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On Uganda’s road to unity in diversity

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On Uganda’s road to unity in diversity

Milton Obote taking around a British member during the independence celebrations at Entebbe in October 1962

Emphasising diversity other than unity was what was on the mind of Sir Harry Johnston when he arrived at Kampala on December 20, 1899 to establish the British colonial rule in Uganda. The 1900 Uganda Agreement, which he put in place as a kind of constitution for the colonial administration, was itself based on divide and rule. It divided the inhabitants into the “haves” and “have-nots”. The “haves” were given vast parcels of land measured in terms of square miles (mailo) and given latitude to administer the areas under their control by imposing taxes on the “have-nots” on the cash crops which had to be grown by the “have -nots.” The “have-nots” who had been citizens on equal basis with others suddenly became second rate citizens to the mailo owners.

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Furthermore, the 1900 Uganda Agreement was based on divisions of Catholics, Anglican Protestants and Muslims, with the Anglican Protestants given the upper hand, both in the administration of the colony and the allocation of mailo resources. The result of this, was to sow seeds, which gave birth to what came to be known as the Mengo establishment of the mailo landed Protestant Oligarchy, composed of the Kabaka, who had to be Protestant, the Katikkiro who was also to be Protestant, the Omuwanika who also had to be Protestant and other senior Saza chiefs, all of whom had to be Protestants.

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The omulamuzi, who was supposed to be the third in hierarchy of the kingdom, was left out in this scheme of things, since he had to be catholic. This Protestant establishment attained a special relationship with the colonial administration and dictated the direction of Uganda’s political agenda for the following 70 years, until its overthrow in 1966.

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The colonial administration was comfortable with the Mengo establishment, which was a show piece for the British colonial indirect rule policy of divide and rule. What the policy meant for Uganda However, this policy meant disaster for Uganda when the country attained independence in October 1962. The Mengo establishment became irrelevant, since there was no need for the newly installed independence administration to indirectly rule any part of the country, through any scheme, even remotely, akin to indirect rule.

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Having put the indirect rule structure in place and demarcated the area of its jurisdiction, Sir Harry Johnston was quoted to have said: “I do not care what you call it, you can call it a kingdom.” So, while the British in the official records believed that they had established the first province of Uganda administered to the British, it was just like any other province of Uganda, only with a different name.

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Creation of other provinces Having achieved British control over the Buganda Kingdom, the British colonial authority moved to create other provinces. In doing this, they used Ganda soldiers whom they appointed chiefs in the areas they conquered and convinced them that they were superior and had to be the administrators. This deceit created a big wedge between the Baganda and other Ugandans.

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Nevertheless, by 1919 the northern, eastern and western provinces had been created and added to the Buganda Province (kingdom) to complete the Uganda Protectorate. It is crystal clear, therefore, that the British built a country out of a collection of ethnic groups whose loyalty was to their ethnic locality and not to a central authority. Thought of independence The stress of division among the various ethnic groups began to appear when the British showed signs of preparing to leave and hand over the country to independence.

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The Mengo establishment feared that independent Uganda would not accord them the special status and privileges enjoyed under colonial rule since the 1900 agreement and, therefore, opposed the emergency of political parties which were agitating for independence. They, in particular, were vehemently against the predominantly Catholic Democratic Party, which was led by Benedicto Kiwanuka and, which they saw as anti-Kabaka and, therefore, anti-Buganda.

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Proposed status of Mengo establishment To the Mengo establishment, the answer to maintaining their privileged position within an independent Uganda was to demand that they secede from the rest of Uganda. However, the more they threatened to secede from Uganda, the more the non-Baganda politicians united against the Mengo establishment and Buganda. In such a scenario, non- Baganda politicians became nationalists overnight, while the Baganda were almost all lumped together as inwardlooking traditionalists.

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The scenario, therefore, became a division of Mengo establishment on one hand and the rest of Uganda on the other. It was simultaneously also a divide of Mengo on one hand and political parties on the other. Other divisions There were other divisions in Uganda as a whole. In Bunyoro, there was the dispute about the boundary between Buganda and Bunyoro.


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There was the dispute between Bugisu and Bukedi districts about who had the legitimacy to control Mbale Municipality. The Sebei wanted a separate district to avoid being a permanent minority in Bugisu. The Acholi of east Acholi wanted their own base in Kitgum. In western Uganda, the Bamba and the Bakonzo wanted to be freed from what they considered the rule of the Batooro.


