This work looks at the role different ethnic groups have played in the evolution of Uganda as a nation. It also examines
some of the challenges the country has faced in its attempts to create a common identity transcending ethnic and regional
differences. It's also a general introduction to Uganda. Subjects covered include ethnic groups and their cultures, geography,
history and the economy, and challenges to the legitimacy of the state posed by traditional centres of power and institutions
which are regionally entrenched.
WORK is a general introduction to Uganda as a country and as a nation.
serves as a broad introduction for a number of reasons.
intended to introduce Uganda to people who know nothing or very little about this East African country. It provides basic
information which even some people who already know about Uganda may find to be useful. It also contains some information
which may be helpful even to experts in the field.
book can also be used as an introductory text in college.
can also help tourists and other people going to Uganda for different reasons, for example, as relief workers, as missionaries,
as businessmen or simply as travellers just passing through.
people go to Uganda to do research in different fields. Others go there just to live. And they all may find this work to be
it's not written as a scholarly work even if some people may find it to be useful in their scholarly pursuits. It's written
simply as a general book which can help different people who want to learn a few things about Uganda in different fields such
as history, politics, social and cultural studies, economics and others.
may even encourage some of them to learn more about this magnificent land which is also known as “the pearl of Africa”
in the tropics. In fact, the equator runs right through Uganda.
have covered different subjects which, I believe, should be enough to provide basic information about Uganda to anybody who
wants to get a general picture of the country.
covered include geography, history, different cultures and ethnic groups which collectively constitute the nation.
this work can help even just one person to learn a few things about Uganda, it will have achieved its purpose.
as an African, I feel that it's my duty to help foreigners learn a few important things about one of the African countries
I have decided to write about as my contribution towards a better understanding of our continent.
to Uganda, and welcome to Africa.
is one of the three countries which constitute a region that's known as East Africa. The other countries are Kenya and Tanzania.
landlocked and has an area of 91,136 square miles. The country had a population of about 32 million people in 2009.
90 per cent of the people live in rural areas as peasants and farmers. Most of the farms are small used mainly for growing
subsistence crops and raising livestock, mostly cows.
country's name comes from the Buganda kingdom which is located in the southern part of the country. The British chose the
name when they established the Uganda Protectorate in 1894.
capital Kampala is also located in Buganda.
is bordered by Kenya on the east, Sudan on the north, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on the west, Rwanda on the southwest,
and Tanzania on the south. It's also not far from Burundi.
Ruwenzori Mountains – also known as Rwenzori – are in the southwest along the border with Rwanda. Margherita Peak
on Stanley Mountain is the highest point in Uganda. It's 16,794 feet and is part of the Ruwenzori Range.
lowest point in Uganda is Lake Albert.
Rwenzori are some of the highest mountain ranges on the continent and home to mountain gorillas, one of the main tourist attractions
in the country drawing people from all over the world. In fact, Uganda has Africa's largest population of mountain gorillas.
Virunga Mountains are also in the southwest. There are also several mountain ranges in th east and in the north.
eastern mountains include Mount Elgon which is more than 14,000 feet. Part of the mountain is in Kenya. Another mountain in
the eastern part of Uganda is Moroto which is more than 10,000 feet.
also has some of the largest lakes in Africa and is home to hundreds of species of birds. About 15 per cent of the country
is made up of water surface – lakes, rivers and swamps – and about 7 per cent comprises highland at an altitude
of more than 5,000 feet.
terrain is mostly plateau with a rim of mountains. Most of Uganda consists of a fertile plateau averaging 4,000 feet.
plateau is bounded by the western branch of the Great Rift Valley – including lakes Albert and Edward – in the
west, by Ruwenzori Mountains in the southwest, high mountains on the east and by some mountain ranges in the north.
half of Lake Albert is in Uganda and the rest in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The largest part of Lake Edward is in Congo
and only a small portion in Uganda.
the centre of the plateau is Lake Kyoga. Also, the central part of the country is surrounded by extensive marshy areas.
Kyoga is a shallow lake complex. Most of the lake is only 4 metres in depth. Areas less than 3 metres are completely covered
with lilies and much of the swampy shoreline is covered with papyrus and water hyacinth.
lake also serves as a rough boundary between Bantu ethnic groups in the southern part of the country and Nilotic as well as
central Sudanic language speakers in the north.
Victoria is in the southeast. It's shared by all the three East African countries – Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
largest portion is in Tanzania. An entire half of the lake is within Tanzania's territorial borders.
about half of Lake Victoria is in Uganda. The lake is in the southern part of the country. Kenya has the smallest portion
of the lake.
the country lies astride the equator – the equator runs through the southern part of the country – high altitude
enables Uganda to enjoy a moderate climate in a region many people expect to be very hot.
in the arid north and parts of the south, annual rainfall is about 40 inches. Temperatures rarely exceed 85°F
or fall below 60°F.
the climate is not uniform and is greatly influenced by altitude. The southern part of Uganda is wetter and gets rain throughout
the year although in varying amounts. The northern part is drier although it also gets a good amount of rain. The driest part
is the Karamoja region in northeastern Uganda. The area is stricken by droughts periodically through the years.
southwestern part of Uganda along the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), dominated by the Rwenzori mountains,
gets heavy rain throughout the year.
the climate of southern Uganda is heavily influenced by Lake Victoria which also has many islands. The lake controls variation
in temperature. There are no big differences in temperature. Increasing cloudiness and heavy rainfall in the region are also
partly attributed to Lake Victoria.
in “the heart” of the Great Lakes region of East Africa, Uganda is one of the most fertile countries on the continent.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called it “the pearl of Africa.”
to many other African countries, Uganda has substantial natural resources.
mainly an agricultural country and has a lot of arable land, about 25 per cent of the country's total area. More than 80 per
cent of the labour force is employed in the agricultural sector. Coffee is the main export crop.
despite severe economic dislocation under Idi Amin's rule, Uganda remained one of the world's major producers of coffee which
accounted for almost all its export earnings.
main agricultural products include bananas, tea, cotton, groundnuts, sugar cane, tobacco, maize, potatoes, cassava, millet,
cut flowers, pulses, poultry, beef, milk, and goat meat.
Large numbers of poultry, cattle, goats, and sheep are raised. There is also a sizable fishing industry. And a lot
of hardwood – especially mahogany – is cut.
few manufactures are limited mainly to processed agricultural goods. But they also include non-agricultural products.
major industries are producing and processing sugar, tobacco, cotton textiles, cement, chemical fertiliser, and steel.
export commodities in addition to coffee include tea, cotton, fish and fish products, flowers, horticultural products, and
gold. But like most African countries, the value of Uganda's imports is usually considerably higher than the value of its
discovery of oil in the area of Lake Albert in 2007 has boosted Uganda's economic potential as an oil-producing nation. The
country also has significant amounts of natural gas, largely untapped like oil.
other main sectors of the economy include forestry and fishing mainly in Lake Victoria, the largest in Africa. Its mining
sector is small but it has sizable mineral deposits. Minerals include copper, gold, cobalt, tin, salt, iron ores, beryl, tungsten
copper ore, once the leading mineral resource, has been virtually mined out. The other minerals are extracted on a small scale
although there are significant amounts of cobalt.
also has a lot of hydroelectric potential. And there is a large hydroelectric plant at Owen Falls located on the Victoria
Nile ( the White Nile) where it leaves Lake Victoria.
a well-watered country with many lakes and rivers which have not been fully exploited for others purposes including irrigation.
largest and most important towns and cities in Uganda are in the southern part of the country. They include the capital Kampala,
Entebbe, Jinja, Masaka and Mbale.
is another major town. It's in northern Uganda.
of the important political activities are centred in Kampala, the nation's capital. It's also the largest city in the country
and its commercial centre.
is the country's official language. And there are attempts to elevate Kiswahili to the same status. But in terms of functional
utility, English remains the dominant language for official and commercial purposes.
taught in primary school, used in courts of law and by most newspapers. It's also used in some radio broadcasts.
Ganda language, which is also known as Luganda, is the most widely used African language in Uganda. it's spoken most by the
Baganda, the native speakers of the language. But it's also spoken by many non-Baganda. It's also the most widely used language
in native publications and in radio broadcasts in the nation's capital Kampala.
or Runyankore, is the main language spoken in southwestern Uganda, and Lusoga in the southeastern parts.
