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A review
The Baganda people
Photo credit: Uganda Tourism Centre

In his review ofProtection, Patronage or Plunder?by Apollo Nelson Makubuya, Professor Yash Tandon concurs with the author that the “Buganda Question” is an issue that would not disappear from the records of Uganda’s history, and thus needed to be candidly debated and addressed. 


I started this piece as a review of the book, but enlarged it to address a couple of important issues arising out of it. 

With eloquence, passion, and astute scholarship Makubuya makes a formidable case for treating the “Buganda Question” not as a cultural but as a political issue. He writes: “… can it be argued that Buganda has shed its political past and embraced a purely cultural status? While this matter has not been a subject of exhaustive debate within or outside Buganda, the assertion that Buganda should be apolitical cannot be justified.” Among others, he cites the authority of Professor Oloka-Onyango at Makerere University to back up his argument. (Page 438)

Makubuya adds: “We believe that the solution to [the] problem lies in a national dialogue on the Buganda, or indeed the Uganda Question.” (Page 439)

I agree with Makubuya that this question will not disappear from the annals of Uganda’s history, and therefore it has to be debated. And this is the objective of this extended review.

However, before getting into the debate let me explain where Makubuya and I come from, for these will help explain our common as well as different perspectives.

Different contexts from which Makubuya and I come and points of our agreement

Makubuya is a “political Muganda” and a palace insider who has served as the current Kabaka’s Attorney General and now the third Deputy Prime Minister (Katikiro). I have been an academic (including teaching at Makerere University from 1964 to 1972), with active involvement in the politics of liberation of Uganda –going back to my early days as a student in England—in late 1980s.

Makubuya is a Partner at MMAKS Advocates in Kampala, and works in the Corporate Advisory Team with focus on advising mining companies, banks, regional and international investors on corporate, commercial law and tax issues. I come from a Marxist background, committed to socialism and opposed to private appropriation of the labour value created by the working classes.

I won’t go further, but you will appreciate that we come from almost polar opposite of the political spectrum. Yet, and this may surprise you, we do have certain areas of political agreement.

The title of the book and the picture on the cover with black men carrying a white colonialist on wooden poles is a powerful symbolic presentation of the British colonialism. I could not have found a more powerful imagery.

Implicit in his statement that the Buganda Question is not cultural but a political issue is the underlying notion that unlike “hard” sciences (physics, chemistry, etc.), the social sciences are not free from a political and ideological bias. They are not ideologically neutral.

I agree with him that the British have used ethnicity as a means to divide and rule its vast empire, and of course Uganda is no exception.

Above all, we both agree that Uganda is still a neo-colonial state. Here is what Makubuya says: “… it is hoped that through this work, Africans in general and Ugandans in particular will come to understand more about the powerful forces of colonialism and neo-colonialism”. (Page 18)

So where are our differences? There are several, but I will focus only on two very important issues on which we disagree fundamentally. These are:

  • The Buganda Question versus the National Question, an issue that he has raised. 
  • The issue of resolving the secondary contradictions among the people of Uganda – which I have added to the debate.

The Buganda Question versus the National Question

What Makubuya calls the “Buganda Question” is part of what I call the National Question. I draw this concept primarily from the writings of Lenin who updated Marx’s writings to the era of imperialism, which Lenin describes as “the Highest Stage of Capitalism” (1917). He describes how capitalism reached a stage of imperialist colonialism in order to maximise profits from exploiting the resources of the colonised people.

We need, in our time, to go beyond Lenin. The colonised peoples fought for their independence.

However, whilst they managed to achieve political independence, they remained dominated by capitalist global corporations. Their economies were not liberated. As the first president of independent Ghana - Kwame Nkrumah - argued, our countries are still neo-colonies.

Following Nkrumah, and from the evidence we have, it is clear that Uganda is still a neo-colony of the empire; it is still subject to the laws of multilateral imperialism exercised through the agencies of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation. The Vision 2040 for Uganda promulgated by the Government in 2007 is the creation of these agencies of imperialism, not a democratic creation of the common people of Uganda.

In my forthcoming book Common People’s Uganda(2018), I say this:

“Uganda’s vision 2040 starts with the National Anthem ‘Oh Uganda! May God uphold thee, we lay our future in thy hand’. This is followed by a foreword from which I quote the first couple of paragraphs, which show that the ‘future’ is placed in the hands of the Empire, pretending to be God.”

Over the last 50 years, Uganda has made significant development progress [says the “vision”

report]. Since the mid 1980s, the economy has moved from recovery to growth…. Since 2002, the economy grew consistently at an average of 6.4 percent and has since built sufficient momentum for take-off.

