How Africa Lost Critical Thinking To Foreign Religions: How Foreign Religions, For Which Rebellious Uganda Martyrs Were Executed Exacerbated “Scramble For Africa”

How Africa Lost Critical Thinking To Foreign Religions: How Foreign Religions, For Which Rebellious Uganda Martyrs Were Executed Exacerbated “Scramble For Africa”

By Andrew Irumba

One would not be far from the truth if they contend that Uganda martyrs, instead quickened the “scramble for Africa” process by our colonial masters, via mass recruitments into their religious movements (Catholic, Anglican and Islam), and these are the ‘African heroes and heroines’ we celebrate every 3rd June, and yet on the other hand, we extinguished our colonialists from Africa by force!

There are approximately about 4200 religions in the world today. The World Book Encyclopedia has estimated that in 2002 Christians formed 45% of the continent’s population, with Muslims forming 40%. It was also estimated in 2002 that Christians form 45% of Africa’s population, with Muslims forming 40.6%.

The Uganda Martyrs are a group of 23 Anglican and 22 Catholic converts into Christianity in the historical kingdom of Buganda, now part of Uganda, who were executed between 31 January 1885 and 27 January 1887. They were killed on orders of Mwanga II, the Kabaka (King) of Buganda then.

The deaths took place at a time when there was a three-way religious struggle for political influence at the Buganda royal court. The episode also occurred against the backdrop of the “Scramble for Africa” – the invasion, occupation, division, colonization and annexation of African territory by European powers. A few years after, the English Church Missionary Society used the deaths to enlist wider public support for the British acquisition of Uganda for the Empire. The Catholic Church beatified the 22 Catholic martyrs of its faith in 1920 and canonized them in 1964.

Publication in Britain of an 1875 letter purporting to be an invitation from the king of Buganda, Muteesa I, to send missionaries, resulted in the arrival of Alexander Mackay of the Anglican Church Missionary Society to Buganda in 1877. A group of French Catholic White Fathers, led by Pere Simon Lourdel (Fr. Mapera) appeared two years later. Arab traders from Zanzibar had introduced Islam into the kingdom. This effectively led to a three-way religious struggle for political influence at the Buganda royal court. By the mid-1880s, many had been converted by each of the three groups, and some of the converts held important posts at the king’s court. Muteesa himself sympathized with Islam, but many prominent chiefs had become Christians.

Kabaka Mwanga II succeeded to the throne in 1884. He was concerned at the growing influence of Christianity and the rise of a new class of officials, distinct from the traditional territorial chiefs, who were educated, had a religious orientation, and wished to REFORM GANDA SOCIETY. The German annexation of what is now Tanzania sparked further alarm. A year after becoming king he ordered the execution of Yusufu Rugarama, Makko Kakumba, and Nuwa/Noah Serwanga, who had converted to Christianity. Encouraged by his prime minister, on 29 October 1885 he had the incoming Anglican bishop James Hannington assassinated on the eastern border of his kingdom.

This may have been deliberately intended to send a message to the British that he did not wish for them to make inroads in Uganda. Mwanga, however, subsequently appoint several Christians to important military positions.

In 1886 Mwanga ordered the execution of Martyrs as they refused to denounce Christianity, which he saw as insubordination. Although some sources say they were both Christian and Muslim converts, other sources speak only of Anglican and Catholic victims, and mention the killing of Muslims as having occurred ten years earlier at the hands of Mwanga’s father Muteesa.

Joseph Mukasa, a convert to Christianity who had deplored the assassination of Hannington, and had tried to protect the court pages, was the first to be executed on 15 November 1885. This was at the instigation of the Katikkiro (prime minister) Mukasa, whose successor Joseph Mukasa was tipped to become king. Then, between 25 May and 3 June 1886, a wider series of executions were carried out. Mwanga instructed the killing of all the young men who disobeyed him – partly to satisfy the demands of the older chiefs. Twenty-two of the men, who had converted to Catholicism, were burned alive at Namugongo in 1886.

……..Many have also argued that the motivation for the execution was the perception that “these Christians were rebels against the Kabaka, unwitting tools of foreign imperialism”……

 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 brought Mwanga’s brother Kiweewa to the throne. In October 1888, the Muslims seized power, expelled the Christian leaders and, when Kiweewa refused to be circumcised, deposed and killed him, replacing him with another brother, Kalema.

