By Robert Asketill
In our history “When Buganda was Africa’s Might” we came across Queen Victoria’s message of thanks on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee in which were published her thanks to the troops and Baganda chiefs for their courageous battle quality.
In the course of his plans for enlisting more Sudanese, Colville had raised the question of the status of his troops, suggesting that they should be regarded as part of Her Majesty’s regular forces and that those commissions should be granted to the native officers. The Foreign Office referred this question to the Colonial Office for advice, asking whether any precedent could be quoted elsewhere in the British dominions. The Colonial Office pointed out that as the status of ‘regular forces’ was defined by statute, it could not be properly extended to the Sudanese without royal, and perhaps also parliamentary consent, and would in any case involve many difficulties over military estimates, pay and supplies.
Governmental policy was to confine the employment of regular forces abroad to the defence of maritime fortresses and coaling stations, leaving the internal defence of colonies and protectorates to locally raised corps controlled by the civil authorities. Troops of this kind were usually called police or constabulary, but it was thought that the War Office would probably raise no objection to some such military designation as Uganda Rifles or Carbineers; nor was there likely to be any technical objection to the grant of commissions to suitable native officers, provided this were done by the highest local civil official. This opinion was submitted to the War Office for comment, where it was confirmed that a variety of reasons made it undesirable for the Sudanese in Uganda to be taken over as regular troops, though there would seem to be little difficulty in their constitution as a Uganda Frontier Force under the administration of the Foreign Office.
This was the origin of the title given to the regiment of 17 companies that was formally constituted on 1st September, 1895, under Major Cunningham’s command. The terms of the Uganda Rifles Ordinance that brought the regiment into being provided for a Commandant, chief officers (usually European ‘wing commanders’), native officers and under-officers. Privates were to be enlisted for twelve years, but if approved could re-engage for another six, and continue thereafter indefinitely, with the right to claim discharge at three months’ notice. This was the first attempt to set the troops of the Protectorate upon a proper footing, but in the troubled period that followed, years filled with constant campaigning and the temporary disintegration of the regiment brought about by the mutiny of 1897, the task of properly arming and equipping the troops proved difficult and slow.
At this time war diaries concentrate on battles held mainly on the coast route from Mombasa to Buganda especially that with the Nandi. However, no sooner than the Nandi battles were over in 1897 than George Wilson, the sub-commissioner at Kampala, uncovered a serious plot. He arrested two Baganda chiefs and charged them with incitement to revolt, but a third, the Omujaasi Gabriel, made good his escape. Mwanga, who had recently been fined for smuggling guns, took this action badly and in July showed his hand by flying secretly to his friends in Buddu and raising the standard of rebellion. Reports came that many people, including a notorious rabble of outlaws known as the Futabangi, were preparing to join him. Prompt action was essential. A force of 70 men with a Maxim gun was holding a position near the mouth of the Katonga. To reinforce it, Lieutenant C. V. C. Hobart (Grenadier Guards.) left Munyonyo, the nearest port to Kampala, by canoe on 13th July with 70 men of No. 2 Company. A mixed force scraped together from three other companies followed by steam launch from Port Victoria.