Uganda Gains Independence

In the days leading to independence, a set of political maneuvers interlaced with deep ethnic politics between the major ethnic group Buganda and the outlaying minorities group, defined the options and opportunities that established relations in the hierarchy of the first independent administration in Uganda. Governor Andrew Cohen’s attempts to mitigate these conflicts produced a reaction that will in time define the ins and outs that would plague Ugandan politics for many years to come.

Summary of Event

The march toward independence in Uganda was one of the most remarkable in the continent. The British government set out to prepare the country for a stable parliamentary system. According to some analysts, Britain’s hurried withdrawal from India after that nation achieved independence in 1947, coupled with violent movements for independence in Kenya and West Africa, may have engendered a more liberal approach to self-rule by former colonies. It is indisputable, however, that a number of unpredictable dynamics—both internal and external—combined to maintain and preserve Uganda in its pristine and unique character and within the control of its traditional ethnic peoples. Uganda, independence of
Anticolonial movements;Uganda
[kw]Uganda Gains Independence (Oct. 9, 1962)
[kw]Independence, Uganda Gains (Oct. 9, 1962)
Uganda, independence of
Anticolonial movements;Uganda
[g]Africa;Oct. 9, 1962: Uganda Gains Independence[07370]
[g]Uganda;Oct. 9, 1962: Uganda Gains Independence[07370]
[c]Government and politics;Oct. 9, 1962: Uganda Gains Independence[07370]
[c]Independence movements;Oct. 9, 1962: Uganda Gains Independence[07370]
[c]Colonialism and occupation;Oct. 9, 1962: Uganda Gains Independence[07370]
Cohen, Sir Andrew
Mutesa II
Obote, Milton
Kiwanuka, Benedicto

As preliminary efforts toward independence unfolded, Governor Sir Andrew Cohen, the former undersecretary for African affairs in Britain’s Colonial Office, set in place a number of economic and political reforms to prepare the country for independence. Among the economic reforms were the creation of the Ugandan Development Corporation, Ugandan Development Corporation to promote and finance new projects; the removal of price-discriminatory policies against African-grown coffee; the encouragement of cooperative farming; and the reversal of policies that frowned on indigenous cotton ginning. Politically, Governor Cohen reorganized the Legislative Council to remove the undue influence of European settlers and increase the participation of African representatives elected from districts throughout Uganda. Political parties were also allowed to organize and prepare for elections.

In the days leading to independence, a set of political maneuvers—interlaced with ethnic politics between the major ethnic group in Buganda Buganda (an indigenous kingdom occupying the southeastern portion of modern Uganda) and outlying minority groups—defined the options and opportunities that established relations in the hierarchy of the first independent administration in Uganda. Governor Cohen’s attempts to mitigate these conflicts produced reactions that presaged the politics that would plague Ugandan politics for many years to come. Some analysts believe the conflicts in pre-independence days may have been generated by the speech in London in which Britain’s secretary of state for the colonies made reference to the possibility of a federation of the three East African territories—Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika—similar to that established in Central Africa. That the Central African Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (later Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi) was dominated by white minority settlers created a deep level of anxiety among Ugandan natives, who feared an East African federation would suffer the same fate.

The king of Buganda, (Edward) Mutesa II, known as Kabaka (King) Freddie, sensed the erosion of his powers over the largest ethnic group in the region and refused to cooperate with Governor Cohen’s plan for an integrated Buganda. Kabaka Freddie demanded instead that Buganda be separated from the rest of the protectorate and transferred to the Foreign Office’s jurisdiction. Governor Cohen, trying to stem the growing opposition to his plans, deported Kabaka Freddie to exile in London. Ironically, the forced departure transformed Kabaka Freddie into an instant martyr in the eyes of his fellow Bugandans. Anticolonialism and separatist agitation escalated, and as efforts by Governor Cohen to recruit an acceptable alternative to replace Kabaka Freddie failed, Cohen was forced after two years to reinstate him.

Negotiations on the conditions for the return of Kabaka Freddie included a commitment to support the process of independence in Uganda, while the monarch was given powers to appoint his representatives in government. The homecoming of Kabaka Freddie also spurred a new initiative in the independence movement: a group of loyalists known as the King’s Friends. King’s Friends[Kings friends] In a sharp reaction against domination by the King’s Friends, with their strong Protestant base, Roman Catholics, under the leadership of Benedicto Kiwanuka, formed the Democratic Party Democratic Party, Ugandan (DP). The DP quickly gained popularity, attracting an increasingly diverse base of supporters and garnering a reputation as the best-organized political party. As the resistance against Bugandan domination grew, Milton Obote, a savvy political organizer from the Langi ethnic group formed the Uganda People’s Congress Uganda People’s Congress[Uganda Peoples Congress] (UPC) to consolidate the interests of all those who were opposed to Kabaka Freddie and Bugandan, as well as DP, domination.

In a twist of political fortunes, negotiations over Buganda’s demand for autonomy soon fell apart, forcing the King’s Friends and its allies to call for a total boycott of the March, 1961, preparatory elections for the eighty-two National Assembly seats for Buganda. The DP, however, braved public criticism and participated in the elections, capturing twenty of the twenty-one seats allotted to the area. The outcome automatically gave the DP a majority of seats, and its leader, Kiwanuka, became the new prime minister of Uganda.

Stunned by this reversal of fortunes, the King’s Friends hurriedly formed the political party Kabaka Yekka Kabaka Yekka (KY), which immediately conceded to a British commission that proposed a federal form of government. Under this arrangement, Buganda would enjoy a measure of autonomy if it participated in the national government. In a feat of political savvy, UPC leader Obote sought to dislodge the DP government through an alliance with the KY. Consequently, Obote hatched an agreement with the Kabaka and the KY that would include the recognition of Buganda’s special relationship to Uganda and would allow the Kabaka to appoint the region’s representatives to the National Assembly. Under the agreement, the Kabaka would also become the ceremonial head of the new Ugandan state of Buganda. With the coalition between the UPC and the KY consolidated, the DP was eventually defeated in the final elections in 1962: The UPC pooled forty-three seats, the KY twenty-four, and the DP twenty-four, sealing the deal for Obote as prime minister and the Kabaka as head of state on independence day.

Obote and Kabaka Freddie’s fragile alliance soon fell apart over control of the military, the government, and the Buganda region. As Obote embarked upon his pre-independence quest to consolidate power, he turned to his protégé General Idi Amin Amin, Idi to help oust Kabaka Freddie from office. The Kabaka, on learning of the impending military assault on his palace, fled into exile in London in 1966. Obote proclaimed himself president and went on to turn Uganda into a one-party state. He then lashed out at every segment of society that he suspected posed a threat to his powers, using the military as his tool to spread violence and intimidation to all self-proclaimed enemies. The military campaigns further divided the nation, creating an atmosphere of instability—and did not leave the military leaders immune from fear from Obote’s victimization apparatus. It was only a matter of time before General Amin, fearing that he might become a victim of the Obote purge, seized power for himself to preside over one of the darkest chapters in Uganda’s history.


The independence of Uganda was significant for a number of reasons. First, it served to preserve as a country the territorial landmark that surrounds one of the most pristine environments in the continent. Equally significant was the uniqueness of the process that led to independence, which showed—after the bitter Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya and violent pro-independence movements elsewhere in West Africa—that independence can be obtained through peaceful means. Finally, Uganda’s independence demonstrated that various ethnic groups could work together toward a common objective: independence, a rarity in those days of stiff ethnic and tribal politics. That Uganda rapidly deteriorated into decades of staggering political instability does not minimize the importance of these achievements at the time they occurred. Uganda, independence of
Anticolonial movements;Uganda

Further Reading

  • Doyle, Shane. Crisis and Decline in Bunyoro: Population and Environment in Western Uganda, 1860-1955. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2006. The author takes a critical look at one of the major ethnic groups in Uganda and relates its fortunes to the political landscape of the country.
  • Kreimer, Alcira, et al. Uganda: Post-Conflict Reconstruction. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2000. This collaborative effort examines the impact of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund on post-conflict resolution in Uganda.
  • Mutibwa, Phares. Uganda Since Independence: A Story of Unfulfilled Hopes. Kampala: East African Literature Bureau, 1977. Examines the ups and downs of Uganda’s political and economic fortunes since independence.
  • Ofcansky, Thomas. Uganda: Tarnished Pearl of Africa. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1996. The author offers a refreshing perspective on the role of Christianity in Uganda.
  • Okuku, Juma. “Ethnicity, State Power, and the Democratisation Process in Uganda.” IGD Occasional Paper 33. Braamfontein, South Africa: Institute for Global Dialogue, 2002. Reviews the impact of ethnicity on the democratization process in Uganda from colonialism to the late twentieth century.
  • Otiso, Kefa. Culture and Customs of Uganda. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2006. The author takes a comprehensive look at the political, economic, and cultural evolution of Uganda.

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