by on October 6, 2018

Left to right: Omukama Tito Winyi IV of Bunyoro, Kabaka Edward Muteesa II of Buganda, Governor of Uganda Andrew Cohen, Ankole’s king Charles Godfrey Gasyonga II and George David Kamurasi Rukidi III of Tooro in the 1950s. Kingdoms were banned in Uganda in 1966 and restored in 1993, except for Ankole. FILE PHOTO 

By Henry Lubega

The kingdom of Ankole, as it was known until the abolition of kingdoms in Uganda in 1966, was a creation of the British colonial administrators.

What came to be known as Ankole Kingdom evolved from the sazas of Nyabushozi, Kashari and Isingiro. The name Ankole, which was given to the administrative district, was a European corruption of Nkore.

With the support of the honest Engazi (prime minister), Nuwa Mbaguta, other small chiefdoms around acknowledged the Omugabe (king of Ankole) as their ruler.


Writing in volume 21 of the Uganda Journal of 1957, H. F. Morris says despite a local twist, there was an agreement between the Banyoro and Nkore when it came to the establishment of the two kingdoms.

“Bunyoro and Nkore traditions agree that Nyamate was the mother of Isimbwa, the first Mucwezi, by Isaza, the last of the Batembuzi kings of Kitara. But the Nkore version adds that she was the daughter of Ruyonga, the last of an earlier dynasty which had ruled Nkore since its establishment by the divine Ruhanga,” Morris writes.

Ruhinda, the son of Wamara and Njunaki, a slave girl, was said to have been the first Mugabe and founder of Nkore.

Initially, what is known as Nkore today was known as Karo Karungi (the beautiful land). The name changed following a raid by the Banyoro who were searching for better grazing fields that were abundant in Karo Karungi. The invading king of Bunyoro was called Cwamali.

According to Morris, the invasion took place in the early 1700s during the reign of Omugabe Ntare. “Utterly defeated, Ntare fled for refugee first in the caves of Nyamistindo and then Kantsyore Island in Kagera and finally to Muzira near Nsongezi forest,” Morris writes.

According to a book titled Abagabe b’Ankole (kings of Ankole) by A.G. Katate and L. Kamugungunu, Cwamali occupied Karo Karungi for some time before he was tempted to expand and invade Ruanda (Rwanda) where he suffered a terrible loss which weakened his forces. This energised the once defeated Omugabe Ntare to launch an attack and reclaim his throne.

“After several years of occupation by the invading Banyoro and the reorganisation by Ntare, they attacked the weakened Cwamali, defeated and killed him. The killing of Cwamali and his army earned Ntare another name, Kiitabanyoro (the killer of Banyoro),” Morris writes.

“When the queen mother in Bunyoro heard the news of her son’s death, she said ‘Ebi shi ente za Karo za nkora munda’ (the cows of Karo have broken my heart).” That’s how Karo Karungi got the name Nkore, according to the two authors.

It was not until the reign of Ntare Kiitabanyoro’s grandson Kahaya I that the borders of Nkore were expanded.

Morris writes that the expansion was continued by his son and great grandson Rwebishengye and Mutambuka respectively.

“Rwebishengye invaded and plundered Buhweju in the west and took Kabula from Bunyoro in the east. Rwebishengye’s grandson Mutambuka waged war of aggression as far as Busongora. During the campaign in Busongora he captured and then married a Mubiito princess Kiboga.”

Following Mutambuka’s death in 1870, there was a power struggle among the princes, mostly between Mukwenda, the oldest son, and his young brother Ntare. The power struggle lasted for years.

During that time, Mukwenda appealed to Buganda king Muteesa. According to Morris, “Muteesa twice sent an army to assist him. Though defeated, Ntare eluded his pursuers and after the withdrawal of the Baganda, he again collected together his supporters and, at Mugoye in Mutoma, he utterly defeated his brother who was killed in the battle.”

During his reign, the Mugabe’s power was felt far and beyond. According to Katate and Kamugungunu, “Buhweju, Igara and Buzimba recognised Ntare as their suzerain, whilst further afield the rulers of Busongora, Kitagwenda and Bwera would send him presents to avert invasion.”

However, his expansion was not a merry-go-round; he had other factors to contend with. One of them was the growing power of Buganda Kingdom in the east which had taken over Buddu.

During the religious wars in Buganda earlier in 1888, a good number of Baganda Christians fled and sought refuge in Ntare’s territory. Despite his mother’s objection, he gave them the area of Kabula to settle. Unfortunately for him, they later took over the place and it was annexed by Buganda.

With time, the Baganda Christian settlers became a problem not only to the Nkore leaders, but even to the establishment of the colonial government post in Mbarara. 

When in December 1898 R. J. D. Macalister went to establish a station in Mbarara, he and his small force were constantly raided by bands of former Christian fighters from Kabula to the extent that at some point they considered pulling out of the territory completely.

With time, according to Morris, maintaining security in Kabula was put under the control of Buganda authorities. 

“The county was in 1898 put under the control of a Muganda chief with a view to its eventual incorporation in Buganda which was formally effected by the Uganda (Buganda) agreement of 1900.”

Arrival of Europeans

Besides the Buganda factor, Ntare was concerned about the arrival of the first European in Nkore in 1889. Henry Stanley went through Nkore on his way from Belgian Congo in his search for Emin Pasha.

Though he passed through the territory more as an explorer, he was soon followed by administrators. They were interested in Nkore because it was strategically located as a link between Kabalega’s Bunyoro and north Tanganyika (Tanzania), the German sphere of influence south of the Kagera.

Writing in the Uganda Journal volume II of 1935, Williams F. Luken says: “In 1891, Lugard reached Ntare’s Nkore through Buddu and at Nyabushozi he met the Mugabe’s envoy and a treaty was made whereby Ntare accepted the protection of the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEAC) and undertook not to allow the passage of arms through his kingdom.”

But the agreement with IBEAC was not enough to deter the Germans from forcefully going through Ntare’s territory. Morris says with the German threat, Ntare was not decided on whether to turn to the British. It took his prime minister, Nuwa Mbaguta, to sign another treaty with the British for protection.

“In August 1894, Maj G. G. Cunningham attempted to see Ntare and get him to sign a new treaty. Ntare, however, apparently had second thoughts on the desirability of calling in the British. Eventually, Mbaguta came to Cunningham and signed the treaty on Ntare’s behalf. Cunningham signed on behalf of the Queen on August 29, 1894.”

Following that agreement, Cunningham wrote to the commissioner stating: “The Katikkiro Magota (Mbaguta) arrived with full powers. He signed the treaty for the king, and requested that a Black man might be sent in future as your representative as Ntali (Ntare) could not see a European. He said the king did not wish for a post in Ankoli at present.”

However, shortly after Ntare ya Kiboga, as he was also known, died of pneumonia in 1895, marking the end of Nkore, a dynasty that had started with Ntare Kiitabanyoro.

Power vacuum

Following Ntare’s death, there was a power vacuum as there was no clear successor to the throne. Morris says: “His nephew Kahitsi seized Bajyendanwa (the royal drum) and royal herds, but was unable to secure the support of the majority of the Bahima who looked to the warrior Igumira, another of Ntare’s nephews, as their leader.”

In 1898 when R. J. D. Macallister arrived in Mbarara to open a government post, he was faced with a rebellion from Kahitsi and there was discontent among the Bahinda chiefs. As a collector, he toured the area under his jurisdiction extensively, but because of the resistance he met he had to use force to subdue them.

According to the national archives files, colonial authorities in Entebbe did not agree with the high handedness Macallister used and on several occasion he was reprimanded.

A June 1899 letter from a commissioner read in part: “I am sorry to see that you have had a military expedition in Ankole. Please bear in mind the necessity at present of keeping quiet. In no case can I send you further troops, if we can’t hold Ankole without a row we must come out of it. Foreign Office won’t have any more rows at present and there will be trouble if their wishes are not complied with.”

In part two next week, read about how present day Ankole expanded to incorporate Buhweju, Buzimba and Mpororo

Posted in: History
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