How World War I influenced Ugandan fighters to agitate for Independence

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The British Protectorate of Uganda was a protectorate of the British Empire from 1894 to 1962. In 1893 the Imperial British East Africa Company transferred its administration rights of territory consisting mainly of Buganda Kingdom to the British Government.

In 1894 the Uganda Protectorate was established, and the territory was extended beyond the borders of Buganda to an area that roughly corresponds to that of present-day Uganda.

From 1885 to 1887 the kingdom of Buganda fell into a religious civil war with Protestants, Catholics and Muslim factions vying for control. Apolo Kagwa, still in his twenties, was from early on recognised as the leader of the Protestant faction. The Muslims were in ascendancy in the early part of the war, and Kagwa and other Protestants spent some time in exile in the neighboring kingdom of Ankole. King Mwanga, temporarily deposed, was restored in 1890 with the assistance of the Protestants, and Kagwa was named Katikkiro (Prime Minister). King Mwanga was again deposed in 1897 when he rejected British rule and led an unsuccessful fight for independence. An infant prince, Daudi Chwa, was named King with Kagwa as one of three regents. Kagwa was one of the negotiators of the Uganda Agreement, by which Buganda became a British protectorate with limited internal autonomy.

Baganda Collaborators and their hated policies

The Uganda Agreement of 1900 solidified the power of the largely Protestant ‘Bakungu’ client-chiefs, led by Kagwa. London sent only a few officials to administer the country, relying primarily on the ‘Bakungu’ chiefs. For decades they were preferred because of their political skills, their Christianity, their friendly relations with the British, their ability to collect taxes, and the proximity of Entebbe (the Ugandan capital) to the Buganda capital. By the 1920s the British administrators were more confident and had less need for military or administrative support. Colonial officials taxed cash crops produced by the peasants. There was popular discontent among the Baganda rank-and-file, which weakened the position of their leaders. In 1912 Kagwa moved to solidify ‘Bakungu’ power by proposing a second ‘Lukiko’ for Buganda with himself as president and the ‘Bakungu’ as a sort of hereditary aristocracy. British officials vetoed the idea when they discovered widespread popular opposition. Instead, British officials began some reforms and attempted to make the ‘Lukiko’ a genuine representative assembly.

Colonial rule, however, affected local economic systems dramatically, in part because the first concern of the British was financial. Quelling the 1897 mutiny (see Uganda before 1900) had been costly—units of the British Indian Army had been transported to Uganda at considerable expense. The new commissioner of Uganda in 1900, Sir Harry H. Johnston, had orders to establish an efficient administration and to levy taxes as quickly as possible. Johnston approached the chiefs in Buganda with offers of jobs in the colonial administration in return for their collaboration.

The chiefs, were more interested in preserving Buganda as a self-governing entity, continuing the royal line of kabakas, and securing private land tenure for themselves and their supporters. Hard bargaining ensued, but the chiefs ended up with everything they wanted, including one-half of all the land in Buganda. The half left to the British as “Crown Land” was later found to be largely swamp and scrub.

Johnston’s Buganda Agreement of 1900 imposed a tax on huts and guns, designated the chiefs as tax collectors, and testified to the continued alliance of British and Baganda interests. The British signed much less generous treaties with the other kingdoms (Toro in 1900, Ankole in 1901, and Bunyoro in 1933) without the provision of large-scale private land tenure. The smaller chiefdoms of Busoga were ignored.

The Baganda immediately offered their services to the British as administrators over their recently conquered neighbours, an offer which was attractive to the economy-minded colonial administration. Baganda agents fanned out as local tax collectors and labour organizers in areas such as KigeziMbale, and, significantly, Bunyoro. This subimperialism and Ganda cultural chauvinism were resented by the people being administered.

The people of Bunyoro were particularly aggrieved, having fought the Baganda and the British; having a substantial section of their heartland annexed to Buganda as the “lost counties”, and finally having “arrogant” Baganda administrators issuing orders, collecting taxes, and forcing unpaid labour. In 1907 the Banyoro rose in a rebellion called nyangire, or “refusing”, and succeeded in having the Baganda subimperial agents withdrawn.

Uganda’s earliest traces of militarism

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In the late 19th Century the local defence force was largely composed of Sudanese troops brought in by the British, these troops were commanded by a mix of British and Sudanese officers, local tribes were not that evident in this force defending the interests of the Imperial British East Africa Company. Unfortunately the Sudanese grew resentful of their conditions of service and the Uganda Rifles mutinied in 1897. On 1 January 1902 the somewhat irregular armed force in Uganda was reformed (with far fewer Sudanese and more local tribes in its ranks) and re-titled the 4th Battalion the King’s African Rifles (KAR). It was with this defensive structure that was in place at the outbreak of hostilities in 1914, although there had been cuts in the KAR in 1911 stretching the force structure of the regiment even further. By the end of the Great War the Ugandan contingent in the KAR had grown considerably and they had become an effective fighting force built out of Ugandans rather than outsiders and had enjoyed success against the German forces in East Africa. The Protectorate also developed an emergency response for the intelligence collection on German activities and performing political-military liaison with allies in East Africa; according to UK National Archive records this organisation (known as the Uganda Intelligence Department) was about 20 strong and included European officers and African soldiers.

Most of this recruitment was done from the northern part of the protectorate especially the Acholi sub-region. The British colonial administration had also fought with the Lamogi clan of the Acholi People in what had culminated in to the Lamogi Rebellion.

After World War I (The Great War)

Far more promising as a source of political support were the British colonial officers, who welcomed the typing and translation skills of school graduates and advanced the careers of their favourites. The contest was decided after World War I, when an influx of British ex-military officers, now serving as district commissioners, began to feel that self-government was an obstacle to good government. Specifically, they accused Sir Apolo and his generation of inefficiency, abuse of power, and failure to keep adequate financial accounts—charges that were not hard to document.

Sir Apolo resigned in 1926, at about the same time that a host of elderly Baganda chiefs were replaced by a new generation of officeholders. The Buganda treasury was also audited that year for the first time. Although it was not a nationalist organization, the Young Baganda Association claimed to represent popular African dissatisfaction with the old order. As soon as the younger Baganda had replaced the older generation in office, however, their objections to privilege accompanying power ceased. The pattern persisted in Ugandan politics up to and after independence.

The commoners, who had been labouring on the cotton estates of the chiefs before World War I, did not remain servile. As time passed, they bought small parcels of land from their erstwhile landlords. This land fragmentation was aided by the British, who in 1927 forced the chiefs to limit severely the rents and obligatory labour they could demand from their tenants. Thus the oligarchy of landed chiefs who had emerged with the Buganda Agreement of 1900 declined in importance, and agricultural production shifted to independent smallholders, who grew cotton, and later coffee, for the export market.

Unlike Tanganyika, which was devastated during the prolonged fighting between Britain and Germany in the East African Campaign of World War I, Uganda prospered from wartime agricultural production. After the population losses from disease during the era of conquest and at the turn of the century (particularly the devastating sleeping sickness epidemic of 1900- 1906), Uganda’s population was growing again. Even the 1930s depression seemed to affect smallholder cash farmers in Uganda less severely than it did the white settler producers in Kenya. Ugandans simply grew their own food until rising prices made export crops attractive again.

Two issues continued to create grievance through the 1930s and 1940s. The colonial government strictly regulated the buying and processing of cash crops, setting prices and reserving the role of intermediary for Asians, who were thought to be more efficient. The British and Asians firmly repelled African attempts to break into cotton ginning. In addition, on the Asian-owned sugar plantations established in the 1920s, labour for sugar-cane and other cash crops was increasingly provided by migrants from peripheral areas of Uganda and even from outside Uganda.

About Yusuf Mwesigwa

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