Concept of unitary state. Following Buganda’s boycott of the 1961 elections, the protectorate government set up a committee known as the relationships commission to look into the kingdoms grievances. In its report published in June 1961, the commission recommended that Uganda become a democratic state and rejected the possibility of Buganda’s secession from the rest of the country.

In his quest to develop a legislative structure in Uganda ahead of self-rule, former governor Andrew Cohen first concentrated on Buganda Kingdom and then spread his efforts to other parts of the country.

But it was in Buganda where the idea of a unitary state was opposed strongest, so much that at one point Kabaka Edward Muteesa II had to be deported and Cohen thought of replacing him with an elected king.

Before the C. A. G. Willis commission of inquiry into African local government, what was going on in the kingdom was of little interest to the rest of the country.

After the Willis commission, other districts were brought into the fold of constitutional change the protectorate government had envisioned. Following the release of the commission’s report, Cohen embarked on a tour of the districts to fast-track his project of developing a unitary state.

Political parties join the fray
When the Uganda National Congress (UNC) was formed in 1952, two of its leaders, Ignatius Musaazi and Abu Mayanja, visited other districts outside Buganda to open branches to build grass root support to champion self-rule.
R. A. Oliver in The History of East Africa says: “Mayanja and Musaazi travelled frequently in 1953 outside Buganda and established branches with enthusiastic leadership, particularly in Lango, Tooro Bugisu, and Acholi.”

Though the branches managed to raise nationalist issues like self-government, they failed to pursue it beyond the districts as they got embroiled in local affairs, mostly land wrangles like was the case in Busoga.

In Bunyoro, UNC young Turks wanted to have more directly elected representatives in the Rukurato (parliament), while in Tooro they opposed the creation of Queen Elizabeth National Park and instead rose in support of the Omukama in demand for a bigger say for the Tooro people in the constitutional changes that were being proposed. Later on, the UNC district leaders took national interests.

By 1956, UNC had lost the monopoly of being the only political party. Two more political parties had been formed; the Progressive Party (PP) in 1954 by elite Baganda Anglicans and the Democratic Party (DP), formed out of the religious divide between Protestants and Roman Catholics.

Writing in Kingdom, District and the Unitary State Uganda, Cherry Gerztel says: “In 1955, the Protestants controlled both UNC and the PP and they enjoyed dominant positions in the Buganda Kingdom. There was fear that this dominance may be carried forward into the independent Uganda.”

Having noticed the communist tendency of the UNC, the Catholic leadership approached their Anglican counterparts to form a joint political party which they wanted to call the Christian Democratic Party.

However, both parties were increasingly weary of the autonomy enjoyed by Buganda Kingdom as the Baganda traditionalist increased they demand for special status and the districts also demanded for greater powers for themselves.

Tooro Kingdom by 1957, for instance, demanded for federal status while some districts were demanding for constitutional leaders who would meet with the Kabaka as equals.

The making of a unitary state
The increased African representatives to the Legislative Council (LEGCO) took their seats in the council in 1954.

By 1956, people with strong district following took over the prominent roles in the legislature. These included the likes of Cuthbert Obwangor from Teso, George Magezi from Bunyoro and John Babiiha from Tooro.

Though they had political affiliation, they owed their presence in the legislature more to their districts than their political parties.

It was these African representatives who challenged some of Cohen’s proposed constitutional changes.

Among the proposals included the appointment of an Asian minister; having direct elections in Buganda before they were introduced to the rest of the country and not having further constitutional changes in the country until 1961.

Though the governor was criticised for sticking to his proposals, he went ahead and announced direct elections for Buganda in 1957 and the rest of the country in 1961.

This decision did not go down well with members of the LEGCO. But the fears were put to rest during the visit of the secretary for colonies to Uganda. He announced that there would be direct elections in 1958.