I go on to show that the figure of 6.4 percent of development is a “statistical gimmick” – a camouflage of the harsh reality on the ground. A survey done by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics showed that those who paid the price of this so-called “development” are people in the rural areas, women in particular:

  • 56.7 percent of people in the survey could not afford eating their normal food;
  • Adult female members bore the brunt of food shortage: 53.1 percent of them skipped meals; 61.1 percent ate “less preferred food”; 68.3 percent reduced size of meals.

A study, released by the Equal Opportunities Commission, indicates that under the financial year 2017/18, farmers registered losses of up to 15 percent. Practically every crop suffered losses - maize, sorghum, cassava, millet, green gram, groundnuts and pineapples [[i]].

Uganda is effectively controlled by global imperial corporations. Makubuya’s “Buganda

Question” is in fact part of the bigger “National Question”, which is not yet resolved.

And yet, our neo-colonial condition is at a heighted level of contradictions between imperialism and the people. The Empire is still a reality, but it is not having an easy time. It has to rule Uganda indirectly through its comprador and state agents. The people are resisting the state. On 22 November this year, at the Moroto district council session, the Members of Parliament were assaulted; the attacker complained that the electorate demands were not met, especially on land issues. Also, Bobi Wine is not an accidental phenomenon. His strong repertoire of protest music and the politics of transition in Uganda is a sign of the times.

The Baganda are going nowhere without making a common cause with the rest of Uganda in fighting against imperialism and neo-colonialism. The “Buganda Question” boils down, politically, to the “National Question.”

The issue of resolving the secondary contradictions among the people of Uganda

Here I need to introduce a very important strategic distinction between primary and secondary contradictions that the people of Uganda face. Since these concepts do not feature in Makubuya’s study, I need to explain them.

I think the best way to explain is to draw from the historical experience of Uganda.

Makubuya recounts the resistance put up by the Kingdom of Bunyoro against the British (Pages 56-57). I need to amplify this so that the reader may put it in its proper context. I draw from my book Common People’s Uganda:

“It was one of the most powerful kingdoms in Central and East Africa from the 13th to the 19th century. Bunyoro had high quality metallurgy that enabled it to become the strongest military and economic power in the region. At its height, it controlled the Great Lakes region including the Kibiro saltworks on Lake Albert. In late 18th century the Kingdom declined, and the ivory trade led it into war with Buganda. Then came the scramble for Africa and Britain came to colonise Bunyoro. The whole dynamics changed.”

And here comes the rest of the story from which to learn the distinction between principal and secondary contradictions.

“For eight years (1891-1899) King Kabarega fought the British. He fought a guerrilla war – in an ironic twist of history, joined by King Muwanga of Buganda. Both men were captured in April 1899 and exiled to the Seychelles. Parts of Bunyoro were ceded to Buganda and Toro. These are the ‘lost counties’ of Bunyoro, which still today remain a festering sore on the body politics of Uganda”.

The most significant lesson to learn from this is that King Kabarega and King Muwanga – who were erstwhile enemies - knew who their “principal” enemy was, and they put aside their historic (now “secondary”) contradictions, to face a common enemy. This is where Makubuya lost out on something that is strategically very important. Here is the conclusion I draw from our history.

 “One of the most important messages of this book [Common People’s Uganda] is that these internal divisions are ‘secondary’ contradictions. The ‘primary’ contradiction is with the Empire. The common people of Uganda and their political leaders must unite to face the Empire. This is the lesson we learn from the Russian, the Chinese, and the Cuban revolutions - to mention three landmark revolutions of our time. The people of Uganda must resolve their secondary contradictions internally, and face the Empire, which is the principal enemy of Uganda”.

This lesson was lost, alas, by some of our compatriots with whom we had engaged in a debate in the 1970s at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Here I give a condensed version of what I recounted in detail in Part Three of my book: “Imperial reckoning and rebooting the revolution”.

[Idi] Amin’s invasion of Tanzania in October 1978 had stirred up events of historic significance. Tanzania mobilised the Tanzania Peoples Defence Force (TPDF) to repulse the attack. A number of Ugandan armed groups (some of which were already within Uganda) joined the TPDF.

In Dar es Salaam, in the meantime, [Milton] Obote – encouraged by [Julius] Nyerere - called a meeting of Ugandans to plan for the follow-up to the end of the Amin regime. Among them were Dani Nabudere and Omwony Ojwok. They came out of the meeting dissatisfied with the way Obote was handling it, more or less assuming that the next government would be formed by the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC). They reported this to us and we decided to form the Ad Hoc Committee for the Promotion of Unity among Ugandans. At its first meeting, we had representation from Fronosa (led by Yoweri Museveni), the UNM branch in Tanzania, and the Changombe Group in Dar es Salaam (led by Mahmood Mamdani). The objective of the Ad Hoc Committee was to form “a nationally united front to continue the struggle in our country”.

