Queen Elizabeth II was a global icon and head of the Commonwealth, where Uganda is a member. But in Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom, memories of colonialism particularly where British imperialists fought hard to trim the powers of Uganda’s oldest monarchy, undermine any good comment about her.
The Queen died at 96 years, at the Balmoral Castle, Scotland on September 8 after 70 years on the throne.
A cross section of elders and concerned residents in separate interviews with The Albertine Journal on September 12, 2022 – four days after the Queen’s death – argued that Bunyoro hardly has any fond memories of the late Queen Elizabeth II.
Isaac Kalembe, a resident in Hoima City said: “True, she was well-groomed, compassionate, and wise, the refusal to pay for the injustices meted out to Bunyoro is a last nail in her coffin.”
Kalembe avers that the brutal invasion of Bunyoro (bordering on genocide and war crimes), and high-handed treatment of vanquished Bunyoro, undermine any good comment about the queen.
He also accuses Britain of dismemberment of the kingdom, plunder of its wealth and cultural artefacts held for years at Pit Rivers Museum in London which the kingdom has asked to be returned but in vain.
Ismail Kusemererwa in Masindi district said the Queen leaves a mixed legacy of suppression, murder and plunder of Bunyoro natural resources which led to economic and political downfall.
“We are having limited democracy imposed on us by Western powers-Britain which we have failed to fit into and understand. Archaic or colonial education system,” he said.
Francis Ssewante a resident of Kagadi ddistrict said more than two million people in Bunyoro died during the 1893-1899 war, mainly from starvation, disease and murder after Omukama Cwa II Kabaleega put up a spirited resistance against colonial rule.
He said Omukama Kabaleega would later be deposed and exiled to Seychelles Island where he was imprisoned for 23 years without trial.
Ssewante said in the process Bunyoro’s cows were eaten, forcefully taken, land donated to their collaborators, sponsored genocide and had energetic men sold into slavery.
Yolamu Nsamba, the former Principal Private Secretary to Omukama Solomon Gafabusa Iguru I, also questioned the mentality of those hailing the deceased Queen’s legacy in Bunyoro and Africa.
“Unfortunately, we cannot erase history. But what pains us is that she (Queen) never had the courtesy to apologise to us like what Britain did to Aborigines in Australia. They extracted raw material from here including the timber which was used to build Westminster Hall in London. That timber was stolen from Bugoma and Budongo central forest reserves in Kikuube and Masindi districts, respectively. They were official poachers, who hunted elephants for ivory.”
Nsamba, who also doubles as the Vice Chairperson of Bunyoro Royal Commission, said the Queen could not, during her 70-year reign, push for reparations over injustices meted out on Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom.
How Britain exploited Bunyoro
Nsamba said the British had many subtle ways to exploit resources from Bunyoro including indoctrination, which made people to believe they were African-British and to enjoy speaking their language.
“When I was growing up, speaking English was a mark of dignity and class. Those, who didn’t, were looked at as non-entities. But, after the defeat of Kabaleega, the Banyoro adopted passive ways of resisting the British, unlike what the Kenyans did during the Mau Mau rebellion (1952-60). When English talkers came the Banyoro would say, “Ab’Orujungu mbabo!” (literally, there goes the English speakers).”
Nsamba explained that the British sponsored slave raids in Bunyoro which started some time in the seventeenth century.
He said the colonisers used agents to pick slaves and sell them in Karagwe, from where they were easily ferried overseas.
Nsamba said the slave raiders captured only women and children from Bunyoro, citing available records that Kabaka Muteesa I of Buganda received bounty from Bunyoro which consisted of women and children.
“He never received any men because the Banyoro developed a tradition of pulling out the upper two incisors of the men – a blemish that disqualified them from being slaves. Instead, the slave raiders would simply kill such Banyoro men,” he said.
Nsamba said Banyoro survived by going underground like what the Ukrainians are doing in the ongoing Russia’s “special military operation”. The Banyoro dag pits, caves and underground granaries.
These granaries acted as food reserves, especially in times of war, famines and other emergencies.
Nsamba said by the time of independence on October 9, 1962, there was no motorable roads, pointing out that the existing roads in Bunyoro during colonial times, such as the Masindi-Butiaba road, had been constructed using akasanju (forced and unpaid labour).
He added that the British forced the people of Bunyoro to grow cotton to feed the mills in Lancashire.
“The British identified that best cotton would grow in Buseruka in Hoima district where the soils were sandy and was plenty of sunshine. So, you would leave your home with your wife and leave the older children manning the home for six months growing cotton,” he added.
Furthermore, Nsamba, who is also a historian, said the British took advantage of the colonised people to exploit them.
“The British, using tax collectors especially, exploited people’s ignorance since the Banyoro didn’t know what happened in the market,” he said.
Nsamba said raw cotton would be bought at chicken-feed prices determined by the colonialist and their Indaian middlemen.
“That is how they got taxes, how they fed their mills. The manufactured cloth products, with the ‘Made in England’ label, would be “exported” to Uganda at an exorbitant price,” he said, adding that even the Lint and Coffee marketing boards that the British established, were organs for taxing the colonised Banyoro. “Those ginneries were tax collectors,” he said.
Philosophically, Nsamba said, “Britain underdeveloped Africa. The legacy of the Queen Elizabeth II, as was the case with her immediate predecessors, is one of colonialism.
And you want me to praise the Queen? For what? For indoctrinating us? It takes a lot of courage!
Nsamba narrated that after Omukama Kabaleega was deposed, they put on the throne his six-year-old son Yosiya Kitehimbwa who they could easily manipulate but, as it turned out, he had his father’s stubborn streak.
“When the British realised Kitehimbwa was not subservient, they deposed him and installed the meek Andereya Bisereko as Omukams Duhaga II in 1902. This was a bonanza for the British to loot Bunyoro.”
Nsamba also points out that in 1900, when the British adjudged Bunyoro as a defeated state, they set up British Military Administration (BOMA) at Hoima which ruled Bunyoro as a military district for 33 years.
He adds direct British military rule ended with the signing of the Bunyoro Agreement of 1933.
“Apparently, after Duhaga’s demise they put on the throne Tito Gafabusa as Omukama Sir Tito Winyi, the father to the current King Solomon Gafabusa Iguru I.”
Nsamba further said because Tito Winyi treaded carefully and had been convinced of the benefits of British colonialism, he promoted the growing of such cash crops as coffee, cotton and tobacco “because many Banyoro had been killed and the land was idle”.
“The British convinced the Omukama to entice such as the Alur, Bakiga, Lugbara and Maragoli Bakiga to provide labour as well as grow cash crops. That is why today there are a lot of Bafuruki (migrants) in Bunyoro. Because the income from growing cash crops was pitiable, the British persuaded Tito Winyi to establish local forest reserves, noting that there would be monetary incentives for every reserve. Subsequently, Bunyoro got its money from grants because of afforestation.”
Nsamba said Bunyoro still demands reparations, adding that Bunyoro Kitara Reparations Agency (BUKITAREPA), a local organisation advocating reparations from Britain for the heinous crimes and atrocities British officials committed in Bunyoro, is right.
“We demand reparations. They must apologise! And you ask me to feel sorry that this woman who superintended a nation of thieves. I am not sorry!”
Nsamba recalls a conversation Omukama Iguru had with the curator of Pit Rivers Museum in Oxford 10 years ago about reparations and return of the stolen artefacts.
“The curator said sarcastically: ‘We know they are your artefacts and we have them here. We can only lend them to you; we can’t give them back to you!’ That’s what the man told the king in my presence.”
Uganda gained independence after several struggles which involved murders and oppression of the proponents in 1962.
By Thursday, Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom was yet to issue an official condolence message, to mourn the decreased Queen.