Budding Foreign Influences

In the second half of the nineteenth century, many of the themes to be found in the history of Buganda recur throughout the history of the world. This is because in these momentous years, Buganda was first confronted by the challenge of two world religions, Islam and Christianity, and by the advance of both Islamic and Western civilization. It was a fluid time in Buganda during which there appeared many kings, heroes, cruelty, mercy, loyalty, martyrs, missionary devotion and the humiliation and triumphs of great rulers. These events ultimately cost Buganda her independence when she was colonised by the British. Buganda was incorporated into the larger colony of Uganda (technically called a Protectorate), albeit with a large degree of autonomy. Buganda's subsequent history is dominated by the desire to retain some identity within this larger setting.

It was Buganda's heroic age that the explorers stumbled upon in the mid-1800s in their search of the source of the Nile among other adventures and misadventures. Actually, what they found, apart from the formidable king Mutesa I, was a highly developed and civil society with its own government centering on the king. The government included royal tax collectors as well as armies that traveled swiftly to all parts of the kingdom and newly conquered lands along specially constructed roads which crossed streams and swamps by bridges and viaducts. On Nnalubaale (Lake Victoria), a royal navy of outrigger canoes, commanded by an admiral who was chief of the Mmamba (lungfish) clan, could transport Baganda commandos to raid any shore or lake. Henry M. Stanley, a British journalist, visited Uganda in 1875 and provided an estimate of Buganda's troop strength. He counted 125,000 troops marching off on a single campaign to the east (Busoga) where a fleet of 230 war canoes waited to act as auxiliary navy support.

Army and Navy

The Troops Prepare for a Campaign

At Buganda's capital, Stanley found a well-ordered town of about 40,000 surrounding the king's palace, which was situated atop a commanding hill. A wall more than four kilometers in circumference surrounded the palace compound, which was filled with grass-roofed houses, meeting halls, and storage buildings. At the entrance to the court burned the royal fire (gombolola), which would be extinguished only when the king died. Thronging the grounds were foreign ambassadors seeking audiences, chiefs going to the royal advisory council, messengers running errands, and a corps of young pages, who served the king while training to become future chiefs. For communication across the kingdom, the messengers were supplemented by drum signals.

The Lubaga Capital

The Capital at Lubaga Hill

Earlier, the explorer, J. H. Speke had passed through Buganda in 1862 and claimed he had discovered the source of the Nile. Both Speke and Stanley wrote books that praised the Baganda for their organizational skills and willingness to modernize. Stanley went further and attempted to convert the king to Christianity. Finding the king Mutesa I apparently receptive, Stanley wrote to the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in London and persuaded it to send missionaries to Buganda who arrived in 1877. Two years after the CMS established a mission, French Catholic White Fathers also arrived at the king's court, and the stage was set for a fierce religious and nationalist rivalry in which Zanzibar-based Muslim traders also participated.

By the 1880s, all three parties had been successful in converting substantial numbers of Baganda, some of whom attained important positions at court. The grand prize that all groups sought was the conversion of Mutesa himself. However Mutesa was very careful to balance the interests of all three religious groups as well as those of the traditionalists who wanted to resist these foreign influences. Mutesa saw the opportunity to acquire guns and other assorted military hardware from the foreigners, which he could use against neighboring states and hence expand his kingdom. Mutesa feigned interest in all three religions but ultimately was never converted to any one of them. But he was successful in strengthening his military capability and he had considerable success in his military endeavours particularly against the rival kingdom of Bunyoro. Mutesa did not actively oppose the missionaries however for the reasons we have seen, and many of his subjects ended up being converted.

The foreign religions introduced serious divisions in the kingdom for the first time. When Mutesa died in 1884, he was succeeded by his son Mwanga. Mwanga was a young man when he took the throne and he lacked the experience, wisdom, and charisma of his esteemed father. He proved unequal to the momentous task that confronted him and soon the kingdom was in uproar resulting from the rivalries between the various religious camps. Mwanga attempted to ban all the foreign religions and many converts were martyred between 1885 and 1887. Events proved however that it was too late. The king no longer had the unquestioning support and fidelity of his subjects, many of whom now considered themselves subject to the higher authority of the recently introduced Christian or Muslim God. With the kingdom in turmoil, the religious groupings effectively became political affiliations and they confronted the king militarily. Mwanga was deposed by the armed converts in 1888 and he fled the kingdom. A civil war ensued in which the Muslims were initially successful. They proclaimed an Islamic state and installed Kiwewa, a prince who had converted to Islam, as king. The Christian converts ganged together to fight the Muslims who were soon defeated, and were not able to renew their effort. The Christians installed Kalema, a prince sympathetic to their cause, as the new king.

