By Kintu Nyago
Omukama Chwa Kabalega certainly turned in his grave, when amidst pomp, it was announced that Sir Samuel Baker’s “good work” was to annually be celebrated in Uganda through festivities organised by his descendants and Britain’s Royal Geographical Society.
Baker is reputed to have amongst others discovered Lake Mwitanzige, which he christened Albert after Queen Victoria’s husband, and stopped the Arab slave trade, in parts of South Sudan and northern Uganda.
Uganda happens to be a country without an officially sanctioned body of political historiography that objectively captures our past to enable the present generation and posterity to learn from it and build a better future.
Consequently an “everything goes” scenario depicts our history interpretations. And we have nearly as many interpretations as interpreters of our history! Which in turn is likely to lead us into a Bourbon-like situation of learning and forgetting nothing, from our traumatic history.
Baker’s Ugandan mission was not aimed at furthering philanthropy. Rather he had been dispatched by the Egyptian Khedive to colonise Uganda with literal powers of life and death.
He was a controversial figure, a racist who thought Africans were sub human. And according to Gulu University scholar, Charles Amone, Baker made a fortune through cheating Africans.
This by engaging in unequal trade whereby he exchanged with them beads and tricklets for ivory and other valuable treasures!
Regarding Baker’s colonising Uganda project, in 1872, as Governor General of Equatorial Province in South Sudan, he attacked Bunyoro-Kitara and declared it part of Egypt.
Characteristically, Kabalega resisted this arrogance, organised his less equipped forces and defeated Baker’s Egyptians at Masindi, however, but not after they had committed enormous atrocities and mayhem. This leading to Kabalega’s reputed reference to Baker as a blood sucking vampire!
The humiliated Baker was a prolific writer who avenged himself on Kabalega by portraying him, in the influential British media, as a treacherous barbarian. This image was to influence British policy on Bunyoro, in the aftermath of the Scramble for Africa.
Rather than propagating a revisionist version of our history, those planning the above mentioned Baker festivities, should attempt to provide an objective assessment of this personality. Pointing out his strengths and indeed the enormous damage he caused to the peoples of this region.
The writer is an Ambassador and Uganda’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations Mission, New York.
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