30 different languages are spoken in Uganda.
majority of the people are Christian. Christians constitute about 66 per cent of Uganda's population and Muslims about 16
per cent. The rest follow traditional religious beliefs which include ancestor “worship.”
ancestors are seen as intermediaries between the living and the Almighty and intercede on their behalf. But different followers
of traditional religions don't have exactly the same beliefs. They differ in many fundamental respects although many of them
also have a lot in common.
prevalence of Christianity as the dominant religion in Uganda is a product of European penetration of the region.
most active missionaries were British and French. The French introduced the Catholic Church and the British propagated Protestant
teachings leading to the establishment of the Anglican Church and other Protestant denominations.
constitute more than 33 per cent of the Christian population, and Catholics also about 33 per cent, although there's some
dispute on these numbers. Some people contend that there are more Protestants, while others say the numbers are about the
country became a British Protectorate, just another euphemism for colony, and one of the most important imperial possessions
on the continent for strategic reasons including its position as the source of the Nile.
also is strategically located in the region of East and Central Africa which includes some of Africa’s most economically
important and resource-rich countries with a substantial market and great potential for future development.
the British created Uganda, they lumped together members of diverse ethnic groups with different backgrounds, political systems,
cultures and traditions. And the differences among them became a major stumbling block to the establishment of a stable political
entity after the country won independence.
people are predominantly Bantu and live mostly in the south. Bantu ethnic groups constitute about 70 per cent of the country's
population. The Baganda in Buganda kingdom are the largest. They make up at least 17 per cent of Uganda's population.
groups constitute about 25 per cent of Uganda's population. About 15 per cent of the country's Nilotic population lives in
the north. It's mostly composed of the Acholi, the Langi and the Alur ethnic groups.
10 per cent live in the northeast. The Teso and the Karamajong constitute the largest Nilotic population groups in the northeastern
part of Uganda. And they all speak Nilotic languages.
Bantu groups are mostly farmers, the Nilotic-speaking people in the north tend to be herdsmen.
Sudanic population lives in the northwest and constitutes about 5 per cent of Uganda's population.
country's ethnic composition is unevenly distributed.
addition to the Baganda, other groups include the Banyankole who are the second-largest constituting 9.5 per cent; the Basoga,
8.4 per cent; Bakiga, 6.9 per cent; Iteso, 6.4 per cent; Langi, 6.1 per cent; Acholi, 4.7 per cent; Bagisu, 4.6 per cent;
Lugbara, 4.2 per cent; and Banyoro, 2.7 per cent. The rest make up 29.6 per cent, according to the 2002 census.
ethnic groups also constitute regional groupings.
eastern lacustrine Bantu are the Baganda, the Basoga and the Bagisu.
Banyoro, the Batoro and the Banyankole constitute the western lacustrine Bantu.
eastern Nilotic language groups are the Karamojong cluster and the Iteso.
western Nilotic language groups are the Acholi, the Langi, and the Alur.
there are the central Sudanic language groups which include the Lugbara, the Kakwa and the Madi in the northwestern part of
Uganda is a single political entity, there are major differences between the north and the south. The differences are mainly
ethnic and linguistic as well as political. The linguistic boundary runs roughly from the northwest to the southeast, and
not across the country from west to east.
in spite of this demarcation line, the population is mixed and many Ugandans live among people who speak different
languages in urban and rural areas.
sources describe regional variation in terms of physical characteristics, clothing, bodily adornment, and mannerisms, but
others claim that those differences are disappearing.
of Bantu ethnic groups speak Bantu languages.
term Bantu is a linguistic term used to collectively identify people of different ethnic groups who speak related languages.
They also share many cultural traits and live mostly in East, Central and Southern Africa. And Uganda is one of the African
countries which has a very high percentage of Bantu population.
fact, the term Bantu itself means “people” in Bantu languages spoken in Uganda and all the way down to southern
Africa, only with slight variations in terms of spelling. For example in the Nyakyusa language which is spoken in southwestern
Tanzania, a language I also speak, the word for “people” is bandu, which is not very much different from “Bantu.” And in Kiswahili, also known as
Swahili, watu means
The Baganda of Uganda are some of the most well-known Bantu people in Africa. And their kingdom played a very important
role in the evolution of Uganda as a nation. In fact, it formed the nucleus of the Uganda Protectorate. The British first
declared a protectorate over Buganda kingdom.
But other kingdoms also played significant roles in the nation's history in varying degrees.
All these were Bantu kingdoms in the southern part of the country.
kingdoms developed in the Great Lakes region during the 1400s and early 1500s in an area that came to be known as Uganda,
especially the southern part of the country.
was the most powerful of the southern kingdoms until the 1800s. It was later surpassed by Buganda which became the leading
kingdom in the region. And it remained so even after the country won independence when it almost seceded.
powerful kingdom was Ankole. Its people are called Banyankole, and their land or kingdom, Bunyankole.
same prefix – in Bantu languages – is used in the case of Buganda (its people Baganda), Bunyoro (its people Banyoro),
Busoga (its people Basoga) and other traditional lands and their people.
major kingdoms – Bunyoro, Toro and Ankole – are in southwestern Uganda. The exception is Buganda which is in the
south-central part of the country, and the princedom of Busoga which is in the southeast next to Buganda.
kingdoms of Bunyoro, Toro and Ankole are believed to be the product of acculturation between two different ethnic
groups, the Hima and the Iru.
Hima are said to be the descendants of pastoralists who migrated into the region from the northeast. The Iru are said to be
descendants of agricultural populations that preceded the Hima as cultivators in the region.
won independence from Britain on 9 October 1962 under the leadership of Prime Minister Obote, a northerner, in a country dominated
by southerners. And Edward Frederick Mutesa, kabaka (king) of Buganda kingdom, became the country's first president in 1963.
But he had no executive powers. The real ruler of the country was Obote.
political crisis developed in the early and mid-sixties mainly because Buganda wanted to dominate Uganda or secede.
people of the kingdom wanted to establish an independent state under a monarchy. Obote wanted Uganda to be a republic under
a centralised state.
the very least, the Baganda wanted a federation for the whole country in which the kingdom would exercise considerable autonomy
as if it were an independent state with virtually no control from the central government.
February 1966, Prime Minister Obote suspended the constitution and Kabaka Mutesa fled to Britain. Obote became president but
was overthrown by Idi Amin on 25 January 1971 when he was in Singapore attending a conference of the Commonwealth.
reign of terror began and the country descended into the abyss from which it never fully recovered. Amin also kept Uganda
in the international spotlight for years.
was already one of the most well-known countries in East Africa and on the entire continent and was well-known even before
Amin seized power from President Obote.
“East Africa” comprises many other countries as a geographical region, the term has usually been used since colonial
times to identify the three countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania – formerly Tanganyika.
Horn of Africa is also in East Africa. But it's a distinct region separate from “East Africa”: Kenya, Uganda and
also is in East Africa. But it's generally considered to be part of southern Africa. So is Mozambique which is in the southeastern
part of Africa.
Uganda and Tanzania are also the original members of the East African Community (EAC) which is essentially an economic bloc
but also with a political agenda to transform East Africa into a political federation under one government.
2007, Rwanda and Burundi also joined the EAC. The two countries are also in East Africa. But traditionally they're not considered
to be part of East Africa.
usually have been identified as an integral part of central Africa together with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which
was formerly known as Zaire, although the Great Lakes region where the two countries are located is in East Africa, geographically
speaking. Uganda itself is in the Great Lakes region and is bordered by Rwanda.
a region which is also identified as east-central Africa comprising Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. But it's also part of East
Africa whose countries collectively constitute the East African Community.
inclusion of Rwanda and Burundi in the East African Community firmly establishes their identity as East African countries
at least in a political context.
expansion of the community to include Rwanda and Burundi was one of the most important political developments in the history
of post-colonial East Africa. According to a report in Uganda's newspaper, New Vision, Kampala, 17 June 2007, entitled “Rwanda, Burundi Join East African Union,”:
“The accession of Rwanda and Burundi
into the East African Community will be the key item during the summit of the five heads of state, held in Kampala today....
The admission of Burundi and Rwanda follows a heated debate since 1999. It will
increase the regional population to 115 million people. The enlarged community is expected to boost cross-border trade, investments
and tourism, as well as enhance security and peace....
With regard to the East African political federation, the consultative process which has been going on in the three
partner states, is expected to extend to Rwanda and Burundi....
Analysts argue that such a federation would promote political stability and eliminate tribalism in the region. However,
many fear losing power and national sovereignty, while Tanzanians are afraid their country risks being infected by ethnic
problems which characterize politics in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.”
