The Reign of Omukama Chwa II Kabalega 1870-1899

Omukama-Chwa II Kabalega

Kings of Bunyoro-Kitara had constant feuds with Ankole and Buganda and displayed a remarkable appetite for quarrelling among themselves. This led to the collapse of the kingdom mostly from around 1650 onwards. Ankole extended its frontiers at Kitara’s expense, while Busoga maintained a slippery sort of independence paying tribute now to Kitara than to Buganda, according to its shrewd estimation of where power lay. The sons of Nyamutukura proceeded to dismember what was left out of the kingdom, after complaining that their father had ruled for a long period of time. Kaboyo, the favourite prince carved out Toro where he was Saza Chief. While Princes Isagara Katiritiri and Kacope seized control of Chope in Northern Kitara and divided it among themselves. The attempt by the fourth prince Karasama Bugondo Bwamusungu to cut off his Saza of Bugungu on the eastern side of Lake Albert failed but the Omukama’s authority for some time remained ineffective. Any hope of giving the kingdom a new lease of life appeared illusory until Omukama Chwa II Kabalega( 1870-1899) made a determined bid to stop the rot. This is the major importance of Kabalega in the history of Bunyoro-Kitara and why he merits to be regarded as the greatest Omukama of Bunyoro-Kitara.

Kabalega was born in about 1850 of Mukama Kyebambe IV Kamurasi. His mother, a Muhuma lady of the Abayonza clan from Mwenge was called Kanyange Nyamutahingurwa. Kabalega spent his early days in Bulega where he and his mother had taken refugee when some rebellious Bito princes had temporarily chased his father from the throne. It is probable that this incident left a strong impression on the mind of the boy. It is believed that when he was brought back to the palace he was given the name “Akana Kabalega”, meaning a child of the Balega and this was shortened to Kabalega.

Kabalega grew up in the palace with his brother, prince Kabigumire. They played together and like all younger boys discussed their ambitions and aspirations with each other. Kabigumire’s ambition was to slaughter all his father’s servants when he became king and replace them with those of his own choice. Kabalega’s ambition was to turn these servants into soldiers. There was no point in killing them he argued. As soldiers, they could be profitably used in maintaining internal stability and in raiding neighbouring kingdoms. Moreover, successful raids would make them rich and contented.

During this period, Kabigumire and Kabalega were placed under the care of Kamihanda Omudaya, the brother of Kamurasi. He was instructed to study them and note who exhibited kingly characteristics. At the same time, he taught them court etiquette and the history of the kings of Kitara. It soon became apparent that Omudaya was impressed with Kabigumire. He found him more royal and refined in behaviour. Kabalega, on the other hand, was impulsive, headstrong, proud, opinionated and short tempered. He devoted a lot of attention to the royal cattle and the court pages. Despite the views of Kamihanda, Kamurasi named Kabalega as his successor in his will, because of his younger son’s single-mindedness, aggressive qualities and obvious interest in the people – the common people Kabalega used to chat with them and give them gifts. They adored him. But the majority of the royal family hated him. They appear to have been apprehensive of him and to have made their minds that he would never be their king.

As a young man, Kabalega was slim like his father but slightly shorter. He was about 5 feet 10 inches in height and very light in complexion. With age, however, he added a lot of weight to the extent that he is generally described as a stout man. He had sharp, big, bright eyes, a large mouth, prominent but very white teeth, the upper of which became missing in the later life. He spoke with a deep, refined voice but occasionally roared like a lion.

He had the curious mannerism of speaking with a stem countenance when in good humour and a smile when in a rage. He was extremely neat and clean and his hands were neatly kept. He was a very cheerful man and as a soldier demanded explicit obedience, strict discipline and efficiency. He was merciless towards those of his royal guards who showed no dedication of duty. He spoke these languages – Runyoro, Swahili and Arabic – and he may have also spoken Luo.

The kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara was unstable. The instability resulted into the decline of the kingdom as against the more centralized and organised kingdoms of Buganda and Ankole. Kabalega grew amidst this political instability and grasped the cause of his kingdom’s importance more than his predecessors. According to reports given by one of his sons Aramanzani Mwirumubi, Kabalega made up his mind to reassert the authority of royal power, quell dissident and rebellious elements, centralize the kingdom, undertake a policy of national reconstruction and reconciliation and restore the fortunes of the once powerful and famous empire of Kitara by reconquering the rebellious princes. In short, Kabalega had taken the task of founding a strong, united, and centralized state, modelled on these initiatives. Anyone who prevented his realization of this goal was an enemy and must be resisted.

