganda seem to attribute their political comedown to Milton Obote’s handiwork that culminated in the 1966 overthrow of the Kabaka and the subsequent abolition of their kingdom. But even before the birth of Obote, there were signs that this tribe would hardly rule Uganda. 

Author Biography: YAHYA SSEREMBA is the founder and editor of Uganda’s unafraid online news publication, www.campusjournal.ug


By the invasion of Captain Fredrick Lugard with his colonialism mission at the sunset of the 19th Century, the Buganda Kingdom had established itself as the only bull in the kraal of the Great Lakes Region. Its modernized military had humbled the once unbeatable western Kingdom of Bunyoro, its economic growth faced no competition in the disjointed chiefdoms of the north and the east, and its political dominance traversed much of sub-Saharan Africa.  

The paramountcy of the Baganda continued throughout the colonial era. On account of their inherent intelligence, their collaboration with the imperialists as well as their central location, the Baganda assumed positions in the colonial administration that furthered their dominance. So entrenched was the dominance of this tribe that Uganda, with its diverse peoples and various ethnicities, came to be named after Buganda. It seemed inevitable that after the exit of the British, the Baganda would dominate the politics of the country and carry on their dominion to eternity. They didn’t.

The Kabaka, or King of Buganda, assumed the presidency of Uganda at independence. But day after day Kabaka Edward Muteesa II lost ground to a cunning executive premier. In 1966, just four years after independence, the head of government deposed, exiled and eventually allegedly killed the head of state, sending the Baganda into the political oblivion they have since known.

Since then, Uganda’s largest tribe has come under the subjugation of tribe after tribe, including western herdsmen who started wearing clothes only recently. But whereas Milton Obote pulled the trigger that ended Buganda’s predominance, there were signs even before the birth of the Langi triggerman that the primacy of this community faced a bleak future.

One such sign was the reluctance of the colonial administration to abandon Kiswahili and impose Luganda as the national language of the British protectorate. 

Luganda loses to Kiswahili

Despite fierce opposition from the education-controlling missionary societies which favored Luganda against what they considered an Islam-linked Kiswahili, and despite Kabaka Daudi Chwa’s resolute resistance to Africa’s largest indigenous language, the colonial government promoted the use of Kiswahili at least in areas outside Buganda, with Governor Sir W.F. Gowers strongly recommending it in his 1927 memorandum, The Development of Ki-Swahili as an Educational and Administrative Language in the Uganda Protectorate.

In this memorandum the Governor, according to Wilfred Whiteley’s SWAHILI: The Rise of a National Language, suggested that “Swahili be adopted as a lingua franca throughout a considerable part of the Protectorate…for purposes of education.” He successfully recommended that the language be taught in vast parts of the Eastern Province, Northern Province and West Nile.

This particular colonial behavior strengthened Kiswahili at the expense of Luganda and Buganda influence.  Though the British later in 1953 abandoned their Swahilization campaign in favour of English and local languages, Kiswahili had taken root in northern and eastern Uganda and had become the language of the armed forces, including the army which was later to takeover the management of the country.

That Kiswahili had gained more ground than Luganda became clear in 1973 when twelve districts voted for Kiswahili as the national language against eight that voted for Luganda. Consequently, President Idi Amin Dada declared Kiswahili as Uganda’s national language on August 7, 1973. Whereas the late leader didn’t enforce his decree, it dealt a symbolic blow to the influence of Luganda and the Baganda. 

Far from repealing Amin’s decree, successive regimes have openly preferred Kiswahili to Luganda, with President Museveni’s government declaring – albeit without enforcing – the teaching of Kiswahili compulsory in schools. Whereas Luganda’s countrywide reach makes it by far the nation’s most spoken language, there is hardly any possibility that it would attain the status of a national language in the foreseeable future. To a country that the Baganda gave a name, they have failed to give a language.

Part of the resistance to Luganda stems from old tribal rivalries. This Bantu language derived her support only from the Bantu tribes of the south probably for ethnic reasons. The Bantu people of the east, with whom Buganda had no historical feuds, voted for Luganda in 1973 and, possibly, would still vote for it today and after today. There has always been one Bantu community, however, that in its rejection of Luganda, its opposition to everything Buganda and its support for anything contrary is as passionate as the Nilotics of the north, and that’s the Banyoro.

