The Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom of Uganda
Dr George Reiff*
Like there are monarchies on provicinal level in Malaysia (the sultans and their sultanates), in the United Arab Emirates (the emirs and their emirates), there are also the Kings of Uganda who rule the four constituting kingdoms on regional level. This article here is about the oldest kingdom of Uganda – the Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom.
The people of Bunyoro are known as Nyoro or Banyoro (singular: Munyoro); Banyoro means ‘People of Bunyoro’. The language spoken is Nyoro, also known as Runyoro. Traditional economies revolved around big game hunting of elephants, lions, leopards, and crocodiles, but the Banyoro are now agriculturalists who cultivate bananas, millet, cassava, yams, cotton, tobacco, coffee, and rice.
Originally, the Banyoro were organized in clan-like structures of which the royal clan of the Kings, princes and princesses was dominant. The Omukama, i.e King (literally: Supreme Milk Giver) held executive, judiciary and legislative power. The King’s subjects ensured that their King lacked nothing economically. Clans would bring food stuffs (Ebihotole) in turn and each clan had a specific duty to perform. For example, Abaliisa clan members minded the Kings cattle (Enkorogi), the Abahamba clan were hunters and the King’s body guards (Abakumirizi), the Abasiita clan were artisans and craftsmen, and the Bayaga clan provided the King’s chief entertainers.
Politically, the King had absolute authority over his subjects. He appointed county chiefs (Abamasaza) to administer each county. Below them were sub county chiefs (Abagomborozi) who were sub-county administrators who received reports from parish chiefs (Abemiruka) and sub-parish chiefs (Abatongole). At the grass root level were the village chiefs (Bakuru b’emigongo). Via this hierarchical arrangement the king’s messages reached the people extremely quickly. In modern times, the office of Prime Minister (Omuhikirwa/Katiikiro) was established to head the civil service of the Kingdom. All county chiefs report to him and he in turn reports to the King.
The Kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara was established following the collapse of the Empire of Kitara in the 16th century. The founding fathers of Kitara were known as the Batembuzi people. They were later succeeded by the Bachwezi. At its height, Bunyoro-Kitara controlled almost the entire region between Lake Victoria, Lake Edward, and Lake Albert.
THE BATEMBUZI DYNASTY
The first kings were of the Batembuzi dynasty. Batembuzi means ‘harbingers’ or ‘pioneers’. The Batembuzi and their reign are not well documented. All that we know of them is derived from myths and oral legends, so there is little concurrence among scholars regarding the Batembuzi time period in history, even the names and successive order of individual kings is in dispute. The number of individual Batembuzi reigns, as given by different scholars, ranges from nine to twenty one. It is believed that their reign dates back to the height of Africa’s Bronze Age.
THE BACHWEZI DYNASTY
The Bachwezi are credited with the founding of the ancient empire of Kitara, which included areas of present day central, western, and southern Uganda; northern Tanzania, western Kenya, and eastern Congo. Little is documented about this people; their entire reign is shrouded in mystery. So much so that they were accorded the status of demi-gods and worshipped by various clans.
The Bachwezi Dynasty must have been short; only three names of kings are documented by historians: Ndahura, Mulindwa and Wamara, in that order. In addition to founding the empire of Kitara, the Bachwezi are credited with the introduction of the unique, long horned Ankole cattle, coffee growing, iron smelting, and the first semblance of organized and centralized government under the king.
No one knows exactly what happened to the Bachwezi but there is no shortage of colorful legend with regard to their disappearance. One legend claims that they migrated westward and disappeared into Lake Albert. Another legend has them disappearing into lake Wamala, which bears the name of the last king of the dynasty. There is a popular belief among scholars that they simply got assimilated into the indigenous populace and are, today, tribal groups like the Bahima of Ankole and the Batutsi of Rwanda.
THE BABIITO DYNASTY
The Bachwezi dynasty was followed by the Babiito dynasty of the current Omukama of Bunyoro-Kitara. Any attempt to pinpoint the dates of this, or any other dynasty before it, is pure conjecture; as there were no written records at the time. Modern day historians place the beginning of the Babiito dynasty at around the time of the invasion of Bunyoro by the Luo from the North. The first Mubiito (singular) king was Isingoma Mpuga Rukidi I, whose reign is placed around the 14th century. To date, there have been a total of 27 Babiito kings of Bunyoro-Kitara.
