The revolution that transformed Buganda society is being repeated

The purpose of my research and writing is to provide information to encourage Ugandans to debate issues of interest to the present and future generations. So far I have focused on Buganda and the Great Lakes region, raising issues many of them controversial such as tribes and nations.

In this posting I want to show how the 1900 Uganda Agreement revolutionized Buganda society by changing land ownership, a process that is being repeated at the moment under the NRM government.

In 1899 Sir Harry Johnston was appointed Special Commissioner with a mandate regarding the administration of Buganda and land ownership. Regarding the latter he chose to work with the three ministers that served as regents and the Lukiiko.

Johnson convinced Baganda leaders in part through bribery that uncultivated land, forests and wetlands/swamps – half of Buganda land – come under the Protectorate Government as Crown Land. The rest was shared by the Kabaka, members of his family, the three ministers, saza and lesser chiefs and 1000 notables.

The responsibility for dividing the land in square miles was given to the Lukiiko. The Saza chiefs received both official land which changed hands with the holder of the office and private estates to which they were permanently entitled. The ministers were given extra land to buy their support. Apolo Kagwa was given 20 square miles and 100 heads of cattle; Mugwanya 15 square miles and Kangawo 10 square miles. The Commissioner was criticized for bribing the ministers into signing the Agreement.

Clan heads and peasants – bataka and bakopi – lost to the new class of land owners that Johnston created. The distribution of land caused tremendous difficulties and suffering. The ministers and saza chiefs chose land where it suited them preferring the most populated areas that were most fertile. Once the land had been chosen the ministers and saza chiefs and other beneficiaries brought their own followers, evicting en masse those that had settled in these areas. These decisions “…created a chaos of refugee movement in the countryside from which even European District Officers recoiled”.

Johnston was only interested in getting support for the Agreement no matter what happened to the economic and social welfare of ordinary people. He was criticized for abandoning existing system of customary tenure that deprived peasants of their security and means of livelihood while introducing an alien concept of individual land ownership.

Johnston decision marked the beginning of tensions and conflicts that ultimately gave rise to the formation of political parties and demand for independence.

What we are witnessing today is another land dispossession exercise in Buganda (and other parts of Uganda). However, the difference this time is that while Johnston dispossessed peasants of their land, the ownership remained in the hands of Baganda and the peasants were not chased away. Under the NRM dispossession program land ownership is being concentrated in the hands of foreigners who are chasing away former owners that have fled to urban slums where they are facing a bleak future.

Just as the peasants and other disgruntled Baganda formed political parties to regain their land, security and independence, a new breed of leaders is emerging at home and abroad to wrestle power from the failed NRM government by peaceful means in the first instance.