Old animosities

The Kingdom of Bunyoro didn’t lose its superiority in the interlacustrine area until Buganda started rising and annexing her territory around the 17th and 18th centuries. The coming of the colonialists only worsened relations between the two great states. Buganda embraced the colonialists and fought alongside them to subdue other territories, including Bunyoro which offered the most spirited and most enduring resistance. In turn the British rewarded Buganda with parts of Bunyoro territory, notably the counties of Buyaga and Bugangazi.

Not only did Buganda annex parts of Bunyoro, it also ridiculed the Banyoro in social life. In the central monarchy the word Munyoro meant more than a member of the Banyoro tribe; it was broadly used for every uncivilized and uncultured person. The Banyoro represented – and to some conservative Baganda may still represent – barbarism and backwardness. To target anybody with such ridicule is irritating enough; to subject the proud descendants of a powerful and prevalent empire to the same is too much to endure.

It was too much to forgive. Not even the repossession of the lost counties in 1964 mollified Bunyoro’s anger. Nothing could entice the western community to embrace a language whose people grabbed her land, derided her culture and detested her sons and daughters.

The Baganda worsened their unpopularity by serving as colonial agents in much of the protectorate.

Colonial agents

These sub-imperialists, besides enforcing exploitative British taxes and evicting locals from their land, allegedly forced non-Baganda communities to learn Luganda and imposed Buganda culture on them. In Bunyoro particularly, agents such as Augustine Kibuuka and I. Ndawula established ebisaakaate, or cultural induction programmes, in which the “Banyoro were brainwashed to denounce their roots and adopted Kiganda names such as Mukiibi, Kasirivu and Kakooza,” according to a Munyoro activist named Raymond Baguma.

In eastern Uganda, a sub-imperialist known as Semei Kakungulu made no secret of his ambition to be king of Busoga and Bukedi. Such provocations only harmed the interests of the Baganda in the rest of Uganda and would account for much of the resentment they have continuously faced. 

Another Buganda misfortune that predates Obote is her failure to send her sons and daughters to the military, an institution that was later to determine who takes what.

Failure to join the military

The Baganda, like their fellow Bantu neighbors, didn’t join the armed forces in part because the colonial government’s divide and rule policy restricted almost all military recruitment to the tribes of the north. The Bantu equally despised the profession, considering it a job meant for people who have failed in life, especially the less privileged Northerners who had little access to formal education.

By preparing their children for only office jobs, the Baganda surrendered the future of Uganda to those who sent their offspring to master the use the rifle. Taking advantage of their control of the instruments of coercion, the Northerners mounted a coup four years after independence, abolished the monarchies and assumed the dictatorship of the country for two decades.

Even after losing power the Acholi, Langi and their West Nile cousins, capitalizing on their decade-long military experience, have made several attempts at recapturing Kampala, most resounding of which is Joseph Kony’s LRA rebellion. The Baganda, on the other hand, have hardly mounted such risks and have continuously feared the gun, hoping to gain power on a silver platter. In Africa and in much of the world the military, far from keeping in the barracks, remains a key political player that determines who takes and retains power. Whereas Muslim activist parties have won elections in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey, their Islamisation agenda remains on paper simply because the men in uniform aren’t on their side. Military rule is far from over. Until the Baganda understand the continuing centrality of the armed forces in politics, they will forever beg for ebyaffe from others.

One of the very few Baganda to have clearly understood the importance of armed struggle was Andrew Lutaakome Kayiira, who led the Uganda Freedom Movement rebellion against Milton Obote’s government in the 1980s. But Kayiira was let down by his Baganda tribesmen who chose to support a rival rebel group, Yoweri Museveni’s Banyankole/Banyarwanda-dominated National Resistance Army.