The Bunyoro-Kitara economy greatly hinged on agriculture carried on using traditionally made hoes. Barter trade was common. The Banyoro were able to supply food to neighbouring communities because the fertile soils they occupied produced a surplus above that required for home consumption.
The people along Lake Albert known as the Bagungu were fishermen. Some communities were hunters using locally made nets, knives and spears to kill small animals. Bigger animals were killed using well dug deep pits (Obuhya). Fish and/or dried meat (Omukaro) were commonly exchanged for other food stuffs.
The Abanyakibiro got their living through the exchange of salt and fish. Salt processing in Kibiro is still going on today. The Banyoro also produced items made of wood, hides and skins, palm and sisal, iron and stone, pottery and mud. Such things were sold or exchanged for other needed items.
The Banyoro basically rose to power by controlling a number of holy shrines in the region and the lucrative Kibiro saltworks of Lake Albert. They also had the highest quality of metallurgy in the region. By this means Bunyoro became the strongest military and economic power in the Great Lakes region.
Bunyoro’s problems began in the late eighteenth century with internal divisions and the coming of English Colonialism. With the help of the English, the Kingdom of Buganda seized the Kooki and Buddu regions from Bunyoro at the end of the century. In the 1830s, the large province of Toro separated, claiming much of the lucrative salt works.
By the mid-nineteenth century Bunyoro was a far smaller state, though it was still wealthy due to the income generated from controlling the ivory trade route that led over Lake Victoria and connected with the Indian Ocean. Following a protracted war between the Buganda people and the Banyoro, the capital was moved from Masindi to the less vulnerable Mparo. Following the death of Omakuma Kyebambe III, the region experienced a period of political instability with two Omakumas ruling at the same time.
In July 1890 an agreement was enforced by the English whereby the entire region north of Lake Victoria was given to Great Britain and vast portions of land were placed under Buganda rule. In 1894 Great Britain declared the region its protectorate but, in alliance with the Buganda, King Chwa Kabalega of Bunyoro resisted these efforts until 1899 when Kabelega was captured and exiled to the Seychelles and Bunyoro was annexed to the British Empire. Because of their resistance another portion of the Bunyoro Kingdom’s territory was given to Buganda and Toro. This led to the country being put under the governance of Bugandan administrators. The Banyoro revolted in 1907 but the revolt was put down. The region remained loyal to Great Britain in World War I and, as a result, a new agreement was made in 1934 giving the region more autonomy.
Uganda gained independence from Britain in 1962. The first post-independence election held that year resulted in an alliance between the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) and Kabaka Yekka (KY). The first post-independence government elected Milton Obote as executive Prime Minister, the Buganda Kabaka (King) Edward Mutessa II held the position of President and William Wilberforce Nadiope, the Kyabazinga (Paramount Chief) of Busoga, was Vice President. Thus, the traditional Kingdoms of Uganda where a vital part of the Constitution of 1962; they held a similar status at provincial level (Federo) to the Emirates in the United Arab Emirates and the Sultanates in Malaysia. However, this political marriage of convenience quickly soured and in 1964 Obote promoted a Bill providing for a referendum in the Buganda counties of Buyaga and Bugangazzi. This led to those counties seceding from Buganda and reverting to Bunyoro.
THE CONSTITUTION OF UGANDA (1962)
The following extracts from the Ugandan Constitution of 1962 are relevant:
- (1) Uganda consists of Federal States, Districts and the territory of Mbale.(2) The Federal States are the Kingdom of Buganda, the Kingdom of Ankole, the Kingdom of Bunyoro, the Kingdom of Toro and the territory of Busoga.(3) The Districts are the Districts of Acholi, Bugisu, Bukedi, Karamoja, Kigezi, Lango, Madi, Sebei, Teso and West Nile.
- [This section came into effect on lst January, 1965].
(1) Subject to the provisions of subsection (2) and (3) of this section, each of the territories mentioned in section 2 of this Constitution shall comprise those parts of the former Protectorate of Uganda that on the 8th day of October 1962, were comprised in that territory.
(2) The territory of the Kingdom of Buganda shall comprise those counties of the Kingdom of Buganda that on the 8th day of October 1962 were comprised in that territory, excluding the county of Buyaga and the county of Bugangazzi.
