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Deprogramming : “The Buganda Mindset”


By Gertrude Kamya Othieno Critical Political Sociologist

Baganda students often felt pride in history lessons, learning that colonial Britain was impressed with the Kingdom of Buganda, comparing it to their own English Kingdom, which they considered the best in the world. However, what was never taught in schools is that the Buganda Kingdom was actually more advanced in its setup and implementation.

Both Buganda and England were once feudal kingdoms, but a deeper look into their structures reveals that Buganda had a more sophisticated and centralised democratic system, reflective of its collectivist cultural values. In contrast, England’s system was more fragmented, aligning with its individualistic cultural ethos.

Despite this, many Baganda elites strive to adopt the English mindset as the epitome of “civilisation,” highlighting the need for a deprogramming effort.

Examining various aspects such as the delegation of authority, land ownership, autonomy, economic base, centralised power, military obligations, social mobility, judicial systems, and spirituality reveals significant differences and similarities between the kingdoms.

In both kingdoms, the hierarchy was clear with the king at the top. In England, the King was followed by nobles (barons and bishops), knights, and peasants (serfs and freemen). In Buganda, the Kabaka (king) was followed by chiefs (bataka), clan leaders, and commoners (abakopi). The Buganda Lukiiko and the English Council both served as advisory bodies to their respective monarchs, but their structures and functions reflected the cultural values of collectivism and individualism.

The Buganda Lukiiko, deeply rooted in collectivist values, emphasised communal decision-making and the representation of various clans and chiefdoms, with members acting on behalf of their communities to ensure the well-being of the kingdom as a whole. In contrast, the English Council, which evolved from the Witenagemot and later into Parliament, reflected a more individualistic ethos.

It was characterised by the influence of powerful nobles and landowners who often pursued their own interests or those of their regions. This council gradually incorporated broader representation, but its foundation was more fragmented, with significant autonomy granted to local lords.

Buganda Lukiiko’s focus on centralised communal governance contrasts with the English Council’s emphasis on individual autonomy and the balancing of diverse regional interests.

Land distribution and management in the two kingdoms reflected their different approaches. In England, the King owned all the land, granting fueds to nobles, who then distributed portions to knights. Peasants worked the land for their lords, highlighting an individualistic approach where autonomy was significant.

In contrast, the Kabaka in Buganda owned all the land and distributed it to chiefs and clan leaders. These leaders managed the land and ensured its cultivation by commoners, underscoring a collectivist approach with centralised control.

The degree of autonomy within these systems varied significantly. In England, nobles and knights had considerable autonomy within their fueds but owed military service and loyalty to their superiors.

This fragmentation is typical of an individualistic society where local powers had substantial independence. In Buganda, chiefs had authority over their regions but acted as representatives of the Kabaka. This centralised power structure ensured less fragmentation and stronger central control, typical of a collectivist society.

Both economies were primarily agricultural, but their organisation differed. In England, peasants produced food and paid rents or taxes in kind or labour, operating in a more individualistic economic environment. In Buganda, commoners cultivated the land and provided a share of their produce to chiefs and the Kabaka, reinforcing a collectivist system where economic contributions were part of a broader communal responsibility.

Power centralisation was a key difference. In England, power was fragmented, with nobles and knights enjoying significant autonomy. Over time, centralisation increased, but local autonomy remained strong. The Kabaka in Buganda maintained centralised power, with chiefs acting as his direct representatives, reflecting a collectivist emphasis on central authority.

Military service obligations also highlighted cultural differences. In England, vassals provided military service to their lords, with nobles and knights supplying armed forces to the king during war. This created a class of the military elite with considerable privileges that persists today.

In Buganda, chiefs mobilised and led their men in service to the Kabaka. Military obligations were collective, with entire clans contributing warriors. In this system, all men were soldiers of the king and were ready to die for him, encapsulated in the saying “wendigwa w’oligwa,” or, “w’oligwa, wendigwa” underscoring the kingdom’s collectivist values.


Opportunities for social mobility reflected the kingdoms’ values. In England, social mobility was limited but possible, especially through the church or royal favour, in an individualistic society. Today, the class structure still looms, with the working class less enthusiastic about the monarchy.

In Buganda, social mobility was based on clan affiliations and merit. Brave warriors or those who demonstrated exceptional service could rise in status and receive land grants directly from the Kabaka, reflecting a collectivist meritocracy.

The legal systems showed differences in judicial authority. In England, manorial courts handled local disputes with higher courts and the king holding ultimate authority, reflecting a more fragmented judicial system. In Buganda, the Kabaka and his council of chiefs had significant judicial powers. Local disputes were managed by clan leaders or chiefs, and serious matters were often brought to the Kabaka’s court.

Religion and culture played crucial roles in both societies. In England, Christianity was central, with Rome and not England, as the head of the Catholic Church, owning significant land and influencing politics, reinforcing individualistic values. In Buganda, traditional African beliefs influenced socio-spiritual and political structures. The Kabaka was both a political and spiritual leader, reflecting collectivist values where religion and governance were intertwined.

While both the Kingdoms of Buganda and England operated hierarchical systems of governance that controlled land and resources through obligations and allegiances, their implementations of feudalism were shaped by distinct cultural values. Buganda’s centralised system reflected its collectivist culture, while England’s more fragmented structure was indicative of its individualistic society. These differences in social, economic, and military obligations reflected the unique needs and traditions of each kingdom.

Understanding these contrasts can help us appreciate the strengths of our historical systems and guide us in addressing contemporary challenges.

Deprogramming : “The Buganda Mindset”

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