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Busoga: The Perennial Loser

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By Oweyegha-Afunaduula

We shall never know who the truly indigenous Basoga on the mainland of the area that Prince Byaruhanga Ndahura, of Bunyoro Kitara, named Busoga in 1233. Those indigenous gave him a girl who bore him a son he installed as the first King of the Basoga. However, we know that if you want to know the ancient Basoga, then you have to seek them on the ecological islands of Lake Victoria. For example, the ecological Buvuma Island, which is divided into two parts – the Busoga part and the Buganda part – could give us a clue about the ancient indigenous Busoga. 

Some Clans of Busoga, such as Mulawa Clan, had their original presence on the Busoga part of the ecological island of Buvuma. Some of the members of the Mulawa Clan migrated to mainland Busoga some 800 years ago. We don’t know what triggered their migration to mainland Busoga. It could have been a pest invasion, population explosion or a catastrophe. What we know is that the members of the Clan were skilled designers of boats and good fishermen who used to fish like the bird called Kingfisher. They must have found indigenous Basoga when they arrived on mainland Busoga. In any case, they had been trading with them in things like crafts. That was a few years after Prince Byaruhanga Ndahura visited Busoga, established hereditary chiefdoms, and an Igaga dynasty at Nnenda Hill in Busambira, Kigulu. Igaga was his clan.

Mulawa Clan was not the only one who migrated to Mainland Busoga. Many Clans did. Being shaped like a basin full of water, rich in numerous resources, and with plenty of arable land, mainland Busoga attracted people from all corners and directions.  Most Clans of Busoga are migrant Clans. Many came from Bukedi, including the Musoko Clan to which ancient Zibondo, Nkono, and Nagwere belonged; and the Iwumbwe Clan, which came from Bunyhole belonged. However, we frequently hear that Basoga came from Bunyoro. No; not all Basoga trace their origins to Bunyoro.

Those who came from Bunyoro were predominantly those who belonged to the Igaga Clan and the Ngobi Clan.   So, most of the nearly 300 Clans of Busoga are not indigenous to Busoga. This could explain why the Basoga do not easily agree on anything. It also explains why it is easier for foreigners to penetrate, dominate and exploit Busoga, and for the Basoga to relate to foreigners more harmoniously than to themselves. They can undermine more than protect themselves and their common goods and common interests.

Because the Basoga are easier to divide than unite, Busoga has been a perennial loser in terms of development, transformation, and progress in Musevenite times. It has lost opportunities, resources, properties, and land to foreigners since pre-colonial times. The precolonial colonizers of Busoga – Buganda and Bunyoro – exploited Busoga to their advantage when the indigenous Basoga were not united and only depended on shifting agriculture and hunting for food.

The precolonial colonizers stole ivory, leopard skins, and gold and traded them with other peoples. The Baganda colonizers even took the beautiful Basoga women. It was during the British colonial times that Busoga lost most. The first thing the colonialists destroyed was the local unity of Busoga. Through establishing chiefdoms ruled mainly by members of the Ngobi Clan to which he did not belong, Nyoro Prince Byaruhanga Ndahura managed to create one Busoga, under the Igaga Dynasty to which he belonged.

When the British colonialists arrived in Busoga towards the end of the 19th Century, they revolved to destroy any king of dynasty and unity in the East that did not serve their imperial interests. They destroyed the power and authority at Nnenda Hill that Byaruhanga Ndahura had left behind. They transferred the Parliament of Busoga (Lukiiko) from Nnenda Hill to Butaleja, which was in Bunyhole outside Busoga then.

They transferred all power and authority from Nnenda Hill to Butaleja and vested it in a foreigner and militarist, Semei Kakungulu from Koki. He was called President, the first one south of the Sahara Desert. He presided over the Busoga Lukiiko. This meant that the effective ruler of Busoga under the imperialists was Semei Kakungulu, who paid no allegiance to Nnenda but to the colonialists.

The Igaga Dynasty diminished in stature and influence. What broke the administrative threads of the Igaga Dynasty was when the colonialists, through the agency of Semei Kakungulu, incorporated the chiefdoms created by Byaruhanga Ndahura and that had served as the cornerstone of the administration of the Iganga dynasty, into its new colonial administration in Busoga.

The colonialists did not end there. They expanded the chiefdom chain from the original 6, which Byaruhanga Ndahura had established (that is, Bugabula, Bugweri, Bukooli, Busiiki, Buzaaya and Luuka). Kigulu County would also have been a hereditary Chiefdom under Igaga Dynasty. However, Byaruhanga Ndahura did not want to have two bulls in the same kraal: a King on Nnenda Hill and a hereditary chief in Kigulu County.

Nnenda was at Busambira in Kigulu County. 

Byaruhanga Ndahura had decided early when he was going to climb Mount Elgon (Olusozi Masaba), in Bugisu, and, passed via Nnenda Hill, that the Kingdom he had in mind would have its headquarters on that hill in Kigulu. And so, it was around 1233, when he installed his infant son, Byaruhanga Ndahura as the first King of Busoga, Byaruhanga Ndahura I.

When the British Colonialists established their hegemony over Busoga, they simply expanded the network of hereditary chiefdoms as the primary administrative units by creating the heredity chiefdoms of Bukono, Bulamogi, Bunyhole, Kigulu, and Butembe to make them 11. Bukono and Bulamogi had just been excised from Busiki by Kisiki Nantamu, the ruler of Busiki. It is more or less what the NRM government of President Tibuhaburwa Museveni has been doing in the post-Okello Lutwa era: creating so many politically powerless chiefdoms and calling them cultural institutions alongside former kingdoms – Buganda, Bunyoro, and Toro – and the former semi federal entity of Busoga.

The Basoga became cultivators of the crops that the British colonialists wanted to sell as cash crops to make the evolving colonial entity – later called the British Protectorate of Uganda – financially self-sufficient by exporting them, mainly to Britain. Those crops were cotton and coffee.  The colonialists also encouraged Indian Madhivan to grow sugarcane and establish a sugar factory at Kakira. The Basoga lost a lot of land. The colonialists also introduced a poll tax, which was a mass tax, to finance the local authorities, which were the hereditary chiefdoms and the growing small towns. In fact, not only did Busoga become so prosperous but it could even support some other countries such as Korea. 

It should be emphasized that whatever the colonialists were doing was in their interest to extend and proliferate their imperial power over the area they called the British Protectorate of Uganda after getting in contact with the King of Buganda. Generally, Busoga started to have its traditions and/or cultural traditions eroded, especially with the introduction of the colonial education system. Children who used to be educated within the community, mainly in the traditions of their clans, had now to be educated in special places called schools, away from their communities.

By the time the colonialists came to Busoga the area was the dry season grazing zone in the area they called the British Protectorate of Uganda. Big game – Elephants, Zebra, buffaloes, Cheaters, and Leopards – would always end up in Busoga from the Western, Northern, and Central. Busoga was also rich in forests, with the Mvule tree as the dominant tree. The area was rich in fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians (frogs, toads, and salamanders) as well as in a diversity of insects.

However, the colonialists introduced game hunting for their pleasure and destroyed numerous wildlife species. That is how Busoga lost its wild dogs. They introduced spraying, which has eliminated numerous species of birds and insects, including butterflies. Bees are now both threatened and endangered.

Our children and grandchildren will never see many of those biological beings I have mentioned. The wild dogs were eliminated because of the way they used to eat their prey.  They used to hunt in a file and displace each other in the file, with one at the fore withdrawing to the tail end, just like the chain of a bicycle moves. Finally, when the prey, such as a zebra, was overpowered, the wild dogs would start devouring it from anywhere in its body, and within three minutes it was no more.

The colonialists did not like what they saw and characterized the wild dogs as extremely savage. They condemned them for elimination. They were ignorant of the ecological role the wild dogs were playing in the ecosystem. So, wild dogs were savages, the colonialists transformed themselves into worse savages.  Today, Busoga would be the greatest tourist-bound area in Africa had it not been for the ecological ignorance of the colonialists. Let me tell you another reason why Busoga would have been the tourist hub of Africa and the world. It was not a joke when Winston Churchill baptized Uganda “The Pearl of Africa.” Busoga had already lost almost a lot, but it was still much tourist attraction. It did not only have abundant wildlife on land, in water, and the air.

It had many waterfalls as well: Owen Falls, Rippon Falls, Bujagali Falls, and Itanda Falls. Owen Falls and Rippon Falls were erased from the face of the earth by the colonialists in the name of hydroelectric power; not so much to power Uganda as to power Nairobi, Kenya, their preferred place in the whole of East Africa. They even made sure the electricity transferred to Kenya was much cheaper than that consumed locally. It remains so to this day. The waterfalls that remained – Bujagali Falls and Itanda Falls -had to wait for another destroyer, the NRM government, to destroy them in the name of electricity, just as the other destroyers justified the destruction of Owen Falls and the Rippon Falls, which were submerged following the opening of the gates at Owen Falls Dam. 

The new destroyers regarded all those who urged caution as saboteurs of the economy of Uganda and characterized them as terrorists. They did not end there. They diverted the waters of the Nile to feed into another dam they called the Owen Falls Extension Dam. Busoga lost so many indigenous species of plants.  Although they pronounced electricity blackouts would be no more after the commissioning of Owen Falls Extension Dam and Bujagali Falls Dam, the blackouts became more frequent. Electricity blackouts have become even more expensive than ever before. This confirmed that trusting politicians to the extent of suspending thinking and reasoning is fatal.

For Busoga, any aesthetic and tourist value that had remained was destroyed after the destroyers had erased Bujagali and Itanda Falls and disfigured the Nile for Owen Falls Extension Dam. When the environmentalists publicly doubted the claim that the dams would help conquer electricity shortages in the country, the destroyers retorted that the shortages would go down and the dams would provide a new tourist attraction.

When the environmentalists said they did not foresee the electricity being affordable, the destroyers said if the people could not afford the electricity, they would export it to the neighboring countries. For the destroyers, what mattered was not affordability but accessibility to electricity. Busoga lost its waterfalls. It is also losing its capacity to afford the escalating cost of electricity. In many places in Busoga, people can now access electricity but cannot afford it due to worsening income poverty.

Busoga has consistently been characterized as next to Karamoja in richness of poverty. But both Busoga and Karamoja are the richest in underground resources. They both have gold and Busoga is the richest in gold in the Great Lakes Region. It is only challenged in gold wealth in the whole world by China and Canada. Busoga is also the richest in the world in rare earth minerals, which are used in fine technology. Logic suggests that the mineral wealth would be the basis for the development, transformation, and progress of Busoga from now on, but alas! 

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