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Uganda’s struggle for self rule and the men who spread the gospel | NTV

We trace the beginning of activism in the colonial days that culminated into Uganda’s independence.

Obote holds the Uganda Flag on October 9, 1962. Obote’s Uganda Peoples Congress party was instrumental in the events leading to independence. Courtesy photo

By  Kavuma Kaggwa | Daily Monitor

Uganda today, October 9, 2014, celebrates its 52nd Independence anniversary.

More than half of the current population was not yet born in 1962. It is, therefore, important to remind ourselves of the origin of the struggle for independence and the people who played significant roles.

The origin of the struggle for Uganda’s Independence was the founding of Uganda’s first political party, Uganda National Congress. The party was founded by Ignatius Kangave Musaazi, Abubakar Kakyama Mayanja, Stefano Abwangoto (Bugisu), Ben Okwerede (Teso), Yekosofati Engur (Lango), and S.B. Katembo (Tooro).

Ignatius Kangave Musaazi,

Musaazi was the founding president general, and Mayanja was the founding secretary general. The others were chairpersons in their respective regions.

The party was formed on March 2, 1952 at the Kabaka’s Lake, Mengo, in the house of a one, Kitamirike. His place was the headquarters of the party for several years before it moved to Katwe and later to Kololo in the late 1950s in a house now used as the home of Hot Loaf Bakery.

Following the political disturbances of 1949 codenamed NUMBER 9, when the Africa farmers demanded full participation in the ginning of their cotton and marketing it without a middleman, Musaazi emerged as one of the strong leaders. He formed a farmer’s association called the Federation of Partnership of Uganda African Farmers.

He invited people from outside Buganda, who included Abwangoto, Okwerede, Yekosofati Engur and Katembo, to join the federation. Born in Kangave village, Bulemezi County in Buganda, Musaazi had spent years in the UK studying theology, and his intention was to become a reverend in the Church of Uganda.

While in London, Musaazi met great men such as Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya), George Padmore (Jamaica) and Hastings Kamuzu Banda (Malawi). He also met Fenner Brookway, a British MP belonging to the Labour Party, and John Stonehouse, a young Labour Party member.

Nkrumah, Kenyatta and Padmore had already convened the famous Manchester Conference of 1945, which planned the liberation of Africa from colonialism and imperialism.

The conference passed strong resolutions urging all African freedom fighters to go back to their countries and “liberate them from colonialism and break all the chains of European imperialism”.

While in London, Musaazi also met Reverend Hewitt, who was nicknamed “The Red Dean of Canterbury” because of his socialist ideas. Rev Hewitt wrote a book titled “The Socialist Sixth” where he advocated for the application of socialism. The Church of England banned him from travelling to the British colonies for fear that “he would change the minds of Africans”.

Kenyatta came back to Kenya in 1948 and together with Omutaka Semakula Mulumba of the Bataka Bu Movement, they embarked on organising the Mau Mau rebellion which liberated Kenya. Musaazi also returned to Uganda almost at the same time. What annoyed him was that the Native Anglican Church (NAC) under the control of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) at Namirembe refused to ordain him in the Anglican Church.

The church was of the view that Musaazi had been influenced by African freedom fighters and people with socialistic ideals during the time he was with them in London. The church thought that with that kind of background, Musazi could not carry out church work with an independent mind.

With the breakout of the Mau Mau liberation in Kenya in 1952, Musaazi quickly decided to turn the Federation of Partnership of Uganda African Farmers into a full political party. Thus he, Mayanja and four others formed Uganda National Congress with a nationwide rallying call of “Independence Now”.

The Independence of India in 1947 also contributed a great deal to inspire Musaazi and other Ugandans to fight for independence. Musaazi was inspired by how Mahatma Gandhi went to UK in 1946 wearing a simple Indian white garment and endured the bitter cold of London to demand for India’s independence.

Abubakar Kakyama Mayanja

Abubakar Mayanja’s “strong and fearless heart” made him become the party’s secretary general, the number two post in the party. Other people, who were even older than him although not well educated as he was, feared the challenge but Mayanja came forward to be the secretary general.

Mayanja, then a Makerere University student, had a burning desire for politics.

As a young man in Baskerville Primary School, Ngogwe in Kyaggwe, he witnessed the 1945 political uprising by the Baganda when they demanded direct representation in the Lukiiko. This uprising was codenamed “NUMBER 8” (NAAMBA MUNAANA in Luganda).

It was organised with the assistance of Baganda ex-servicemen (Abaseveni) who had just returned from the Second World War.

Mayanja also witnessed the 1949 Bataka uprising when the farmers demanded to own cotton ginneries throughout the country. This uprising was codenamed “NUMBER 9” OR Namba Mwenda in Luganda.

