Following the riots in 1945 and 1949, the colonial administration launched a series of reforms designed to co-opt the emerging class interests into the economy while controlling their political ambitions.
The riots in 1945 and 1949 gave the colonial administration an imperative to respond to the growing restlessness in the country borne out of economic inequalities and lack of political participation.
The short-term responses to the working class and the property-less class were economic; wartime bonuses (a grievance that had first emerged in the aftermath of World War I and re-emerged after the second World War) were paid across the board.
A minimum wage announced on January 31, 1945 but which hadn’t been implemented, was also rolled out and applied to government and private workers. These short-term offerings were sweeteners for a medium-to-long-term political strategy designed to manage the political tide that had begun to wash over Uganda.
The overriding policy objective, notes Prof. Mahmood Mamdani, was to incorporate the rural and urban petty bourgeoisie, comprised of traders, kulaks, and civil servants, into meaningful, albeit secondary, participation in the political economy of the colony.
“Following the events of 1945 and 1949, state policy was aimed at consolidating or creating (depending on the part of the country) a class whose interest was in maintaining the status quo and guarding the stability of the country,” notes Prof. Mamdani. “A propertied class, whatever specific privileges it might seek, would never question the general rule of property.”
Creating room for this new class would require the destruction of the old class of comprador chiefs whose usefulness to the colonial project had been overtaken by political developments and the rise of the kulaks.
The Buganda Lukiiko was the bastion of this class thus the colonial administration pushed through reforms, which made forty of the Lukiiko’s 89 members electable, later rising to 60 out of the 89.
Buganda’s finances were also opened up to debate in the Lukiiko. These reforms were rolled out beyond Buganda through the African Local Government Ordinance of 1949, which established elected members on the councils in Bugisu, Kigezi, Bunyoro, Lango, Acholi, Maoli, West Nile and Teso.
The colonial administration also sought to control the growth of trade unions, which had played a key role in mobilising support for the strikes and riots of 1945 and 1949.
Stifling trade unions
It therefore passed the Trade Unions Ordinance of 1952 designed to stop the unions from becoming instruments of political protest. It did so by imposing controls on union finances and limiting their membership to specific interests, in order to nip in the bud the growth of general trade unions.
For instance, although the Transport and General Workers Union was registered in 1949 to unite all workers in Uganda, it fell foul of this law when it tried to co-opt drivers from Busoga who were forced to form their own Busoga African Motor Drivers’ Union.
Thus, while more unions were set up, Prof. Mamdani notes that, “the membership of individual unions declined as each sectional interest received its own separate organisational expression”.
Where the Bataka Party, which was closely linked to the Uganda African Farmers’ Union had been able to call mass rallies of up to 8,000 people in 1948, Prof. Mamdani notes that by 1957, only the Railway African Union had more than 500 members, with 3,000 on its books.
The other reform undertaken by the colonial administration was designed to manage the mobilisation of African farmer and trader interests and their attempts to enter the economy. By 1946, there were as many as 75 organisations of a “cooperative nature” aligning interests of both interest groups.
The Cooperative Societies Ordinance of 1946 allowed for the regulated formation of cooperatives, under the watchful eye of a new department whose key objective was to ensure that they do not become political vehicles.
In order to influence their management and direction, the colonial administration set about ‘facilitating’ their entry into the coveted cotton ginning and coffee hulling businesses.
In 1949, the colonial administration bought the Ngongwe Ginnery from the Liverpool Uganda Company and leased it to the Uganda Growers’ Cooperative Union, finally allowing local farmers to enter the value-addition stage of production cycle.
This was followed by more ginneries and by 1960, cooperatives controlled 15 ginneries and were responsible for 16 per cent of the crop out of Uganda.
The Busoga Growers’ Cooperative Union, which had been established in 1952, was given Shs7 million on top of its own capital of Shs3.5 million and continued to benefit from government patronage until Independence.
The colonial administration also announced, in 1953, a plan to help cooperatives enter the coffee trade by allowing them to set up coffee curing plants and lending them two thirds of the cost of doing so.
The impact was quick and dramatic. By 1953 there were six licensed curing works and seven licensed hullers, all owned by non-Africans, notes Prof. Mamdani. By 1960 the cooperatives owned five curing works, two coffee estate factories and several coffee pulperies.
The colonial administration was not acting out of altruism but was responding to the pressure it had started feeling after the riots in the second half of the 1940s.
As an official report, Dispatches from the Governors, to the Colonial Office in London noted, “If Africans had not been assisted to enter this industry, the effects both on cotton production and marketing, and on the general state of affairs in the country, would have been exceedingly serious in view of the very strong and widespread demand among Africans for a part in cotton ginning.”
Although the colonial administration had made some steps towards placating the workers (through a minimum wage) and the farmers (through supporting their entry into cotton ginning and coffee hulling), there was a key constituency that also had to be taken care of: the traders.
More reforms needed
Not only had the trading class been bloated by the return of Africans who had served during World War II, this was an area in which the incumbent dominant class, the Indian trader, retained structural advantages over his African counterpart.
It would require more than a fistful of cash to correct the imbalance and would, in time, return to bite the incumbent class in the pre- and post-Independence periods.
In addition, any such efforts would have to counter the growth of nationalist politicians agitating for self-rule, including the Uganda National Congress that Ignatius Musaazi had started in 1952.