Among all the East African presidents, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has been the strongest advocate of an East
African political federation, surpassed only by the late Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere who preceded him on the East African
Former Uganda President Milton Obote was also a strong advocate of political federation and worked with Nyerere since
the early sixties to unite the three East African countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
But later, he was not as enthusiastic as Nyerere and was even accused of having helped undermine
attempts by Nyerere to unite the countries in the region. As Kenyan veteran journalist and political analyst Philip Ochieng'
stated in his report in The East African, Nairobi, Kenya, 28 March 2009, “Did Nkrumah Kill Off the First EA Community?”:
“In the late 1960s, when Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was the leader of the “revolutionary” wing of the
University of Dar es Salaam’s student movement, he and his group militantly rebuked the governments of Uganda, Tanzania
and Kenya for failing to federate as they had promised.
The Ugandan leader still appears passionate about that union. Last week, he told a news conference that, instead of
fighting over an island smaller than a football pitch, Nairobi and Kampala should fight to make Kenya and Uganda one political
Topical again after a lull of many years, one East African republic was a nationalist, pre-Independence theme. Indeed,
a treaty of commitment to it was signed by Jomo Kenyatta, Julius Nyerere and Milton Obote just before Kenya’s independence.
So what happened? Why hasn’t that great idea panned out for us nearly 50 years after the Uhuru fanfare of the
early 1960s? I ask this question because, in truth, Museveni may be in a better position than any of the present East African
leaders to answer it.
No, we cannot blame him personally for Kampala’s regional policies of the time. But in the Ugandan capital’s
archives – now controlled by his government – there may lie documents that can enlighten us. Let me jog the president’s
memory. He and I were in Dar es Salaam in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
He will have heard Obote – whom he still deeply admired – being publicly accused as the chief saboteur
of the proposal to federate. Official Tanzania was, of course, mum about this accusation. But it came from top-level academics
known to enjoy direct links with Mwalimu’s State House.
The certainty is that it was Nyerere who was feeding them with the lowdown on Kampala.
What did Mwalimu Nyerere and his Cabinet know about Dr Obote that we did not know? The accusing finger I constantly
saw whenever I visited the campus at Ubungo was explicit.
Somebody else – far away from East Africa – was extremely unhappy about an East African union and worked
tirelessly – mostly through Kampala – to nip it in the bud, so the story went. No, it was not the British (though
they would play a central role in frustrating the federation).
So who could it be? The answer: None other than the great Kwame Nkrumah.
This may sound paradoxical because that redoubtable intellectual and nationalist was the father of the pan-Africanist
So you would have expected him to be the chief sponsor of all the regional initiatives that might lead to a pan-African
That again was paradoxical.
According to the story that I kept hearing, it was because Dr Nkrumah wanted to be the father figure of all the regional
initiatives, that he sabotaged the East African chapter.
There are two ways of looking at this. First, although this was the man who had spearheaded black Africa’s liberation
from European colonialism – nay, probably because of it – he had his own very strong ideas as to how a continental
union should be structured.
Chief among them was that each prospective national constituent must first demolish the colonial economic, political
and intellectual structure, replacing it with some form of “African socialism,” if a United States of Africa were
to be independent and viable.
Otherwise, such a union was bound to serve only the economic and strategic neo-colonial interests of the “outgoing”
colonial European powers. Indeed, Dr Nkrumah it was who coined the now world famous term “neo-colonialism.”
He used to describe what he said was a European conspiracy to grant fake independence to African colonies while continuing,
through the old economic and intellectual structure, to pull the strings of policy in order to exploit the continent more
Nkrumah himself sponsored a West African initiative similar to the proposed East African federation.
Composed of his Ghana, Ahmed Sekou Toure’s Guinea and Modibo Keita’s Mali, its development programme was
to be informed by just such a social and economic revamping. As long as he was the paramount leader of such an initiative,
there was no problem.
In East Africa, Nyerere was also taking serious steps to restructure his society. Tanzania, indeed, is the African
country that has gone farthest in dismantling the political, economic and intellectual pillars of colonialism.
Although Obote was making movements to follow in Dar es Salaam’s footsteps, Uganda’s restructuring and
self-reliance policies were, at the very best, vague and seemingly innocuous. But it was Kenya’s position that Dr Nkrumah
feared most concerning an East African federation.
As long as they were firmly in the political saddle, members of the new elite around Jomo Kenyatta were completely
happy with the structure that Britain had bequeathed to them.
Kenya’s problems today – corruption, tribalism, absence of concern for poverty – can be traced to
its failure to tackle the colonial ethos.
The crowd around Mzee Kenyatta was not a class of social idealists or ideologues.
As hungry as chrysalises and as ruthless as piranhas, the members were keen only on stepping immediately into the shoes
of Britain’s colonial bankers, industrialists, settlers and administrators.
Despite Nyerere's activities, Britain’s colonial property still commanded the heights of East Africa’s
With Britain seen as continuing to pull all the strings in independent Kenya, it was asserted that an East African
federation would be nothing but a political instrument of Whitehall.
Nkrumah’s fear, then, would have been twofold. He wanted to be the dominant figure in every regional initiative.
Like Joseph Stalin for all of the world’s non-Maoist communist parties, Nkrumah wanted to be chief policy-maker
and policy implementer for every one of the regional groupings.
The probable idea was that, if all those regional groupings decided to unite into a single continental government,
no individual would be in a position to vie with the Ghanaian leader to be its first president.
That was why Nkrumah could not trust Mwalimu Nyerere as the intellectual spirit behind the East African proposal.
For, although they seemed like ideological comrades, the old Tanganyikan schoolteacher was completely independent-minded
and would never have been prepared to act as Nkrumah’s regional poodle.
With Nyerere thus dismissed and Mzee Kenyatta accused of having surrendered Kenya as a backyard of corporate Britain,
the Ubungo intellectuals explained that, in Nkrumah’s eyes, Obote now appeared as the only one not too committed one
way or the other.
That was why – according to the story – it was Obote that Nkrumah latched onto to frustrate all the plans
to federate. Obote’s accusers never specified exactly how this might have taken place. But much circumstantial evidence
emanated from Arusha.
Early in the 1970s, deep crevices began to open in the walls of the East African Community.
Accusations and counter-accusations began to be traded through the media concerning services that had been shared to
great mutual benefit ever since colonial times.
These included the East African Airways, the East African Railways and Harbours, the University of East Africa, the
East African shilling, the East African Court of Appeal, certain vital research organisations and the freedom of East Africans
to move everywhere within the region.
Uganda was the first to announce, among other things, its own national currency and to pull Makerere – which
had been set up by the colonial regime as the first East African cradle of tertiary learning – out of the University
of East Africa. Dar es Salaam followed suit.
Yet the accusations against Obote soon paled into the background. Britain sponsored a coup in Kampala.
Although Nairobi was at least standoffish about the events over the lake, Idi Amin smelled so foetidly in Mwalimu Nyerere’s
nostril that he refused to share any table with him.
Thus, by 1973, the community had begun to be financially paralysed because the twain just would not meet in summitry
to approve any budget for it.
In the meantime, Tanzania and Uganda began to demand a rationalisation of the region’s industrial structure.
The colonial regime had set up all the important industries in Kenya, so that Tanganyika, Zanzibar and Uganda served
merely as marketing satellites of Nairobi. Kampala and Dar were demanding that some industries be centred in Tanzania and
Kenya – reportedly with London in the background – would not hear of it. It was at the height of this bickering
that the East African Community collapsed in 1977. And it was not lost on observers that certain central authorities in Nairobi
celebrated with champagne.
The East African Community has recently been revived.
But it lacks the spirit of the late 1960s. Certainly, it has lost the momentum for an East African Federation.
And I say again that, in the official dossiers of the Obote and Amin systems, Museveni may find secrets that may help
us regain that vivacity.”
And more than any other East African country, Uganda has had the most troubled history in the region.
It has been rocked by political violence and civil wars and produced one of the most brutal dictators in African history,
Hundreds of thousands of people were killed during his reign of terror. A conservative estimate says at least 300,000
were killed. Others put the death toll at 500,000 or more.
Idi Amin also expelled 60,000 Asians – including those who were Ugandan citizens – in 1972 in a move that
was unprecedented in the continent's history. The entire Asian population was “wiped out.” And Uganda became the
first country on the continent to earn the dubious distinction as “an-all-black” country. It was also the last.
Although a small minority, Asians had played a significant role in Ugandan business
and finance, and their expulsion hurt the economy.
Uganda's economy collapsed during Amin' tenure in spite of the fact that the country is well-endowed in terms of natural
In 1976, Amin declared himself president for life and Uganda claimed portions of
western Kenya. He was dissuaded from pursuing his territorial ambitions when Kenya threated to impose a trade embargo and
defend its territorial integrity.