1949 uprising

It was so effective that the governor declared a government policy allowing Africans to build their own cotton ginneries.

After the 1949 uprising, farmers and the “BATAKA BU” (which literally means the sons of the Buganda soil or Buganda land) used to hold their meetings at the Kabaka’s Lake at Mengo.

Mayanja used to walk all the way from Makerere to attend these meetings. On March 2, 1952 when Musaazi asked who would be the secretary general, others feared but Mayanja came forward and took the job.

He straightaway issued a press statement announcing the formation of Uganda National Congress and he used the postal address of the university. The European newspapers in Kampala and Nairobi (Uganda Herald and the East African Standard) came out with banner headlines “Politics enters Makerere”.

Both Musaazi and Mayanja were in combative mood after launching Uganda National Congress. At Mengo, they received delegations of people from various parts of the country who had heard about the formation of the party and wanted to know more about its objectives.

Musaazi once said he was inspired by Albert Luthuli, one of the founders of the African National Congress of South Africa in 1912, and Mahatma Gandhi, who founded the Indian National Congress in 1915. Therefore, he decided to name his party Uganda National Congress (UNC).

Musaazi and Mayanja traversed Buganda, eastern, northern and western regions addressing political rallies. 

The former leaders of the Farmers’ Union, who were now the UNC chairpersons in those areas, made the work very easy because they translated the message into the local languages for people there.

Rallying the whole country

Talking to people or addressing a political rally was not a problem at that time because there were no restrictive laws as it is now in an independent country.

The two men could spend weeks and weeks moving from one place to another in eastern and northern Uganda. In Lango, Teso, Bugisu, Acholi, West Nile and Madi, Musaszi and Mayanja spend nights in the same houses with the people they converted, hence the message was easily embraced by the people.

This down-to-earth association with the local people was what made UNC get grassroot support across the country. People believed and liked Musazi and Mayanja and they gave them local names. For instance, the Langi and Acholi used to sing – “Musazi Eyoo” meaning “with Musazi, it is alright”.

This popularity of UNC forced Milton Obote to insist on the name “Congress” when he joined the late W.W. Rwetsiba’s Uganda People’s Union to form Uganda People’s Congress in the mid-1960s after the split of UNC at the end of 1959.

UNC was formed when Sir Andrew Cohen (1950-1955) was the British Governor.

Though Cohen was a shrewd and visionary administrator, the Baganda, hated him because he exiled Kabaka Edward Mutesa II on November 30, 1953. Nevertheless, he helped Mayanja in many ways.

Mayanja did not last long at Makerere because in 1952, he organised a students’ strike against “bad food”. 

Meanwhile, Sir Andrew Cohen initiated a good educational development programme to train Africans who would take over jobs in the civil service and run the country in the later years before and after the country had achieved Independence.

The governor advised then Buganda minister for Finance (Omuwanika) Latimer Mpagi to set up a UK£ 400,000 scholarship fund for Baganda students.

The fund was set up from the coffee earnings. The Kabaka’s government made announcements for the people to apply for the scholarships. Mayanja applied and his application had to be recommended by the governor himself.

One morning, Mayanja went to Entebbe. Arriving at the secretariat, he found European civil servants, some of whom tried to stop him from meeting the governor because he had been expelled from the university and he was a politician.

But Governor Cohen said: “If we are going to have political opponents, and there is no way we are going to avoid them, for God’s sake, let us at least have them educated”.

Mayanja shook the governor’s hand after the latter awarded him a scholarship to study at Cambridge University in London. Governor Cohen was also educated at the same university.

During his time in London, Mayanja represented UNC and he made many contacts for the party.

However, as he pursued his studies, a terrible tragedy befell Buganda Kingdom. On November 30, 1953, Kabaka Edward Mutesa II was exiled in Britain by Governor Cohen. 

The Kabaka was exiled because he refused to sign a British declaration, which was intended to create a political federation of Uganda, Kenya and Tanganyika (now Tanzania). The Kabaka said he could not sign the declaration without being authorised by the Lukiiko.

The Kabaka, the Lukiiko and the Baganda in general rejected the federation of East Africa because “it was intended to wipe out and completely abolish the Buganda Kingdom”.

The exiling of the Kabaka offered a great opportunity for Musaazi to consolidate his new party, UNC, in Buganda and the rest of Uganda. UNC was at the forefront to demand the Kabaka’s return from exile. Musaazi made several trips to London and petitioned the Colonial Office demanding the return of the Kabaka. His main contact in London was Fenner Brookway, a very influential British Labour Party Member of Parliament.

The exiling of the Kabaka also created a big political crisis between Buganda and Britain which necessitated a political mediation between the two sides.

The author is an elder from Kyaggwe