Beyond Local Government Reforms: A Case Study of Toro and Kigezi Districts in the Politics of Postcolonial Uganda

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Evarist Ngabirano


This study contributes to the understanding of ethnicity in local government politics in Uganda. The idea here is to explain how ethnic patriotism was possible under the circumstances in which the colonial mode of governance rigidly recognized only one official identity of the Batoro in Toro. In comparison, the study demonstrates how the response from the colonized in Kigezi set parameters outside the indirect rule politics partly because the colonial mode of governance there was flexible in as far as it recognized the multi-ethnic identity of Kigezi. Therefore, instead of focusing on the idea that the response from the colonized was always derivative, I also explore how it was dialectical. I deploy qualitative social science methodologies to study archives, literature review and oral interviews to examine three main ideas. The first idea is on how the colonial practice of homogenizing Toro served to reproduce ethnicity in politics. The second idea is that the colonial practice in Kigezi, which was flexible and other factors inspired a residence-based mode of governance. The third idea is that the colonial reforms of the 1940s served to strengthen ethnic institutions and the character of ethnic politics at the national level as opposed to democracy.

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Toro and Kigezi districts in mid and southwestern Uganda have been deployed in this study to examine the history and politics of ethnicity/tribalism1 in local governance. This article examines the practices of the colonial state and the responses from the colonized in encouraging and/or repressing ethnic politics in governance. The argument here is that the agency of the colonized can be explained by focusing on the practices of colonial officials and the work of ethnographers that took the lead in the projects of ethnic patriotism.2 The two districts of Toro and Kigezi were created by the colonial regime for administrative purposes. These local governments have, since independence, split into several smaller districts. In Toro these splits often times arose out of ethnic mobilization demands for recognition and autonomy. This is because the colonial mode of governance rigidly recognized only one official identity of the Batoro and suppressed the Bakonzo, Bamba and other identities. In the early 1960s the Bakonzo and Bamba leaders called for a three-tribe solution to address the problem of identity in Toro. When it was rejected, the Bakonzo sought to reproduce ethnic homogeneity of homelands by leading a secessionist movement to create the Bakonzo kingdom of Rwenzururu.3 In the 1970s, the districts of Kasese and Bundibugyo were created out of Rwenzururu for the Bakonzo and Bamba respectively to resolve this problem of ethnic mobilization. Since the Bakonzo had created a kingdom that stretched into the two districts of Kasese and Bundibugyo, the Bamba and Babwisi sought to replicate the same structure in Bundibugyo. By creating their own kingdom the Bamba and Babwisi suppressed the Bakonzo and other minorities in Bundibugyo culminating into violence and further separatist maneuvers. That is why the process through which tribalism is reproduced in Toro is best described as derivative. It should be noted however that from the beginning the response from the colonized in Toro was dialectical as manifested in the thought and action of the leaders of the colonized, which demonstrated tactical maneuvers as opposed to strategic ones.

Kigezi also represents a scenario in which the response of the colonized was both derivative and dialectical but here the colonial mode of governance was flexible because it recognized that Kigezi was multi-ethnic. The district was split into two in 1974 creating South and North Kigezi for the sole purpose of taking services nearer to the people as opposed to ethnic calculations.4 Kisoro district was created out of South Kigezi in 1991 not because it represented any single ethnic identity but as a move to implement the Uganda government’s decentralization policy.5 Thus Kigezi represented a scenario in which the colonized derived inspiration from a multiplicity of sources including pre-colonial, colonial and the socio-economic conditions of the people to think of Kigezi in terms of residence as opposed to ethnicity. It should be argued that the struggle between adopting the demands of indirect rule and seeking to reform it was visible in both Toro and Kigezi. The Toro model of indirect rule however was static in its approach to native identity in which only one ethnicity, the Batoro, was recognized while that of Kigezi was flexible in as far as it recognized the multi-ethnic identity. This study suggests that the colonized in Toro shifted from dialectical to derivative demands because the colonial mode of governance was static. In Kigezi, the response from the colonized moved from dialectical to derivative and back to dialectical because the colonial mode of governance was flexible.

Significant bodies of literature claim that “ethnic patriots” reproduced tribalism in Toro through their intellectual and political work. They cite Isaya Mukirane who through the Bakonzo Life History Research Society (BLHRS) studied the Bakonzo history and traditions and led the Rwenzururu secessionist movement.6 They also categorize Paulo Ngologoza7 of Kigezi as an “ethnic patriot” who defended the Bakiga customs with an iron hand but do not explain why his work “Kigezi and its People” did not generate a secessionist movement like that of Rwenzururu in Toro. This study deploys qualitative research methods to study archives, oral interviews and literature review to make three significant arguments. The first argument is the idea that Isaya Mukirane’s agency cannot be explained outside the static nature of indirect rule politics in Toro. In addition to this idea, the argument emphasizes the role of ethnographers like Tom Stacey who took a lead in Mukirane’s project.8 The second argument is that the response from Kigezi set its parameters outside the indirect rule politics to think and mobilize around area of residence, Kigezi as opposed to tribes, Bakiga, Bahororo and/or Bafumbira. The study argues that this mode of thinking and mobilizing derived inspiration from a multiplicity of sources including pre-colonial, colonial and the socio-economic conditions of the people in Kigezi. The third argument that this study advances is the idea that the local government reforms of the 1940s served to strengthen ethnic institutions and the character of ethnic politics both at the central and local government levels. This argument suggests that the initiatives of the colonial state were always in favor of ethnicity in governance at both local and national politics.

