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Demarcation of Uganda led to present problems

By Vision Reporter

Added 6th November 2006 03:00 AM

WHEN Sir Harry Johnston as the special commissioner of the king of England signed a protection agreement with Buganda on March 10, 1900, he could not have anticipated that his action would create discord in the kingdom’s future relations with the rest of the country.

WHEN Sir Harry Johnston as the special commissioner of the king of England signed a protection agreement with Buganda on March 10, 1900, he could not have anticipated that his action would create discord in the kingdom’s future relations with the rest of the country.

Peter Mulira

WHEN Sir Harry Johnston as the special commissioner of the king of England signed a protection agreement with Buganda on March 10, 1900, he could not have anticipated that his action would create discord in the kingdom’s future relations with the rest of the country.

This discord was later to humble British colonialism at its sunset and was at the centre of our truculent politics of the 1960s.

Few countries in the world have been created in such a cavalier fashion as Uganda was cobbled together by the British. After the Berlin conference had demarcated the international boundaries of the East African territories which were assigned to British jurisdiction it was left to the governor to divide those territories into “provinces and districts in such manner and with such subdivisions as may be convenient for the purpose of administration”.

Yet the office of governor was not created until November 1917 which means that the commissioner continued to be in charge and was the one who demarcated the territories into four provinces and 13 districts in 1909.
The jurisdiction of the British monarchy over the territories which came to be known as Uganda was established through “treaties, grant, usage, sufferance and other lawful means” according to the Order in Council of 1920.

Both the manner of demarcation of the country into administrative units as well as the method of incorporation of the various territories have proved to be the root cause of the country’s post-independence problems due to what is generally perceived as apparent inequalities of sizes and the banding together into district units of people who did not cherish each other but above all Buganda’s desire to be administered as one unit has been the most contentious.

Under the treaty Buganda signed in 1900 the kingdom surrendered its sovereignty to the British monarch and agreed to be one of the four provinces of equal status with the three provinces when the administration of the protectorate was put in place. Since the administration was not established until 1909 the kingdom continued to be administered as before 1900 through the British Foreign Office under the Foreign Jurisdictions Act.

Before the administration of the country was put in place a provincial government in Buganda with its own local administration based on its 20 districts or counties was established and this had a serious bearing on later developments since no other provincial governments were set up and local administration elsewhere was based on the district.

Since the provincial government in Buganda was run in the name of the Kabaka and in whose name all the appointments were made there was a sharp contrast with the rest of the country where the local administration there was answerable to the district commissioner appointed by the central government in the name of the Queen of England.

Subsequently, local councils were assigned more autonomy but the issue of size remained problematic.
All this meant that there was no common symbol for the Uganda nation apart from the Queen of England and perhaps the national football team. Professor Samwiri Karugire captured this situation graphically when he wrote in one of his books that at independence Uganda existed only on maps and in the statute books.

How to create a viable nation from the hotch potch territorial creations of Sir Harry Johnston has been the concern of all politicians before and after independence. It is from this concern that the idea of federalism first arose.
In the late 1950s Amos Sempa the erudite Minister of Finance in the Buganda government and the brain behind many of its initiatives visited the United States on a study tour and on his way back spent some time in Switzerland.

Upon his return he told a press conference that federalism especially with regard to Buganda’s desire to maintain her provincial status in an independent Uganda was the answer and this became Mengo’s official policy.

Unfortunately, the rest of the country was not amused because leaders of districts saw this as an attempt by Buganda to maintain a special status over the others. At a conference of district secretary generals federalism was rejected outright. Although the idea of having provincial government of the same status as Buganda’s could have been a rational compromise it was not favoured.

As we entered our independence there were therefore two issues which remained contentious, namely how to replace the British monarch as our national symbol and secondly how to administer ourselves. The latter issue became intractable as the Buganda Lukiiko resorted to direct action in enforcing its demands. First the political parties which by their very nature needed a countrywide platform were demonised by Mengo as being anti-Buganda interests.

After a successful campaign against the parties Mengo prevailed on the governor not to discuss Buganda’s issues with any other person since Buganda’s relationship with the British government was based on contractual obligations.
Having ensured total control of Buganda’s destiny Mengo was ready to take on the British government head on. In doing this Mengo acquired the services of highly-rated Queen’s Counsels from London to guide it in its legal battles.

Under the Standing Rules and Orders of the legislative council it was provided that the governor would attend and preside over the proceedings of the council unless prevented by illness or grave cause. In 1958 the governor ceased to be chairman of the council and a speaker was appointed in his place. Mengo argued that this changed the character of the council and ordered Buganda’s five representatives to withdraw but only one did so.

A constitutional case to interpret the issue ended in the government’s favour but Mengo refused to send representatives to the council. When the government appointed a relationship committee with a view to proposing new constitutional developments again Buganda boycotted the committee.

It was against this background that the constitutional conference which ushered in our independence was held in London in 1962. In order to lure Buganda to the conference, UPC formed an alliance with Mengo promising to support Buganda’s federal status and the appointment of the Kabaka as the first president. UPC kept its word but later things fell apart in 1966 resulting in a new constitution in 1967. The conventional wisdom holds that the federal status which was given to Buganda in 1962 led to the crisis of 1966.

However, a true appreciation of our history would suggest that the problem which afflicted the country had its genesis in the way Sir Harry Johnston demarcated the country for administrative purposes.

Once this is appreciated it will be easy to la y the foundation for a way forward.

Demarcation of Uganda led to present problems

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