October 1978, Amin's forces invaded Tanzania in an attempt to annex the Kagera Region in the northwestern part of the country.
Tanzania launched a counteroffensive and unified disparate anti-Amin forces under the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF).
UNLF was created under the stewardship of President Nyerere of Tanzania at the Moshi Conference held in the town of Moshi
at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. It brought together a disparate group of Ugandan organisations and individuals with a common
goal of ousting the Amin regime.
Amin invaded Tanzania, his forces were driven out of Kagera Region. Amin himself fled Uganda when his regime collapsed in
April 1979 under sustained attacks by the Tanzania People's Defence Forces (TPDF) and the Ugandan exiles who joined the counteroffensive
from their bases in Tanzania.
troops withdrew from Uganda in 1981. It was alleged that during the two years they were in Uganda and long after they left,
Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere virtually ruled Uganda and was in effect president of two countries: Tanzania and Uganda.
Nothing was done, and no decision was made by Ugandan national leaders, without his approval.
Uganda regained stability and achieved some prosperity after Yoweri Museveni became president. But it continued to
be rocked by violence especially in the northern part where a rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), had been active
since 1986 when Museveni rose to power.
When Museveni became president, he instituted a series of measures, including
cutbacks in the civil service and army and privatisation of state-owned companies, in a generally successful effort to rebuild
the shattered economy.
former government soldiers who had fled to the north when Museveni and his rebel group seized power formed a rebel force there.
They mounted an unsuccessful attack on the new government in 1987. Although they failed in their attempt to overthrow the
government, they were not crushed and remained a problem – but not a threat – to the new leaders of Uganda under
in a move to win support from traditional rulers and their followers and consolidate his position, President Museveni restored
traditional kings in 1993. They included King Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II, the kabaka of the Baganda people.
he did not grant them political power.
it was a highly symbolic gesture in a country whose first leader, Milton Obote, abolished kingdoms in 1967, infuriating the
monarchs and many other traditional rulers.
the late 1980s and 90s, rebel militias based in Sudan and Congo (Kinshasa) staged intermittent attacks on border areas of
Uganda. Fighting with northern rebels, mainly the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), continued into the next decade....
THE people of the area that came to be known as Uganda came from two directions: west and north.
Bantu ethnic groups migrated from west and central Africa about 2,000 years ago and settled in the southern part of
the country. They were mostly farmers. They also had skills making iron including weapons and agricultural implements.
They also had their own ideas of social and political organisation and developed complex societies.
The earliest political structure which some of them established in the region was the empire
of Kitara in the 14th and 15th centuries. It was followed by the kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara and, centuries
later, by Buganda and Ankole.
The other major wave of migration, which came from the north, was of the Nilotic people including the Luo and the Ateker.
They entered the area from what is now Sudan around 120 A.D. They were cattle herders and subsistence farmers. And they settled
mainly in the northern and eastern parts of the country.
Some of the Luo invaded Bunyoro and became an integral part of that kingdom.
Luo migration from the north continued until the 1700s and some of the new arrivals settled in eastern Uganda where
they became integrated with the Bantu communities in that region. Others moved further east into what is now western Kenya
and south into what is now northern Tanzania near Lake Victoria.
The Ateker – who are the Karamojong or Karimojong and the Teso – settled in the northeastern and eastern
parts of the country. And some of them integrated with the Luo in the area north of Lake Kyoga.
The Teso or Iteso and Karamojong cluster of ethnic groups are the largest Nilotic populations in Uganda.
Arab and Swahili traders entered Uganda – before it became Uganda – from the east coast in the 1830s. They
were followed by British explorers in the 1860s. The explorers were looking for the source of the Nile.
Protestant missionaries entered Uganda in 1877. They were followed by Catholic missionaries in 1879.
The United Kingdom acquired the area and placed it under the charter of the British East Africa Company in 1888. It
became a protectorate in 1894 but not in its final form. Several other territories and chiefdoms were incorporated into the
new colonial entity and it was not until 1914 that the Uganda Protectorate became fully established. It remained under British
rule until independence in 1962.
The people of Uganda today are a diverse mix of ethnic, linguistic and cultural groups.
The vast majority are descended from the immigrants who came from the west and the north, waves of migration which
formed a confluence in the Great Lakes region, one of the most distinctive parts of Africa.
None of the groups forms a majority of Uganda's population. And the 30 different languages spoken in the country represent
an impressive array of ethnic groups and clusters.
In addition to Luganda, which is the indigenous language of the Buganda kingdom and most widely used local language,
other main languages are Lusoga and Runyankore. Lusoga is the main language spoken in Busoga kingdom, and Runyankore or Lunyankole
is the main language of Bunyankole.
Swahili is another important language in Uganda and other parts of East and Central Africa. One of its biggest advantages
is that it transcends ethnicity and is not identified with any particular tribe or ethnic group, making it acceptable to people
of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
But its status in Uganda is somewhat controversial. It was approved in 2005 as Uganda's second official language, after
English, but it has not found wide acceptance across the country. The Bantu groups in the southern and southwestern parts
of the country have not accepted Swahili as much as many people in the north – where it's an important lingua franca
It's also widely used in the police and in the armed forces which had very many northerners – including Idi Amin
– during the colonial period and in the first decade of independence.
The language was introduced by the Arabs and other coastal people and was promoted by the colonial authorities to facilitate
communication. But it never became widespread in Uganda as it is in Tanzania and to a smaller degree in Kenya. However, efforts
have been made by some Ugandan leaders to make it a national language. President Yoweri Museveni has done so, as did Amin.
In terms of demographic composition, three main ethnic groups constitute most of the population in Uganda. These are
Bantu, Nilotic, and central-Sudanic traditionally known as Nilo-Hamitic.
The Bantu are the largest. They include the Baganda, the largest ethnic group in Uganda, who live in the Central Province
and who constitute 17% of the country's population; the Basoga who live in the southeast and make up 8.4% of the population;
the Banyankole (9.5%) in the southwestern area; the Bakiga, (6.9%) in the most southwestern part of Uganda; the Banyoro (3%)
in the mid-western area; the Batoro also known as Batooro (3%) who live in the mid-western part of the country; the Bagisu
(4.6%) in the east; the Bahima (2%) in the southwestern area; the Bafumbira (6%) also in the southwest, and other much smaller
The Lugbara who constitute 4.2% of the nation's total population live mainly in northwestern Uganda and the adjoining
area of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The north is mostly inhabited by the Nilotic who constitute the second-largest group after the Bantu. They include
the Iteso who live in the northeast and make up 6.4% of the country's population; and the Langi in the central north who constitute
6.1%. President Milton Obote was a Langi.
The other major ethnic group in the north are the Acholi who make up 4.7% of the total population of Uganda.
The Acholi and the Langi speak almost identical languages. They're also the two largest ethnic groups in northern Uganda.
Traditionally, northerners have also provided the largest number of enlisted men in the Ugandan army since colonial
times. Idi Amin, the most well-known, was a member of the Lugbara and the small Kakwa ethnic group which straddles the Ugandan-Sudanese-Congolese
border in the northwest.
The most well-known Nilotic group in the northwest is the Lugbara..
The Lugbara live in the highlands on an almost treeless plateau that forms the watershed
between the Congo River and the Nile. The Madi live in the lowlands to the east. The two groups speak nearly identical languages
and have strong cultural similarities.
groups raise millet, cassava, sorghum, legumes, and a variety of root crops. Chicken, goats, and, at higher elevations, cattle
are also important. Maize, besides being grown for local consumption, is also used is grown for making beer. Tobacco is an
important cash crop.
The Karamojong who make up 2% of Uganda's population live in the northeast. And the territory they occupy is considerably
drier and largely pastoral.
Europeans, Asians and Arabs constitute 1% of Uganda's population. And there are other smaller groups who are equally
an integral part of Uganda.
More than half of Uganda's population is under the age of 15. That's more than
any other country in the world.
people in Uganda include several hundred Western missionaries, a few diplomats and business people from many parts of the
Among all the indigenous groups in the country, probably the Baganda are the most studied. But they're not representative
of Uganda in all fundamental respects in spite of the fact that their kingdom constituted the nucleus of the colonial entity
when the British established the Uganda Protectorate more than 100 years ago.
And the ample literature about them, written during the colonial period and after independence, does not necessarily
exceed that of other people in Uganda in all respects.
Yet they still constitute a microcosm of the Uganda nation. And much of what is written about them even today is applicable
in other contexts including the study of other ethnic groups in the country because of the role they played in the evolution
of Uganda as a political entity during colonial rule.