Colonialism and tribalized governance in Africa

Significant bodies of literature on Africa generally agree that colonialism created tribalized structures of governance and that their reproduction in the post-independence period was derivative. However, noticeable sets of literature maintain that the emphasis on the role of colonialism is exaggerated and simplistic, citing African-led activism and self-interested politics of ethnicity in the late colonial and early post-colonial period. For instance, Carol Summers claims that the Baganda of Uganda did not define democracy through election; rather “they were patriots who understood that for local men and women to be politically effective, power had to remain connected to the land”9 and tribe. It is along that understanding that scholars were able to explain the Baganda activism of the 1950s.

The first set of literature that builds on this idea of African agency focuses on the introduction of local government reforms after the end of World War II. Frederick Cooper for instance, argued that indirect rule and tribalized governance ended with the introduction of local councils before independence.10 Derek Peterson elaborated on this idea saying “all over East Africa, British officials set about organizing local councils, holding elections and cultivating the rituals of representative government”11 in the 1950s. The argument advanced here is that the colonial regime had after World War II imposed “strict limits” on the tribal governments established in the early period of colonial rule.12 This implies that tribalism that happened in mid 1950s onwards cannot be explained as an outcome of the colonial policy of indirect rule. That is how proponents of this view consider the manifestation of pro-monarchy activism in response to the expulsion of Kabaka Mutesa II in 1953. The Baganda initiated numerous forms of activism meant to put pressure on the colonial regime to ensure that the Kabaka returns.13 Moreover, this Buganda factor is used to justify a wave of post-independence federal demands elsewhere in Uganda. Peterson recognized that this discourse of monarchical nationalism in Buganda gave colonial Uganda’s other monarchies a path to follow.14 He also argues that native intellectuals such as Isaya Mukirane received inspiration from Buganda to lead a secession of the Rwenzururu movement in Toro.15 These native actors were branded “ethnic patriots” to emphasize their agency in this project of ethnic-based governance. It is to these African actors that Jonathon Glassman attributed the rise of racial thought in colonial Zanzibar.16 Yahya Sseremba argues that the agency of native actors “should be analyzed in the context of the circumstances in which the colonial state had made tribe the basis for political inclusion.”17 This study reinforces this argument but further improves it with a comparative analysis, as I will demonstrate.

Yahya Sseremba made a critique of the three-tribe solution pursued by the Rwenzururu intellectuals in Toro. Colonialism and post-independent regimes allocated land and other opportunities on the basis of native identity, yet only one identity, the Batoro were officially recognized as natives of Toro. To qualify for land and other opportunities reserved for natives, the Bamba and Bakonzo needed to assert themselves as distinct native tribes in Toro. Sseremba however argues that by doing so, the Rwenzururu intellectuals were seeking to reproduce a colonial practice instead of questioning it.18 I agree with Sseremba in as far as approaching the three-tribe proposal as a derivative response but argue that the call for recognition of the three-tribes itself questioned the colonial practice of homogenizing Toro identity into that of Batoro. I claim that Sseremba did not historicize sufficiently for him to conclude that the Rwenzururu intellectuals were merely reproducing a colonial practice of indirect rule. The British actually used mixed elements of indirect and direct rule in Toro. Firstly, they recognized Toro as a homeland of the Batoro ethnic group. This was indirect rule in as far as recognizing a native tribe as a political agent in a given homeland. Secondly, the British extinguished any possibility of a homeland for other ethnic groups in Toro, thus making them legitimate targets of Batoro ethnic homogenization. This was a departure from indirect to direct rule, a continuation of older practices of direct rule. I claim that Toro’s ethnic identity crisis stems from this colonial approach. I argue that the demand for a three-tribe solution in Toro was a call for a reform within indirect rule, a call for a consistent application of indirect rule in the colonial administrative practice. To illustrate my point of view, I draw ideas from the experience of Kigezi where the British applied the multi-tribal (three-tribe) approach.

In Kigezi, the British also used both indirect and direct rule but in a different way. First, they recognized that there were three tribal homelands for the Bafumbira, Bahororo and Bakiga. The Bakiga who like the Bakonzo did not have a leader beyond that of a clan repudiated this ethnic-based administrative practice prompting the British to deploy Baganda agents to rule over Kigezi (direct rule). The outcome of this colonial imposition was a rebellion especially from the Bakiga who wielded Nyabingi religion, to demand for a consistent application of indirect rule (derivative demand). In response, the British recognized the category native Bakiga and replaced Baganda chiefs with natives by 1930. If the Bakonzo of Toro like the Bakiga of Kigezi responded with rebellion against colonial imposition (direct rule), the British extinguished all hopes for them to be recognized as a native tribe with political rights in their own homeland. The British structure of indirect rule in Toro unlike that of Kigezi remained static prompting a derivative response from the colonized led by the so-called post-colonial “ethnic patriots.”

The second set of literature that emphasizes native agency as opposed to colonial structures of power in engineering ethnic-based politics in governance focus on the longue duree. This group of literature recognizes the role of colonialism but insists on examining pre-colonial past to unearth processes that explain contemporary politics of ethnicity in governance. Paul Nugent for instance, believes that colonialism though significant, was not the first historical moment that determined the way Africans related with their neighbors.19 The idea here is that colonialism had antecedents on which it was able to build the project of ethnic-based governance. Thomas Spears argues against the case of colonial invention, which he claims is often overstated. In other words colonialism did not have adequate power and ability to manipulate African institutions such as tribe to rule Africa. The idea here is that tribal institutions of governance were negotiated pre-colonial practices.20 In response to this claim it has been clarified in literature how ethnicity and traditions existed in the pre-colonial period but how these were multiple, competing and constantly changing. Colonialism self-interestedly singled out several of these for their administrative practice setting a stage for derivative responses akin to the Rwenzururu secessionist movement in Toro. A broad range of literature attests to this colonial practice in several parts of Africa. Yusufu Bala Usman identified this practice and insisted on studying the formation and transformation of communities of the area as a historical process. He argued that it made sense to treat the Fulani as a territorial group of people as opposed to treating them as an ethnic category with land and political rights.21 Mahmood Mamdani identified the category “Arab” and argued that colonialism compressed “varied Arab identities of multiple histories into one single identity- a uniform Arab identity-by legal and administrative fiat complemented by history writing.”22 Sseremba argues that this freezing of hitherto complex identities in several parts of Africa happened in colonial Western Uganda.23 I agree with Sseremba in as far as colonial Toro of Western Uganda is concerned but go further to demonstrate how Kigezi was treated differently producing different outcomes.