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There is no doubt, therefore, that as the country approached independence, the entire protectorate was riddled with divisions based on ethnicity, religion and landlordism (mailo).

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Role of political parties 1961 was a watershed year for Uganda. In that year, it became clear that Uganda was to proceed to independence through political parties while the Mengo establishment opposed, but embraced by other parties of Uganda. It was a great shock, therefore, when the 1961 elections were conducted under the banner of political parties, despite boycotts and protests from the Mengo establishment.



It was even more shocking to Mengo when their nemesis, the Catholic-dominated DP, emerged the winner and their party leader, Kiwanuka, became the first chief minister of Uganda. Kiwanuka and his DP had openly objected to Mengo’s demand for special status, seceding from Uganda, and guaranteeing that the Kabaka of Buganda, shall always be the head of state of Uganda.

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The Mengo establishment had to do whatever it took to stop Kiwanuka and the DP from leading Uganda to independence. The answer was in establishing a political party, which it did in November 1961, hardly nine months to independence. The Mengo establishment started the Kabaka Yekka Party with the sole objective of ensuring that Kiwanuka would not be the prime minister of Uganda at independence.

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That objective coincided with the desire and ambition of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), who were soon declared by Mengo establishment as the friends of Buganda, and with whom the two parties went into an electoral alliance which achieved Mengo’s dream of denying the DP and Kiwanuka the leadership of Uganda at Independence.

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Uganda decided on leaders Thus, on October 9, 1962, it was Apollo Milton Obote who was the prime minister of Uganda, heading a KY/ UPC coalition government and which the following year, in 1963, moved a motion in Parliament, appointing without opposition, Sir Edward Muteesa, the Kabaka of Buganda, as the head of state and first president of Uganda. It was clear that the men of power at independence had been brought together more by things that disunited them than those which united Uganda.

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There was no attempt to narrow down their divergent views on how Uganda was to move forward as a united country after independence. With no common ideological ground binding the two parties, the alliance soon broke up and since the gods were on the side of the big guns, victory in the showdown between the two parties went to prime minister Obote.

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Muteesa and the demise of Mengo establishment Sir Edward Muteesa, as president of Uganda, appealed to the United Nations. With no help from that end and, at that hour of need, Muteesa and the Mengo establishment found itself isolated and friendless since Mengo, had for a long time, distanced itself from the rest of Uganda. The other three provinces shed no tears at the demise of the Mengo establishment. There is no doubt that the Mengo demise was a direct result of the British colonial system of indirect rule, which emphasised ethnic identity.

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The actions of the Mengo establishment and KY were all aimed at preventing the building of a united Uganda. Amin 1971 coup It is undeniable that the 1966 revolution which brought the Mengo establishment to an end, carried within itself the seeds which brought Idi Amin to power in the coup of January 25, 1971. That coup ushered on the Uganda political scene, a machinery of government establishment and operated in military style, which included stabling a machinery of coercion, to effectively enforce a reign of terror on the population. This reign of terror controlled Uganda for eight years, until January 1989 when many exiles started converging in Moshi, Tanzania from all over the world and, in combination of the armed forces of Tanzania, led the invasion, which eventually overthew Amin.


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The group which overthrew Amin did not hold together and within a period of one year, Uganda experienced a change of regimes, thrice. NRM leadership Even when they were still in the bush, the NRM leadership purposed that upon the attainment of power, they would form a broad-based government to administer the affairs of the country. The NRM stuck to that ideal and formed a broad-based government, which was intended to heal the wrangles of the past by creating a national consensus that would cut across region, religion and tribe.

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True to its promise, the NRM put in place a Constituent Assembly, which, on September 22, 1995, gave birth to a new Constitution of Uganda. The Constitution came into being after collecting the views of Ugandans and the people of Uganda sending their representatives to debate their views in a Constituent Assembly. For over 16 months, the delegates in the Constituent Assembly debated people’s views before coming up with the Constitution on September 22, 1995.

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Constitution making The Constitution making process was a learning one and was a time for Ugandans to listen to one another. It was a healing process because it was a peopledriven process — as well as a process of nation building. It served to generate a national consensus on the most fundamental, but contentious issues that had caused social and political conflict in the country.

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It offered an opportunity to the people of Uganda to find viable means of resolving these conflicts through constitutionalism. The process initiated a democratic culture by enabling Ugandans to participate in shaping their destiny and providing an institutional framework for peaceful co-existence and development. The 1995 Constitution was, therefore, the milestone guiding the path which Ugandans must walk, to achieve unity in diversity within an independent, free, and prosperous Uganda.

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