(3) The territory of the Kingdom of Bunyoro shall comprise the counties of the Kingdom of Bunyoro which on the 8th day of October 1962 were comprised in that Kingdom, with the addition of the county of Buyaga and the county of Bugangazzi.
(4) The boundaries of the county of Buyaga, as now forming part of the Kingdom of Bunyoro, shall be those of the county of Buyaga when this county formed part of the Kingdom of Buganda on the 8th day of October 1962.
(5) The boundaries of the county of Bugangazzi, as now forming part of the Kingdom of Bunyoro, shall be those of the county of Bugangazzi, when that county formed part of the Kingdom of Buganda on the 8th day of October 1962.
(6) For the avoidance of doubts, it is hereby declared that the boundaries of the Kingdom of Buganda and of the Kingdom of Bunyoro shall be respectively as set out in Part I and Part II of Schedule 11 to this Constitution.
- (3) The provisions set out in Schedule 3 of this Constitution shall have effect in the Kingdom of Bunyoro.
THE CRISIS OF 1966
As a result of competition between the federal and the provincial governments a deep political crisis arose in Uganda in the early part of 1966. The events surrounding this struggle for power culminated in the Ugandan Army under Colonel Idi Amin’s command attacking the palace of the King of Buganda, the late Kabaka Fredrick Walugembe Muteesa II on May 24th 1966. Kabaka Fredrick was able to elude capture and with the help of several loyal supporters he escaped into exile. This was the starting point for the state to deliberately and systematically turn its armed forces against their own people.
There was widespread corruption at various levels of government. Milton Obote was said to have taken part in the smuggling of gold, ivory and coffee from Zaire (the Republic of the Congo) with the collaboration of Idi Amin. On February 4, 1966; Mr. Daudi Ochieng, a KY monarchist member of parliament, introduced a bill calling for a commission of inquiry into these activities and the suspension of Idi Amin until such inquiry was completed. Obote’s response and retribution came on February 22, when he had five of his cabinet ministers (Ibingira, Magezi, Lumu, Kirya and Ngobi) arrested and held without trial; he suspended the constitution also and assumed all executive powers. On February 26, rather than suspend him, Obote appointed Amin as his army commander. On March 3, Obote dismissed the President and Vice-President and assumed the functions of the Presidency. On April 15, the constitution was abrogated formally during a parliamentary session in which Obote was surrounded by troops. A Revolutionary constitution was adopted by MPs who had not even seen it beforehand let alone debated its contents.
In September 1967, Obote imposed a new Republican constitution on the nation, and declared himself President without calling an election. All kingdoms were abolished formally in the new constitution.
The events of 1966 unleashed a repressive regime which in turn spawned an army coup in 1971 led by Amin. The killings and terror that were perpetrated against the Kingdoms in 1966 now extended to other parts of Uganda.
THE KINGDOMS RECOGNISED
Yoweri Kaguta Museveni’s became President of Uganda on January 26th 1986. He had been strongly involved in the war that deposed Idi Amin in 1979, and the rebellion that subsequently led to the demise of the Milton Obote regime in 1985. In 1993 Museveni re-instated the traditional Kingdoms of Uganda; most commentators consider this ‘a thank you’ response for the support the kingdoms rendered him and his troops during the war. The 1995 constitution formally re-instated the traditional Kingdoms and their Kings, and by this means Museveni brought relative stability and economic growth to a country that had endured decades of mismanagement, rebellion and civil war.
THE CONSTITUTION OF UGANDA, 1995
Institution of Traditional/Cultural Leaders
- (1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the institution of traditional leader or cultural leader may exist in any area of Uganda in accordance with the culture, customs and traditions or wishes and aspirations of the people to whom it applies.(2) In any community, where the issue of traditional or cultural leader has not been resolved, the issue shall be resolved by the community concerned using a method prescribed by Parliament.(3) The following provisions shall apply in relation to traditional leaders or cultural leaders:
(a) The institution of traditional leader or cultural leader shall be a corporation with perpetual succession and with capacity to sue and be sued and to hold assets or properties in trust for itself and the people concerned;
(b) Nothing in paragraph (a) shall be taken to prohibit a traditional leader or cultural leader from holding any asset or property acquired in a personal capacity;
(c) A traditional leader or cultural leader shall enjoy such privileges and benefits as may be conferred by the Government and local government or as that leader may be entitled to under culture, custom and tradition;
(d) Subject to paragraph (c) of this clause, no person shall be compelled to pay allegiance or contribute to the cost of maintaining a traditional leader or cultural leader;
(e) A person shall not, while remaining a traditional leader or cultural leader, join or participate in partisan politics;
(f) A traditional leader or cultural leader shall not have or exercise any administrative, legislative or executive powers of Government or local government.
