By Gerald Businge
What would you do if armed intruders came to your home to take over everything? Would you let them take whatever they want? Or would you fight the intruders to defend your people and the property?
For some people, it is keeping alive that matters most. Such people would do anything to keep alive. â€œBetter a living coward than a dead hero,â€ they say. But there are those who will fight the intruders and defend their people and property, even at the expense of their own life. Interestingly, history pays tribute to the latter.
Look at the heroes of this world and you will find the French will easily mention Napoleon Bonaparte, the Americans will tell you about Martin Luther King Jr. To South Africans, it is Nelson Mandela. Many Zimbabweans insist on Robert Mugabe. In Uganda, especially in Bunyoro region, it is Omukama Chwa II Kabalega.
Faced with the difficult task of British colonial onslaught in 1890, Kabalega, unlike his contemporary rulers, chose to resist the British intrusion with resolve and determination.
Born in 1953, Kabalega became King of Bunyoro-Kitara in 1869, when he was only 16. Though young, he led a historic revival of the kingdom and registered several victories in reclaiming lost territories, organising his people based on increased food production, cattle keeping and trade given that Bunyoro was the centre of iron smelting at the time, and had the Kibiro Salt Works.
But the real test to his leadership came when faced with the British conquests. Kabalega looked the British forces in the eye and they blinked. He fought against the superior British forces for nine years, until his kingdom was overrun and he was captured and imprisoned.
More than 83 years after his death, much of what is known about Bunyoro-Kitara world-wide is based on Kabalegaâ€™s prowess, military ability and innovations by virtue of which he defied British might for more than nine years. Even his adversaries as admitted by colonels Coleville and Thurston in their diaries admired Kabalegaâ€™s level of military organisation, guerrilla war tactics, leadership and control, as well as livestock and food stocks kept in the kingdom.
That is why, in spite of all the hardships that the war brought to the people of Bunyoro-Kitara like famine (after the British destroyed the food stocks), loss of lives and property, history has vindicated Kabalegaâ€™s resistance as representing the single most important nationalist struggle against British rule in Uganda. â€œThose who died in the struggle deserve to be consecrated as the real heroes of Ugandaâ€™s independence. The greatest tribute that we can pay to them for the blood that was shed is to resolve, as did Kabalega, never to surrender where the defence of our country and that of our rights is in question. Kabalega is the father of Ugandaâ€™s anti-colonial struggle,â€ says Christopher Sabiti, a historian from Bunyoro-Kitara.
To wit, Sabiti says that many other regions in Uganda learnt, though too late, that fighting the British colonialists was far, better than cooperating with them because of their imperialistic motives and actions.
The eventual wars (not always militarily) for independence in all African countries went further to show that then African leaders should not have allowed the British intrusion and subjugation.
Kabaka Mwanga of Buganda, the kingdom that had gladly welcomed the British, in July 1897, escaped from his palace and joined Omukama Kabalega to fight against British colonial rule. History has recorded well how the two leaders fought with gallantry and refused to surrender to the British forces.
But this combined resistance to colonialism came too late. With the depletion of their forces, Mwanga and Kabalega were captured on April 4, 1899 in Dokolo, present-day Lira, in a house of a Langi chief. They were both, exiled to Seychelles. Kabaka Mwanga died in prison in Seychelles, while Kabalega, after a special request from his son, Omukama Duhaga, was released in 1923.
Even after 24 years of his imprisonment, and his old age, the British could not allow Kabalega to return to Bunyoro-Kitara alive, fearing the resolve and inspiration he might inject in the people of Bunyoro to further resist colonial rule. Kabalega was kept in Jinja at a place called Mpumwire from where he died in 1924. He was taken to Bunyoro and buried at his former palace at Mparo in Hoima.
He might not have achieved much in his resistance against the British, but Kabalega today remains the single biggest source of inspiration to all people of Bunyoro, many Ugandans and others in different parts of the world. â€œHe is my king and my hero,â€ says Col. Leopold Kyanda, the head of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence.
â€œI admire his courage for refusing to be colonised. I liked his resolve to fight with a reason. Kabalega fought the British because they came to take our freedom and everything we had. He was a foresighted man,â€ says Stephen Twesige Amooti, a youth from Bunyoro. Kabalega is listed by the government among Ugandaâ€™s heroes. As Uganda marks Heroes Day this June 9, Bunyoro-Kitara kingdom has decided to name the day â€˜Kabalega Dayâ€™.
Emmanuel Kiiza Aliba, the prime minister of Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom says they are holding celebrations at Mparo royal tombs to remember Kabalegaâ€™s exemplary life and inspire the youth to take on his virtues in fighting todayâ€™s enemies, including poverty, diseases, disunity and protection of oneâ€™s land.
â€œWe shall always gather around our gallant Hero, Omukama Kabaleega, and pay homage to him. We shall revitalise his spirit in us, the spirit of hard-work, dedication to his people, entrepreneurship and self-defence which came out clearly in his motto â€˜Conquer or Dieâ€™,â€ Kiiza says in an interview.
The kingdom has more reason to celebrate at Mparo this year, because the royal tombs is a shining place after being well renovated by the Uganda Peopleâ€™s Defence Forces.
â€œWe are all happy. There will be fun and celebration. While at the celebrations, we shall draw plans to start renovating the palace of our Heroâ€™s grandson, Omukama Iguru, which is in a sorry state,â€ Kiiza says.
The kingdom is also hoping to use the function to raise support for the Kabalega Education Fund, which supports 13 children in different schools. â€œWe hope to support 10 students who have excelled in both arts and sciences at Makerere university this year.
We hope this scheme will increase productivity of the kingdom,â€ Kiiza says.
The June 9 function will be presided over by Col. Kyanda. The Minister of Defence, Dr Chrispus Kiyonga, will hand-over the renovated royal tombs to the kingdom on June 11 as the first activity to mark this yearâ€™s coronation anniversary celebrations. The coronation anniversary (empango) will take place on June 11 at the Karuzika (palace) to celebrate the day Omukama Solomon Gafabusa Iguru I took the throne 14 years ago.