Mamdani and the Changombe Group tried to persuade the Ad Hoc Committee that we should first create “the unity of the left”, support those groups that had “fighting forces” within Uganda, such as the UPC and Fronosa, and ensure that the “reactionaries” (those who supported the Kabaka and the “petty and commercial bourgeoisie”) do not become “the ruling class” of Uganda. We, of course, could not accept this line. Outside of the Museveni and Mamdani factions in the Ad Hoc Committee, we decided to unite with ALL forces that could be united against the regime of Amin, which, we argued, was still the regime of imperialism.

There was another group in Nairobi - the Nairobi Discussion Group - chaired by Professor Tarsis Kabwegyere – that called a meeting to consider how to respond to Amin’s invasion. I was asked by the Dar-es-Salaam based Ad Hoc Committee to represent it at this meeting. There were about 40 of us, among them representatives from the UPC, the Uganda Human Rights Group (United Kingdom), Uganda National Organisation, and the Uganda Freedom Union (United States of America). During the discussions, the UPC-aligned compatriots challenged me. At the end, however, Kabwegyere and I were able to sway the meeting to our side. We argued that irrespective of our ideologies, we must bring together all Ugandan patriotic movements, including the “monarchists”, whom the Changombe Group had dismissed as “reactionaries”.

Some concluding thoughts

There is much to learn from Apollo Nelson Makubuya’s Protection, Patronage or Plunder?I certainly have learnt a lot. The book deserves a place in our bookshelves. But in his single-minded quest to make a case for “political Buganda”, he lost very large chunks of Uganda’s history.

The book’s subtitle is: “British Machinations and (B)Uganda’s Struggle for Independence”.

Alas, having recognised Britain as the main (principal) enemy of the people of Uganda and

Buganda, he allowed himself to be misguided by a selective recourse to archival documents and secondary literature (books and journal articles). In effect, he lost track. The result is that he missed the importance of the strategic unity of all the peoples of Uganda (no matter what their secondary contradictions) to join forces against the principal enemy – namely the globalised capitalist-imperialist forces. He missed important lessons to learn from Uganda’s history – among them the alliance that King Kabarega of Bunyoro and King Muwanga of Buganda made to put aside their “secondary” contradictions to join forces to fight against their “principal” enemy – the British.

This legacy left by Kabarega and Muwanga was later taken up by our nationalist leaders such as I. K. Musazi, Semakula Mulumba, John Kakonge, and Dani Wadada Nabudere. My own book is dedicated to these four - and countless others who fought for Uganda’s right to determine its own destiny.


* Professor Yash Tandon is from Uganda and has worked at many different levels as an academic, a teacher, a political thinker, a rural development worker, a civil society activist, and an institution builder.

Comments (1)

  • Tom R.M.M's picture
    Tom R.M.M

    Dear Professor Tash; Thanks for the good work you do. I am Ugandan-American Political Theory Development PhD (Methodology-Candidate). When I am not doing that, I am engaged in food justice activism in California, Oregon and Washington. I read yours and Joachim Buwembo's review of Makubuya's recent book. They are illuminating. Makubuya situates all raw forces that made the colonization of B/Uganda possible. He gives us a template on which to develop a big N and small n of narratives into dignity of those who do not identify as "White." Your review intrigued me when you touched on the relevance of the book in the 21st Century; the interplay of hegemony and peripheralized development centres; and like you, I put on a Marxist lens analyzing organization of labour/labor, land, production, sharing mineral resources, urbanization and other economic outcomes as forces to govern colonies. I noticed that what one writes about Buganda, can be written about say, Lango, Acholi, Roman Catholic Church, Protestant Church, Islam or individuals such as the Great Kabalega (II) . I also noticed another parallel context: that Buganda can reclaim the motivation for solid mobilization today like it was with the colonialists. Today, Buganda has that motivation not as a colony, but as an informal ethno federated state competing for resources (read: loyalty) with a formal nation/state called Uganda! I hope to read the book and give my own review too. As Uganda is seeking to be defined as a democracy one looks for such factors like its kingdoms as subunits supporting or subverting the journey to that aspiration of a democracy. The role of federated units of power in influencing development, gender equality, economy, politics and democracy is a very good theme to write about in Uganda. This will become a text for many Universities and a foil for rethinking Africa's contribution to the Western world's economic might. Thanks Professor!

    Dec 12, 2018