1886 - Political-Religious Aftermath after Killing the Uganda Martyrs – 1886

Political-Religious Aftermath after Killing the Uganda Martyrs – 1886 

Chaos Breaks Out in Buganda/ Uganda 

The Killing of the Uganda Martyrs at Namugongo sent shock waves throughout inland Africa and news of Kabaka (King) Mwanga II’s actions provoked contradictory reactions in Britain. Some saw it as a sign of the futility of missionary efforts in Buganda, others as a call to renewed efforts. The Times of 30 October 1886, quoting the dictum, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church”, stated: “On the success of the Uganda experiment, with its alternation of favorable and adverse circumstances, depends the happiness of the interior of the vast continent for generations.” This sentiment developed into a campaign for British intervention in the region. Regardless of the perspective, what everyone realised was that Kabaka Mwanga II was determined to get rid of Christianity even if it meant killing some of his own people. This was not an option agreeable to the colonialists who at the time were deeply involved in the vicious scramble for Africa.

These murders and Mwanga’s continued resistance greatly alarmed the British, and they retaliated by backing a rebellion by Christian and Muslim groups who supported Kabaka (King) Mwanga II’s half-brother and the King was defeated at Mengo in 1888.

The converts, at least the Catholics, had been taught they risked martyrdom. The secular press of the time described them martyrs. The same description appeared also, of course, in religious publications, both Protestant, such as the journal of the missionary Mackay published in the Intellegencer of 1886, and Catholic, such as the accounts of the missionaries Lourdel, Denoit, and Delmas published in Enquête relative au martyre des chrétiens: Ste Marie de Rubaga, Buganda 1888 and Les Missions Catholiques 18 (1886).

In September 1888, Mwanga planned to get rid of the remaining Christian and Muslim leaders by leaving them to starve on an island in crocodile-infested Lake Victoria. Word of his plan leaked out and a rebellion by Christians and Muslims together supported by the British brought Mwanga’s brother Kiweewa Nnyonyintono to the throne. In October 1888, the Muslims seized power, expelled all the Christian leaders however, when King Kiweewa refused to be circumcised, they deposed and killed him after exactly one month, replacing him with another brother, Kabaka (King) Kalema Muguluma. In December 1888, Mwanga won support from Christians and in April 1889 advanced against the Buganda capital. He was defeated, but the Christian forces, led by the Protestant chief Apollo Kaggwa, retook the capital, enabling Mwanga to enter it triumphantly on 11 October 1889. The Muslims took refuge in the neighboring kingdom of Bunyoro, and from there plotted a plan which helped them to return victoriously in November 1889. This victory was short-lived as they suffered a decisive defeat in February 1890 and they withdrew again to Bunyoro.

However, Kabaka (King) Mwanga escaped from his stronghold and managed to negotiate with the British and he agreed to work with them. His offer was that if he is restored to his throne in exchange, he would hand over some of his sovereignty to the British East Africa Company. The British saw this as a good deal and they quickly swung into backing Kabaka Mwanga II. They helped him to swiftly remove King Kalema from the throne in 1889.

With the aid of the Church Missionary Society, which used the deaths of their martyrs to win broad public support in Britain for acquiring Uganda, Captain Lugard then successfully dissuaded Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone and his cabinet from abandoning Uganda. The powers of the company were transferred to the British Crown on 1 April 1893 and on 27 August 1894 King Mwanga II signed up Buganda Kingdom and let it become a British protectorate.

Interestingly, however, The King was not pleased with how the British were treating him and his people and the thoughts of losing his power to the Bristish still haunted him and so on 6 July 1897 King Mwanga II declared war on the British but he was defeated on 20 July in Buddu (in today’s Masaka District). He was forced to again fled to German East Africa south of Buganda Kingdom. He was declared deposed on 9 August 1897. After a failed attempt to regain his kingdom, King Mwanga II was exiled in 1899 to the Seychelles. There he converted to Christianity and was baptized as an Anglican and was received into the Anglican Church. He died in 1903, aged 35. His remains were repatriated back to Uganda and he was buried among Buganda`s Kings in Kasubi Tombs.

After these events, Uganda`s Christians started to multiply as they looked up to the Uganda Martyrs, as model Christian kinsmen.

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