It is widely accepted that man’s earliest ancestors have inhabited East Africa, for millions of years and that hunter-gatherer pygmoid people (Batwa ancestors) probably moved into the region about 3,000 years ago. Close behind them in 2,000BC were the bantu-speakers who came from West Africa in one of the largest human migrations in history, the Bantu Migration. The Bantu people gradually took over most of sub-Saharan Africa, displacing the small bands of indigenous hunter-gatherers, who relocated to the mountains and forests. All Bantu-speaking tribes share a linguistic core and generally use derivatives of ‘ntu’ to mean man. In Uganda, the Bantu-speakers naturally chose to settle in the more fertile southern half of Uganda.
The Bantu-speaking people brought with them Iron Age tools that improved agriculture, and culture built around a more settled life. Around AD1500, three kingdoms rose up – Bunyoro, Buganda and Ankole. Initially, Bunyoro was the largest and most centralised with a strong economy on account of its salt mines, however, by the late 1700’s, the Buganda Kingdom supplanted Bunyoro as the major regional power. Uganda takes its name from the Buganda kingdom, which at this time controlled a large territory bordering Lake Victoria, from the Victoria Nile to the Kagera River. Also starting around 1500BC were other migration waves that brought the Nilotic-speaking Luo who settled in Northern Uganda.
Discovery of the Pearl And The Colonial Era
Uganda was one of the last parts of the African continent to be breached by outsiders. First came the Arab slave traders and ivory merchants in the 1840’s, followed closely by Europeans Explorers. A British explorer John Hanning Speke stumbled on the Buganda Kingdom on his quest to locate the Source of the River Nile, which had baffled European academia for millennia. On his maiden visit to the Buganda court, Speke convinced the Kabaka to open his borders to missionaries, who followed in quick succession. The first Anglican missionaries arrived in Uganda in 1877 and the Roman Catholic missionaries in 1879.
Next came trade and in 1888 the British government gave the British East Africa Company control of the region from the east coast to Buganda. Buganda was formally declared a British Protectorate in 1894 and two years later British control extended to the western kingdoms of Ankole, Toro and Bunyoro, which together with Buganda formed the Uganda Protectorate. Once Uganda was declared a colony, the power and influence of traditional Kings and Chief’s and of their mighty kingdoms waned significantly, as the British attempted to centralize the colony by integrating several territories and tribes.
Uganda as it is known today really began to take shape in the first half of the twentieth century. Major cash crops like cotton, coffee and tea were introduced and grown for export, transport systems were developed, conservation reserves were designated across the country, missionaries built schools and literacy for Ugandans increased, leading to the formation of the first legislative councils in 1920. The wind of change that was blowing through Africa starting in the late 1950’s reached Uganda in 1962 when Uganda became an independent nation.
Birth Of A Nation
On October 9th 1962, Uganda gained independence from Britain as a parliamentary democratic monarchy with traditional kingdoms Ankole, Buganda, Bunyoro and Toro receiving federal status and a degree of autonomy. Milton Obote took the helm as Prime Minister, and Kabaka Edward Mutesa held the largely ceremonial position of President. Uneasy about the size and influence of Buganda, Obote staged a coup in 1966 and attached the Kabaka’s palace. The Kabaka fled to Britain and Obote abolished all hereditary kingdoms, ended federalism and took over as Executive President. Obote was himself deposed in 1971 when one of his army generals, the infamous Idi Amin staged a coup and took over as president.
For many Ugandans, the Amin years from 1791-1979 were the darkest that Uganda has ever experienced, in which an estimated 100,000 people were killed. In 1972, all Asians were forcefully and hurriedly expelled from Uganda, leaving the Ugandan economy in a fix as Amin’s cronies pilfered and bankrupted departed Asian businesses. A joint Uganda-Tanzanian army ousted Amin in 1979 and Obote returned after a fresh election. Not everyone accepted the outcome of the 1981 elections that were believed to have been rigged to favour Obote.
Yoweri Museveni formed a guerrilla army, the National Resistance Army that gradually captured more and more Ugandan territory until 1986 when the capital, Kampala was taken, and Museveni was sworn in as president. In the 30 years since, Uganda has enjoyed great stability and economic growth, although many question the failure of Museveni to take a step back and hand over power. In 1993 traditional kings were restored and given cultural authority but no political power.
With increased stability in Uganda, tourism has finally take centre stage; control of illegal poaching and encroachment on designated protected areas, the National Parks, has led to an increase wildlife numbers, conservation reserves have been gazetted to provide sanctuary to threatened species, new infrastructure has improved access to Uganda’s greatest attractions, and peace has increased global confidence in Uganda as a destination of choice.