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Problems of the 1961 conference

By Vision Reporter

Added 12th March 2007 03:00 AM

BY the time the independence constitutional conference started in London on September 18, 1961, Buganda had won, for itself, an autonomous regional status. This formed the basis for complications in the conference’s proceedings.

BY the time the independence constitutional conference started in London on September 18, 1961, Buganda had won, for itself, an autonomous regional status. This formed the basis for complications in the conference’s proceedings.


By Peter Mulira

BY the time the independence constitutional conference started in London on September 18, 1961, Buganda had won, for itself, an autonomous regional status. This formed the basis for complications in the conference’s proceedings.

The kingdom’s delegation insisted on assurances from the colonial secretary that her (Buganda’s) autonomy would not be endangered, when Britain transferred power to an independent central government.

Buganda’s autonomy was reached in a constitutional conference which took place at Entebbe from July 17-July 24, 1961, between the governor’s team and the Buganda constitutional committee, accompanied by two London Queen Councillors, Mr. E.F.N. Gratiaen and Mr. Phineas Quass, in which the kingdom was given complete control over most of the services within her area.

Although the kingdom was also given the option to train her own police with seconded officers from the central government, control over the provincial police was denied and final decision on courts, towns and finance, were deferred.

The road to the London conference started with the government’s appointment of a committee of thirteen members to consider and recommend the future constitutional developments of the country.

Specifically, the committee was mandated “to consider and to recommend to the government, the form of direct elections for representative members of the legislative council to be introduced in 1961 and the number of representative seats to be filled”.

Objections to the composition of the committee which had a prevalence of expatriates came from various people, including the president of the Makerere branch of the Progressive Party, John Ssebaana Kizito, the present President of the Democratic Party (DP), who argued that the future of the country should be shaped by local authorities. He appealed to political parties to rally behind local authorities to take the initiative in discussing and agreeing on an acceptable constitution.

The work of the committee, which was later known as the Wild Committee, after its chairman, was disrupted by a boycott of non-African shops outside the main towns and of cigarettes and beer which was announced by an all-party Uganda National Movement at the largest political rally ever seen in Uganda. There was also a declaration on unilateral independence for Buganda by the Lukiiko which refused to have dealings with the committee.

After the Wild Committee had made its report which was widely discussed, elections were announced on August 22, 1960 but not without obstacles. At the time of announcement, a Buganda delegation was in London for talks with the colonial secretary. In moving a motion to boycott the elections, Abu Mayanja, then Minister of Education, said it was contemptuous of Her Majesty’s government to announce and start registration of voters, one of the issues at the London talks.

The election boycott was defied by the DP in a move which set the tone for future political developments in the country. In a witch-hunt by the Lukiiko of “traitors” who had defied the boycott and registered, Abu Mayanja’s name was included which forced him to declare that the boycott was announced because Buganda’s independence had failed and its promoters were looking for scapegoats to avoid the public wrath. Notwithstanding the boycott, the colonial secretary, MacLeod, on a visit to the country, told the press on September 22, 1960 that the elections would take place throughout the country.

With DP’s national victory at the polls though with a slender percentage of electors in Buganda, Ben Kiwanuka its president general, formed the government and preparations for the independence constitutional conference went into top gear, following the appointment of Lord Muster’s committee with a brief study to recommend the future form of government and the question of future relationships of the central government with other authorities.

The conference opened on September 18, 1961, moving the colonial secretary to describe it as the most difficult one in his career. First, the Buganda members of the delegation refused to participate in the main conference, claiming that they were in London purposely to hold discussions with the colonial secretary about the future of the kingdom. Their separate talks with the colonial secretary caused rancour in other delegations which sent an angry memorandum over the matter to the colonial secretary.

After the Kabaka had held private talks with MacLeod in London, he sent two emissaries to Uganda to try and convince an obstinate Lukiiko to allow its delegates to participate in the main conference. Many people were relieved when the Lukiiko recanted and Abu Mayanja as usual spoke for many when he welcomed the new spirit of cooperation, adding that “it is good to see the Lukiiko adopting a policy for which some of us were so recently denounced as traitors.”

The next hitch hit the conference when the DP delegation together with those from Toro, Ankole and Acholi, walked out over the proposed indirect elections of Buganda’s representatives to the national assembly.

When they later returned to the conference, Kiwanuka boasted that the secretary of state had retracted the indirect elections and as such, his party had won its point but as is the nature of politics, the issue was returned to the table and passed when DP could do very little to stop it.

Perhaps the most intricate problem at the conference was the issue of the lost counties forming the territories which had been transferred from Bunyoro to Buganda. The issue bogged down the conference until it was postponed to be determined at a referendum to be held two years after independence, after the Buganda delegation assumed that it had Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) concurrence, that if it formed the government, the referendum would not be held. As it turned out, the referendum was held in 1964 and Buganda lost two counties which raptured her flirtation with UPC.

What had been expected to be the thorniest issue namely Buganda’s demand for federalism turned out to be a nonsequitar after UPC circulated a memorandum in which it recommended full federal status to all kingdoms arguing that by granting that the central government would not be weakened as such and that the country would have a strong unifying factor.

From his retirement in Dorset, UK, H.M. Grace who moulded many of the country’s future leaders as headmaster of King’s College Budo, wrote a letter in the Uganda Argus of September 1960, advising against a rigid central government: “If we agreed to this and stood aside we would watch what would be inevitable — an independent Uganda handed over to civil strife”.

Problems of the 1961 conference

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