How the 1900 Uganda Agreement created a landed oligarchy in Buganda

We are writing these stories by popular demand and as part of civic education. We call on all Ugandans, friends and well wishers to make their constructive contribution to reach a mutually acceptable solution.

Let us begin by explaining how Buganda and Uganda came about and got mixed up. According to Peter N. Gukiina (1972), “’Uganda” meant Buganda kingdom, ‘Uganda’ being the word for ‘Buganda’ in Kiswahili”. Philip D. Curtin (2000) writes “Present-day Uganda takes its name from a Swahili corruption [irregular alteration from original state or form] of the word Buganda”. Both Swahili and Luganda are Bantu languages.

Through Stanley Kabaka Mutesa I invited Christians to come to Buganda to counter Muslim influence coming from the east and the north of the kingdom. Through an anonymous donor the C.M.S. (Church Missionary Society) received 5,000 British pounds. They arrived in 1877. In 1879 the White Fathers Missionaries arrived. Among other things, the long illness of the Kabaka opened the door for political power struggle. The four-to five hundred young pages of the Kabaka became the target of political maneuvering. Within four years Catholics and Anglicans had baptized many of Kabaka’s pages.

These christened pages provided the leadership of the Christian communities. Under pressure, the White Catholics temporarily left Buganda. Joseph Mukasa, the king’s most trusted page took over the Catholic leadership among the pages and soldiers of the bodyguards. Andrew Kagwa, master-drummer and head of Kabaka’s band joined as well as Mathew Kasule the king’s gunsmith that occupied a position of military significance. Another prominent individual who joined was Matthias Kalemba.

At the same time Baganda leaders of the Anglican Church were emerging. In 1886 12 of them including Nikodemo Sebwato were appointed as a Church council.

Kabaka Mwanga who is believed to have converted to Catholicism appointed Joseph Mukasa to the post of major-domo and Andrew Kagwa became inseparable hunting and travelling companion of Mwanga.

A fierce struggle for power developed between these young Christian pages and the older tribal chiefs led by the Katikkiro. The latter didn’t fare well. When it was learned that the Germans had occupied Tanganyika coastal areas and Buganda would be next, the tribal chiefs advised the Kabaka that the pages represented the spearhead of European intervention in Buganda. In October 1885 Joseph Mukasa was executed for protesting against the murder of the first Anglican bishop Hannington. In 1886 up to one hundred Christians were martyred including Andrea Kagwa and Matthias Kalemba while other leaders including Sebwato and Apolo Kagwa were severely beaten. For three years the religious groups rebelled forcing Mwanga to accept Christians and appointing Apolo Kagwa as the Katikkiro and other Christians that replaced the older chiefs.

While regents, it was this new oligarchy (few Baganda) with Anglicans in a better position led by Apolo Kagwa having defeated Catholics and Muslims with Captain Lugard’s help that negotiated the 1900 Uganda Agreement with Sir Harry Johnston. The Lukkiko was packed with Christian and few Muslim representatives – saza chiefs (there were no representatives of pagans or those who followed traditional faiths in the Lukiiko). The power shifted from traditional chiefs and the Kabaka to the three regents and Lukiiko members (the 1955 Agreement reduced the Kabaka to a constitutional head and the new Kabaka has been reduced by NRM government to a mere cultural leader).

The entire land tenure system of Buganda was revolutionized from the peasants (Bakopi) and their clan heads (Bataka) to new owners: the Kabaka and his relatives, regents, chiefs and other few notables that took half of the land and the rest became Crown land. The Lukiiko had responsibility for allocating land to the new landlords. After land had been allocated to them they chose who should settle on their estates. This resulted in unprecedented human resettlement with so many adverse economic, social and cultural outcomes. Bataka protested all the way to the colonial office in London but got nothing even when there was recognition that the idea was a bad one but it was too late to reverse. The Bakopi and Bataka land was not returned and were not compensated.

The new land revolution under the NRM government is even worse. The new land owners are mostly foreigners and tenants are being forced from the land and pushed into urban slums with all the economic, social and cultural suffering. The situation will get worse when land is finally privatized to large scale foreign farmers who will use capital intensive methods to produce for external markets. Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi has championed privatization of Uganda land to large-scale mostly foreign farmers after he returned from a mission abroad.

As noted already, the original owners of the land were dispossessed without compensation. Ipso facto, their complaint still stands. The regents were bribed to accept Johnston’s decision to dispossess Baganda, Banyoro and other clans that were incorporated into the 1900 Uganda Agreement. Katikiro Apolo was bribed with 20 extra square miles and 100 head of cattle, Mugwanya with 15 extra square miles and Kangawo with ten (J. V. Wild 1950).

The 1955 Buganda Agreement did not replace the 1900 Agreement and land was not touched. Amin in his 1975 land decree made all land in Uganda public under leasehold occupation which ended Mailo land. NRM restored it to the owners or their descendants.

Resettlement of Luwero Triangle after the guerrilla war favored foreigners as the exercise was undertaken by resistance committees directed by NRM that is directed by foreigners. People are demanding land reform but the elites that are benefitting from the status quo are putting up stiff resistance through their agents.

For Uganda to achieve lasting peace, security and stability this historical injustice needs to be addressed during the negotiations for a federal system of governance. Those who are calling for self-determination in Buganda and elsewhere and demanding that everyone should go to where they belong have a valid point and shouldn’t be ignored.

It must be recognized that revolutions are more often than not anchored on land issues, witness the revolutions in France in 1789, Mexico in 1910, Russia in 1917 and more recently Ethiopia in 1974. Uganda leadership – present and future – can’t afford to ignore this lesson indefinitely.