It was the largest of the former kingdoms in terms of area and constitutes slightly
more than one-fourth of Uganda's total land mass.
Until 1967 when the kingdom was abolished, the Ganda society was highly centralised.
The kabaka ruled over
a hierarchy of chiefs who collected taxes in the form of food and livestock. Portions were distributed through the hierarchy,
eventually reaching the kabaka's palace in the form of tribute (taxes).
The kabaka made direct political appointment of all chiefs in order to maintain control over their loyalty to him....
Traditionally, the economy of the Baganda relied on farming. And even today the majority of the people of Buganda depend
on agriculture for their livelihood.
many other traditional societies in East Africa, cattle ownership played only a minor role in Buganda. And among those who
owned cattle, many of them hired labourers from the north as herders.
most important crop and food commodity was bananas. As a staple food, it sustained the population. It also fuelled population
also provided a solid foundation for the traditional economy. And it's still the most important food crop in Buganda even
today and plays a major role in the kingdom's economy.
of the biggest advantages of growing bananas is that the crop does not require shifting cultivation or bush fallowing to maintain
soil fertility. That's one of the main reasons why Ganda villages existed as permanent settlements as they still do today.
the Luganda language, bananas are called matoke. It's a term almost identical to matoki
in the Nyakyusa language which I learnt when I lived for many years in Mpumbuli village
in the area of Kyimbila in Rungwe District – traditional home of the Nyakyusa people – in the Southern Highlands
of southwestern Tanzania.
This linguistic similarity is a common feature among Bantu languages showing they're related.
In Swahili or Kiswahili which is a product of Bantu languages, the word for bananas is ndizi. But the term matoke or matoki is also used in colloquial Swahili. Many other Bantu languages have terms similar to that. And
Luganda is one of the major Bantu languages in East Africa..
The Baganda have plenty of food. Besides bananas, they also eat cabbage, beans, peas, mushrooms, carrots, cassava,
sweet potatoes, onions, various types of greens, eggs, fish, beans, groundnuts, beef, chicken, and goat meat among other foods.
Fruits include pineapples, mangoes, passion fruit, and papaya.
Drinks include indigenous fermented beverages made from bananas (mwenge), pineapples (munanansi), and maize (musoli). A term close to mwenge in another Bantu language is mbege. Like mwenge, mbege is also an alcoholic drink made from bananas by the Chaga (or Chagga) of neighbouring Tanzania.
And the Luganda term munanasi is almost identical
to mananasi which means pineapples in Kiswahili; nanasi, singular form. In the Nyakyusa language, it's inanasi
in singular form and mananasi in plural form.
Coincidentally, both the Chaga and the Nyakyusa grow a lot of bananas just like the Baganda do.
The Baganda have very fertile land. Most of them are peasants who live in rural villages. Rich red clay on hillsides,
a moderate temperature, and plentiful rainfall combine to provide a good environment for the year-round availability of bananas
as well as the seasonal production of coffee, cotton, and tea as cash crops....
Another kingdom, Bunyoro, which played a major role in the establishment, evolution and growth of Buganda, had its
own history of achievements which included the development of complex cultural and political institutions whose influence
spread far beyond its borders.
political entities such as the princedom of Busoga, besides Buganda kingdom, also benefited from the achievements of Bunyoro.
Their own institutions, at least some of them, were a byproduct of Bunyoro since some of these societies were partly established
by the people who migrated from Bunyoro or were heavily influenced by Bunyoro.
history of Bunyoro is a history of some of the greatest achievements – in terms of cultural, political, social and institutional
development – in the history of pre-colonial Africa.
kingdom was a product of the Kitara empire. It was originally known as Bunyoro-Kitara and was created when the empire of Kitara
fell apart in the 16th century.
the 16th to the 19th century, Bunyoro was not only the most powerful kingdom in a region that's now
Uganda; it was also one of the most powerful in the entire East Africa. Even today, its traditional ruler, the Omukama, remains
an important figure in Ugandan politics, especially among the Banyoro people of whom he is the titular head.
the Omukama was a divine monarch who also had the power to appoint local chiefs. And he held the kingdom together by invoking
spiritual and temporal powers.
in western Uganda in the area east of Lake Albert, the kingdom of Bunyoro even today has strong traditional ties to Toro which
was once part of Bunyoro. And the Bunyoro language is also spoken in Toro.
Banyoro are Bantu. But their kingdom was founded by Nilotic people from the north.
Munyoro (singular) belongs to a clan which is a group of people who are descended from the same ancestor. They're therefore
Banyoro are predominantly agricultural. But they also own cattle which play an important role in their lives. And while the
kingdom's economy is heavily dependent on agricultural commodities as is the case in most parts of Uganda, the discovery of
oil in the kingdom is expected to transform this traditional society in significant ways.
Banyoro also contend that they're entitled to a significant share of revenues earned from oil. According to a report in one
of Uganda's leading newspapers New Vision, entitled “Why is Bunyoro Demanding
A Share of Oil Money?”:
“Bunyoro King Solomon Iguru and the late American literature professor Mason Cooley live thousands of miles apart
but they have something in common. Cooley once said: 'Courage, determination and hard work are very nice, but not so nice
as an oil well in the backyard.'
As though he were Cooley’s student, Iguru is determined to reap from the oil in Bunyoro’s backyard. So
he has pulled out a four-page agreement his kingdom signed with the colonialists five decades ago and is demanding a share
of the oil in the region.
1955 Bunyoro Agreement
The 1955 Bunyoro Agreement, signed between British
Governor Sir Andrew Cohen and Omukama Tito Gafabusa Winyi IV on September 3, gives Bunyoro Kingdom rights to share in the
demand for a significant share of oil revenues by the Bunyoro kingdom is also inextricably linked with the kingdom's demand
for greater autonomy – now enjoyed by all the kingdoms but only in the cultural sphere – and assertion of its
identity as a cultural and political entity in the context of Uganda.
a demand that has been shared by other kingdoms in Uganda through the years since independence and found its most forceful
expression among the Baganda in the mid-sixties when they wanted to secede and establish their own independent state.
Banyoro may not have gone as far as the Baganda did in the mid-sixties, demanding full independence if their aspirations could
not be realised in a federal context. But they have demanded nothing less in terms of autonomy. And they attribute many of
the problems they face to the abolition of kingdoms by President Milton Obote in 1967. As Christopher Sabiti, chairman of
a clans council of Bunyoro-Kitara, stated in his paper presented to a Federal Constitutional Seminar on the kingdom's status
at Pope Paul Memorial Centre in Bunyoro, 9 – 10 May 1991:
“The immediate decline and decay of
culture and cultural institutions in Bunyoro-Kitara in the last quarter of a century is largely and justifiably attributed
to the abolition of kingdoms in Uganda.
The institution of the Omukama, as a cultural institution, is the one that embodies the cultural aspirations and accumulated
wisdom of the people of Bunyoro-Kitara. Bunyoro-Kitara is part and parcel not only of Uganda but of the African continent
where the role of culture in development, in the economy and in politics has been pronounced by many African leaders, politicians
and intellectuals of no less stature than, for instance, Okot p'Bitek, Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Toure, Modiba Keita, Chief Awolowo,
Julius Nyerere, Tom Mboya, Jomo Kenyatta, Sedar Senghor and many others....
When we talk of 'nationality' we are talking for instance of Bunyoro-Kitara, Buganda, Busoga, Ankole, Acholi, Teso,
Lango, etc., a common history, a common culture and which are capable, on their own, of self-determination....
We in Bunyoro-Kitara recognise the fact that the Banyoro have lost their cultural base. This is because the colonial
masters pursued a policy of suppressing our people. By the time the NRM Government (of Yoweri Museveni) came to power this
policy had not been reversed....
We have the right of survival and the right of self-determination. Every people should aspire to keep their cultural
identity and to explore and exploit its positive potentialities....
We cannot run away from the fact that Uganda is a country of diverse cultures.
From north, from east, from south and from the west we have different languages, different cultures, different behaviour
and different tendencies.
We should consider ourselves very lucky because what this means is that Uganda is culturally rich.
We are particularly fortunate because our different cultures tend to complement rather than conflict with one another,
even though some conflict would in fact be quite natural.
We, as Ugandans, must maintain this equilibrium on the basis of mutual respect, tolerance and understanding, knowing
that our cultures are but different pillars of one nation. Those who find it impossible to respect this position are enemies
of the people and have no place in this country.
One pillar of Uganda's cultural diversity is the Bunyoro-Kitara axis.
