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British Protectorate, Preeminence of Buganda

African representation, African representatives, Buganda, Ankole, new governor

The consolidation of the protectorate created a preeminent position for Buganda, greater power for Protestants, and allowed for the ascendancy of chiefs, who served as regents for the young Buganda king. Each of these situations contributed to Uganda’s political problems during and after colonial rule. In 1900 all of these issues were formalized in the Buganda Agreement between the British and the chiefs of Buganda, which laid the basis for Buganda’s economic prosperity during British rule. The agreement gave the four-year-old king and his chiefs title to the more productive half of Buganda’s land in return for which they accepted subordination to Britain and the right of the protectorate government to levy taxes. Treaties signed between Britain and the governments of the other kingdoms (Toro in 1900, Ankole in 1901, and Bunyoro in 1933) were much less generous, particularly in grants of land.

The British introduced cotton growing in 1904, and chiefs who had land became wealthy and established the prosperity of the colony through their contributions to exports and taxes. Uganda’s growing population of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent also benefited from the new cotton industry. Indians (as the immigrants were known in Uganda) came to Uganda as laborers and traders in the thousands between the 1890s and the 1920s. By the 1920s Indian entrepreneurs owned a large percentage of Ugandan cotton processing plants and many other businesses. In the 1920s the British encouraged farmers in Buganda to grow coffee, which became increasingly profitable. Consequently, people in Buganda grew wealthy faster, received better education, and obtained more positions in the public service than those from other areas.

In addition, some chiefs from Buganda were given positions as administrators over other parts of Uganda until World War I (1914-1918). The greedy conduct and cultural chauvinism of the chiefs from Buganda caused resentment and a corresponding rise in local ethnic identifications. As a result, many people from other parts of the country feared the domination of Uganda by Buganda, a fear still held by some Ugandans.

After poor peasants who labored on the lands of chiefs of Buganda protested their living and working conditions, the protectorate government passed legislation in 1927 limiting the peasants’ rents and securing their occupation. Militant nationalism emerged following World War II (1939-1945), marked by an outbreak of urban strikes in 1945 and rural farm protests, primarily in Buganda, in 1949. The colonial government responded by introducing greater African participation in the economy, encouraging African cotton farmers to process their own cotton, and promoting agricultural cooperatives (farms owned by, and operated for the benefit of, multiple African farmers). In addition, the British democratized some local governments. In 1945 the first African representatives were allowed in the colonial legislative council. African representation in the council increased in the late 1940s and early 1950s. At the same time, the government also tried to control reform by regulating the new agricultural cooperatives and supporting moderate African candidates for the council seats. In the 1950s Ugandan prosperity was further strengthened by large state and foreign-financed infrastructure projects. The most significant was the dam and hydroelectric station on the Nile at Jinja, built in 1954, and the Kilembe copper mine on the western border, which began in 1956.

However, the new governor, Sir Andrew Cohen, caused a crisis in 1953 when he introduced a plan for a unitary Ugandan government, which implied eliminating the government’s special relationship with Buganda. Kabaka Frederick Mutesa II, until then known mostly as a playboy, opposed the plan and gained intense popular support among the Ganda. Cohen exiled him to Britain, bringing such strong demands for his return that Cohen was forced to negotiate a new agreement with the Ganda in 1955 that reaffirmed their privileges and granted additional powers to the kabaka. The kabaka, who returned in triumph, became a central political figure.

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