Kabalega’s ideas would remain dreams so long as he was not a king. So he had to establish himself on the throne. This proved to be a very difficult task. In 1869, Kamurasi died. Kabigumire at once seized the body of the king. According to Nyoro custom, the prince who buried his father’s body and killed his opponent became king. Civil wars were inevitable. The chief contenders were Kabigumire and Kabalega. It was an unusual succession war because normally aristocratic support tended to be evenly balanced between the opposing candidates. This time it was different. Given the views of Kabalega regarding centralization and the subordination of the aristocracy, it was not surprising that practically all the Bito and the other important people in the kingdom supported Kabigumire who emerged as the aristocratic candidate. Only two Bito, Kabagonza and Nyaika, supported Kabalega. Of the important chiefs only Nyakamatura Nyakatura, Saza Chief of Bugahya is known to have supported him. The majority of the chiefs opposed him. Initially, his prospects of success appeared slim but soon became clear that Kabalega had the enthusiastic support of the royal guards of Kamurasi as well as that of the Bairu (common people) agriculturalists. The Arab traders divided their support between the two opponents. So, the stage was set for a bitter struggle.

Nyaika who was left by Kamurasi to look after his favourite Kabalega, sent words secretly to Kabalega asking him not to forget his father’s words and not to wait for his father’s body to be buried if he was not to be sacrificed as a mock king, (Omuragwa Ngoma). Isabalega took up the advice and travelled at night to Nyabaleba, Macunda and arrived at Ngangi. Kamihanda Omudaya and other members of the royal family who possessed the king’s body, (Omuguta), learnt of Kabalega’s disappearance from his household. They prepared for war. Kamihanda Omudaya sent a regiment commanded by Katabandaka Kigoye to find the whereabouts of Kabalega. He also sent Biremeseze bya Kikonge and Kwezi as spies to make him informed of Kabalega’s preparations for war.

A battle was fought at Kinoga and Kabalega carried the day by overwhelmingly defeating his adversaries. When Muhangi ya Nyakairu led another regiment against Kabalega, a pitched battle was fought and Kabalega defeated and killed Muhangi. Kabalega also engaged Kamihanda Omudaya who was trying to escape with the royal herd. He was arrested at Musaija Mukuru hill, Buhimba, but luckily escaped with the omuguta.

He captured a large booty of cattle. He then decided to consult Ruhanga Rwa Kyagwire for divination because Rubanga had extreme experience and reputation as the possessor of reliable spirits. Kabalega sent for help from Mukabya which he received. Mukabya sent an army commanded by Kangawo Kyegulumiza which fought along with Kabalega.

Nyaika who camped at Kasingo, befriended an Egyptian trader called Sulaiman Kirimani and sent word to Kabalega who was in Kyankwanzi. Kabigumire was at Kitaihuka. Kabalega invaded him at Buziba and in the resultant battle Kabigumire was defeated. Kabigumire escaped to Kyegayuka.

The elders, who had been exhausted by war and a long feud that had lasted six months advised Kabalega to bury his father, ascend the throne and stop fighting. Kamurasi was buried at Ngangi, Bwamiramira Gombolola, Buyanja (formerly in Buyaga county). Kabalega built at Kikangahara Kisagara. A mock King called Kabagungu was placed on the throne for nine days and was named Olimi VI. He was the Omuragwa Ngoma. He was taken to Buziba and killed. His tomb is at Buziba in Buyaga. He died instead of Kabigumire who was still on the run. Babigumire returned after mobilising a Banyankore dominated force given to him by Mutambuka the Omugabe of Ankole. Kabalega entirely wiped the alien force. Kabigumire escaped back to Ankole to seek more help. The Omugabe of Ankole refused to give him more assistance saying: “Engoma Yo Neyowanyu Nekibwa Erikate, Yamarize Abantu Baitu kandi Nosubira Tutekeyo Abandizo, Eri Nihano.”

Meaning that the Bunyoro throne had consumed many people (including Banyankole and it is still unsettled and you expect us to send in more people to be sacrificed, that is a strange expectation. Kabigumire, however, managed to return to Kitara via Bwiru, Kahanga, Rugonjo and arrived in Chope. Kabalega was at Buruko in Bugangaizi. At this time Nyaika advised Kabalega to allow his brother to rule pan of Bunyoro if he never wanted to kill him. The feud lessened peoples numbers, so if he was determined he (Kabalega) should give a spear to Nyaika to spear Kabigumire to death. Kabalega did so and Nyaika led an army together with Nyakamutura. Kabigumire was confronted and killed. Kabalega emerged victorious. He became the undisputed King of Bunyoro-Kitara, and chose the name of Chwa II Rumoma Mahanga.

Kabalega inherited a Kingdom which was crumbling. It was a period during which the European penetration into present Uganda was pressing from two directions – the East Coast and Cairo – and carried with it the seeds of imperialism.

Because Kabalega chose to re-organise his Kingdom so as to save it from internal collapse and external threat, he had little to do with the bothersome whitemen who called at his palace (Mparo). In Bunyoro-Kitara Kabalega is remembered for his political and military reforms which have only been compared to Shaka the Zulu King. In the early years of his reign, he set out to impose his new ideas and order. His opponents had either to cross to his side, flee or wait to be destroyed. Japari who had fought for Kabigumire, was praised by Kabalega for his military skill and settled down comfortably in the Kingdom.

