Bazarrabusa: the forgotten hero
Timothy (left) and Jane Bazarrabusa (right) with Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdown
TIMOTHY Bazarrabusa, Uganda’s first High Commissioner to the UK, died mysteriously after attending a government meeting. Some say his death was politically motivated, while others say the diplomat, a Mukonzo, who was about to be named vice-president, was a victim of rivalry between his tribesmen and the Toro Kingdom.
In Bugolobi, a Kampala suburb, is Bazarrabusa Drive. The half-kilometre stretch lined with posh houses behind concrete fences connects Luthuli Avenue to Bugolobi Close. The rather affluent residents maintain a leafy neighbourhood that compensates for the broken down road. The affluence of the neighbourhood compares very well with that of Nakasero and Kololo. According to Kampala City Council’s citation, the road was named Bazarrabusa in recognition of Timothy B. Bazarrabusa’s contribution to the struggle for independence and national development. Bazarrabusa was probably the most influential national leader from what we now call Rwenzori Region immediately before and after Independence. However, like most influential national leaders of the 1950s and 1960s, he fell into obscurity. Unlike the others though, he died in 1966 under mysterious circumstances. Bazarrabusa was independent Uganda’s first High Commissioner to the UK, which made him the country’s most influential diplomat. It was, therefore, not surprising that he was recalled in April 1966 to attend a select committee meeting of the cabinet that was to discuss ‘important matters of government’ in Entebbe. During the meeting, Prime Minister Milton Obote is said to have tabled a proposal to abolish native kingdoms. Bazarrabusa advised against it, reasoning that such an action would cause civil strife and consequently cast Uganda in poor light among its friends in the world. The diplomat died on his way back to Kampala from Entebbe. However, with very high filial connections to senior officials of the kingdoms of Toro and Buganda, Bazarrabusa had been hard put to explain the political tensions in the build-up to the 1966 crisis. He is even said to have expressed his discomfort (in confidence to a British diplomat) over the political developments in Uganda. A crisis in the ruling Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) with a section accused of ill-gotten wealth from Congo had led to the arrest of five ministers. And relations between the central government and Buganda were on the rocks. The two had prior to Independence forged an alliance that secured Buganda’s privileged position in independent Uganda. In response to Bazarrabusa’s concerns, the diplomat informed him that Britain was watching with keen interest the political tensions in Uganda. “The British had been involved in the compromise provisions in Uganda’s 1962 Constitution. And they were disappointed that their handiwork was failing just after two years. Plus many British companies had investments in Uganda,” the British diplomat is said to have intimated. Mysterious death Bazarrabusa died on April 25, 1966 in what the local press of the time said was an accident. The Uganda Argus reported that his car had been involved in a head-on collision with a bus in central Kampala. And The Times (a UK publication), picking cue from the local media, ran a story headlined: “Uganda Envoy Dies in Road Crash”. However, there were unconfirmed reports that Bazarrabusa might have died as a result of a politically motivated murder. A former senior member of the UPC recently talked of Bazarrabusa’s death thus: “I really don’t know whether he had made alliances with any of the principal actors in the 1966 crisis. This would certainly put his life at risk. And if he expressed his disapproval of Obote’s actions, then his fate was sealed. It would only be a matter of time.” Indeed, being the son-in-law of the former Buganda Kingdom Treasurer (his first wife was related to the royal family of Toro Kingdom), everyone would expect and suspect him to be sympathetic to Mengo. So, even if he may not have had political alliances as would have been required of a diplomat like him, Bazarrabusa would most likely not have been trusted by the Obote side. Nearly a month after his death, the army stormed the Lubiri, Kabaka Mutesa’s Palace, on Obote’s orders. This followed accusations and counter-accusations between Mengo and the central government officials of a plot to overthrow the government. Tom Stacey, a British writer with extensive knowledge of the Rwenzori region, met Bazarrabusa in 1954, beginning a friendship that was terminated by Bazarrabusa’s death. In his book Tribe: The Hidden Story of The Mountains Of The Moon, Stacey claims that Bazarrabusa was “murdered one evening on the streets of Kampala by persons unknown and for reasons unknown”. Yet there are rumours that Bazarrabusa had been recalled to Kampala to be appointed Vice-President. That when some senior Toro politicians learnt about it, they killed him; for how could this Mukonzo ‘social climber’ lord it over the Batoro and indeed the whole country as VP? This thinking, however, feeds into the tribal rivalry between the Bakonzo and Batoro and would not pass the test of dispassionate analysis and judgement. President Obote was later to appoint John Babiha (a Mutoro) as Vice-President. However, another conspiracy theory states that Bazarrabusa was murdered for snubbing Obote during the political tensions of early 1966. With Obote’s political life at stake with challenges from the political opposition, the kingdoms and within the ranks of UPC, his own party, he was enraged by a confidant (Bazarrabusa) refusing to rally behind him. Slave father Bazarrabusa was born on March 28, 1912 to Paulo Byabasakuzi, a former slave to a Mutoro chief and Sofu Kihangwa. Both were Bakonzo. In a 1966 interview by historian M. Louise Pirouet, Paulo Byabasakuzi said he was captured as a youth from his home at around the time Capt. Frederick Lugard passed through the area in the late 19th century. At the turn of the century, European Christian missionaries used to frown at slave holding; and indeed many European missionaries are known to have bought people out of slavery from African chiefs. The name Byabasakuzi means ‘for the slave raiders’ in Rutoro. After escaping from slavery, Byabasakuzi found new hope and meaning of life in Christianity. He was later to become one of the pioneer Anglican Church catechists in western Uganda. According to his grandson David Horn, Bazarrabusa was an educated Mukonzo who was completely acculturated into Toro culture. Indeed, save for his Bukonzo blood, Bazarrabusa was all, but a Mutoro. Politics In the 1961 general elections to the Legico, Bazarrabusa lost the contest for Toro South composed of all sub-counties of Busongora County (the entire Kasese District) and Musale Sub-county in Bunyangabu County. According to the official election results, Bazarrabusa (UPC) got 1,831 votes, while Prince Akiiki Nyabongo (independent) got 1,273 votes. The winner was Ezironi Bwambale, the little-known DP candidate who got 3,087 votes. Bazarrabusa’s campaign manager, Richard Baguma (now the Rev. Baguma), was a Mutoro. Coupled with the fact that Bazarrabusa spoke poor Lhukonzo if at all, the predominantly Bakonzo voters of Toro South voted against him as a punishment for being more of a Mutoro than a Mukonzo. With Bazarrabusa’s experience and exposure, Obote immediately appointed him Uganda’s first High Commissioner to the UK. Bwambale later crossed the floor and joined UPC in exchange, as it were, for the position of Deputy Minister for Culture and Community Development. Family Bazarrabusa was married to Caroline Lwanga, a relative of the royal family of Toro Kingdom. Their marriage was blessed with two daughters. After Caroline’s death in 1945, he married Jane Kulubya in 1948 and they had two daughters and two sons. Jane was the daughter of S. W. Kulubya, the former treasurer of Buganda Kingdom. Dateline
· Makerere College (1934).
· Teacher, Nyakasura School (1934-42).
· Headmaster, Kabarole P. School (1943-46).
· Assistant Schools Supervisor (1947-50).
· Schools Supervisor, Anglican Church, Toro (1951-61).
· Member and Chairman (later Patron), Bakonzo Life History Research Society (1950-62).
· Cross-bench member, Legico (1954-55).
· Backbench member, Legco (1955-61).
· Commonwealth Parliamentary Course, Westminster (1958).
· Member, Constitutional Committee (The Wild Committee) (1959).
· Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) (1960).
· Minister of Education, Toro Kingdom, (January to October 1962).
· High Commissioner for Uganda, United Kingdom (1962-66).
