The prospect of elections caused a sudden proliferation of new political parties. This development alarmed the old-guard leaders within the Ugandan kingdoms, because they realized that the centre of power would be at the national level. The spark that ignited wider opposition to Governor Cohen’s reforms was a 1953 speech in London in which the secretary of state for colonies referred to the possibility of a federation of the three East African territories (Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika), similar to that established in Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Many Ugandans were aware of the Central African Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (later Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi) and its domination by white settler interests. Ugandans deeply feared the prospect of an East African federation dominated by the settlers of Kenya, which was then in the midst of the bitter Mau Mau uprising. They had vigorously resisted a similar suggestion by the 1930 Hilton Young Commission. Confidence in Cohen vanished just as the Governor was preparing to urge Buganda to recognize that its special status would have to be sacrificed in the interests of a new and larger nation-state.
Kabaka Mutesa II, who had been regarded by his subjects as uninterested in their welfare, now refused to cooperate with Cohen’s plan for an integrated Buganda. Instead, he demanded that Buganda be separated from the rest of the protectorate and transferred to Foreign Office jurisdiction. Cohen’s response to this crisis was to deport the Kabaka to a comfortable exile in London. His forced departure made the Kabaka an instant martyr in the eyes of the Baganda, whose latent separatism and anticolonial sentiments set off a storm of protest. Cohen’s action had backfired, and he could find no one among the Baganda prepared or able to mobilize support for his schemes. After two frustrating years of unrelenting Ganda hostility and obstruction, Cohen was forced to reinstate Kabaka Mutesa II.
The negotiations leading to the Kabaka’s return had an outcome similar to the negotiations of Commissioner Johnston in 1900; although appearing to satisfy the British, they were a resounding victory for the Baganda. Cohen secured the Kabaka’s agreement not to oppose independence within the larger Ugandan framework. Not only was the Kabaka reinstated in return, but for the first time since 1889, the monarch was given the power to appoint and dismiss his chiefs (Buganda government officials) instead of acting as a mere figurehead while they conducted the affairs of government.
The Kabaka’s new power was cloaked in the misleading claim that he would be only a “constitutional monarch”, while in fact he was a leading player in deciding how Uganda would be governed. A new grouping of Baganda calling themselves “the King’s Friends” rallied to the Kabaka’s defence. They were conservative, fiercely loyal to Buganda as a kingdom, and willing to entertain the prospect of participation in an independent Uganda only if it were headed by the Kabaka as head of state. Baganda politicians who did not share this vision or who were opposed to the “King’s Friends” found themselves branded as the “King’s Enemies”, which meant political and social ostracism.
The major exception to this rule were the Roman Catholic Baganda who had formed their own party, the Democratic Party (DP), led by Benedicto Kiwanuka. Many Catholics had felt excluded from the Protestant-dominated establishment in Buganda ever since Lugard’s Maxim had turned the tide in 1892. The Kabaka had to be Protestant, and he was invested in a coronation ceremony modelled on that of British monarchs (who are invested by the Church of England’s Archbishop of Canterbury) that took place at the main Protestant church. Religion and politics were equally inseparable in the other kingdoms throughout Uganda. The DP had Catholic as well as other adherents and was probably the best organized of all the parties preparing for elections. It had printing presses and the backing of the popular newspaper, Munno, which was published at the St. Mary’s Kisubi mission.
Elsewhere in Uganda, the emergence of the Kabaka as a political force provoked immediate hostility. Political parties and local interest groups were riddled with divisions and rivalries, but they shared one concern: they were determined not to be dominated by Buganda. In 1960 a political organizer from Lango, Milton Obote, seized the initiative and formed a new party, the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), as a coalition of all those outside the Roman Catholic-dominated DP who opposed Buganda hegemony.
The steps Cohen had initiated to bring about the independence of a unified Ugandan state had led to a polarization between factions from Buganda and those opposed to its domination. Buganda’s population in 1959 was 2 million, out of Uganda’s total of 6 million. Even discounting the many non-Baganda resident in Buganda, there were at least 1 million people who owed allegiance to the Kabaka — too many to be overlooked or shunted aside, but too few to dominate the country as a whole