On the other hand, those who refused to accept their reduced political role or continued to intrigue against Kabalega were either killed or escaped. Seven important Biito princes plus two of Kabalega’s sisters who had acted as spies for Kabigumire were executed at Kibwona. He established an intelligence network to check upon potential causes. In Nyoro tradition Kabalega is known as Ekituli Kyangire Abemi, he who hates the rebellious. His other praise names were: Rukolimbo Nyantalibwa Omugobe, Rwoota Mahanga.

On creation of order, he embarked on administrative reforms which were closely tied with military reforms. He reduced the power of the aristocracy which had been a thorn in the flesh of Bunyoro’s political establishment. The civil wars, succession disputes and intrigues had emanated from this faction. He appointed Army Generals as territorial chiefs. The post of the chief was made appointive rather than hereditary. Greater centralisation and efficiency ensued because all chiefs were now answerable to the King. New chiefdoms were created for able commoners and these could be promoted on merit. Below are the names, clans and villages of county chiefs who ruled during the time of Kabalega:

1. Bugahya County

Ruled by Nyakamatura rwa Nyakatura. His capital was at Kihaguzi on Kabyerya Hill and was a Mumooli by clan (bush back totem). Citizen of Kihaguzi, Bugahya.

2. Busindi County

Ruled by Bikamba rwa Kabale, his capital was at Kibwona. A Muranzi by clan (owe Nkobe in Buganda). Native of Butengesa Rugonjo. His county extended from Kasokwa Ntoma to Nyabuzarla and Kafo.

3. Bugungu or Kicwante

Ruled by Mwangarwa Kagwa. His capital at Kinywambeho Bugungu. A Mucwa (bushbuck). Bungungu citizen.

4. Chope

Ruled by Kihukya Katongole Rukidi. Had his capital at Panyadoli. Mucwa clan.

5. Kibanda Chope

Ruled by Masura rwa Mnteru, with capital at Koki. He was a Munyonza by clan, born in -Mwenge.

6. Buruli county

Now in Buganda, was ruled by Kadyebo rwa Bantawa. Capital at Kamunina Kigweri. Mugonya clan (mushroom totem). From Buruli.

7. Bunyara Bugerere

Ruled by Mutenga rwa Ikwambu. Capital al Ibale Ntenjeru. Mubiito and grandson of King Olimi I. Born in Bunyara.

8. Rugonjo Butengesa-

Ruled by Mutengesa rwa Ololo. Has his capital at Kicucu. Mubiito, grandson of King Winyi II. Native of Rugonjo.

9. Bugangaizi

Kikukule son of Runego. Capital at Kasa-Bukuumi (at the parish) Mwiruntu (Elephant totem). Native of Bugangaizi.

10. Buyaga County

Rusebe, son of Rukumba Rukira Banyoro, grand-son of Kyebambe Nyamutukura. Capital at Nkeirwe Pacwa.

11. Nyakabimba County

Ruled by Mugerwa son of Zigijja, Omubopi. Capital at Bucubya. King’s guard and protector of the royal tombs of Bunyoro. He was leader of Babiito in the region of Kyaka, Mubende, Mwenge and Buyaga. Mubopi (Lion totem). Native of Nyakabemba. His county was hereditary since the reign of Ndahura the Cwezi King who gave it to Rubumbi after he (Ndahura) had been rescued from drowning in river Muzizi.

12. Kyaka County

Ntamara, son of Nyakabwa. Had capital at Karwenyi, Munyonza. Born at Mwenge.

13. Mwenge County

Mugarura, son of Kabwijamu. Had his capital at Bugaki, Mwenge, Munyonza.

14. Toro County

Ruburwa son of Mirundi. Capital at Kamengo Kibimba, Munyonza. Born at Mwenge. He begun ruling there when Kabalega re-incorporated it into Kitara.

15. Kitagwenda

Bulemu son of Rwigi. Had capital at Kanyamburara, Mubiito. Grandson of Isansa.

16. Busongora

Rukara, son of Rwamagigi. Capital at Katwe salt place. He came from Bukidi. His clan was Muranzi.

17. Bwamba

Rukara rwa Itegeiraha. Had capital at Bironga.

A Mucwa by clan. Born in Kibanda Chope. From his enclosure was born Yosia. W. Karukara Kitehimbwa, 1887.

18. Mboga County

Now in Zaire, was ruled by Ireta rwa Byangombe, a Musaigi. His capital was at Kayera, Butuku. He was a commander of Kabalega’s regiments, known as Ekirwana, ekiporopyo, ekikweya, ekibangya and ekikube. His duty was to protect the border with Zaire. He would sometimes command in the battle and was very brave. When Mwanga fled to Bunyoro it was Ireta who met him in the forest at Biso. Ireta died in 1906.

19. Busongora Makara

Ruled by Kagambire son of Kajura Ruyumba. Had capital at Kanamba, Mulisa by clan. Born in Chope Kibanda.