Acts of betrayal

Throughout history different peoples have perceived each other differently, giving rise to unproven and unprovable stereotypes. Black people, for instance, have through the millennia been considered inferior, from the East where the Arabs protested the Prophet Muhammad’s appointment of a Black Ethiopian ex-slave as his muadhin, to the West where African-Americans became human only in the 1960s. Even among the Blacks, communities have often viewed each other in very interesting ways.

In Uganda the Banyarwanda were seen as promiscuous, the Northerners as heartless and murderous, the Basoga as unintelligent, and the speakers of Kiswahili as thieves and robbers. The Baganda considered themselves more wise and more civilized and were considered by others as treacherous and perfidious. At times the Baganda have actualized this perceived treachery and deployed it to frustrate their own efforts. This is what they demonstrated when they betrayed their own son, Andrew Kayiira, and used all their strength to empower an unreliable outsider.

Andrew Kayiira was an accomplished academic, promising politician and dedicated fighter who exemplified his military gallantry in the 1979 so-called liberation war that toppled President Amin. There was no reason to believe that his UFM guerrilla movement was incapable of achieving what the NRA registered of seizing power. Instead of boosting one of their own, the Baganda rallied behind herdsmen from Ankole and propelled them to power.

To ensure his people’s overwhelming support for the NRA, the then Kabaka-in-waiting Ronald Muwenda Mutebi visited the rebels in the bush and allegedly reached an agreement with them to guarantee the interests of Buganda once they have captured power. Today President Museveni grabs every chance to heap scorn on the Kabaka, often describing him as a mere traditional chief.

As he cursed the President for allegedly plotting the collapse of his business empire, former financier Sulaiman Kiggundu reportedly regretted abandoning “our fellow Muganda” to fight for an outsider who would later turn against him and his tribesmen. 

Without the backing of the country’s largest and strategically-located tribe, Museveni and his ragtag guerillas, out of an acute shortage of supplies and out of isolation, would probably have starved and rotten in the bush like Joseph Kony’s LRA. By fighting and dying for the NRA rather than their son’s UFM, the Baganda squandered the greatest opportunity they had to grasp power since their stupid alliance with the Uganda Peoples Congress two decades earlier.

In the 1960s, instead of burying their trivial differences to work for their common good, the Baganda divided themselves into conflicting camps of the Anglican-dominated Kabaka Yekka and the Catholic-driven Democratic Party. The Kabaka allied with his fellow Protestants but largely non-Baganda politicians in the Uganda Peoples Congress to prevent his Democratic Party tribesmen from seizing power.

The Kabaka soon realized his shortsightedness when the people he propelled to power turned around and deposed him, desecrated his kingdom and took pride in their action. No Democratic Party Muganda, notwithstanding his party’s reservations about his kingdom’s excesses, would have sunk so low to humiliate his tribesmen in such a savage manner. Obote’s could only be the conduct of an insensitive alien who had no respect for the people of Buganda and who saw no value in their culture and institutions.

Born and bred in a primitive northern village that knew no civilization, Obote was bound to do anything to seize and consolidate power, including striking at the heart of one of Africa’s greatest civilizations and betraying the very people who brought him to power. In any case, he betrayed those who had betrayed themselves.

But the Baganda, like the Africans in general, do not learn. Or at least, they take long to learn. Until they derive lessons from their past and rectify their present, the future holds no leadership for them.



0 #1 sserunjogi 2012-07-12 11:10
Thanks man,
what an interesting, educative & elaborate article this is! I have read several articles from the campus journal, none has ever been so rich in facts than this.

Keep it up guys.
0 #2 Nsubuga 2012-07-12 13:29
This article stinks ! It is anti Baganda period . Yet Buganda and her language and people are here to stay despite all the abuse and hate .
0 #3 Abu musa 2012-07-14 18:51
Nsubuga dont be a coward, you could be one of the enemies of Buganda i smell,you are saying this article stinks, why dont you be straight such that we put the editor on cross,about Buganda and language no man on earth can manage to remove some thing God made, he made us in tribes and nations to i dentify each other and you question the reasoning of some elders like Nadduli,.
0 #4 Ann Golden 2012-09-01 23:04
This is probably the most hate filled article about Buganda to be written ever,

Eno ennugu ono gyalina yakabi nyo.