The negative and positive aspects of British administration in Uganda


understand the present, one has to have a general knowledge of the past.  And to project the future – five to ten years
– with a degree of accuracy, one must be conversant with the present. 

my career at the United Nations, I had the opportunity to travel widely in
Africa, Europe and North America where I met with Ugandans of different
generations. The informal and formal discussions we held led me to conclude
that most Ugandans especially of the younger generation do not know much about
Uganda’s history. Those who were born after colonial rule have vague ideas
about the past and those born since 1986 seem to know only the history of the
National Resistance Movement and its government. Some especially those living
abroad have complained that they have been denied opportunity to know the
history of their country.

Uganda’s history is marked more by divisions than anything else – north versus
south; producing areas versus labor reserve areas; rich versus poor; Protestant
versus Catholic versus Muslim; urban versus rural; elite versus peasant and ruling
class versus working class – post independence governments have attempted to sweep
these differences under the carpet in order to realize the dream of national

anybody who attempts to discuss these issues is branded divisive or sectarian
or with a motive to incite the public. Consequently Ugandans are increasingly
having difficulties in telling who they are – their tribe, their faith, their
beliefs and even their political affiliation – for fear they might run into trouble.
My view is that we should encourage the evolution of a culture of learning, of forgiving
but not of forgetting so that we can build on the good things and not allow the
bad things to be repeated.

this in mind I have researched and written some books including chapters on
Uganda’s political economy going as far back as the pre-colonial period. For
those interested the books are (1) Africa’s Lost Century (2) The Paradox of
Hunger and Abundance and (3) The Failure of Governance in Africa.

have also created a website where I am posting short articles on various aspects of Uganda’s political,
economic, social, population and environment issues. The principal purpose is
to provide a platform for discussions to improve our understanding of Uganda’s

us now examine very briefly the salient features of British administration from
1894 to 1962.

was created out of communities with different cultures, living in different
ecological zones that shaped their economic activities and lifestyle, different
administrative systems and some groups hostile to or at war with each other. As
colonies were supposed to be self-reliant, the British administration divided
the country into productive and non-productive zones. Buganda and Busoga were
designated as productive areas starting with growing cotton and later coffee.
They were provided with infrastructure such as roads, telephones and energy; social
facilities such as schools, hospitals and clinics. The northern and western
regions were designated as labor reserve and were denied development opportunities
and social facilities. Men left their families behind to work in Buganda and
Busoga in order to raise tax money. Later Jinja in Busoga became the industrial
hub of the country adding more benefits to it. These policy decisions created
inequalities in all areas of human endeavor that are still with us.

creation of districts into economically viable entities slammed together many
communities that virtually had nothing in common. The case

s of Toro and Kigezi
are instructive. During high school or senior secondary school days at Butobere
in Kigezi district in the late 1950s and early 1960s there was a fierce debate about
the frequency certain meals should be served. Students from the northern region
preferred bananas and milk whereas those from the south preferred potatoes and
sorghum porridge. This was a serious divisive matter. Divisions spread into
other aspects of human endeavor and frustrated attempts to unify the student
body and the district. The religious factor made matters worse.

institution of indirect rule created problems as well. In areas such as
Rujumbura where there were chiefs, they were confirmed as colonial agents and
continued to rule the impoverished (through tribute to chiefs) cultivators with
even more powers including setting and collecting taxes and supervising public
works such as road and public building construction for free. High taxes and

free services on public works made peasants poorer. The chiefs consolidated
their positions politically and economically with adverse post-independence

religion factor was also important. The Protestants were favored over other
faiths in political, economic and administrative terms. Favoritism continued
into independence and still causes problems. The two major political parties:
the Democratic Party (DP) and the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) were based on
Catholic and Protestant supporters respectively. Before independence, there were
many cases where church leaders selected candidates to run for political office
at the district and national levels without paying attention to the merits of

negative developments have made it difficult to create consciousness at
district and national levels forty six years after independence.

us now look at the positive factors.

provision of law and order underpinned British policy in Uganda so that the
peasants could produce goods and services under conditions of peace and
security. The strongest institutions were the police, prisons and the
judiciary. Security was therefore good and no one was above the law.

Rujumbura county it was safe to walk long distances without harassment whether
you were an adult or not, boy or girl. Those who broke the law were punished swiftly.
Cases of theft were very rare. Grain stores were kept outside, no one would
steal bananas or chickens or break into home during the day or at night to

British administration also fixed drinking hours so that people would not drink
too much alcohol to disturb public peace or in their homes. They would also save
money for their families. Cases of domestic violence were controlled in part because
drinking was limited and the local chiefs were vigilant.   

British administration ensured that Ugandans ate well and kept food reserves in
case of food shortages. The development of fisheries including fish farming was
designed to provide a cheap source of protein to low income households. Chiefs
inspected grain stores regularly to ensure compliance. Mothers Unions and
public health officials trained women in home economics regarding balanced
diets, hygiene including drinking boiled water, washing hands before eating and
keeping the premises tidy including draining standing water so that mosquitoes
have no breeding facilities.

administration constructed and maintained spring wells so that people would not
use polluted water from streams. The authorities were also keen on the digging
of latrines and defaulters were dealt with according to the law.  Consequently Ugandans ate well at home and at
school and lived in a relatively healthy and secure environment.

the environment area, the British protected wetlands/swamps and vegetation on
hill tops and slopes, created forest and wild game reserves to protect
biological diversity and minimize local climate changes in rainfall and
temperatures for present and future generations.

the British handed to African administration in 1962 a country that had
fundamental challenges but also a foundation in law and order, education and health,
biological diversity, food and nutrition security on which to build.

subsequent articles we shall examine what has happened since independence in
October 1962.