20. Buzimba

Nduru son of Nyakairu, Mulisa. Had his capital at Kanyamburara. This county is now in Ankole taken in 1900.

21. Buhweju County

Ndibalema of Balisa clan. Taken to Ankole in 1900. Hereditary county of the Balisa because they were mothers to King Winyi Rubagira Masega. This arrangement survived until the end of the 19th Century, when the whiteman intervened to destroy it.

Nyoro sources unanimously assert that the greatest achievement of Kabalega was military. His major task on assuming the throne was to reform and reorganize the army which had fought so well for him during the succession war. He called his new army the Abarusura. This army was different from the traditional one known as obwesengeze. With this army, Kabalega became not only the head of state but also the commander in chief of all the Armed Forces. The institution of the Abarusura had a modem ring in it because it involved the transfer of military leadership from the Saza Chiefs to a new group of men who were professional soldiers and who took order from the King. This was a very important change in the base of political power in the land.

The army was divided into regiment/battalions each with 1500 men. Each battalion was put under the command of a royal, courageous and well trained soldier. People could become commanders irrespective of birth. That is why his force was led by the Bairu commanders such as Rwabudongo, Kikukule and Ireta. Battalions were given task names such as Ekidoka, Ekihukya, Ekiporopyo, Ekigwera, Ekikabya, Ekihabya and the like. The commanders of each of these battalions were appointed from their respective battalions. This was different from the traditional Army ‘obwesengeze’, which consisted volunteers from each province of the Kingdom and were commanded by their respective provincial chiefs. These were in most cases Biito princes and were not directly responsible to the King. The political and military implications which these two systems of recruitment bore on the strength of the Kingdom can be understood. The regimental system of which Kabalega introduced meant that the Abarusura was a state army which derived its powers from the King . It suited the centralised political system which he had introduced. While the volunteer system which operated before, made provincial chiefs to be semi-autonomous. These provincial chiefs hardly took orders from the King. That is why secessionism and intrigues had retarded the political development of Bunyoro-Kitara for a long time and had almost led to her collapse by the middle of the 19th Century.

However, by 1890 Bunyoro was a power to reckon with in the whole of the interlacustrive region. It had conquered Toro and subdued all other provinces which attempted to secede such as chope and Bugungu. It posed as a potential threat to Buganda and Nkore which through centuries had gradually extended their borders at its expense. With the administrative and military reforms, Omukama Kabalega had-consolidated his power and rallied all his people together. The Kingdom of Bunyoro Kitara became once united and all elements of rebellion and intrigue which had existed were curbed out.

With internal peace, any form of development takes off and it was the case in Bunyoro-Kitara during Kabalega’s reign, particularly in the field of economic-development. After the session of Toro, Bunyoro had lost the vast salt resources of Lake Katwe and Kasenyi. With internal instability its own salt working industry had declined. When Kabalega re-organized the Kingdom and installed hope and confidence into his people, the human and natural resources were utilized to the full. Toro which had been re-conquered in 1870 and the salt works at Katwe and Kasenyi coupled with those of Kibiro earned the Kingdom the capacity of supplying salt throughout the interlacustrine region. The iron working industry revived and Bunyoro became the main supplier of hoes to all areas north of the Lake Kyoga. In fact some accounts reveal that regular markets were established along the northern shores of Lake Kyoga. Bunyoro market masters were appointed to run these markets. The markets were established purposely to trade in Bunyoro hoes, which would be exchanged for foodstaffs from the neighbouring region.

Equally so, the salt markets which had been in operation before Kabalega were re-organised, and many were established to trade in salt and other products throughout the kingdom. Kabalega did not only encourage internal trade but also stimulated external trade. The old slave trade was replaced by the ivory trade and Bunyoro benefited from having two exits to the international market. Bunyoro’s ivory could be exported either through Cairo or the East African coast. Ivory was exchanged for guns and ammunition, brought by Khartoumers and Swahili Arab traders. Unlike the salt and iron trade which was an occupation of the peoples, ivory trade was the King’s preserve. All the ivory throughout the Kingdom would be collected and brought to the king’s palace. It would be traded there. Since it was exchanged for guns and ammunition, the concentration of its sale at the King’s palace was intended to prevent lawlessness in the Kingdom. Also they never wanted ivory to be smuggled to the neighbouring areas without the King’s notice.

Kabalega introduced the public works system (oruharo), in order to rehabilitate what had been destroyed during the war. People could work on state farms for production of food like millet. The surplus food would be stored in underground granaries, ‘enguli’. The stored food would be used during times of famine.

Kabalega was very much concerned with problems of national unity and reconciliation. He urged his people to pull together and work together towards a common destiny. He used the Ganda threat to appeal for unity as the following song sung by a Murusura in front of Kabalega testifies:

I own goats and the Ganda
Are planning to come over and
size them. The Ganda are vowing to
help each other and fight. When the Ganda
come over, we should aid each other;
we should love each other.
I, the omurusura of omukama,
By your highness, I will have to do
something -1 swear, I will beat them off.
I vow to die with his Highness.

