Why it took the British about six years to defeat Cwa II Kabaleega

Why did it take the British about six years to defeat Cwa II Kabaleega?


By Isaac Kalembe Akiiki

The factors varied, the major ones being:


Superiority military technology, especially the Maxim Gun, which the Batooro nicknamed Bisansa because of the way it hissed.

Kabaleega’s Barusuura had no reply for it. In 1891, Capt. Frederick Lugard, with a handful troops, fixed the Maxim Gun at Bunyaruguru hill. He wiped out 6,000 Barusuura who were guarding the Katwe Salt Lakes.

Only during the Kazumbeera Battle, in the papyrus embarkment of the Nile at Buruuli in 1897, did Kabaleega influence a bloody nose to the invading army, wiping out 2,000 Baganda, killing two British officers and injuring two others.

Advanced military training
The British military officers in the Bunyoro campaign – only eight (8) troughout the Bunyoro campaign – were highly trained and with a vast military experience. Major MacDonald, Col. Colville, Capt. Cunningham and Lt Col. Evatts – just to mention a few – were battle-hardened officers, having soldiered in India, West Africa, South Africa, among other areas.

Superior arms
The British, and their Baganda allies, were better armed, mainly with Remington rifles. It was perhaps Kabaleega alone in the opposing ranks, who possessed that type of rifle, which he’d nicknamed Bagwigaire bata? (literally, “How dare they block my way?”).

Big numbers – Massive mobilisation
Though initially, 4,000 Baganda soldiers, half of whom were armed with rifles, were involved in the initial attack that took place on December 4, 1894 on km to the west of Hoima Road at River Kafu, by the end of the war (1899), over one (1) million Baganda, were armed.

In fact, in 1901, the British, who were at a loss as to how to disarm the Baganda, had to introduce a 3/- gun tax.

Militarily, this was too big a force for Kabaleega to defeat (much as, at any one time, he was protected by a column of 350,000 Barusuura, with an elite 200-strong body guard commanded by the first son Jaasi Nyakimoso).

Note that in 1898 after the Battle of Kijunjubwa, before he crossed into Budongo Forest and then crossed the Nile to Lango, Kabaleega literally disbanded the entire army, save for a small elite force.

He tasked commander Peetero Byabacwezi to sue for peace and take responsibility of the kingdom as Omusigire (caretaker). This is because, in his own words, Kabaleega did not wish to “leave my people as orphans”.

Other commanders like Ireeta rwa Budongo and Kikukuule rwa Rungo – the “Protector of Eastern Bunyoro” – also surrendered, hoping for favourable treatment.

What followed, however, was humiliation and – especially for Kikukuule, who’d given the British a bloody nose in Bukuumi in 1893 – imprisonment. He was was imprisoned for 1,000 years in Buganda. And, even when he died, he was buried in a secret grave, which, hitherto is covered with a chain.

His Bairuntu (Elephant totem) clan have never recovered the body.

Indeed, Kabaleega raised a new army, commanded by Rwot Owiny, who assumed command at the Battle of the Kijunjubwa of 1898.

He was a brave, fearless, loyal commander famous for his marksmanship (he reportedly hardly missed a target).

It was him who commanded the Barusuura, now mainly filled by the Langi and Acoli, till the capture of Kabaleega on April 9, 1899.

The British didn’t kill or imprison him. Rather, they turned him into a collaborator to pacify the region. When he’d lived his usefulness, they exiled him in Kampala at Kololo near the UBC mast.

He was put in isolation in a hut, where he exclaimed, “Kololo! Kololo! Kololo!” (Luo for “I am abandoned” or “I have been abandoned”) – the name that the area bears to-date.

In order for the British to defeat Kabaleega, they looted, pillaged and killed many Banyoro. The population of Bunyoro at the outbreak of the war in 1894 was 2.5million but when the first national census was conducted in 1910 – a decade after the end of hostilities – there were only 110, 000 Banyoro.

True, many fled to other areas – as far as eastern DRC and the Mombasa coast, hundreds of thousands were killed in war or by hunger, famine and disease.

Truth be told, the British committed genocide and other war crimes. No wonder, Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom has been seeking legal redress. And, the population of Bunyoro currently stands at 1 million.

The British would not have defeated Kabaleega with a handful officers had it not been for the support of hundreds of Baganda and the Nubian soldiers.

These were later beefed up by hundreds of ruthless, highly-trained Sikh soldiers from the 11th Bombay Battalion from India.

Supported by the Swahili from the East African coast and the Baganda under Semei Kakungulu, Apolo Kaggwa and Luwandagga, the Sikhs first defeated the Sudanese Mutiny of 1897.

Later, commanded by star-genera Lt Col. Evatts, and having approached from the eastern bank of the River Nile in Busoga, they were able to, finally by bribing two Langi chiefs, locate the fugitive Kabaleega and Kabaka Mwanga.

In a lightning dawn attack on April 9, 1899, they were able, not after injuring Kabaleega (he dropped his Bagwigaire bata rifle after being shot in the right arm), did they capture the two kings.

Needless to say the Sikhs mowed down Kabaleega’s 200 body guard, injured their commander Nyakimoso.

Even then, though suffering from trachoma, Kabaleega fought to the end with his wife, Nyinabarongo, and four sons: Andereya Bisereko (who became Omukama in 1902, assuming the official name of Duhaga II), Zazaaya and John Kabaleega (plus Nyakimoso).

Bisereko had tried to disguise himself as a herdsman of Kabaleega’s royal herd, but Semei Kakungulu identified him as a prince.

Good enough, after a premonition days before, Kabaleega had moved his children, wives, and property deep in the interior, under the watchful eye of commander Owiny.

Indeed, though they never met again, Kabaleega tasked his son Tito Gafabusa, who joined him in exile at Mahe Island in the Seychelles archipelago, and acted as his personal private secretary for 10 years till 1920, to build a place for Owiny.

Indeed, when Tito became king in 1924 following the death of Kabaleega and Duhaga, he assumed the official name of Winyi IV (in honour of Owiny).

And, in 1935, he built the first palace in Lango for Owiny. All the materials used for the construction of this six-room house, including poles and soil, were imported from Bunyoro.

The bricks were reportedly made at Mparo royal tombs – two km from Hoima Oil City along the Masindi Road.

That’s the sad but heroic story of Omukama Cwa II Kabaleega, who died at Mpumwire, Busoga (literally, “I have rested” – Mpumudde in Rusoga and Ruganda) on April 6, 1923.

His body couldn’t be allowed to pass through Buganda soil. Rather, his faithful four Nubian soldiers, carried the cortege to Kamuli where they crossed to Masindi Port, then Masindi town and finally to Mparo, Hoima.

Ideally, he was supposed to have been buried in Bugangaizi, which was the burial ground for Babiito kings.

But because the Lost County had been given to Buganda, a decision was taken to bury him at Mparo.

Twenty days after his death – April 26, 1923 – to be exact – his remains were interred here in an elaborate traditional mausoleum.

The writer is the Speaker (Omutalindwa) of Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom Parliament.