The pitiful state of Mugaba, the palace of Omugabe of Ankole, did not prepare us for the shocking condition of a house on a hill just across the valley from the king’s palace. That house was once the residence of the single most influential figure in that kingdom’s history.

The gentleman was Owekitiinisa Nuwa Mbaguta Rutiinw’Abashaija rwa Katangaaza ka Rwambubi rwa Rwamahe, Rukara Rurenga, Mukama w’Abashaija, Bikaito Bishara Omuhanda, Omushambo Okunisa Kibooko.

Mbaguta was the first formal Enganzi of Nkore and Ankole. Born in Nshaara, Nkore in 1867, Mbaguta had a distinguished pedigree. His grandfather had served in the court of Omugabe Gasyonga I ga Bukundu (1811-39.)* His father had been a courtier and senior military leader under Omugabe Mutambuuka Rubinga-Rushaija (1839-67.)*

Naturally, Mbaguta entered the royal court, serving Omugabe Ntare V ya Kibooga Rugingiiza (1867-95)* just as the British were taking control of Nkore. A man of extraordinary vision, sense of timing, progressive authoritarianism and an uncanny ability to take advantage of the changing landscape at the dawn of colonialism, Mbaguta became one of the most successful nyamparas (headmen) of the British colonial state.

First, he signed the first Ankole-British Agreement on August 29, 1894 on behalf of King Ntare V Rugingiiza.  This act alone elevated his stature and confirmed him as Britain’s main man in Nkore.

Second, he used brilliant brinkmanship to defeat Prince Eria Kahitsi Rukirana mwene Mutambuuka who had usurped the throne following the death of Omugabe Ntare V in 1895.

Mbaguta mobilized the support of Kabaka Basammula-Ekkere Mwanga II of Buganda and the British colonial authorities to install the young Prince Kahaya mwene Igumira on the throne of Nkore.

From then on, Mbaguta, literally the kingmaker, became the real power behind Omugabe Edward Solomon Kahaya II Rugyengamanzi. He was so powerful, in fact, that he upstaged the king in the exercise of executive authority. Whereas he was resented by many Nkore aristocrats, few doubted his commitment to transform Nkore/Ankole into a modern nation.

To a very large extent, Mbaguta succeeded. He used his partnerships with British administrators and other colonial agents to entrench colonial government, to spread the Anglican religion, and to establish communication systems, health services and western education. For example, Mbaguta gave the 221 acres of land upon which the current campus of Mbarara High School is built.

Such was Mbaguta’s determination to implement transformative change and development in Ankole that he never hesitated to cane recalcitrant citizens. His was the original Kisanja Hakuna Mchezo. Part of his praise name was “Omushambo Okunisa Kibooko” (he of the Bashambo clan who wields the cane.) “Okuteera eza Mbaguta” is a Rukiga-Runyankore expression that means caning someone Mbaguta-style.

In him, the British found a very dependable collaborator in the mold of Sir Apolo Kaggwa of Buganda. F. Lukyn Williams, the British District Commissioner of Ankole (1931-35) described Mbaguta as “a man of exceptional administrative ability, a stalwart fighter, a wise counsellor, a loyal subject, a generous host and a staunch friend.”

The British reciprocated Mbaguta’s loyalty by giving him enormous power over an expanded Nkore kingdom that was renamed Ankole in 1901.

Mbaguta retired from the premiership in 1938**, an influential and wealthy man, an honoured member of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), whose assets included the house in Ruharo, an upscale suburb of Mburara, and at least 40 square miles of land.  Mbaguta’s house is said to be the first private residence that was roofed with amabaati (corrugated iron sheets) in Ankole.

He died at Kyakabunga on August 10, 1944, exactly two months before the death of Omugabe Kahaya II Rugyengamanzi.

Seventy-four years after his death, there is very little evidence of Mbaguta’s personal wealth. His land holdings in Mburara area appear to have been reduced to a small piece that surrounds his house, itself in a very sorry state.