There were many similar songs devoted to the theme of national unity and reconciliation. Indeed Kabalega was a remarkable nation builder.

He encouraged intermarriages between the three historical social groups of Bunyoro, to forge greater unity. Kabalega set the fashion where he married a Mwiru lady. She was called Achanda (affectionately remembered by her family as Elizabeth). She hailed from the Ritwanga village of Chope (now Kibanda county). It is worth nothing that Achanda’s family had refused to identify themselves with Mupina’s rebellion and had migrated southwards. Kabalega met her at Bugahya Hoima and made her his Queen. He rewarded her parents with presents including servants. Altogether Kabalega had 150 wives and 150 children. They came from all groups and according to oral evidence they were all beautiful.

Whether or not Kabalega was completely successful in his efforts at national reconciliation is difficult to tell. But what is certain is that during his period there were no rebellions. The country enjoyed peace and stability. This equilibrium was upset by the Anglo-Ganda combination against Bunyoro in the 1890’s.

Kabalega’s great power and influence gave his people that self-confidence and pride in them selves which they had not known for some generations past. To all Banyoro, he was a focal point and a symbol of unity.

With the Abarusura Army of 10 main battalions (bitongole) each between 1,000 and 2,000 men and 5 minor (Bitongole), each between 400 and 500 strong, all stationed in strategic positions inside the kingdom and on the borders of the Kingdom, Kabalega felt he was in position to fulfill yet another of his ambition namely to regain if not all of the former Bacwezi, empire. The change of events at the time, however, worked against him. He attempted without success to play a role of broker in the Buganda civil war. Moreover his name had been spoilt on the European side by reports of Baker and Stanley.


Europeans, as mentioned before, first came to Bunyoro during the reign of Kamurasi. Speke and Grant, the first two Europeans were given a warm welcome by Kamurasi and when they were going away he sent along some people (messengers to look after them until they reached his boundary). These were followed by Samuel Baker in 1864. He came back in 1872. When he returned, he was no longer a private explorer, but Sir Samuel Baker, the Governor – General of the Equatoria Province. He had been appointed by Khedive Ismail of Egypt to fulfill for him his imperial ambitions in the Sudan and northern Uganda. By 1872 Baker had already established his headquarters at Gondokoro and was carrying the Egyptian flag and commanding an Egyptian Army. Baker understood northern Uganda to include the whole of Bunyoro and hence part of the Equatorial province. He was to annex it formally. When he arrived to annex the territory, he found that his friend Kamurasi had died and it was his son Kabalega in control of the Kingdom.

The relations between Bunyoro and the governor rapidly deteriorated. In 1872 he (Baker) publicly annexed Kabalega’s country to the Egyptian Empire. The young monarch was now fully convinced that his fears were justified. He attacked Baker’s garrison at Masindi …

Forced to withdraw ignominiously to northern Uganda, Baker published, in 1874, his Ismaili in which, in an attempt to justify his failure he deliberately poisoned his countrymen’s minds against Kabalega and his Kingdom.1

It was from that angle in time that the imperialists conception of Bunyoro hostility to themselves was accepted for a fact and British officials attitude to Bunyoro came to be conditioned against this background. Kabalega never wrote his own version of the events, but even if he had done so, his would be side stepped as that of a native against the whiteman’s version. Therefore, without exaggeration Baker’s most remarkable achievement in Uganda was the creation of lasting misunderstanding between Bunyoro and the British officials. The consequences and importance of this clearly unfolds and becomes apparent as the story progresses.

Contrary to what Baker reported and according to reports given by Birigirwa Kabonerwa, the jester to King Kabalega and Jardeen Omubali (soldier in casati’s Army), Kabalega had no enemity against Europeans, as long as his independence was kept intact. In the reports Kabonerwa and Omubali made to King Sir Tito Winyi, it is stated that when Baker returned to Bunyoro on the 25th April, 1872 Kabalega was very happy to see the friend of his late father back again. He showed every hospitality to him. He had no doubt that Baker would extend his friendship to him and hoped to remain on peaceful terms. Kabalega was not barring his people to go to foreign lands or of sending some of his people to Egypt to acquire new knowledge.

In doing this, Kabalega was being assisted by an Arab Mr. Ebrahim (known in Bunyoro as Burahi). He had stayed in Bunyoro, since Kamurasi’s times. Burahi had already understood Baker and Khadive Ismail’s intentions on Bunyoro. So Burahi sent word to Kabalega that Baker had planned to add Bunyoro to the Egyptian Empire. That is why he came with a powerful Army to fight the King if he tried to resist his will. Burahi also advised Kabalega to be careful when talking and not to put up a fight against Baker because the latter had a very superior Army. The Arab advised Kabalega that if ever Baker gives you a pistol with its muzzle pointing at you, do not lake it from his hands. He will have loaded it, so that you might shoot yourself. Ask him to place it down first. Kabalega kept all these things in heart and watched.