Few people can dispute the positive contribution of Bunyoro-Kitara to Uganda's history and cultural richness in so
far as all conception of kingship in the interlacustrine region of East Africa originates from Bunyoro-Kitara; and in so far
as the kingdoms in this region, especially Buganda which was more favoured by the climate, were found by the first European
explorers like Speke and Grant to preside upon the most advanced civilisations in East and Central Africa.
If I am to disgrace a little, the alleged centrality of Buganda in Uganda is only geographical. As far as history and
culture are concerned, however, it is Bunyoro-Kitara which is central to Uganda. This has to be recognised as such because
it is historically true that what is Uganda today was not so long ago Bunyoro-Kitara. Nothing will change this fact. If therefore
I was to propose a new name for Uganda, and I have no intention to do so, I would call her Bunyoro-Kitara.
Just when Bunyoro-Kitara was beginning to pick up culturally in the reign of the Omukama Sir Tito Gafabusa Winyi IV
(1924 – 1967 years of reigning) Milton Obote struck, starting a fresh era of terror and violence upon our people; an
era of such consequences that to-day even the name of Bunyoro-Kitara has been erased from the map of Uganda....
To parody Taban Lo Liyong, we have no Spencer to sing our jingles; We have no Shakespeare
to dramatise our tragedies, to extol our kings; We have no Milton to sing the music of our mbadwa gods
– Kyomya Ruganda Amooti, Wamara Abooki, Ibona of Warage and many others; where is our Wole Soyinka, our Ecklas Kawalya,
our Christopher Sebadduka to sing our clans, our Elly Wamala to give us a Kinyoro version of "Voila"?
Where is our Chaucer to tell of hidden humour in our underworld?
Where are they all?
Who is to praise our rustic beauties – do we have an Okot p'Bitek? Do we have a Thomas Hardy?
Where is our Endymion, our Lamia?
Cultural barrenness, I think, is a crime; and the responsibility for this crime lies with our oppressors.
In less than one generation, unless the present situation is reversed, the whole question of our culture will be a
completely forgotten issue...."
Sabiti, in his capacity as chairman of the council of clans of Bunyoro-Kitara, articulates a position not very much different
from what many people in other traditional kingdoms and societies in Uganda say.
that is the imperative need for traditional entities to have autonomy in a number of areas in order to maintain their identities
and pursue goals in their own political and social contexts to best serve their people.
also goes to the heart of what constitutes Uganda as a single political entity. And it raises fundamental questions about
the nature of relations between the country's various ethnic groups and even challenges the protocols of association the nation's
different ethnic entities have with the central government in the context of a modern African state.
Uganda remains a unitary state, to the consternation of many people who would like to see a federal structure instituted,
the authorities at the centre realise that there is a need for decentralisation to enable the people to realise their aspirations
across the spectrum at the local and regional levels. Decentralisation also defuses tensions between the central government
and the regions, helping maintain peace and stability. It also strengthens national unity and neutralises secessionist tendencies....
The Toro kingdom is, at this writing in 2009, led by a child-king; Prince Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukidi IV, the youngest
monarchial ruler in world history.
He ascended the throne in 2004 when he was three-and-a-half years old following the death
of his father, King Kaboyo Rukidi III. This marked the beginning of a challenging and exciting period for the people of Toro.
The child-king was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's youngest reigning monarch.
Regents were appointed to assist the newly enthroned young king as his gurdians to initiate him into his role as the
cultural leader of the Toro kingdom.
King Oyo's regents included Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni; the king's paternal uncle Prince James Mugenyi;
his paternal aunt and godmother Princess Elizabeth Bagaaya, and the other kings in Uganda.
King Oyo's palace is one of the most beautiful and most recent permanent structures in Fort Portal, the capital of
Toro. It was renovated and a new giant circular administrative tower building was built with donations from Libya's President
The coronation of the child-king was one of the most important events in the history of post-colonial Uganda especially
with regard to the revival of the kingdoms allowed by President Museveni but only in the cultural context without any political
power being wielded by the traditional kings as was the case before, mainly during the pre-colonial era.
President Museveni has said that the decision taken by the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government to re-instate kingdoms and
support cultural institutions was deliberate in order to maintain and preserve the cultural roots of Uganda's traditional
But it was also a strategic move. The decision was clearly political. It was intended to win support
across the spectrum and help consolidate his power.
The ascension to the throne by the child-king of Bunyoro was one of the most important political developments in the
new politics of the New Resistance Movement government of President Museveni which re-instituted the old kingdoms.
It was also of highly symbolic significance in terms of relations between traditional rulers and the national government.
Museveni himself played a major role in the king's coronation as one of the regents. His coronation was also a major achievement
for the Toro.
But in spite of his status as king, he was still a child. As The
New York Times stated in its report from Uganda on 7
October 2004 entitled “For His Royal Playfulness, Goats, Sheep, but Nary a Toy”:
“There are some distinct advantages, Oyo Nyimba Kabambaiguru Rukidi IV acknowledges, to being a king.
'You have many people who like you a lot,' said King Oyo, as he is known to his one-million-plus subjects in western
Uganda's Toro Kingdom.
'Like' is actually an understatement. At ceremonies in his main palace in Fort Portal, worshipers get down on their
hands and knees in front of him, kiss at his feet and bring him valuable offerings like live goats and sheep.
Then there is the overseas travel that comes with wearing a crown.
Uganda is a poor country, so destitute in fact that the average citizen makes not enough in an entire year to afford
a plane ticket to see the world. But kings ride business class. King Oyo has been throughout Africa and has made trips to
Europe and America as well, meeting a variety of V.I.P.'s in the process.
All the same, as King Oyo sat on a leopard skin that had been draped over an armchair in his other palace, in Kampala,
the other day, he said that being king has some drawbacks for someone of his generation.
'My life is very different from most 12-year-olds,' said King Oyo, fidgeting with a rubber band tied around his royal
wrist and looking both kinglike and kidlike at once.
Sure, King Oyo plays video games, goes off to school every day – where his classmates and teachers just call
him Oyo – and runs around the palace yard with his three dogs when he is not doing homework.
But King Oyo also has bodyguards and rules over an elaborate administrative structure that includes a prime minister,
a board of regents and a variety of parish councils. He cannot just walk out his front gate and mingle with the other children
in his upscale neighborhood. Sometimes, he says, he feels a bit trapped.
'Sometimes I wonder, 'Why am I a king?' he said. That question is easy to answer, at least as far as the rules of the
His father, King David Patrick Olimi Kaboyo II, died when Oyo was 3½. In the Toro Kingdom,
women cannot rule so Oyo's mother was out, as was his older sister. Although rather young, Oyo was crowned nonetheless on
Sept. 11, 1995, earning a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as a toddler king.
Africa has a smattering of kings, in Ghana, South Africa and, most notably, Swaziland, where his majesty has drawn
criticism for his free-spending ways and for his practice of plucking a virgin girl out of the masses during an annual festival
to become one of his many queens.
King Oyo is dull in comparison. He does not even have a girlfriend. His mother controls the household spending. There
has not been any particularly dramatic palace intrigue under his nine-year reign.
Uganda's kingdoms go back hundreds of years but former President Milton Obote outlawed them in 1967 as part of his
effort to consolidate rule.
It was not until 1995 that the government of President Yoweri Museveni reinstated the country's four kingdoms –
Buganda, Ankole, Bunyoro and Toro – although more as cultural institutions than the ruling monarchies they once were.
King Oyo's father was living in exile when the kingdoms were reinstated. He returned to much rejoicing among the Toro.
His rule was short, however.
Soon, young Oyo was wearing the Toro crown, which has a giant white feather sticking out the top, and the gold-laced
He had no choice, really. It was his duty to become the 12th
king of Toro.
That is what the queen mother, Best Kemigisa, regularly reminds him. 'Bringing up a king is a serious responsibility,'
she said of her role in the kingdom.
Despite her best efforts, sometimes King Oyo's lack of enthusiasm for the role is rather hard not to see.
Some observers said his face seemed glum last month at the anniversary of his coronation, which along with his birthday
is celebrated with much pomp among the Toro.
Weeks before the big day there is a cleaning of everything in the palace. When the anniversary arrives, his subjects
gather and King Oyo is presented with the royal ax, the royal bow and arrows and the royal sword. The royal troupe plays drums
and royal flutes.
There is a milking of the royal cows, which is performed, as one might expect, by royal milkmen. At one point, King
Oyo must stride around the grounds, although palace functionaries scurry ahead of him to ensure that his feet touch straw
mats and not the earth.