Although I have not been able to establish its exact age, Mbaguta’s house dates back to the first three decades of the last century. When my wife and I visited the home on January 8 and 9 this year, we were amazed by its architectural and functional design. Set back about 200 metres from the road, the four-bedroomed house, with a spacious living room, separate dining room and a hallway, must have been quite an impressive place when Mbaguta was in residence.

However, its current state is better seen than described. The original roof, now severely rusted, remains. Whereas the front door and its lovely hardware, as well as the front windows remain, the rest of the original doors and windows were allegedly stolen and sold off by squatters (not related to Mbaguta) who occupied the house for about thirty years.

Mbaguta’s furniture and other material possessions are gone, except for his nameless drum that still sounds great. A framed copy of his famous photograph – seated with a regal pose and attired in his ceremonial robes and medals – hangs on the wall.

The house was successfully reclaimed by the Mbagutas a few years ago. His 79-year old son, Geoffrey Mugyerwa, lives there, together with the widow of one of Mbaguta’s great-grandsons and her children.

Mbaguta is buried in the compound, very close to the house. Next to him are graves of some members of his family. Not much else remains that tells the story of Nuwa Mbaguta, a man who was a major transformative force throughout his 42 years as prime minister of Ankole.

Besides a short street in Mburara and a student dormitory at Ntare school (and perhaps elsewhere) there is hardly anything that tells his story and his times.

Mbaguta’s house cries out for government intervention. It should be declared a national heritage site, acquired from the family and restored. It should be turned into The Mbaguta Centre – partly a museum, partly a repository of his papers and other historical documents, and partly an education centre focusing on governance for local government officials.

To do nothing is not only to dishonour Mbaguta, but also to deprive ourselves and posterity of the knowledge and lessons from one of the most consequential people in twentieth century Africa.

MKM

 

NOTES:

* Various sources give different dates for the reigns of Abagabe of Nkore. In this article, I have used the dates based on the calculations by Dr. Samwiri Rubaraza Karugire, historian and author of one of the seminal works on the history of Nkore. He gives them as follows:

Gasyonga I  1811-39 +- 17 (years)

Mutambuuka 1839-1867 +- 14

Ntare V 1967-95 +- 10

** Without access to the Ankole Kingdom archives, I am unable to be certain about Mbaguta’s retirement date. In Abagabe b’Ankole II (Fountain Publishers), which was first published in 1955, A.G. Kataate and L. Kamugungunu state that Mbaguta retired in 1938 (page 32). This is the same date that is given by Karugire on page 265 of A History of the Kingdom of Nkore in Western Uganda to 1896 (Published in 1971) and by S. Tibaanyendera and P. Barireeba  Irungu in Katondoozi y’ebya Nkore ebya ira, page 44 (Fountain Publishers, 2011).  On the other hand, the information that is engraved on Mbaguta’s gravestone records his retirement year to have been 1937. That engraving and the tiling on the grave appear to be recent additions, perhaps within the last 30 years.

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8 Responses to “Neglected home and legacy of Ankole’s greatest leader”

  1. Sam Kigongo

    “Eza Mbaguta” meaning a thorough flogging, was also a Luganda expression in the mid 20th century. Mrs Alice Muleto Nalongo, a schoolmistress who was so beautifully eulogised by Dr Mulera, was known for her skill in this disciplinary tool.

    Reply
    • Muniini K. Mulera

      Clearly Mbaguta had numerous disciples – parents, teachers and police officers. His tool remains well used more than seven decades after his death. There is a whole “kibooko” squad in Uganda, whose brief is to inflict high velocity caning on uncooperative subjects.

      Reply
  2. Mwambutsya Ndebesa

    Mbaguta was indeed a loyal subject. Of course at that time one could not talk about a loyal citizen. We need to preserve the history of such men and women. It is important. And thank you Muniini for this endeavor. However i notice that you are more taken up by what is called Court history. That is to say the history of rulers. You need to strike a balance and also get interested in the history of the ruled, the masses, the commoners etc what is called subaltern history.