Sseremba demonstrated that the initiative of the African “indigenous intellectuals” in presenting their societies as “tribes” is not an independent initiative but something that developed out of circumstances in which the colonialists made ethnicity the basis for qualifying for land and other rights.24 It is along these circumstances that the Bakonzo and Bamba intellectuals had to mobilize their societies as distinct “tribes” and convince the colonial power that they met the requirements for being natives with rights over land and political power.25 In this way Sseremba claims to go beyond the critics of scholars who advance the agency of colonialism. These critics focus on how indigenous intellectuals shaped their own societies but Sseremba analyses how these intellectuals were themselves shaped by the circumstances in which colonialism privileged ethnicity. My claim is that Sseremba did not historicize adequately because he ignored the agency of ethnographers like Tom Stacey who took a leading role in the projects of indigenous intellectuals. I argue that indigenous intellectuals were not in most cases self-interested and I give Paulo Ngologoza of Kigezi as an example. I claim that Ngologoza derived inspiration from a multiplicity of sources including pre-colonial, colonial and the socio-economic conditions of the people to think of Kigezi in terms of residence as opposed to his ethnicity, the Bakiga.

Toro and Kigezi local government politics

From early 1960s to-date ethnic patriotism characterizes local government politics in Uganda especially in the mid western region. Several arguments have been advanced to explain these projects of ethnic patriotism associated with violent rebellions. The first and most significant argument is that ethnic patriotism was possible because of the circumstances in which the colonial state made ethnicity a basis for qualifying for land and other rights. The second argument is that indigenous leaders/intellectuals inspired and/or led ethnic patriotism. The third argument focuses on the role of colonial ethnographers like Stacey who took a lead in these projects of ethnic patriotism. The fourth argument is that the Baganda provided a model for ethnic patriotism from which others derived inspiration.

Toro district in mid Western Uganda

Toro represents districts in which ethnicity is constantly reproduced in the politics of local governance in Uganda. This study claims that the way in which colonialism deployed ethnicity as a basis on which land and other privileges were distributed explains why ethnicity was reproduced in Toro. The idea here is that the British recognized only one ethnicity of the Batoro as the only native identity of Toro. This colonial administrative practice also ensured that the Bakonzo, Bamba and other minorities in Toro were permanently suppressed. The outcome of such administrative practice was the project of ethnic patriotism that sought to reproduce similar structures of power. Moreover, the work of colonial ethnographers like Stacey who studied the history and traditions of the Bakonzo spearheaded these projects of patriotism in Toro, as I will demonstrate shortly.

In an effort to explain the pervasive ethnic patriotism in east Africa, historians of Africa focused on African agency. They claimed that individuals like Isaya Mukirane initiated these projects through their political and intellectual work. They argue that Mukirane carried out research to study the history and traditions of the Bakonzo, which was self-interested because it was meant to validate and authenticate his leadership and that of his lineage.26 I argue that these historians of Africa did not historicize sufficiently because they ignored and/or underestimated the role of colonial ethnographers like Tom Stacey who employed Mukirane to do research. Mukirane was not a researcher and writer by vocation and certainly never wrote a history book about his people, the Bakonzo. It was Stacey who was a researcher and employer of Mukirane on a project to investigate the history and traditions of the Bakonzo. Mukirane acknowledges working with Stacey in a speech to welcome another ethnographer, Axel Sommerfelt and his family. Mukirane said: “Here we can easily mention our recent visitors who came on the same subject, Mr. Taylor and Mr. Stacey. Since they left us we never received any results of the work which we did with them.”27

Moreover, Stacey himself claims to have initiated these projects of ethnic patriotism. He makes a reference to his work of fiction, the Brothers M., which in his view provided assistance in the generation of kings and their lineage among the Bakonzo.28 Indeed the researcher in whose work we read about the findings of the BLHRS is Tom Stacey with whom Mukirane worked as interpreter and guide.29 Being “interpreter and guide” implies that Mukirane was not devoid of agency in this project of constituting the Bakonzo into a tribe. He was certainly a partner but not a lead partner in this project that he finally took on as his own. He became a partner with Stacey not only because of his vast knowledge and experience but also because of his religious and family ties. It is certainly the work of ethnographers like Stacey and not only Mukirane’s that awakened the political consciousness of the Bakonzo for them to begin to think of and claim a tribal/ethnic homeland. A testimony to Stacey’s work among the Bakonzo likens him to “Isemusoki” which means father of the first-born.30 This implies two things: the first is that Stacey enlightened the Bakonzo, giving them a tribal consciousness. The second is that Stacey showed the Bakonzo the way by creating a tribal lineage.31 Abdul Baguma Kule narrated how Stacey toured the whole region studying how the Bakonzo lived and in his view, “that is when they started traditions”32 which gave the Bakonzo an identity that they previously lacked.