The royal publicist is on hand, reminding the uninitiated that it is an 'abomination' to turn one's back to the king.
Most are too busy gawking at King Oyo to consider such a thing.
There was a recent attempt to further curtail the limited powers of Uganda's kings, but the country's many monarchists
would have none of that.
Mr. Museveni, the president who some critics say acts like a king, proposed that Parliament be allowed to remove kings
who violate the Constitution.
An uproar ensued and the government has since backed away from the proposal.
King Oyo's mother – who sits by his side, adjusts his crown and helps him navigate the difficult world of being
a king – voiced her kingdom's disapproval with the government plan. 'These members of Parliament are below the king,'
she said bluntly. 'They are subjects of the king. How could they remove him?'
As she spoke, King Oyo, who had earlier excused himself, was outside the palace kicking around a soccer ball, acting
more kid than king.”
The child-king has helped to put his kingdom in the international spotlight partly, if not mainly, because of his age....
Another major kingdom is Ankole, one of the big four in the Great Lakes area of what later came to be known as Uganda.
While the identity of Toro is inextricably linked with that of Bunyoro, the former being a product of the latter, that
of Ankole stands on its own in a number of ways. But Ankole was also heavily influenced by Bunyoro, as were the rest of the
kingdoms, since Bunyoro was the most powerful in the Greal Lakes region for centuries.
The people of Ankole are called Banyankole or Banyankore; in singular form it's Munyankole or Munyankore. And the Ankole
kingdom is also known as Nkore.
It was traditionally ruled by a monarch known as mugabe or Omugabe of Ankole, a title equivalent to that of the kabaka
in the Buganda kingdom.
The establishment of the Ankole kingdom is attributed to the Hima, also known known as Bahima,
who conquered the Iru ....
The Banyakole are also well-known for their cows known as Ankole. In
fact, one of the most famous breeds of cows in East Africa is Ankole. Ankole cows are known for their long horns....
The inter-tribal or inter-ethnic conflicts over land raises serious questions about national unity and identity.
Do members of different ethnic groups see themselves as fellow Ugandans first, or does their ethnic identity take precedence
over national identity?
It seems the majority of them consider themselves Banyoro, Bakiga, or Baganda. So do the rest. Their tribe comes
first. That's also the case in Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi. Tanzania is the only exception among the East African countries
where tribalism has virtually been conquered. As Tanzanian writer Godfrey Mwakikagile states:
“We may not have conquered
tribalism in Tanzania, but we have been able to contain it effectively. And that's no mean achievement; a rare feat on a continent
where the idea of nation as a transcendent phenomenon in a polyethnic context remains a nebulous concept.” - (Godfrey
Mwakikagile, Ethnic Politics in Kenya and Nigeria, Huntington, New York, Nova Science Publishers, Inc., 2001, p. 234).
And as black American writer Keith Richburg who was bureau chief of The Washington
Post in East Africa, based in Nairobi, Kenya, in the 1990s, states
in his book Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa:
“One of my earliest trips was to Tanzania, and there I found a country that had actually managed to purge
itself of the evil of tribalism.
Under Julius Nyerere..., the government was able to imbue a true sense of nationalism that transcended the country's
natural ethnic divisions, among other things by vigorous campaigns to upgrade education and to make Swahili a truly national
Tanzania is one place that has succeeded in removing the linguistic barrier that separates so many of Africa's
But after three years traveling the continent, I've found that Tanzania is the exception, not the rule. In Africa...,
it is all about tribes.”
- Keith B. Richburg, Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa, New York, Basic Books, Harper-Collins, 1998, p. 240. See also Godfrey Mwakikagile, Nyerere
and Africa: End of an Era, Fourth Edition, Pretoria, South Africa,
2008, pp. 507, and 735; G. Mwakikagile, Ethnic Politics in Kenya and Nigeria, op.cit., p. 234).
The tribal conflicts over land – and over anything else – are symptomatic of a much deeper problem:
the inability and unwillingness to transcend tribal loyalties and rivalries for the sake of national unity. Many people simply
refuse to accept each other as equals and as fellow citizens in spite of their common identity as Ugandans.
The politics of ethnicity even acquired the stamp of “legitimacy” when a few years earlier some
members of parliament also blamed the Bakiga for “grabbing” land which belonged to the Baganda and other ethnic
groups. According to a report in New Vision,
“MP Attacks Bakiga for Grabbing Buganda Land-Bukedde”:
“An MP stunned fellow MPs by charging that the hospitality practised by the Baganda
towards other ethnic groups has been so passive that it has led other tribes to turn against them by robbing them of their
land. In this connection, he did single out the Bakiga and accused them of robbing land in Mubende, Kayunga and in other parts
Sempagi, MP for Ntenjeru South was contributing to a parliamentary debate on a report by the Uganda Human Rights Commission
on how various fundamental rights of Ugandans had been violated.
Sempagi went on to say that people had failed to honour the land-related law and just grabbed land that belonged to others.
On this issue, he did point out the Bakiga whom he said first grabbed land in Sembabule and have now moved on to scramble
for land in Mubende in what he referred to as a self-feasting spree.
supported by Rev. Peter Bakaluba Mukasa (Mukono North) who mentioned that the Bakiga had not stopped at Mubende but had gone
on to invade land in Mukono and have settled in almost all the forests without following the legal procedures.
part, Rev. Sempagi told Parliament that the Baganda are kind people who have all along extended hospitality to other ethnic
groups but that it is sad that those to whom due hospitality had been given have now turned against them by robbing them so
as to turn them into squatters.
(Ndorwa West) Stephen Bamwanga expressed his disapproval about the Bakiga having been painted negatively as robbers of land
and called for a clarification as to whether there exists law that prohibits or restricts any Ugandan from settling anywhere
as he/she wishes to. Rev. Sempala explained that the Bakiga he refers to are indeed land grabbers and named Katosi, Kiganda
and a number of other places in Mubende that they had robbed.
Hon. Ben Wacha (Oyama North) did not take Sempagi's and Balukuba's allegations lightly and charged them for turning Parliament
into a platform to spread ethnic hatred. He asked the Deputy Speaker Hon. Kadaga to caution both Hon. Sempagi and Hon. Balukuba,
which she did.” (Omar Kezimbira,” MP Attacks Bakiga for Grabbing Buganda Land-Bukedde,” New Vision, Kampala, Uganda,
12 December 2002).
Such ethnophobia has a tendency to spread and feed on itself. And it's highly contagious. It could destroy the
social fabric of Uganda which holds the people together as a single nation with equal rights including the right to live wherever
they want to live.
The Bakiga are only one group who have incurred the wrath of their fellow countrymen for moving into areas where
they are not welcome and where they are seen as foreigners in their own country....
The Langi have also been victims of violence for decades since Idi Amin rose to power in January 1971. Although
some of them initially supported him as a fellow northerner, they later fell out of favour with him as did the Acholi.
The majority of the Langi and the Acholi in the army did not support Amin; they supported Obote.
Also, Amin was not a Langi or an Acholi. He was a Kakwa, a member of one of the smallest ethnic groups in Uganda.
And, although he was a northerner, he did not come from the same region as the Langi and
the Acholi did in north-central Uganda. He came from West Nile, a region in the far northwest bordering Congo and Sudan.
During Obote's return to the presidency in 1980, the Acholi did not support him as they did in the past when
he was Uganda's leader from the 1960s until his ouster by Amin in 1971. They accused him of favouring his fellow Langis at
the expense of the Acholi. As Thomas P. Ofcansky states in his book Uganda: Tarnished Pearl
“Since late 1984, Vice-President and Defense Minister Paulo Muwanga (a Muganda from Buganda) had been
plotting against Obote.
Apart from objecting to the president's plan to name his cousin, Akena Adoko, chairman of the Public Service
Commission, Muwanga wanted to negotiate with the insurgents – unlike Obote, who believed he could achieve military victory
over his opponents.
Although these differences slowly weakened his regime, Obote lost power because of his inability to preserve
the fragile Langi-Acholi alliance, especially in the UNLA (Uganda National Liberation Army).
Many Acholi believed that Obote favored his fellow Langi in new military appointments and promotions.
In August 1984, this conflict escalated when Obote named Smith Opon-Acak, a Langi, to the post of chief of staff.
This left the soon-to-retire seventy-one-year-old General Tito Lutwa Okello as the only Acholi in a key military position.
As soon as Opon-Acak tok office, Acholi personnel accused him of unfairly advancing the careers of his fellow
Langi and of deploying only Acholi troops to combat zones.