When Baker came, Kabalega watched him and found that he was pursuing the same plan that Burahi had mentioned. Kabalega adhered to the Arabs advice, without showing any sign that he knew Baker’s plans. Generous as he was, he went on to give food and heads of cattle for meat to Baker’s soldiers. This act of generosity forced Baker’s soldiers to disclose their master’s intentions on Kabalega. The soldiers were of Bari, Bagingo and Bameka tribes. What they disclosed was exactly what Kabalega had learnt earlier. Kabalega had already given orders that wherever in the country Sir Samuel Baker and his lady passes, people should help them as best as they can by feeding them, their people and so on, until they reach him.

A few days afterwards. Baker who had been lodged near the King’s palace (600 yards away), sent to the King that he should order for the gathering of all his people because he (Baker) had an important message to deliver. This was at Bulyasojo (Masindi 1872). The King then passed the information to the chiefs. All chiefs, subchiefs and heads of clans and other personalities gathered together in a big council. The King came and informed the people that Baker had asked him to call all the people for an important message. The King then sent for Baker to come and say what he wanted to say. Samuel Baker came with all his soldiers stood on guard outside while he entered into the council hall. When he entered, he proclaimed that, the Kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara was under the Equatorial administration, and therefore the King and his people were subjects of Egypt. In this instance, he never declared that Bunyoro was to be put under her majesty’s Empire but just mentioned that it was under the Egyptian government.

The chiefs, in return asked Baker whether there were to be two Kings in Bunyoro. Baker could not respond. He instead ordered his soldiers to hoist the Egyptian flag and put down the Bunyoro-Kitara flag. The King sent a messenger Mbogo Omumizi (the interpreter) to Baker to ask him to explain what all this meant. He ordered him to ask Baker that if there was any change in the Kingdom Baker should call him and his advisers and agree to the change, or he should come and discuss the matter with him, or if he could not come, he should ask the King to go to him (Baker) together with his advisers to discuss the matter and make it clear to every body, showing the reason why Bunyoro was to be added to Sudan and the Equatorial administration. But Samuel Baker could not send any reply and for this reason the King sent the messenger to him again that he and his advisers might see Baker. Baker insisted that only the King was to see him. According to the customs of Bunyoro, the King could not move alone. He had to move with his servants. When Baker saw them, he could not let the chiefs in, but only the King. The King refused to enter the lent unless he was allowed to go in with his chiefs. He knew what Baker was all about. Then Baker rebuked the King saying: “What a proud little child you arc.” The King replied, “I am a king and you call me a child”.

But Mrs. Baker begged her husband to let them in and Baker accepted. When they had sat down. Baker brought a loaded pistol and handed it to the King with the muzzle pointing to him (Kabalega). Kabalega refused to take it and instead asked Baker to place it on the ground, from where he would pick it. Baker’s intention in this plan was to ensure that if Kabalega handled the pistol with a muzzle pointing to his direction, he would touch the trigger and shoot himself.

When Kabalega had picked it he observed that it was loaded. Baker, on realising that Kabalega had unfolded his intentions, he pretended that he had forgotten and handed loaded pistol to the King. Besides that Baker’s soldiers had already started committing many acts of annoyance to the people in order to provoke war against Kabalega. They entered chiefs enclosures and raped their wives. They looted properly and forced Kitara men into sodomy with them. These unbearable acts were reported to the King and the King requested Baker to prevent his soldiers from doing such things. This he did not do. Still trying to find out whether Baker was for peace or war, Kabalega again sent his usual messenger Mbogo Omumizi to establish whether an agreement was to be made or not. Baker just arrested and executed Mbogo at once. When the King heard that Mbogo had been executed, he sent another messenger called Bagunywa to ask why his messenger was killed. He met Baker on the way coming to attack Kabalega. Bagunywa did his best to tell Baker what the King had sent him for, but no success was met. A man who had accompanied Bagunywa rushed immediately and informed the King of the forthcoming Baker’s attacks. Although Kabalega had heard the attack he did not prepare for war at once. But his chiefs advised him to leave the palace, which he did. He left one of his chiefs Bikamba s/o Kabale to wait and ask Baker why he came to attack him when he was not prepared to go to war. Baker did not listen to Bikamba.

Bikamba was about to be put to death had he not escaped cunningly. He set fire on the palace and burnt down everything before him. The King’s granaries were all destroyed. When the people were annoyed beyond measure, they decided to attack the foreigner who had burnt down their King’s palace and waged war against an innocent King.

Baker escaped into northern Uganda. The King’s soldiers who delayed to surround his camp hoped that Baker after destroying the palace kept inside his tent. Two days after wailing in vain for him to come out, they decided to go in but found none. Because of the emptiness, the battle was coined, ‘Ekya Muleju Baligota Isansa,’ meaning that to fight Baker you will fight nothing.