The victorious Protestant and Roman Catholic converts divided the Buganda kingdom, which they ruled through a figurehead king dependent on their guns and goodwill. Thus, the foreign religions disrupted, divided and transformed the traditional state. Soon afterwards, the arrival of competing European imperialists -- the German Doctor Karl Peters (an erstwhile philosophy professor) and the British Captain Frederick Lugard -- broke the Christian alliance; the British Protestant missionaries urged acceptance of the British flag, while the French Catholic mission either supported the Germans (in the absence of French imperialists) or called for Buganda to retain its independence. In January 1892, fighting broke out between the Protestant and Catholic Baganda converts. The Catholics quickly gained the upper hand, until Lugard intervened with a prototype machine gun, the Maxim (named after its American inventor, Hiram Maxim). The Maxim decided the issue in favor of the pro-British Protestants; the French Catholic mission was burned to the ground, and the French bishop fled. The resultant scandal was settled in Europe when the British government paid compensation to the French mission and persuaded the Germans to relinquish their claim to Uganda.

With Buganda secured by Lugard and the Germans no longer contending for control, the British began to enlarge their claim to the "headwaters of the Nile," as they called the land north of Lake Victoria. Allying with the Protestant Baganda chiefs, the British set about conquering the rest of the country, aided by Nubian mercenary troops who had formerly served the khedive of Egypt. Bunyoro had been spared the religious civil wars of Buganda and was firmly united by its king, Kabarega, who had several regiments of troops armed with guns. After five years of bloody conflict, the British occupied Bunyoro, conquered Acholi and the northern region, and the rough outlines of the Uganda Protectorate came into being. Other African polities, such as the Ankole kingdom to the southwest, signed treaties with the British, as did the chiefdoms of Busoga, but the kinship-based peoples of eastern and northeastern Uganda had to be overcome by military force.

A mutiny by Nubian mercenary troops in 1897 was only barely suppressed after two years of fighting, during which Baganda Christian allies of the British once again demonstrated their support for the colonial power. As a reward for this support, and in recognition of Buganda's formidable military presence, the British negotiated a separate treaty with Buganda, granting it a large measure of autonomy and self-government within the larger protectorate. One-half of Bunyoro's conquered territory was awarded to Buganda as well, including the historical heartland of the kingdom containing several royal tombs. Buganda doubled in size from ten to twenty counties (masaza), but the "lost counties" of Bunyoro remained a continuing grievance that would return to haunt Buganda in the 1960s.

Although momentous change occurred during the colonial era in Uganda, some characteristics of late-nineteenth century African society survived to reemerge at the time of independence. Colonial rule affected local economic systems dramatically, in part because the first concern of the British was financial. Quelling the 1897 mutiny had been costly -- units of the 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, whom Johnston characterized in demeaning terms, were more interested in preserving Buganda as a self-governing entity, continuing the royal line of kings, 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 separate 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 Baganda immediately offered their services to the British as administrators over their recently conquered neighbors, an offer that was attractive to the economy-minded colonial administration. Baganda agents fanned out as local tax collectors and labor organizers in areas such as Kigezi, Mbale, and significantly, Bunyoro. This quasi-imperialism and Ganda cultural chauvinism were resented by the people being administered. Wherever they went, Baganda insisted on the exclusive use of their language, Luganda, and they planted bananas as the only proper food worth eating. They also encouraged and engaged in mission work, attempting to convert locals to their form of Christianity or Islam. One particularly ardent Muganda in this regard was Semei Kakungulu whose story, which is intimately tied to the establishment of an indigenous Jewish community in Uganda, is detailed at this link. In some areas, the resulting backlash aided the efforts of religious rivals -- for example, Catholics won converts in areas where oppressive rule was identified with a Protestant Muganda chief.

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