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Kabaka Mwanga II: The last King of Buganda to lead an absolute monarchy.


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Mwanga II is the 31st king of Buganda (the most influential kingdom in Uganda). He was born in 1866 in Buganda to Kabaka (king) Muteesa I (1856-1884). Mwanga II came to the throne in 1884 when he was only 18 years old (Africanhistory.com). He was characterized by being resistant to not only foreign rule but to foreign influence as well.

Kabaka Mwanga II: The last King of Buganda to lead an absolute monarchy.
Kabaka Basammulekkere Daniel Mwanga II
Source: observer.ug

Mwanga started opposing the British colonialists immediately after the death of his father, Muteesa I. Muteesa I is the Kabaka who received the first Europeans in Uganda. These Europeans had come claiming to have brought civilization to the Ganda people.

Kabaka Mwanga Basammulekkere Daniel died in 1902 in exile on Seychelles Islands. He was exiled by the British who captured him on 11th/April/1899 at Kangai in northern Uganda.

What were the major occurrences in Mwanga II’s reign?

Mwanga II was the last king to lead an absolute monarchy in the African kingdom of Buganda. He led a short but turbulent reign. His reign included a massacre of Ganda Christians and an irregular civil war.

Kabaka Mwanga II’s reign also involved an unsuccessful uprising against the British. This unsuccessful uprising saw the downfall of Kabaka Mwanga. This was as a result of Mwanga having limited support from his own people.

He had limited support because; most of the Ganda had converted to Christianity and Islam.

Kabaka Mwanga II and the Uganda martyrs

Unlike his father, Mwanga II saw the increasing number of Christian converts among his people, as a threat to his power. This is why in 1885; he killed three young Ganda Christians (Africanhistory.com). He thereafter openly declared his opposition to missionaries.

In 1886, he ordered the death of about 40 Ganda Christians. These were burned alive. They are the today’s celebrated Uganda martyrs.

Kabaka Mwanga II: The last King of Buganda to lead an absolute monarchy.
The disobedient Ganda men being burnt at Namugongo on the orders of Kabaka Mwanga II. These are the celebrated Uganda Martyrs
Source: bigeye.ug

The tragedy of the martyrs gave the colonial masters leverage to discredit the resistant king. It also provided the perfect opportunity to undermine their rival religion, Islam.

Kabaka Mwanga II is a forgotten nationalist

In colonial times, Mwanga II antagonized the British colonialists to the extreme. He, for example ordered the assassination of Bishop James Hannington. This was even before Hannington entered the Kingdom of Buganda in 1885.

Kabaka Mwanga II was quite unlike Kabaka Muteesa I, who skillfully played and traded with Arabs. Muteesa allowed missionaries into Uganda. He pitted Catholics against Protestants to his political advantage.

Just like some present day African presidents, Muteesa I took advantage of the situation and disorganized his opposition. Unlike his son Mwanga, Kabaka Muteesa I survived.

Kabaka Mwanga II: The last King of Buganda to lead an absolute monarchy.
Kabaka Mwanga II
Source: worldquerry.org

To order the massacre of the rebellious Ganda men was an act of being anti-colonial and a nationalist.

Mwanga II also wanted to show his power. He made it clear to other subjects that whoever connives with the colonialists in form of missionaries shall be punished. Kabaka Mwanga had therefore transformed from a resistance figure to a despot.

How did the killing of the Uganda martyrs affect Mwanga II’s rule?

On 3rd June every year, Christian pilgrims across East Africa and beyond complete their journey to Namugongo. This is a suburb in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. They do this to pay their respects to long-dead Christian converts. These are the ones who suffered public execution at the hands of Kabaka Mwanga.

History has it that this tragedy was so much used by the British to question the powers of a King in Buganda. They also used it to fight Mwanga II claiming that he was a tyrant. For Europeans to deny Mwanga support from his own people, they spread the gossip that he had learned homosexuality.

The practice of homosexuality was unheard of in the Ganda culture! Such a practice was at that time also a crime in Britain. It is this narrative that the books written by the early Europeans still have (Africanhistory.com). This made the Martyrs and the British victors. Therefore, the Ganda common man based on this false narrative to sympathize with the British.

The martyrs met their unfortunate death as a result of the clash between hardcore colonialists and a hardcore resistance. At the moment, both Mwanga II and the Martyrs are dead. Their stories will be twisted to suit the needs of whoever’s day it is to take the stage!

Mwanga II loses his position as the Kabaka

Meanwhile, as Mwanga did this, a new ruling elite class was developing. This was divided by religion into Roman Catholic, Protestant and Muslim factions. In 1888, the Muslim party toppled Mwanga!

Several years of instability and intermittent civil war followed. This marked the end of the first half of Mwanga II’s reign. His brothers; Kiweewa became king followed by Kalema for a short while.

Kabaka Mwanga II in his second regime

Mwanga II was able to regain his capital in early 1890. This he did successfully with the aid of Christian parties. This marked the beginning of the second half of Mwanga II’s reign. Unfortunately, the chiefs in this regime could successfully challenge the royal power. These were the already converted Christians.

Interreligious wars and wrangles continued. In the early 1890s the main conflict was between the Protestant (pro-British) and the Roman Catholic (pro-French) parties. However, Mwanga II was in too precarious a position to mediate between them.

In 1893 and 1894, he was forced to sign agreements. These put Buganda under British protection. By this time the Christian oligarchy had reduced his power to that of a constitutional monarch (Africanhistory.com). This was easy for the British since chiefs were converted. Therefore, Kabaka Daniel Basammulekkere Mwanga II was the last king of Buganda to lead an absolute monarchy.

The downfall of Kabaka Mwanga II

In 1897, Kabaka Mwanga II rebelled against the British as he fought colonialism. However, he received almost no support from his people. The king then ran to northern Uganda with the then Bunyoro king (Omukama Kabaleega). They fought against colonialism until 1899 when the British over powered them.

Mwanga II was captured by the British at Kangai and exiled on the Seychelles islands.

He died in 1902, in exile, after suffering from a severe skin disease. His body was brought back to Buganda in 1910. Laid to rest in the Royal tombs at Kasubi hill in Kampala.

Kabaka Mwanga II: The last King of Buganda to lead an absolute monarchy.
Kasubi Royal Tombs in Kampala
Source: en.m.wikipedia.com

The positive Legacy of Kabaka Mwanga II

Kabaka Daniel Basammulekkere Mwanga II was a fan of boat cruising. During his reign, a number of boat cruising competitions took place in Buganda. The most active site for such competitions was a landing site at Munyonyo. This is found on Lake Victoria.

Kabaka Mwanga II used to travel from Mengo, the Kabaka’s palace, to Munyonyo for the competitions. To ease his movement to the lake, the Kabaka ordered for the digging of a man-made lake from his palace to Lake Victoria. The work to implement the King’s order started hence the present day Kabaka’s Lake at Mengo.

Kabaka Mwanga II: The last King of Buganda to lead an absolute monarchy.
Kabaka’s Lake, a man-made lake in Buganda kingdom
Source: Ugandasafaristours.com

However, the lake did not connect to the bigger Victoria Lake. This was due to the disruption of the work by a war between Kabaka Mwanga II and the British colonialists. The British won the war.


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