Background to 1953-55 Crisis


For more than half a century, the Uganda Agreement, 1900; formed the basis of the relationship between Buganda on the one hand, and the British colonial administrators of the Uganda Protectorate on the other hand. The agreement was ostensibly made between willing equal partners - the British having first given 'protection' to Buganda at Buganda's own invitation. A key element of the agreement was the allocation of land to Baganda in a type of freehold tenure that came to be known as 'mailo land'. This effectively excluded European settlers from acquiring land in Buganda. Consequently there were no white settlers to speak of in Uganda unlike what had happened in neighboring Kenya. The agreement also called for Buganda to be on an equal footing with any future provinces that might be incorporated into the Uganda Protectorate. Because of these provisions, Buganda was able to maintain an unprecedented degree of internal autonomy within the Uganda Protecorate.

During the 1920s and 1930s, the British floated the idea of closer union between their colonies in East Africa, namely: Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika. This idea was resisted strongly in Uganda and especially Buganda. There were two closely related reasons for the strong opposition. First, it was feared that an East African Federation would open the doors for European settlers in Uganda. The example of how settlers treated the indigenous Africans in next door Kenya, or further afield in Rhodesia and South Africa, left the Baganda under no illusions about what would happen to their society if this came to pass. Second, the Baganda feared that their ancient kingdom, with its cherished customs and culture would be swallowed up in the much larger polity of an East African federation and this they were determined to resist. However reluctantly, the British were forced to abandon the idea of an East African federation.

In January 1952, Andrew Cohen took the reigns as the new Governor of Uganda. He had major reforms in mind including measures such as expanding African representation in Uganda's Legislative Council and the Governor's Executive Council. After negotiations with Muteesa II, the Kabaka; several constitutional reforms were proposed for Buganda itself in March 1953 including having a majority of elected members in the Lukiiko, as well as transferring a number of services such as education, health, and agriculture from the Protectorate Government to the Buganda Government.

It was at this same time however that the British colonies of Northern and Southern Rhodesia as well as Nyasaland were being formed into a federation. This federation was opposed by the Africans concerned but this did not stop the British, under pressure from the settlers in those territories, from forcing through the federation. When the Secretary of State for the Colonies floated anew the idea of a federation for East Africa in a speech he gave in London in June 1953; alarm bells went off in Buganda. There were strong protests from both the Lukiiko and the Kabaka. Indeed the Baganda begun to mistrust the direction that British rule was now taking their kingdom and strong calls started emerging for Buganda to be separated from the rest of Uganda. Since Buganda had willingly entered into what she considered an agreement of protection in 1900, she now wanted to have her independence and separate identity restored and honored by the British who however resisted. This led to a political impasse.

A series of negotiations between the Kabaka and the Governor failed to break the stalemate. Although the Governor gave assurances that an East African federation would not be pursued without consulting Buganda, Buganda was now more anxious to protect her position by separating from the rest of Uganda. The Governor then proceeded to invoke the 1900 Agreement and demanded that the Kabaka accept specifically the British policy of developing Uganda as a unitary state. This would of course be a betrayal of the aspirations of the vast majority of the Baganda who wanted to maintain a Buganda identity and the Kabaka would not do it. On November 30, 1953; the Governor signed a declaration withdrawing British recognition from Muteesa as the Native Ruler of Buganda under clause 6 of the 1900 Agreement. The Kabaka was immediately deported and by the time the news broke in Buganda, Muteesa was already under custody in Britain. This was an unimaginable shock to all the Baganda and it led to a full-blown constitutional crisis. The Baganda refused to elect a replacement king and instead started a vigorous and effective campaign to have Muteesa restored to his throne.

Eventually a Constitutional Committee was selected by the Lukiiko which with the help of Sir Keith Hancock as mediator, undertook negotiations with Governor. Negotiations were carried out in 1954 at the premises of the Anglican cathedral at Namirembe. The final results of the negotiations are contained in the Agreed Recommendations of the Namirembe Conference. These formed the basis of a new agreement between Buganda and the British which was signed in 1955, on the Kabaka's triumphal return from exile.


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