It should be noted here that Mukirane’s and other Bakonzo-Bamba leaders’ response to the colonial mode of governance was from the beginning dialectical in thought and action. For instance, the first demand that these leaders placed before the Toro government was that of equal representation/three tribe solution within Toro as opposed to the demand for ethnic independent homeland. My claim is that this demand questioned the colonial mode of governance in which nativity in Toro belonged to only one ethnicity of the Batoro. My argument is that Mukirane resorted to adoption/derivative demands because the structure of governance in Toro remained permanently static. In his attempt to resolve the puzzle of the tribe in the postcolonial politics of Toro, Yahya Sseremba has made a critique of the three-tribe solution. He faults Rwenzururu leaders for merely calling for recognition of more than one tribe in Toro instead of questioning nativity as the basis for having a homeland and political representation.33 My argument is that by contesting “the monolithic and homogenous view of tribe and custom” that justified tribalism in Toro, the Bamba-Bakonzo leaders in my opinion were questioning the idea of nativity as the basis of having a homeland and political representation. Therefore the Toro structure of ethnic-based mode of governance could be reproduced because of its failure to recognize the multi-ethnic identity of Toro.

This study also critically analyses the argument that the Baganda provided a model upon which ethnic patriotism in Uganda derived inspiration. The Basoga for instance were believed to be consciously imitating their Baganda counterparts when they demanded to hoist their flag over their Lukiko Hall and the removal of a number plate on the car of Kyabazinga, their king as the case was in Buganda.34 The argument is that the Batoro did the same when like the Baganda they demanded for a federal status. In fact Peterson believes that the whole idea of monarchical nationalism in Uganda was derived from Buganda. Indeed ethnic considerations manifested themselves in the proposals from Toro. When leaders like Benedicto Kiwanuka and Apollo Milton Obote of the Democratic Party (DP) and the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) advocated for a unitary form of government, the Batoro federal agitators like Balinda supported the Kabaka Yeka (KY) political party of Baganda faction that advanced federal demands. Balinda wrote in support of KY party as follows:

The main object of this party is to try to have Uganda ruled according to the federal government. This is the only form of government in which the position of our natural rulers can be preserved. In this type of government every individual country will have its natural customs safeguarded.35

Colonialism created a landed middleclass in Toro under the umbrella of a tribal monarchy. The Batoro ethnic politics like that of Baganda thrived on the fact that colonialism constituted Toro as a homogenous district like Buganda. The land, dignity and customs belonged to one ethnicity, the Batoro even though Toro was multi-ethnic. However, scholars who emphasize the Buganda factor believe that the “British administrators treated Toro rulers as low-level functionaries whose authority would only extend to the mundane aspect of government work.”36 So, in this perspective Toro rulers were merely portraying themselves as allies of the British and not dependents. The idea here is that Toro’s “political strategy was modeled after the example of Buganda” which was a “colonial Uganda’s paradigmatic kingdom.”37 The argument in this approach to the debate is a claim that the British were compelled to recognize Buganda’s “ancient customs and to respect its system of government.”38

Several scholars including Jean-Francois Bayart and Achille Mbembe maintain that Africans were naturally extraverted.39 In this school of thought, colonialism was as a result of negotiation rather than imposition and African politics was considered to be all about eating.40 As a justification of African extraversion, an example of the 1958 Toro parliamentarians who asked for favors in form of ‘four motorcyclists, a white uniformed chauffeur and a brass band’ from the protectorate government on behalf of their king is given.41 If this claim of Batoro extraversion is evident, I examine moments that demonstrate how colonialism exploited it to perpetuate their legacy into the postcolonial period of imperialism. Buganda was obviously not different. These moments that colonialism exploited include the work of the relationship commission, the Toro constitutional committee, the 1961 Toro Agreement and the London Conference. All these emphasized the colonial policy that upheld Toro’s ethnic homogeneity vindicating my critique of the idea that Toro received inspiration from Buganda.

I begin with the work of the relationship commission that re-emphasized Toro’s ethnic homogeneity in 1961. Munster, the chairman of the commission, was of British royal descent and believed that Africans had a strong predilection for hereditary and ceremonial rulers much like Britain.42 His report therefore recognized the newly created ceremonial heads in districts that did not previously have traditional rulers such as Busoga and Lango in addition to encouraging other districts to emulate the same spirit. The report perceived this trend to be positive and recommended that the future constitution must incorporate it because it reflects “African wishes.”43 The report observes:

We think therefore that these aspirations even though not based on tradition are just as deserving of sympathy as the British affection for Mayors, High sheriff, Lord Lieutenants and so on.44

Moreover, the report would insist that the ceremonial heads within their districts might take precedence over all except the head of state of Uganda. While ignoring the Bamba/Bakonzo concerns about their need for a separate district due to Batoro over lordship, the report claims that ceremonial heads would help promote loyalty and inter-ethnic good will toward a remote local government.45 This claim is obviously faulty because since ceremonial heads were ethnic, they would not promote loyalty in a multi-ethnic district.

The second avenue that colonialism exploited to enforce tribal/ethnic homogeneity in Toro was the Toro constitution making process. The process was hurried because it was necessary to have a tribal/ethnic constitution in place before a national constitution that was to be determined at the London conference so that Toro’s position would not be compromised. The governor ignored pertinent issues such as the multi-tribal/ethnic identity of Toro district and their representation on the Toro constitutional committee. To illustrate this point, I borrow from Amon Bazira who is of the view that the Rwenzururu separatist movement could have been avoided if the governor general made attempts to study the local politics. He wrote:

I think that the glamour and excitement of national politics tended to divert attention….those in positions of decision making at that time needed to study and understand the way the local political system worked in a single unit-the district.46

However, I am of the opinion that local politics were not of colonial concern at that particular moment. Their concern was largely focused on securing their legacy in the postcolonial politics of imperialism and the tribe/ethnicity was a key factor. The constitutional committee of the Rukurato represented the colonial interest of tribal/ethnic homogeneity in Toro. The committee for instance consisted of nine members, two of which were related to the Omukama (king) and the rest were Batoro government officials and teachers.47 Two Bamba/Bakonzo representatives namely Isaya Mukirane and Yeremia Kawamara were eliminated in the last minutes because of their tribes/ethnicities and dissenting views.

