By Robert Asketill
So far we have seen the hard courageous fight Kabaka Mwanga made to serve his kingdom and keep out the European colonisation. We now present the mainly unknown military history in the building up of Buganda and later Uganda.
We have discussed briefly how towards the end of 1890 Captain Lugard, who had taken service with the Imperial British East Africa Company, arrived in Buganda. Pressure from the British Government and the general interest aroused in the country by Stanley had obliged the Company to reconsider its cautious attitude, and Lugard came to assure Mwanga of the Company’s protection and assistance. By this time Gedge (Part 44) and the handful of men left by Jackson, were in a somewhat precarious situation. Mwanga was suspicious, fearing that vengeance might be exacted for Bishop Hannington’s murder, but after prolonged negotiations, Lugard succeeded in winning his confidence. Mwanga then signed a treaty with the Company, valid for two years, giving Lugard a recognized status in Buganda and on a small hill named Kampala, he pitched his camp.
The country was obviously on the verge of civil war. The Muslim party, with its Arab allies, was preparing a new attack on Buganda from Bunyoro. Moreover, the so-called Christian party had by this time become deeply divided along denominational lines, the Anglican chiefs actively supporting the treaty with the British Company, and the Catholic chiefs remaining suspicious and covertly hostile. Lugard’s aim was to compose the differences between the hostile factions and to instruct Mwanga in the art of impartial kingship, but it soon became plain to him that little progress could be made without some independent means of upholding his own authority and maintaining the Company’s prestige.
He had left Mombasa with 70 Sudanese who had been recruited in Egypt for the Company’s service by Captain W. H. Williams, R.A. By the time he reached Buganda, he had about 50 Sudanese and Somali ‘troops’ in whom a semblance of discipline had been inculcated, 270 porters, most of whom were quite useless for fighting, 11 rounds of ammunition per man, and a worn-out maxim gun. In January 1891, Williams joined him with 75 Sudanese, 100 Swahili and another maxim machine gun. This reinforcement was timely and while Lugard devoted his energies to political affairs, Williams took in hand the training of the force on which so much depended. The best of the Swahili porters were formed into a ‘Zanzibar Levy’, organized in two companies, the Red and the Blue. Membership of this body came to be regarded as an honour and helped to strengthen the wavering morale of the Swahili. Under Williams’s direction discipline improved; drill parades were held daily and simple military exercises were practised, such as advancing in formation through the long grass and banana shambas without losing touch. Crowds of Baganda collected to watch these exercises.
Another safari reached Buganda from the coast in March and again the best of the men were taken to strengthen the little military force. The fort, which had been considerably enlarged, now housed seven Europeans and 650 men of whom 300 had been drilled by Williams. These troops learnt to respond to bugle calls, advance in open order, aim with care, and take cover. It was not long before they were in action. Kabarega of Bunyoro had joined hands with the Muslim party and Lugard went west with the Baganda army to meet him. His troops marched in the centre of a vast throng of 25,000 Baganda levies, advancing across country in parallel columns, each with its chief at the head. It was an extraordinary spectacle, often to be repeated in succeeding years, and one that frequently invoked the wonder of officers new to Uganda and unused to the cooperation of such strange allies. Each night while the camp fires lit the surrounding hills, Lugard was pestered by the chiefs for ammunition, for the Baganda army carried some 4,700 firearms. On 7th May, with Lugard’s force in the centre of the attack, the Muslims were met and scattered. Lugard wanted to pursue, but his allies refused and the levies broke up.