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 neighbouring kingdom of Bunyoro, which helped them to return victoriously in November 1889, but they suffered a decisive defeat in February 1890 and withdrew again to Bunyoro.

In 1888, Britain authorized the Imperial British East Africa Company to administer the East African territory assigned to Britain in its 1886 treaty with Germany. In November 1889, Mwanga asked the company’s agent Frederick Jackson for help. Jackson hesitated to accept the request, because he had been given orders not to enter Buganda. Carl Peters, an agent of the corresponding German company, learning of Mwanga’s appeal, decided to respond to it. He arrived at Mengo, Mwanga’s new capital, a fortnight after the February 1890 defeat of the Muslims. Since these still presented a threat, Mwanga accepted his offer of a treaty. Jackson then arrived and offered a treaty, which Mwanga rejected, since even the English missionaries considered its terms too onerous.

The agreement that Peters made with Mwanga was nullified by the 1 July 1890 treaty between Britain and Germany, which extended inland the line of division between their areas of influence in East Africa, leaving Buganda in the British sphere and moving the centre of interest from the coast to the hinterland. The Imperial British East Africa Company sent Frederick Lugard, its military administrator, to Mengo, where in December 1890 he got Mwanga to accept for a period of two years an agreement with the company. This agreement was advantageous for Mwanga when the Muslims in Bunyoro made another attempt to recover power. Friction between the Catholic and the Protestant parties led to fighting in January 1892 in Mengo. Lugard supported the Protestants against the stronger Catholic side in the fighting, forcing Mwanga and the Catholics to flee.

Lugard managed to persuade Mwanga to return from German territory, where he had taken refuge, to Mengo on 30 March 1892 and to make a new treaty. This treaty assigned separate areas to Protestants (the largest area), Catholics, and (only a small area) Muslims; Mwanga himself nominally became a Protestant.

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, 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 Mwanga accepted Buganda being made a British protectorate. However, on 6 July 1897 he declared war on the British. Defeated on 20 July in Buddu (in today’s Masaka District), an area assigned to Catholics in the 1892 treaty, he again fled to German East Africa. He was declared deposed on 9 August. After a failed attempt to recover his kingdom, he was exiled in 1899 to the Seychelles, where he was received into the Anglican Church. He died in 1903, aged 35.

Up to today, a section of Pan-Africanists still contend that these colonial agents (Martyrs) eroded Africa’s critical thinking when they assisted in the ‘The Scramble For Africa”-Invasion, colonialism,  occupation, division, colonization and annexation of African territory by European powers through their foreign religions that targeted their own cultures and traditions. Question that still lingers in our minds is; were they martyrs or belligerent rebels against local authority, which is also against Bible teachings?!


1- Achilleus Kiwanuka (d. 3 June 1886)

2- Adolphus Ludigo-Mukasa (d. 3 June 1886)

3- Ambrosius Kibuuka (d. 3 June 1886)

4- Anatoli Kiriggwajjo (d. 3 June 1886)

5- Andrew Kaggwa (d. 26 May 1886)

6- Antanansio Bazzekuketta (d. 27 May 1886)

7- Bruno Sserunkuuma (d. 3 June 1886)

8- Charles Lwanga (d. 3 June 1886)

9- Denis Ssebuggwawo Wasswa (d. 25 May 1886)

10- Gonzaga Gonza (d. 27 May 1886)

11- Gyavira Musoke (d. 3 June 1886)

12- James Buuzaabalyaawo (d. 3 June 1886)

13- John Maria Muzeeyi (d. 27 January 1887)

14- Joseph Mukasa (d. 15 November 1885)

15- Kizito (d. 3 June 1886)

16- Lukka Baanabakintu (d. 3 June 1886)

17- Matiya Mulumba (d. 30 May 1886)

18- Mbaga Tuzinde (d. 3 June 1886)

19- Mugagga Lubowa (d. 3 June 1886)

20- Mukasa Kiriwawanvu (d. 3 June 1886)

21- Nowa Mawaggali (d. 31 May 1886)

22- Ponsiano Ngondwe (d. 26 May 1886)

 Andrew Irumba is Founding Speaker & Chairman, Pan-African Pyramid an accessible web community

Related Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *