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Uganda: Uganda’s 1962 constitution evolved from revenge and deceit

Posted by African Press International on April 30, 2007

By Ham Mukasa

The American constitution was a product of wisdom and statesmanship of its framers over 200 years ago.

Unlike the American constitution, the Uganda independence constitution of 1962 resulted from a process which was marred by intrigues, revenge and deceit whose effects spilled over into the independence period. This meant that Ugandans did not enjoy the lilies of freedom for almost the first 25 years as politicians of every hew plotted and conspired against each other and the successful ones wreaked vengeance on their opponents by detaining them without trial or putting them out completely. In this way, almost every family in the country experienced the effects of bad governance either directly or vicariously through relatives or friends.

To understand our long trudge to independence one has to start with the deportation to Britain on November 30, 1953 of the Kabaka of Buganda, Edward Mutesa following a disagreement with the governor, Sir Andrew Cohen, regarding future constitutional developments. The proposed developments included the introduction of the east African federation along the lines of the one in central Africa. Mutesa’s rustication stirred the country as it was seen as a sign of Britain’s insensitivity to local aspirarations.

A delegation of five which was sent to London by the Buganda lukiko succeeded in convincing both the British government and public of the folly of the governor’s action but the idea of the mighty Britania being defeated by an African potentate was difficult to swallow. This led to an impasse which was only broken by a leading Oxford University africanist, Professor Margerry Pelham who suggested in a letter to the Times of April 11, 1954 that a constitutional expert should be sent to Uganda to work out a new

Pelham’s idea was bought by the British government and as a result, an Australia professor Sir Keith Hancock who was at the time head of the Institute of International Studies was sent to Uganda to chair a committee of 12 which discussed new constitutional proposals. The committee’s report formed the basis of a new Buganda agreement and the constitution of 1955 as well as the return of the Kabaka.

Of interest to the rest of the country was the agreement that the next major stage in constitutional development would be in 1961. This agreement flagged 1961 as the year the country would get at least its self-government. The British government’s plan was to work towards that goal through systematic evolution in the legislative council, the country’s parliament at the time.

However, events conspired to make the journey to that goal rather problematic. At the time three political parties controlled the political scene namely the Uganda National Congress (UNC) the largest party, the Democratic Party and the Progressive Party. Unfortunately, the UNC lost its way in 1957 and splintered into two parties, the new one being the
United Congress Party.

Earlier, all the political parties united to fight a proposal by the Buganda lukiko to distribute 150 square miles among “loyal subjects” and the outcry the campaign raised led to the Kabaka ordering Mengo to drop the idea.

Mengo never forgave the parties and it embarked on a campaign against them accusing them of being anti-Kabaka and persecuted the party leaders in a senseless manner which in the end debilitated the parties in Buganda especially when Mengo convinced the governor that it was the only authority which could discuss Buganda’s affairs.

The result of Mengo’s policies rendered political parties almost irrelevant in our constitutional development.

In his recent book Social Origins of Violence in Uganda, Professor A. B. K. Kasozi tells us that at this time there were four groups of political players in Buganda namely the nationalists, the educated elite, the neo-traditionalists and the catholic elite, a classification which could be replicated countrywide. To these groups could be added the elected members of the legistive council who included such people as Apollo Milton Obote, John Babiha, George Magezi, Cuthbert Obwangor and others.

The future of the country was largely determined by the way these groups interfaced in the run-up to independence. Three developments took place which determined the future of the country and who would rule it in the end. First the neo-traditionalists at Mengo followed an isolationist policy and negotiated directly with the colonial government something which did not go well with the other groups.

Secondly, in order to regain the initiative from Mengo, the nationalists united in the Uganda National Movement which declared a trade boycott. Only DP and Jolly Joe Kiwanuka’s faction of UNC which included Obote kept out of the movement.

The government reacted to the boycott by deporting the movement leaders. In order to fill the gap which was created, the elected members of the legislative Council (Legco) formed themselves into the Uganda Peoples Party which proved to be ineffective and through the efforts of Barbara Saben who was a member of the legco and a fan of Obote, the party joined with Obote’s faction of UNC to form the Uganda Peoples Congress with a declared anti-Buganda stance.

It was now clear that the struggle for the country’s leadership was going to be between the UPC and the DP with the neo-traditionalist playing the leadership role in Buganda, a situation that suggested that any future government would have to be a coalition with all that it portended.

DP’s Ben Kiwanuka refused to compromise with this and although the party won the elections in 1961 which were boycotted in Buganda, the party lost out at the constitutional conference in London in July 1962 at which Obote’s UPC formed an alliance with Mengo in which Mengo agreed to deliver all Buganda’s 21 MPs to UPC.

To achieve the objective of defeating DP out of power, a conspiracy to which the British government must have been a tacit player was conceived to hold another general election just before independence and to have Buganda’s MPs indirectly elected by the Lukiko which would ensure victory for UPC.

Thus, a pseudo-socialist party joined hands with a neo-traditionalist establishment to lead us into independence on the back of a conspiracy. Tragedy was only a few years away.

BY:A Good Muganda With Historical Facts.
Ham G Mukasa

Published by African Press in Norway, apn,, tel +47 932 99 739 or +47 6300 2525

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