When he was fleeing, he passed via Chope to Gulu where he established a fort. There he remained and ordered for the reinforcement so that he could go back and fight Kabalega. He prepared the second attack because he had promised Ruyonga that he would overthrow Kabalega and put him on the throne. This proved to be very difficult for him to fulfill. Ruyonga county chief and appointee of Kabalega had told lies to Baker that he had been King of Bunyoro, but Kabalega had deposed him.

In 1876, another European, colonel Gordon replaced Baker as Governor of the Equatorial. He established his forts in Buruli near River Kafo. Gordon’s knowledge of Kabalega was solely and absolutely obtained from Baker’s reports – the worst possible source by any standard. He put soldiers in the fort. His chief commander was called Nuahr Aga. This caused a great deal of anxiety to the omukama and the people because it was done without the knowledge of the King. During the same year Gordon brought Nubian soldiers and established forts in Bunyoro at Bugungu, Kibyama, Kisuga near Masindi. All these were provocative acts but the King decided not fight.

In 1878 Gordon was succeeded by another curious and complex German Doctor, Emin Pasha. Emin Pasha got on well with Kabalega. He seemed not to have swallowed Baker’s reports wholesale. He spoke highly of Kabalega:

Kabalega is cheerful, laughs readily and much, talks a great deal and does not appear to be bound by ceremony the exact opposite to Mutesa the conceited ruler of B Uganda. He is thoroughly hospitable and intelligent.2

However Emin Pasha, further observed that Kabalega was suspicious of all Europeans, an observation which was accurate because Kabalega had already understood the intentions of Europeans on his country. The Europeans had to look for a pretext to attack Kabalega, because Kabalega was a powerful ruler in East Africa whose power would render the establishment of colonial rule in the region very difficult.


The next phase in the Anglo-Bunyoro relations opened in 1890 following the arrival of captain Fredrick .F. Lugard, the representative of the Imperial British East African Company (I.B.E.A.). He arrived in Buganda on 18th December 1890. He was sent by the British government to secure control of Buganda by means of an agreement and extend the territorial claims of the IBEA Co. to the west of Buganda. Lugard who had Baker’s reports in mind, got further prejudiced against Kabalega when the Baganda informed him that Kabalega was a very hostile King, who never welcomed foreigners and hated Europeans. They misrepresented Kabalega in the eyes of Europeans. From Lugard’s own writing, it is exposed that he never considered the possibility of negotiating with Kabalega, the latter was irrevocably cast as villain of peace. He regarded Kabalega as having lost any claim to indulgence.

In 1891, Lugard moved towards western Uganda, hoping to raise more troops to defend his company. He left Captain Williams in charge of Kampala. When he reached Ankole, he signed a treaty with the Omugabe Ntare on 1/7/1891. This was because he believed Nkore was of strategic value, since some of the arms reaching Kabalega were ferried through Nkore.

The arrival of Lugard in Toro proved a great tragedy for Kabalega. Lugard destroyed Kabalega’s forces at Muhokya, Katooke and Butanuka. On 15th August 1891, he restored Kasagama. He had moved along with him from Buganda where Kasagama had been a refugee. After a treaty of protection, Lugard continued to Kavalli at the southern tip of Lake Albert. At Kavalli, Lugard’s forces armed with modem weapons found it easy to beat an unprepared force of Kabalega. Kabalega was expelled from Toro and a line of forts was built along the Toro-Bunyoro border, purposely to stop Kabalega from reinvading Toro. Kabalega did not keep quiet but kept on attacking the British Forts. He interrupted communications and stopped the British from getting the necessary supplies.

When Lugard returned to Britain and Portal came in, a policy of withdrawing forces from Toro Forts was pursued. This gave chance to Kabalega to invade Toro and expel the British puppet Kasagama. Kasagama was chased by Ireta and Rwabudongo into the foothills of the Rwenzori mountains. Owen the British officer was compelled to evacuate Toro.

Unfortunately Portal was succeeded by Macdonald and Colonel Colville who discarded Portal’s policy. These officers were determined to restore British prestige wherever possible and silence men like Kabalega. Macdonald concluded that a full scale invasion of Bunyoro and the subjugation of Kabalega was the only way open for British influence to be secured in the region. Owen was instructed to prepare for the invasion of Bunyoro after Colville himself was convinced that nothing short of a military expedition could pacify Bunyoro into accepting British supremacy.

When the British had spread their military preparedness, military invasion of Bunyoro was accordingly planned to be undertaken with the help of Baganda. In 1893, Colville issued an ultimatum to Kabalega notifying him that: Unless in the meantime, you send me guarantee for your good conduct in future and substantial indemnity for damage done in the past, I and my army would cross your frontier within 21 days of the date of writing.