Soon afterward, disaffected Acholi soldiers started plotting with opposition leaders to overthrow Obote. Troops
in the ranks also began disobeying their Langi officers. In June 1985, for example, soldiers assigned to Magamaga Ordnance
Depot refused to go into combat against the NRA – Museveni's National Resistance Army – in western Uganda.
A few weeks later, inter-ethnic fighting at Mbuya Barracks, which came about when it became known that Obote
had ordered the arrest of several Acholi officers, claimed the lives of at least thirty UNLA personnel.
To prevent a future purge or massacre of Acholi military personnel, Brigadier Basilio Okello, an Acholi, mobilized
anti-government UNLA troops at his Gulu headquarters (in Acholiland in northern Uganda) and marched on Kampala to overthrow
Along the way, he defeated pro-Obote Langi forces at Karuma Falls and at Bombo (Bombo was the headquarters of
the Ugandan army and the Ministry of Defence until December 2007 when they were moved to Mbuya, a suburb of Kampala).
Finally, on 27 July 1985, Brigadier Basilio Okello and his men entered Kampala, seized Radio Uganda, and announced
that Obote's regime had come to an end.” - ( Thomas P. Ofcansky, Uganda: Tarnished Pearl
of Africa, Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, USA, 1999, p. 56.
See also Phares Mukasa Mutibwa, Uganda Since Independence: A Story of Unfulfilled Hopes, Africa World Press, Lawrenceville, New Jersey, USA, 1992).
Obote's reliance on his fellow Langis in the government and in the military as well as intelligence services
could, ostensibly, be attributed to concern for security – as some may contend – since he could not trust members
of other ethnic groups.
In Ghana, for example, Jerry Rawlings was accused of having given a disproportionately large
number of high government posts – including intelligence – to Ewes from the Volta Region in eastern Ghana. His
mother was an Ewe and his father Scottish.
Security was one of the major reasons given for favouring members of his tribe. Supporters of Obote gave the
There's some truth to that. And most African leaders advance the same argument.
But in most cases, it's raw-naked tribalism by these leaders. And it has almost ruined Africa, igniting conflicts
in different parts of the continent.
Whether or not Obote had genuine fear of members of other ethnic groups whom he thought might overthrow him
is besides the point. What's critical is that the appointment of a disproportionately large number of his fellow tribesmen,
the Langi, to high positions in the government and in the military infuriated and alienated many people who were not Langi.
And that was potential for catastrophe in the context of Uganda's volatile politics and ethnic
relations. As Professor Phares Mukasa
Mutibwa, a Muganda, of Makerere University states in his book Uganda
Since Independence: A Story of Unfulfilled Promises:
“Within the military the Acholis Tito Okello, the Army Commander, and Bazilio Okello, commander of 10
Brigade Northern Zone, based in Gulu, also felt that the time had come to negotiate with the NRA fighters.
For the Acholi soldiers, who formed the bulk of the army, the war which Museveni's guerrillas were fighting
against Obote was quickly becoming a war against the Acholis only.
The soldiers who were being sent to the war front were virtually all Acholi, and the Langi officers and men
were manning safe areas of Kampala and being deliberately kept away from the war zones.
In short, those who were dying in hundreds to prop up Obote's fledgling regime were not Langis but Acholis.
Thus Acholis' concern over Obote's determination to continue the war against Museveni was less humanitarian
than due to the realisation that if the war did not stop, their sons would continue to die at the hands of the NRA. They joined
the negotiation lobby to save their skins, and thus in Obote's eyes they became a disloyal group – marked men....
It became obvious to all that Obote was ignoring the Acholi factor in the Acholi-Langi alliance on which the
fortunes of the 'liberators' group of the UPC (Obote's Uganda People's Congress) had depended since Amin's overthrow.
The Acholi began to see that Obote was pursuing a deliberate policy of discriminating against them in favour
of his own tribe, the Langi. It was the time-honoured game of using allies to get into power and dumping them when he could
use them no longer.” - ( Phares Mukasa Mutibwa, Uganda Since Independence: A Story of
Unfulfilled Hopes, op.cit., pp. 161, and 162).
Ethnicity became the paramount factor virtually in all appointments. And Obote continued to pile up enemies.
He had the Langi on his side. But everything else was stacked against him. As Professor Mutibwa goes on to say:
“It was not only in the civil service and the management of the economy that the Langis were taking the
lion's share. In the military too they were being pushed into positions which others thought they did not merit.
The most celebrated example of this development came when the Army Chief of Staff, (Major-General) David Oyite-Ojok,
was killed when his helicopter was shot down by the NRA at Kasuzi near Nakasongola in December 1983.
All eyes were focused on Obote to see whom he would nominate for this crucial post.
Did he have a Langi to put in the shoes of his long-time comrade-in-arms and confidant, Oyite-Ojok?
All those best qualified to replace Oyite-Ojok, most notably Bazilio Okello, were Acholi.
Obote mused to himself. He did not have a suitable Langi for the post, but after postponing the decision for
almost six months, he appointed Smith Opon-Acak (a Langi)....
By the beginning of 1985 Obote was not in control of what was going on in Uganda generally, but especially in
the field of the military which was clearly in the hands of the aggrieved Acholis.
In June 1985, at the crucial moment when his personal presence at the scene of events was of paramount importance,
Obote left the capital to officiate at a not very important ceremony at Mbale – one is reminded of his trip to Singapore
in January 1971, leaving the road clear for the coup by Idi Amin.
Oblivious of the true significance of his enemies' plans and actions, Obote started issuing orders and sending
emissaries from Mbale.
He directed his lieutenants in Kampala to take charge of the situation, and to arrest and detain the associates
of Brigadier Okello. He sent an emissary – a Mr. Wacha-Olal, who had acted as one of the members of the presidential
triumvirate during the time of the Military Commission in 1980 – with proposals for peace-talks to Bazilio Okello, then
in Gulu, but the Acholi brigadier was no longer interested in such proposals from a man whom he could not trust.
Instead, Bazilio Okello sent a message to the north across the border with Southern Sudan where the supporters
of Amin and former soldiers of the FUNA (under Major-General Lumago) were living.
An agreement was concluded between the Acholi and the West Nile FUNA (Former Uganda National Army) remnants,
on th basis of which an Acholi-West Nile alliance was established to collaborate in Obote's overthrow.
The FUNA fighters and other West Nile elements arrived in Kampala a few days before the coup.
As everything was collapsing all around him, Obote made a last desperate appeal to his 'godfather,' Julius Nyerere,
to send troops to quell the Acholi coup, but Julius did not act.
Perhaps he had had enough enough of Uganda's problems, and in any case Nyerere, with his Ujamaa
policies in tatters, was in the process of packing his own bags
to make way for his successor, Ndugu Ali H. Mwinyi.
Nyerere told Obote that as he was soon leaving office he could not commit his successor to policies which would
in effect be open-ended.
Many Ugandans sighed with relief, to see that at last the great Tanzanian leader had realised the folly of endlessly
propping up a man, however close a friend he might be, who was so unpopular in his own country.
Tanzania's policies towards Obote and his government had in fact begun to shift from as early as mid-1984 –
to the extent that it started quietly supporting the NRA's fight against Obote.
While his UPC parliamentarians were waiting in the National Assembly for the start of a meeting which he himself
had summoned, Obote boarded his Mercedes and drove towards the Kenyan border.
This time he overflew Tanzania on his way to Zambia. His regime was over.” - (Ibid., pp. 162, 164 –
Obote, a Langi, was gone. He never again regained power and died 20 years later on 10 October 2005 at the age
But when General Tito Lutwa Okello, an Acholi, became head of state after Obote's ouster, the ruling Military
Council which was the government was predominantly Acholi. Five of the nine Military Council members were Acholi.
It was a clear-cut case of ethnic favouritism. It was also one of the main reasons why Museveni's National Resistance
Movement (NRM) refused to join the government of “national unity” although other opposition groups did.
Still, the ouster of Obote did not end suffering for the Acholi. They had suffered under Amin, and they were
to suffer again.
It was also just the beginning for the Langi – at least the second phase. They had been favoured under
Obote. So they did not suffer under his rule. But, like the Acholi, they also suffered earlier under Idi Amin. And they were
to suffer again together with the Acholi.
Both – the Langi and the Acholi – have suffered at the hands of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA),
a rebel group which has been wreaking havoc across northern Uganda for more than 20 years.
The terror unleashed by the Lord's Resistance Army has sometimes degenerated into inter-ethnic violence between
the Acholi and the Langi in northern Uganda....
Godfrey Mwakikagile, Ethnicity
and National Identity in Uganda: The Land and Its People