The third avenue through which colonialism sought to uphold Toro’s tribal homogeneity was the 1961 Toro Agreement. Overwhelming evidence indicates that this agreement gave more powers to the Batoro than they previously had because it manifests itself not only as an extension of the 1900 agreement but its modification as well. In this agreement, the Omukama (king) and his descendants, ababiito nababiitokati were to enjoy “their customary titles and presidencies.”48 It is through such tribal/ethnic lineage that the British hoped to continue perpetuating their interests after independence. Available evidence indicates that the Toro Rukurato reflected the interests of the king, the Omukama. For instance, the Rukurato consisted of 12 ex official members, 7 members nominated by the Omukama, 46 indirectly elected from the Saza councils of which 21 were required to be chiefs.49 This arrangement was of interest to the king and the colonial government as illustrated in the secret communication:

The Rukurato is therefore very much an officially dominated body, and since the Mukama enjoys far reaching powers of patronage, it may be assumed that his interests will normally be dominant in the minds of all the members, including those un officials who purport to be elected.50

The fourth opportunity that was available for the colonizer to uphold tribal/ethnic hegemony in Toro and elsewhere in Uganda was at the 1961 London Conference where the independence constitution for Uganda was written. At the conference, the colonizers ensured that delegates representing tribal institutions like Buganda were dominant. Moreover, the colonizers also had side talks with those delegates from Buganda in which important decisions were made. For instance, in what appeared to be in direct conflict with democracy, the Secretary of State for colonies who chaired the conference called for compromise in relation to the Baganda demands for indirect elections.51 Moreover, the delegates were perturbed at the impression they had gained so far at the conference; namely that “they were here only in an advisory capacity.”52 This prompted a delegate to suggest that on record “the chairman announced” should replace the words “the conference noted.”53

The colonizer therefore dictated the outcomes of the conference and so the independence constitution was written on the colonizer’s terms. The proposals put before the conference were based in the main on the recommendations of the Munster report namely that “Buganda should have a federal status and that the other kingdoms should be in semi-federal relationship with the central government.”54 Moreover, “Her Majesty’s government believed it to be their duty to reach agreement with Buganda and also believed that the Munster proposals for a democratic Uganda with Buganda in federal relationship should be strictly followed.”55 If the colonizer took a full account of delegate’s views, in case of a division of opinion, he was prepared to take the final decision which would be in line with the intention of Her Majesty’s government of concluding “an agreement on the lines of those proposals with the Kabaka, chiefs and people of Buganda.”56 This privilege accorded to Buganda would extend to agreement districts like Toro on a semi-federal arrangement. Moreover, even the non-agreement districts like Kigezi were also expected to federate on similar terms.

Kigezi district in southwestern Uganda

Kigezi represents districts in which ethnicity is not being reproduced in politics but a new form of identity associated with area of residence is developing. This study claims that the response from the colonized in Kigezi stepped outside the parameters of indirect rule politics to focus on building a residence-based identity of the Banyakigezi.57 My argument here is that the colonized received inspiration from a multiplicity of sources including pre-colonial, colonial and the social economic conditions of the people to think of Kigezi in terms of residence as opposed to ethnicity. The politics of Kigezi revealed that the ethnic royalism of early 1960s was a posture, a kind of a template imposed on Ugandans at the time of independence as opposed to being a pre-colonial practice. The study advances two main arguments to explain why ethnicity was not reproduced in Kigezi’s politics. The first argument is that the colonial administrative practice in Kigezi that recognized the multi-ethnic identity of the Bakiga, Bahororo and Bafumbira as opposed to one native ethnic identity contributed to the building of the residence-based identity of the Banyakigezi. The second is that the political and intellectual work of the colonized in Kigezi focused on building the residence-based identity as opposed to that of ethnicity. The outcome of this emphasis on residence is that the politics of representation in Kigezi tended to be driven by issues related to national politics as opposed to ethnic identities.

Firstly, this study argues that the colonizer recognized the multi-tribal/ethnic identity of Kigezi. It has been claimed that the natives were by 1932 demanding for an overall leader similar to a king and the privileges associated with kingship such as mailo land system.58 The Provincial Commissioner rejected this request arguing that it would breed tribalism in Kigezi. The idea of a king was in his view impossible because Kigezi had three major tribes namely; Bakiga, Bahororo and Bafumbira. Choosing a man from one of these tribes to be a king would in his view create tribalism.59 To this end, the colonizer would receive credit in as far as constituting Kigezi people’s political identity based on their area of residence as opposed to tribe.

The second argument that this study concentrates on is that the intellectual and political work of the colonized like that of Paulo Ngologoza focused on building a residence-based identity as opposed to that of his ethnicity the Bakiga. Historians of Africa claim that all East African political leaders and intellectuals including Ngologoza of Kigezi were “ethnic patriots” who mobilized their people along ethnic lines and wrote history books to inspire future generations. I argue that such a historicization was insufficient because it does not explain why Ngologoza’s work, “Kigezi and its people” did not reproduce tribalism in Kigezi. I claim that Ngologoza received inspiration from pre-colonial, colonial and the socio-economic conditions of the people to think more of Kigezi in terms of residence as opposed to his ethnicity, the Bakiga. Ngologoza and other community builders in Kigezi succeeded in their work in so far as Kigezi politics have not been defined by a majoritarian effort to suppress and ostracize minority groups. Ngologoza acknowledged that his tribe, the Bakiga did not have a lineage upon which his contemporary political leadership could be validated and authenticated but recognized the Bashambo dynasty to the North of Kigezi and Tutsi aristocracy in Bufumbira South of Kigezi.60 This focus on the multi-tribal dimension and the emphasis on residence-based mode of governance rather than tribe explain why tribalism was not reproduced in post-independence Kigezi. The outcome of this mode of thinking and mobilization was that post-independence majority and minority politics in Kigezi reflected ideological issues of national significance as opposed to ethnic identity. In what follows, I discuss the interests that attracted the attention of Kigezi politics.

The first was the idea that Kigezi needed a leader that would contest for the position of president of Uganda. G. W. Kanyeihamba says that Kigezi embraced the idea of a king, a Rutakirwa in order to have a leader capable of contesting for the presidency of Uganda under the federal arrangement of the 1962 constitution.61 John Bikangaga a Mukiga who was crowned a king was considered to be one of the strongest men of the ruling party and a close confidant of Obote in Kigezi.62 His selection was therefore political as opposed to claims of cultural solidarity. Festo Karwemera substantiates this when he says that the position of Rutakirwa was created for John Bikangaga alone and it ended with him in 1966/67 when the independence federal constitution was overthrown.63 Thus, the Bikangaga and Rutakirwa projects in Kigezi were only possible due to the colonizer’s politics of the independence constitution making process. Once that constitution was overthrown, the Rutakirwa institution became irrelevant to the people of Kigezi. Moreover, the fact that the Rutakirwa was a Mukiga is controversial. The Bakiga formed alliances based not on material interest or tribal heritage but on principle, affiliation or ideology. In this type of politics people are not beholden to forms of authority based on lineage, tradition and claims of cultural solidarity.

The second idea was an ideological one, dividing people along progressive and conservative political inclinations. If the people aspired to lead the country, they also desired to define its political aspirations. As a consequence, issues of national interest articulated by Grace Ibingira and John Kakonge who respectively held conservative and progressive ideas paralyzed Kigezi in the 1963/64 politics.64 It was not about replication of Baganda politics nor was it a question of cultural solidarity but rather an inclination toward interests of national politics whose driving force is derived from the colonizer’s politics of independence constitution making process.

In relation to the idea of ideology along which Kigezi natives conflicted, politics also divided people along religious affiliation other than cultural solidarity. Peterson explains how religious revivalism enhanced tribal reputation in Toro while in Kigezi the two were antagonistic. He gives the example of Ngologoza as representing Bakiga tribal customs on the one hand and Juliana Mufuko65 as representing religious revival on the other hand. If revivalists in Toro enhanced the reputation of the Babiito dynasty in Toro, Mufuko castigated Ngologoza who in the opinion of Peterson represented Bakiga customs. I argue here that Peterson did not historicize sufficiently because the Ngologoza-Mufuko antagonisms were not cultural but political. Ngologoza was a Catholic and generally a threat to the political power establishments that naturally was supposed to be aligned to the protestant religion of Her Majesty’s government. While Mufuko was a revivalist, she was first and foremost a protestant who urged Ngologoza to convert if he wanted to rule the world.66 The postcolonial politics of king making in Kigezi clearly vindicate me on this opinion. If the election of Bikangaga was not cultural, a combination of his religion and political inclination made it possible for him to be elected king. Bikangaga is described as an Anglican revivalist who like Toro’s royalists found it possible to be a king.67 If tribe remained a key factor in Toro beyond the 1966/67 constitutional abrogation, religion became the key divisive factor in Kigezi and generally in Uganda’s politics.

Buganda and the local government reforms

The period from 1945 to independence is significant in explaining the postcolonial politics in Uganda. This period that begins at the end of World War II involves two related significant shifts in politics. First is the drive toward Africanization of politics in colonial Africa; a move that is commonly understood as decolonization. Secondly is the beginning of a new form of colonialism known as imperialism, which presupposes a failure of decolonization. These two shifts shaped the local government reforms upon which postcolonial politics was to be built. In this section, I want to discuss these two interlinked shifts concurrently. The British agenda toward decolonization had two significant inclinations; first was the creation of the middleclass upon which postcolonial politics would be built. Second was the introduction of direct elections of representatives to the Legislative Council or National Assembly. These noble ideas have foundation in the European philosophical perspectives on democracy as demonstrated in the Greek works of Aristotle and others. Cooper and Peterson suggest that colonialism did its homework well to promote these ideas in late colonial Africa. However, I found evidence that suggests that the British manipulated the processes so that the created middleclass turned into clients or middlemen who worked to safeguard the legacies of colonial rule. Moreover, overwhelming evidence also indicates that the idea of direct elections which was noble was undermined in favor of one tribe/ethnicity, the Baganda who wished to maintain their position as clients of the British rule.

I proceed to examine how the creation of the middlemen was manipulated with the effect that in spite of elections, ethnic institutions and the character of ethnic politics at the center were strengthened. Mahmood Mamdani helps us to understand the colonial intervention in the processes of class formation in Uganda. He focuses on two perspectives; the first is that colonialism built on the uneven pre-colonial developments.68 The second is that colonialism accentuated these developments through a policy that relied on the tribe because that is where local allies from amongst the ranks of the pre-colonial ruling classes could easily be found and where the policy of indirect rule could effectively be implemented.69 The second perspective outweighs the first because the uneven character of developments amongst the tribes comprising Uganda was greater at the end of colonialism than it was at its outset. I examine two political events that illuminate this idea. The first event was the signing of the 1955 Buganda Agreement and the second was the London Conference of 1961, which formulated the independence constitution for Uganda.

The 1955 Buganda Agreement accentuated the uneven character of the middlemen amongst the tribes in Uganda because it endorsed the domination of the Legislative Council by one tribe, the Baganda. According to the Agreement “at least one quarter of the representative members of the Legislative Council who are Africans shall be persons who represented Buganda.”70 In addition, this domination of the center by one tribe could be further strengthened through indirect elections. The Agreement therefore endorsed the idea of appointment of the directly elected members of the Lukiiko to the Legislative Council. This process of appointing one quarter of the Legislative Council from one tribe, the Baganda is elaborated as follows in Article 7 (2) of the 1955 Agreement:

The Katikiro shall submit to Her Majesty’s representative, that is to say the Governor, the names of the candidates for appointment as the representative members of the Legislative Council to represent Buganda, that is to say the persons who have been elected for that purpose.71

This electoral process served to ensure that the majority of the middleclass brought into leadership position before independence represented a tribe, the Baganda and a tribal institution, the Buganda kingdom. In this way the electoral process was tribalized. When in 1961, the direct elections to the Legislative Council were finally held, Buganda boycotted it and only a small percentage of the Baganda voted and the outcome was that only candidates who did not represent Buganda kingdom as an institution were elected. Besides Buganda kingdom, the elected leaders did not represent the religion of the colonizer, the Anglican Church because the Democratic Party whose candidates were elected was predominantly Catholic. This state of affairs set precedence for the aforementioned second event, the 1961 London Conference to discuss the independence constitution for Uganda.

I now examine how the 1961 London Conference heightened the uneven character of the middleclass amongst tribes in Uganda through tribalization of the electoral process. First, the representation of tribes at the conference was in itself uneven. In the reports that I read Buganda had six representatives at the conference representing the Baganda tribe and Buganda kingdom as an institution while the other districts had one each and these did not necessarily represent tribes. Moreover, the deliberations at the conference were also uneven because the Baganda delegates had side talks with the chairman (a colonial official) of the conference whose word was final. One of the key items on the agenda was that of “electoral process.” The main concern here was that the Legislative Council representatives from Buganda should be elected indirectly. This implies that while representatives in the Lukiko of Buganda would be elected directly even on party basis, those to represent Buganda in the Legislative Council would be nominated by the Lukiko (elected indirectly) from among the elected members of the Lukiko. I found overwhelming evidence in the reports to illustrate how the procedures at the conference frustrated the Ugandan delegation that were anti tribal establishment. First was a submission from Benedicto Kiwanuka, himself a Muganda and the Chief Minister by virtue of his party winning the direct general election of 1961. Kiwanuka stated:

Her Majesty’s government claimed that its aim was to secure a democracy for Uganda but a proposal that one tribe in the country should be treated differently in the matter of choosing representatives to the Legislative Council did not seem to be a proper foundation on which to build a stable and reliable democratic system of government. The fundamental principles that every citizen should have the right to choose the person to represent him in the Legislative was in danger of being sacrificed in the interest of expediency.72

Moreover, further evidence indicates that the colonial government was actually backtracking on its objective. The 1955 Agreement for instance had provided that a system of direct elections for the representative members of the Legislative Council who represented Buganda was to be introduced in 1961 if such had not been introduced earlier. Article 7 (3) of the 1955 Agreement states:

Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (2) of this article a system of direct elections for the representative members of the Legislative Council who represented Buganda shall be introduced in the year 1961 if such system has not been introduced earlier.73

One of the delegates (Mr. Okenyi, representing Acholi district) at the London conference pointed it out and further noted that even the Kabaka’s government had “asked for a system of direct elections against the recommendations of the Hancock Commission, which had suggested that representatives to the Legislature should be nominated.”74 For instance the sub-committee set up by the Kabaka to study the Hancock recommendations stated: “The Hancock Committee proposed that the Baganda representative should be elected by the Lukiko itself. We think, after very careful consideration that they should be directly elected by the people whom they represent.”75 Moreover, even the Secretary of State for colonies had undertaken that direct elections would be held through out the country. “When he was in Uganda…. he carried out his promise at the last elections, but it now seems that he was going back on the decision.”76 Okenyi then observed how reports were circulating in the Uganda Argus that a Buganda Political Party was being formed with intentions of securing a majority in the Lukiko who would then choose to have indirect elections to the Legislative Council. In this way Buganda would hold the balance of power in the Legislative Council.

It would follow that the Secretary of State was encouraging sectional interests and that the decision would lead to widespread violence in the country. He therefore urged the Secretary of State to reconsider the proposition in the interests of peace and stability in the country.77

If the participation of Buganda in the London Conference was being celebrated as an achievement, it was being realized that it was achieved by sacrificing democratic principles. The side talks the Baganda delegates had with the chairman outweighed the submissions the delegates made in the conference. For this reason Kiwanuka complained: “…reasons may have been given in the side talks which the chairman had with Buganda delegation but it must be remembered that the conference had no share of these talks.”78 To silence the delegates, the chairman would say that he respected the Agreements with Buganda and would ask the delegates to take into account the special position that Buganda occupied. Androville, representing West Nile would object to this approach as follows:

There are many tribes in Uganda, some living in very backward conditions, and this made a strong central government essential; at the same time a strong central government could only exist if there were democratic elections through out the country. …. Baganda were a powerful and well-developed tribe occupying the central parts of the country, and if this tribe went its own way, there was a grave danger both of violent clashes in the center and of the absorption of outlying districts by the Congo or the Sudan. What was proposed was in effect the sacrifice of democracy for tribal interests. Those who supported the idea of indirect elections as a temporary measure must face the fact that an attempt to introduce direct elections at a later date was likely to have disastrous consequences.79

If the majority members of the delegation from Uganda opposed the idea of indirect election, a few from the opposition and the Buganda delegation supported it out of political calculation. John Bikangaga who represented Kigezi for instance opposed the idea of indirect election but due to his political leaning as a Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), he supported it. UPC had lost to the Democratic Party (DP) in the general elections of 1961. UPC would stand to gain if it allied with the Baganda political faction that would help in the defeat of the DP in Buganda. Therefore Bikangaga accepted the idea of direct elections in theory but in reality opted to support indirect elections because in his view it was a success to get the Baganda to accept the idea of direct election and to hope for multi party Lukiko elections. The report that I read states:

Mr. Bikangaga said that he would support the proposal therefore, even though he did not consider it was the ideal solution, because he thought it would not be possible to achieve unity by imposing direct elections upon the Baganda against their will.80

The Baganda and Buganda kingdom as an institution became a key factor for the UPC to take a leading role in Uganda’s politics. Therefore all the UPC delegates including their leader, Milton Obote supported the idea of indirect elections to Legislative Council in Buganda, which helped in forging alliance between the UPC and Kabaka Yeka (KY) faction of the Baganda to win the 1962 general elections. Ibingira, a UPC delegate supported the proposal of indirect election because the “Buganda delegation had accepted it as a step in the right direction and an improvement over the present situation.”81 However, if I may argue, the situation that Ibingira is making a reference to in this case is one of political domination. The DP had defeated his party the UPC in the 1961 general election. If the Baganda faction allied with UPC to defeat the DP in Buganda, the two would form the majority government. That would be an improvement to the present situation for Ibingira. Moreover, Ibingira believed that the Legislative Council was very much a dominated body. He says “although the Legislative Council had existed for many years, until recently, it was in no way representative and could not be regarded as a unifying factor. The best guarantee for the future lay not in the imposition of ideal principles….”82 In Milton Obote’s opinion indirect election would bring true representatives of Buganda to the Legislative Council which would create a more cooperative frame of mind in Buganda toward the central government.83 The true representatives of Buganda here meant those indirectly elected to the Legislative Council having been directly elected to the Lukiko.

While the Buganda delegation insisted that the Baganda wanted to take their proper place in the Legislative Council; that the current Buganda representatives had been elected by a mere three percent; it was in Her Majesty’s government interest to favor the tribe, the Baganda through whom their interests/legacy would be protected in the postcolonial period. The move to decolonize after World War II was out of pressure exerted on the colonial powers namely Britain and France. The new powers namely United States of America (USA) and Russia had emerged and with them a new form of colonialism namely imperialism was taking shape. If colonialism implied the physical presence of the colonizer, imperialism did not. The colonizer therefore needed middlemen to protect his legacy in the postcolonial period of imperialism. These middlemen could be located in the tribe in which the colonizer had well-established clients. In Uganda such men were readily available in Buganda but also to some extent in other agreement districts such as Toro. If the 1961 direct elections had returned a government that was anti tribal establishment, then what was the colonizer supposed to do? Indeed Kiwanuka, the chief Minister and his government were not only anti tribal establishment but were not even aligned to Her Majesty’s government in terms of faith. Kiwanuka and the majority of the elected Legislative Council representatives were Catholics of the DP leaning while Her Majesty’s government was Anglican. If the DP delegation considered itself to have been elected legally and to have the voice, they were to be overruled by the chairman who represented Her Majesty’s government. In his ruling, the method of election to the Legislative Council of members representing Buganda was a matter for the agreement between Her Majesty’s government and Buganda.84 The conference was tasked to deliberate on the matter because the Secretary of State was interested in hearing the views of the delegates but the decision on the matter had already been made in favor of Buganda.


This study has on the one hand examined how politics in postcolonial Toro and Kigezi exemplify problems of tribalism and power struggles in Africa but has on the other hand focused on contrasts between the two districts. While the narrative in the existing literature has concentrated on African agency to explain away postcolonial ethnic federalism and power struggles, I have used archives, literature reviews and interviews of specific informants to demystify this conception. My claim is that the existing historical narrative is insufficient in as far as it ignores the colonial policy of indirect rule, which crafted tribal governance structures in East Africa into being. In order to give agency to Africans, the narrative hugely claims that the British colonial officials were by 1940s doing away with indirect rule and emphasizing local government. This implies that whatever happened in the postcolonial was purely of African descent and identified with African men like Isaya Mukirane. The narrators deduce their conception about Africa and East Africa from the general knowledge developed over the years by scholars from Europe and America. This knowledge stems from the idea that everywhere in Africa and East Africa in particular, there existed leaders who crafted tribes into being. In these narrative, African men like Mukirane replicated only what was African. To support this argument the narrative suggests that the postcolonial politics of tribalism in Toro and Kigezi was only a replica of Buganda and not a reflection of the colonial structure of indirect rule. I critique this narrative and base my claims on the idea that indirect rule survived colonialism. I trace its continuous manifestations in Uganda’s unitary system of government from the colonial politics that shaped the local government reforms and accompanied the making of the 1962 independence constitution. I use the colonial archives where I find adequate evidence that implicates British colonial officials as having consolidated tribalism in Toro while innovating it in Kigezi. In addition to tribe, I identify religion to have enhanced power struggles in postcolonial politics of Uganda and examine how it was exploited to consolidate and innovate tribalism in Toro and Kigezi respectively. While royalism and tribal customs are taken as timeless in Toro, Kigezi provides an example where these can be seen as a posture, a kind of template imposed on Ugandans at the time of independence and then done away with in less than half a decade. When I historicized Toro’s royalism and tribal customs, I found them to be time bound because colonialism imposed them on Toro through agreements, which were reinforced by the 1962 independence constitution. Thus while Kigezi’s postcolonial political antagonisms rotated around arguments, ideology and national issues, Toro’s postcolonial political violence arose out of attachment to the royal lineage and customs imposed on Toro through agreements in the colonial period.


This article is developed from parts of my PhD thesis, which was supported, by the Carnegie foundation through the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) of Makerere University and the Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa Program of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) for which I am so grateful.