On 3rd May, 2016, the Department of History, Archaeology and Heritage Studies, Makerere University held a public lecture in which eminent Historian, Prof. Holly Hanson, recounted the 1945 strikes in Buganda based on new evidence obtained from the National Archives of England.
In her presentation titled; “Rethinking Uganda in the 1940s with New Evidence”, Prof. Hanson explained how newly available evidence in the National Archives of England changes the perception of Uganda in the 1940s. She said the material, which was gathered up and hidden in a warehouse in southern England as part of “Operation Legacy” to protect the reputation of the Empire as it set, reveals a much more vibrant proto-nationalism rather than insurrection as portrayed in some official reports.
“The “migrated archives” allow us to hear the voices and see the actions of laborers, police inspectors, the unemployed and other people who were not elite leaders of the Protectorate, the Buganda kingdom, or the small group of British-educated critics of those regimes. With a broader range of voices, things look different. The dichotomies of traditional versus modern, bataka vs. chiefs, and Baganda vs. everyone else dissolve, and what we see instead is a diverse group of patriots struggling to realize their vision of a just and fair society, in which everyone had a voice and an obligation to contribute to the well-being of the whole,” she explains.
According to Prof. Hanson, Police on ground, whose account of the events is found in the migrated archives describe cheerful, disciplined action whereas the official reports indicate mob rule and insurrection.
Prof. Hanson elaborates that just like the strikes in 1945 in Ghana, Nigeria and elsewhere that galvanized nascent nationalist movements, in Uganda in 1945, highly motivated, organized at many ranks and well-disciplined people demanded fairness and responsiveness from their employers and the leaders of Buganda Kingdom.
During the strikes of the 1940s, rioters demanded the right to bypass the price controls on the export sales of cotton imposed by the British colonial government, the removal of the local Asian monopoly over cotton ginning – the Asians in Uganda were deemed to have an unfair advantage by having exclusive rights over cotton ginning, and the right to have their own representatives in local government and thus replace the chiefs appointed by the British Colonial Government.
Reacting to Prof. Holly Hanson’s presentation, the Discussant, Makerere University Political History Don, Mr. Mwambutsya Ndebesa, argued that the struggles of the 1940s were mainly for the emerging middle class that had issues with the Buganda Lukiiko. “Demands of migrant workers were not part of the submissions to the Kabaka. It wasn’t a nationalistic struggle,” he noted.
During the lecture, Prof. Hanson called for the introduction of historiography at University level for students to understand how history has evolved and from what point people choose to write it. She said there was need to expand history beyond that of “political hangers on”.
The lecture was attended by representatives from the Buganda Government including the State Minister for Research, Ms Sylvia Mazzi.
See Prof. Holly Hanson’s full presentation below.