    For example, would it interest you next time to find out the fate of those who were caned by the Mbagutas? Would you like to find out where the name Ruharo came from? Wasn’t that the place where those who participated in compulsory free labour- Luwaro in Luganda were camped. How did they benefit from their labour under Kiboko? Weren’t these the free labour suppliers who constructed valley dams that benefited their Kiboko caners? Weren’t the Kiboko Ruharo victims not the ones who cut down the mitongore to fight tsetse flies but never benefited from the fruits of this labour.

    Reply
    • Muniini K. Mulera

      Oh! Of course I take great interest in the full history of a people – the rulers and their subjects. Specific to Ankole, my interest not only cuts across the full spectrum, my note books are packed with interviews with people of nearly every station in life/society. Yes I know that Oruharo is compulsory labour, which is what built the colonial states all over the world.

      That said, my articles at the moment are focused on saving, restoring and preserving the historical sites/homes. This does not in any way ignore the larger story, except that that is not the focus of my commentary at the moment.

      Reply
  3. Babwetera Aggrey

    Ninkutera ezi mbaguta yatire muha!(I will cane you the very way Mbaguta caned a fox) this was a phrase to warn us during our young times of the impeding tough punishment. All I knew about Mbaguta was a street in Mbarara named after him. I didn’t know any piece of evidence about his deeds and names be found. Its unfortunate we look/learn our history from Europeans who tell us distorted history and the one that favours them!
    Thank you my brother, I will look for the dilapidated house of Mbaguta. By touching there I will have touched on the walls of a great man that once existed and made Ankoke what it is!

    Reply
  4. Muhoozi

    Dear Dr. Mulera,
    Thank you for starting this conversation or rather joining the conversation that has been running on different fora, known and unknown. I have read three pieces by you, all with interesting pieces of our history: the Karegyesa piece, and the two on your recent Ankole sojourn earlier this year. A friend whose speciality is heritage studies, once told me that a people will preserve what they consider important for their heritage. We return to this in future. Mbaguta’s house and the Mugaba are not the only sites in total disrepair and therefore left to their fate. In 1998 I took shots of the monument built to commemorate the spot where Stanley met Buchunku. Then, it had been defaced, its plaque with notes was missing, and the structure was slowly succumbing to the forces of nature…

    Regarding the history of this area (Nkore/Ankole), which you so seem interested, could you email me and we continue this conversation? I’m a historian of Nkore/Ankole.

    Reply
    • Muniini K. Mulera

      Thank you Ndugu Muhoozi. Preserving our heritage is not part of our heritage, I am afraid. This is a subject that we should examine further.

      Reply
  5. Karuhanga-Ziinowazo

    Nuwa Mbaguta, was ahead of his time. Love him or hate him, he embraced the inevitable change that would accompany the dawn of Colonialism. He strategically positioned himself to play an instrumental role in ensuring the interests of the Ankole Kings factored very well into this inevitable change. To both the Colonialist and the local King, Mbaguta was a desirable change agent. Before reading here, I had just read a fascinating privately written story of how Nuwa Mbaguta was a key player in the demise of the Igara Kingdom under the reign of Musinga, with whom Ankole had had several battles aimed at subjugating Igara. Even then, after Musinga had been tricked into arrest leading to his suicide before this arrest could be fully effected, Mbaguta was instrumental in the carefully arranged transition to Musinga’s very young successor-son Mukootani. Mukootani eventually became of age to take over his father’s Igara kingdom from his uncle -Bakora (Musinga’s younger first cousin!) who had been appointed caretaker in his place. Mukootani, unfortunately was soon placed under arrest in relation to a murder of a colonial Muganda administrator in his jurisdiction and imprisoned in Ibanda. Soon after, the Colonial government, probably with advice from Mbaguta, did appoint a certain Toogo, as simply a colonial administrator for the area that included Igara-Mitooma.

    Reply

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