(4) The allegiance and privileges accorded to a traditional leader or cultural leader by virtue of that office shall not be regarded as a discriminatory practice prohibited under article 21 of this Constitution; but any custom, practice, usage or tradition relating to a traditional leader or cultural leader which detracts from the rights of any person as guaranteed by this Constitution, shall be taken to be prohibited under that article.
(5) For the avoidance of doubt, the institution of traditional leader or cultural leader existing immediately before the coming into force of this Constitution shall be taken to exist in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.
(6) For the purposes of this article, ‘traditional leader or cultural leader’ means a king or similar traditional leader or cultural leader by whatever name called, who derives allegiance from the fact of birth or descent in accordance with the customs, traditions, usage or consent of the people led by that traditional leader or cultural leader.
THE BUNYORO KITARA KINGDOM 2011
Motto: For God and My Country
Official language: Nyoro
Ethnic groups: Nyoro/Banyoro
Demonym: Bunyoro or Banyoro
Government: Constitutional Monarchy under Omukama Solomon Iguru I and Prime Minister: Yabezi Kiiza
Area: 18,578 km2
Population: 1.4 million (approx.)
Religion: The people are primarily Christian.
The current Kingdom covers the districts of Hoima district, Masindi district, Kibale district and Buliisa District. Bunyoro remains one of the four constituent kingdoms of Uganda – see map.
The current ruler is Solomon Iguru I. The Kingdoms were restored when the Ugandan Parliament enacted Statute No. 8 in 1993. On June 11th 1994, His Majesty Rukirabasaija Agutamba Omukama Solomon Gafabusa Iguru I was enthroned as the 49th Omukama of the Kingdom and 27th Omukama of the Babiito dynasty. Unlike the pre 1967 Omukama, who was both titular head and a political figure of the government of Bunyoro, the Omukama today is a cultural leader above partisan politics, although he remains the titular head of the Bunyoro regional government. This is codified in Section 8 of the Fifth Schedule of Article 178 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda (2005 Amendment).
THE KING’S MISSION
King Solomon Iguru I’s mission is to give his subjects cultural leadership and be a catalyst in the developmental process. The Omukama along with the other leaders of the area are planning to establish a university that will primarily focus on teaching relevant skills with regards to work in the extraction of natural resources. The university will also work to preserve the high level of cultural heritage in the area.
The King is in general doing a lot of work to improve the living standards of the people. Relations are maintained with the European community via the Development Organization Association of the Representatives of Bunyoro-Kitara. The King is also working to maintain the traditional Bunyoro culture, but at the same time altering the honors of the kingdom in a way that will bring them in line with western standards.
THE CONSTITUTION 2005 (AMENDMENT NO. 2)
In 2005 the following Amendment to the Constitution of Uganda was passed by the Ugandan Parliament:
An Act to amend the Constitution to provide for Kampala as the capital city of Uganda; to provide for the districts of Uganda; to provide that subject to the existence of regional governments the system of local government in Uganda shall be based on a district as a unit; to provide for the creation of regional governments as the highest political authority in the region with political, legislative, executive, administrative and cultural functions in the region and to provide for the composition and functions of the regional governments; to provide for regional assemblies for each regional government; to provide for grants for districts not forming regional governments; to replace the Fifth Schedule to provide for details relating to regional governments; to amend article 189 to recognize the functions and services of regional governments and to provide for related matters’ [Date of assent, December 25th 2005; Date of Commencement December 30th 2005]. BE IT ENACTED by Parliament as follows:
Fifth Schedule Article 178: Regional Governments
- Role of traditional or cultural leader
Where a traditional leader or cultural leader exists in a region the traditional or cultural leader shall:
(a) Be the titular head of the regional government;
(b) Be the titular head of the regional assembly and shall open, address and close the sessions of the regional assembly; and
(c) Enjoy the benefits and privileges and roles as provided for in article 246 of this Constitution and by Parliament and the regional assembly.