Unfortunately for Cohen, he never saw his project of making Uganda a unitary state come to fruition as he was replaced by Sir Fredrick Crawford as governor.
But this did not deter the push for a unitary state by the African LEGCO members. In May 1958, in an attack on the protectorate government on its preferential treatment to Buganda, Milton Obote, a new member of the LEGCO, argued that the development of the Kabaka’s government as a province rather than a local government was inconsistent with the development of a unitary state.

“If the government is going to develop this country on a unitary state basis, how can it develop another state within a state? Does the government really think that when self-government comes to this country, the state of Buganda will willingly give up the powers it has got now to join with other outlying districts or provinces?” Obote queried.

Buganda abstains
In November 1958, as it had been promised by governor Crawford, direct elections were held, save for Buganda which refused to participate.
Other areas that did not participate, according to Gerztel, included: “Karamoja which had been excluded from the original proposal. Bugisu and Ankole also did not have direct elections due to internal district politics.”

DP, PP and UNC put up candidates in the elections though many more stood as independents. Of those elected only DP and UNC managed to get representatives in the LEGCO while the rest were independents.

In December, barely a month after the election, George Magezi, who had been elected on the UNC ticket, denounced membership and joined hands with William Rwetsiba and others and formed another political party called the Uganda People’s Union (UPU).

Oliver in his book The History of East Africa says the parties did not enjoy support from Buganda, “UPU drew its support from the western kingdoms and part of the eastern province; the UNC from north and parts of east.”

By 1958, the non-Baganda were organised in three political parties; UNC, UPU and DP. Though political activities outside Buganda increased, the events in Buganda between 1960 and 1962 dominated the political scene.

The growing political action outside Buganda increased the neo-traditionalist stand in Buganda against a united Uganda and energised the demand for self-rule.
The governor was faced with the hurdle of Buganda, which was no longer willing to co-operate with the protectorate government, and Africans in the legislature.

Just before elections in June 1960, a meeting of prime ministers from all the kingdoms in Uganda and secretaries of districts was held in Kampala to discuss the constitution proposal.

“No one supported the Buganda’s katikkiro’s proposal for a federal constitution,” writes Anthony Low in his book Buganda in Modern History.

Buganda had reached this position after it had refused to participate in the 1958 legislative elections and refused to take part in the Wild committee in 1959 unless the position of the future of Buganda was agreed upon on her own term.

But the protectorate government went ahead with its plan to lead Uganda to self-government as a unitary state.

Another wave of activities
During the February 1960 opening of the legislature, governor Crawford said: “Her majesty’s government had accepted the Wild committee’s recommendations for direct elections on common roll as early as could be arranged in 1961.”

The governor’s remarks sparked another wave of activities in the political parties knowing that general elections were close.

Some members from different political parties acted quickly and merged. In March 1960, UNC and UPU merged to form UPC with Milton Obote as its head and George Magezi as the secretary General, according to the Uganda Argus newspaper of March 10, 1960. At the time DP had only one member in the legislature, G. Oda.

The 1961 elections went ahead, but between two parties – UPC and DP. In Buganda, UPC had candidates in seven out of the 21 constituencies; DP contested in all the seats in Buganda though it was heavily intimidated.
As a result of the intimidation, only three per cent of the registered voters in Buganda turned up.
Despite that, DP won 20 of the 21 available seats.
Nationwide, they got 43 seats against UPC’s 35, thus Benedicto Kiwanuka became leader of the House in the first self-government with Obote as the leader of the opposition.

Following Buganda’s boycott, the protectorate government set up another committee known as the relationships commission to look into Buganda’s grievances.

In its report published in June 1961, the commission recommended that Uganda become a democratic state and rejected the possibility of Buganda’s secession from the rest of the country.

“Recognising, however, that the kingdom enjoyed what was virtually a federal relationship, this should continue,” the commission recommended.

Buganda did not get secessionist backing from other kingdoms or districts and what complicated its plans further was the exposure of its ailing financial position in the Watts report of 1961.

Internally, the kingdom was opposed to DP’s Benedicto Kiwanuka who they referred to as a Mukopi. The only way they could stop him was by allying with UPC in the April 1962 election which granted Uganda independence as a unitary state.