Kabalega never sent a reply and in December 1893, Colville invaded Bunyoro with a force of eight European officers, 400 Sudanese and 1,500 Baganda. Kabalega who would have stayed more serious resistance made a mistake and divided his force into four scattered divisions. He was forced to abandon his capital Mparo and retreated to Budongo forest to organise his forces. In his retreat, he was so tactical enough that he did not offer Colville any chance of a pitched battle Colville had thought. He however, slipped back towards Mparo and fought the Anglo-Ganda force at Kisabagwa. He was chased to Kisindizi, then to Kibanda. Having realised that Kabalega could not easily be captured Colville decided to divide the kingdom into portions, so that Kabalega could be confined to the norther portion. The Barusura who had been forced to get scattered, started to resist in hide-outs under Kabalega’s distant leadership.

Although Kabalega had been chased out of Bunyoro into Lango, he started a guerilla warfare in which he continuously attacked British forts. In 1895, Kabalega slipped back to Bunyoro and attacked the British at Kijunjubwa near Masindi. It is estimated that he beat a twenty-thousand British-Ganda-Nubian strong force in which one British officer by the name of Dunning was slain. The British led troops were forced to return to Hoima for re-organisation. The return of Kabalega encouraged all those enemies of Britain to gather and fight Mwanga of Buganda too joined Kabalega and was met at Biiso by Ireta.

However, in the battle which ensued Kabalega was attacked by the British at a place called Harukungu, in which many people were killed. Among those who died were two of Kabalega’s brothers and many of his sons. Prince Karukara, the Queen mother Kanyange Nyamutahingurwa and princes Victoria Mukabagabo were taken into captivity.

Kabalega continued his guerilla warfare throughout 1897. In 1898, he returned to Northern Bunyoro and the British post at Hoima was destroyed. Mwanga who had joined Kabalega to fight against British colonialism, split his forces into three groups; the first was dispersed in north Ankole, the second in southwest Bunyoro and the third in the region of Kijunjuba. Ireta deployed his forces between Budongo forest and Fajao and Jasi moved his force from Foweira towards Masindi port. A number of minor engagements took place.

Between June and July, 1898 the 27th Bombay Light Infantry Force rigorously patrolled northern Bunyoro and cleared the area of Ireta and Kikukule’s forces. Fajao and Foweira were re-occupied. Ireta and Kikukule were confined to the east bank of the Nile. Kitahimbwa, son of Kabalega, who had been imposed as a new Omukama by the British travelled to Masindi in September, accompanied by Lewin of the Church Missionary Society, and Thomas Senfuna a Muganda Evangilist, where they established a church of reeds and grass. Senfuna was left to continue with missionary work in Masindi while Lewin returned to Bulemezi. At this lime, Bunyoro was truly in pitiful state. War had been followed by plague, pestilence and famine. The food supply of the country was perilously near starvation level. Cultivation had almost ceased.

In October 1898, Kabalega’s forces crossed the Nile from Lango into Buganda and ambushed a patrol in north Buruli. Reinforcements later dispersed them and they retreated towards the Bugoma forest.

Columns operated in southwest Bunyoro until December when Ireta was attacked in the Budongo forest by the British. By January 1899 most of Kabalega’s forces had given up themselves and it was estimated that only thirty remained on the west bank and seventy on the east bank of the Nile.

The end was almost near. In March 1899, Lt. Col. Evatts moved into Lango to discover where Kabalega was and break up the resistance. When Kabalega realised that Evatts had crossed, he re-organised a strong rear guard to resist him. He was assisted by chief Adora of Lango. Mwanga, whom they had fled together, realised that things were worsening and suggested to Kabalega to surrender, but Kabalega answered: Everything has its own time appointed; a woman travelling with a child reaches a time of deliverance; so does a cow; the banana is planted and takes root; but when it arrives at fruition, it must fall; and now we have reached the hour of our fate; and if so be that our appointed time to die has come, let us not be faint-hearted.

On 9th April, 1899 the two leaders were discovered at Oyom near Kangai in Dokolo county of Lango where they were driven into a swamp by Evatts troops. Kabalega, although, he had an infection of the eyes, resisted courageously. He was only forced to drop his gun after bullets struck his right arm and his left hand thumb. After his capture, Kabalega persuaded his son Duhaga to tear the bandages from his injured arm so that he might bleed to death in order to fulfill the Kinyoro tradition that an incapacitated Mukama should die. But the attempt was frustrated. Eventually the arm had to be amputated. Kabalega and Mwanga were taken to Kismayu and later to the Seychelles, where Mwanga died in 1903. Kabalega spent 23 years in exile and was guarded by a British officer and local constables. He learnt to read and write and was Baptized John. By Baptism and literacy, the British thought that this could be – potential weapons by which they would reconcile their adversary to the new colonial subjection. Kabalega died in 1923 at about 70 years of age while on his way back to Bunyoro. His death paralysed the Banyoro. Every activity came to a standstill and laughter at that time was considered a national insult. His body was brought and buried at Mparo (Royal Village) where an imposing grass structure protects his grave. Although the Europeans boast that even Kabalega passed through the ritual of colonialism, the ritual was not entirely effective since he requested that no European type of roofing should ever be used to cover his corpse.