· Board of Trustees Member, Uganda National Parks (1956).
· Board of Trustees Chairman, Uganda National Parks (1961).
· Mountain Club of Uganda Member (1954).
· Executive Committee Member, Mountain Club of Uganda (1958).
· Founding Member, Uganda Ski Club (1958).
· First recorded Ugandan amateur to climb Margherita Peak (Rwenzori) in 1960.
· President, Mountain Club of Uganda (1961-62).
· Patron, Mountain Club of Uganda (1963-64).
· First African member of the Alpine Club (1964). Publications
· Ihanga Rukanga (On Citizenship) 1947.
· Onyuunye Omale (On Saltworks) 1952.
· Mugenzoomu (The Lone Traveller) 1962 (Reprinted 1966. Reprinted 2005 by Fountain Publishers).
· Obu Ndikura Tindifa (I Will Never Die) 1962 (Reprinted 1966. Reprinted 2006 by Fountain Publishers).
· Hamunwa Gw’Ekituuro (At the Point of Death) 1963 (Reprinted 2006 by Fountain Publishers).
· Kalyaki Na Marunga (Kalyaki and Marunga), 1964 (Reprinted in 2006 Fountain Publishers).
· Mainaro Omusuma Kajingo (Mainaro the terrible thief)
· Tubaze Ha By’Obwo-meezi (a Rutoro translation of J. W. Chanell’s Let Us Talk about Health) 1962. Bazarrabusa was proud of being a Mukonzo Timothy B. Bazarrabusa attended Makerere College, as Makerere University was then called, in 1934, where he received a Diploma in Education. Starting as a teacher at Nyakasura School, he was to become the Inspector of Schools and later Minister for Education in Toro Kingdom. However, the most significant part of Bazarrabusa’s public life was his appointment to the colonial administration’s Legislative Council (Uganda’s seminal parliament) first as a cross-bench member in 1954 and later as a backbencher. David Ernest Apter, in Political Kingdom In Uganda, writes about the Legislative Council thus: “The nominated unofficial back benchers, who also sat on the government side, were given a Queen’s appointment to the Council because of the divergent views and interests they represented. They were not chosen simply arbitrarily; they received their appointments only after lengthy discussions with private groups and associations throughout the country. Among them were the former Katikkiro of Buganda, Michael Kawalya-Kaggwa (legendary Apollo Kaggwa’s son), Erinayo Okullo, Treasurer of Lango District Council and District Council Member for 18 years and Bazarrabusa from Toro, a teacher and District Council member. There were two women in the Legico; both outstanding. With religion at the centre of social transformation at the time, the former slave (now turned church leader) gained the respect of all. Needless to say, Bazarrabusa benefited from his father’s early exposure to Christianity and the attendant social benefits that came with being a church leader’s son. So, Bazarrabusa’s life represents schemata for the anthropological theory of upward social mobility and the role negotiated character plays in the formation of nationalist attitudes. His life is a study of the influence of Christianity on the social transformation of colonial Africa. For here was a Mukonzo (it was tough being a Mukonzo in Toro Kingdom) son of a former slave who climbed all the rungs on the ladder (local and national) to reach St. James’ Court as Uganda’s representative. And he owed it all to his father’s early exposure to Christianity. Because of Bazarrabusa’s success, the Batoro and Bakonzo always ‘fight’ for ownership of his legacy; more like the Mamba, Mutima and Bito (royal clan of Kooki) clans fought for ownership of the Kakungulu legacy in Buganda. However, Bazarrabusa never shied away from saying he was a Mukonzo despite the lowly position of the Bakonzo. He was the first chairman of the Bakonzo Life History Research Society which later became the vehicle for Bakonzo nationalist attitudes and Rwenzururu armed rebellion. A pioneer in several domains, Bazarrabusa wrote novels and poetry in Rutoro before the firebrand proponents of writing in native languages like Ngugi wa Thiongo acquired their writing skills.