With Jay J. Carney, INTIMIDATION AND INDEPENDENCE: BENEDICTO KIWANUKA AND CATHOLIC POLITICS IN UGANDA, 1955–1972, Religion in Transforming Africa Series (Oxford: James Currey, 2019).
This book is an intellectual history of the Democratic Party, the foremost Catholic political movement in Uganda during the late colonial period, and Benedicto Kiwanuka, Uganda’s preeminent Catholic activist and first elected Prime Minister (1961–1962). He also served as the country’s first Ugandan Chief Justice between 1971 and 1972, when members of Idi Amin’s security apparatus orchestrated his murder. In this book, we use Kiwanuka’s biography to rethink the place of political intimidation in late colonial eastern Africa. This book is not a rigorous recitation of Kiwanuka’s coming-of-age or a bildungsroman, strictly speaking. Neither is it a meticulous biography that wishes to follow a rigid chronology of events. What makes Kiwanuka’s career important is that it shows with rare clarity how competing histories of violence circulated throughout late colonial Uganda. Few careers so readily illustrate how dissenting public memories impacted the production of authority, patronage and patriarchy.
In particular, we draw from Kiwanuka’s previously inaccessible private papers, party correspondence, colonial and church archives, local newspapers, and oral interviews with former activists and members of Kiwanuka’s family to illuminate three understudied areas. First, by rethinking the history of Ugandan nationalism through the biography of Kiwanuka, we show that the production of violence and intimidation in late colonial Uganda was far greater than has been generally acknowledged. Until now, historians of nationalism have frequently emphasized the brevity with which independence movements swept across sub-Saharan Africa—with the exception of southern Africa, whose liberation struggles lasted far longer. Anticolonial movements are typically viewed as innovations that did not materialize until the late 1940s, following the Second World War. For many scholars of the period, following the passionate politics of leading anticolonial activists such as Nnamdi Azikiwe and Amílcar Cabral, the possibility of independent states presented itself as a series of political panaceas that generated tremendous optimism and enthusiasm surrounding the unshackling of a continent from European hegemony. In nationalist historiography, it is not until the 1960s that Africa’s anticolonial projects began to fail: from the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in 1961 to a 1966 coup d’état in Ghana that removed sub-Saharan Africa’s first postcolonial president, Kwame Nkrumah. Similarly, for most historians of Uganda, the state does not begin to unravel until 1966, when the republican reformer Milton Obote, Uganda’s second prime minister, ordered Uganda’s army under the command of Colonel Idi Amin to assail the residence of Uganda’s president-king Edward Muteesa II. The violent character of the state was fully revealed during the following year, it is customarily argued, when Obote abolished the precolonial kingdoms of Ankole, Buganda, Bunyoro, and Toro.
We wish to complicate this chronology and conventional view of anticolonial nationalism and the origins of state violence in Uganda, which has often prioritized Protestant or royalist perspectives. Anticolonial nationalism for Catholics did not begin following the Second World War; its origins were much earlier. Kiwanuka argued that Uganda’s late colonial politics were characterised by uncertainty and intimidation because its genealogies could be traced to competing memories of the Second Civil War of Buganda (1892), during which Protestant chiefs used newfound military technologies to marginalize Catholics from power. B/Uganda’s colonial settlement between 1894 and 1900 did not assuage grievances brought about by southern Uganda’s religious wars; if anything, colonial hierarchies reified religious grievances and political duress. Appropriately, then, like Eiko Ikegami, we take seriously the intersectionality of emotions, fear, and political change. Ugandan politics during the 1950s and 1960s was not an exercise in unmitigated optimism during an allegedly golden age of African nationalism; it was an emotional parade of fits and starts, festooned with contentious marches, struggles to create national iconography, songs of lament, strained relationships, sweat, and blood.
Second, this study rethinks the significance of Catholicism in the history of eastern African nationalism. It was not a coincidence that sub-Saharan Africa’s first Catholic bishop, Joseph Kiwanuka, was Ugandan. Politically-minded Catholics sought to create a distinctive social order in western Buganda, out of which Benedicto Kiwanuka’s political activism first emerged. Recently, in his powerful history of modern Uganda, Richard Reid has shown how the idea of Uganda derived its logic from Nyoro-Ganda statebuilding practices during the nineteenth century. Kiwanuka struggled to successfully navigate this terrain. As Adrian Hastings has argued, Kiwanuka’s politics developed during a time when the Catholic Church was ‘at the height of its confidence and its ability to relate to the world in a mood of inspiring solidarity’. Drawing from his Catholic political theology and command of the past, Kiwanuka argued that the state and the history of the region’s precolonial kingdoms were highly limited in their ability to conjure authority. And while Kiwanuka did not advocate for a Catholic theocracy, his Catholicism inspired him to imagine the possibility of a democratic, multi-ethnic state in ways that complicated many of the patriotic projects that emerged in Uganda following the Second World War.
Third, the study of late colonial Catholic politics opens new possibilities for thinking about competing moral economies throughout Uganda. Catholic communities found themselves enmeshed in a plurality of historical and political debates as Ugandans advocated for independence, as well as various secessionist projects and patriotic alternatives. In eastern Uganda, in Karamoja, Catholic converts disputed family authority and the centralisation of chiefs’ administrative roles. In Tesoland, Catholic activists partnered with the Uganda People’s Congress, whose leadership was overwhelmingly Protestant. In western and southwestern Uganda, by contrast, ideas about national integration developed during a period when both the Toro and Rwanda monarchies were unravelling. The Catholic Church was interconnected with both. In Bunyoro and Acholiland, Catholics looked upon the Catholic Church in Buganda with suspicion, especially since Buganda’s Catholic chiefs had been instrumental in violently populating the ‘Lost Counties’ and undermining the legitimacy of Nyoro powerbrokers. In Buganda, where the DP faced massive opposition, Catholic activists such as Semakula Mulumba and Aloysius Darlington Lubowa advocated for completely different political visions—one radical; the other conservative—the latter of which Kiwanuka was ultimately unable to overcome. For Kiwanuka and the DP, vernacular debates about the future were informed by competing memories of the nineteenth-century Christian martyrs, whose hagiographical deeds compelled DP activists to challenge Buganda’s monarchy and its Lukiiko, while enduring intimidation and overt violence. Cumulatively, this collection of case studies begins to show just how diverse and complicated Catholic politics were in late colonial Uganda.