Uganda: Apologise and pay up – Bunyoro tells Britain
Posted by African Press International on September 21, 2007
This is the second part of a series in which Angelo Izama writes about the Bunyoro Kingdom’s demands from the United Kingdom over “war crimes” it inflicted against the Banyoro Queen Elizabeth II (left), the head of the Commonwealth, a club of former colonies and properties of imperial and colonial Britain, is facing a fresh lawsuit this month, a $4trillion lawsuit reportedly filed on behalf of Indians who were brought into Malaysia as labourers by colonial Britain.
Lawyers who filed the suit said their clients suffered indignity and loss as virtual slaves and continued to suffer discrimination, abandoned by the British after Malaysia got its independence.
Britain’s newly appointed Foreign Secretary David Miliband is named as a defendant in the case. It is expected that Britain which will attend the Commonwealth, a summit of heads of state of its former colonies, in Kampala this year, will face another lawsuit- by the Bunyoro Kingdom.
Bunyoro says it has sufficient evidence to convince court that Britain is guilty of gross crimes in the case it plans to file later this month. Ugandan and British lawyers will argue the case. There is a small but growing club of organizations, religious and political leaders that are calling on reluctant countries like Britain to right the wrongs they committed as slave traders and later as colonial powers.
Britain however is one of the most unwilling to acknowledge its actions led to the modern day problems of underdevelopment in far flung places such as Malaysia and Bunyoro. During the United Nations Anti-Racism conference in Durban, South Africa in 2001, Britain’s delegation worked hard to prevent European Union countries from “apologising” for slave trade, afraid that it would mean acknowledging its actions, and opening the door for reparation lawsuits like the one Bunyoro is planning to file later this month.
The historical suit Bunyoro’s case is based on the recorded testimony of British soldiers, actions that confirm to some extent the wanton actions that led, in this case, to the depopulation and subsequent marginalisation of Bunyoro. In 1893, Col. Henry Colville invaded Bunyoro, reputed to be in “a stubborn outpost of the proud King Kabalega who had made an unfavourable impression on officers like Sir Frederick Lugard and Sir Samuel Baker.”
The invasion, which Kabalega resisted for five years, laid to waste the once healthy Bunyoro Kingdom because of a policy of destruction of crops, grazing areas and the killing, kidnap and enslavement of Banyoro by the British imperial troops helped by their allies, the Kingdom of Buganda.
“I have this month and will in the future burn their houses, destroy their crops and cut down their banana plantations” wrote one Capt. Thruston on his work during the campaign, one of several accounts in his war diary.
The campaign also “popularised” the looting of Bunyoro’s known wealth, not just cattle and goats, but destruction of salt mines and the shut down of trade. Cattle were either killed or raided. “Next in importance to the Queen Mother being in our hands, is the loss sustained by Kabalega of nearly the whole of his cattle – the greater part were captured by the flying column under the command of Lt. H. Maddocks, of the Royal Fusiliers, and Lt. G.F.S Vandeleur, Scots Guards” one dispatch in 1895, just two years after the campaign begun, said.
The Queen Mother and several members of Kabalega’s royal family were captured as a way to lure him and break his spirit. One of the officers, Maj. Trevar Ternan, wrote that as “much harm as possible” should be inflicted on Bunyoro arguing that “the Wanyoro richly deserve all they get”.
The British condoned a policy of killing non-combatants as recorded by soldiers and missionaries in the war areas. It is Ternan who also wrote that Banyoro who were found carrying guns were immediately executed on sight. Ternan also killed to send a message, apparently recording the execution of six people after the death of a British collaborator.
A year into the campaign, Capt. Thruston wrote that in battle “no quarter was given, though it was frequently asked for” meaning even prisoners were executed even where they asked for pardon. The British records also indicate routine torture including flogging was inflicted on prisoners of war. Also popular was bastinadoing, Bunyoro argues.
Bastinado is a torture method where the feet are beaten until sores develop and the victim is unable to walk. While it was a war and casualties were on both sides, Bunyoro argues that the British officers acted outside of the known humanitarian principles of conducting a war even one involving natives. At the end of the campaign, one observer noted when passing Bunyoro that it was “a barren waste”.
“The little gardens and plantations were rank with weeds and completely deserted, and the few wandering natives we met looked half starved,” the observer wrote. However, the defeat of Kabalega and the war of conquest were only the beginning of Bunyoro’s problems.
With war came disease and famine, and what some scholars argue was the continual hatred for the Banyoro, reflected in the colonial government’s policies to which we will return next week. Bunyoro, the area where most of Uganda’s oil has been discovered (Ironically by British-owned companies) is asking for more than #3trillion.
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