We Ugandans love history. This love for things past almost led us to war with Kenya in 1976. Our gallant president then, the one and only Field Marshal Idi Amin, had directed all Ugandans to read a certain book that detailed how “our” territory was grabbed by the British and given to Kenya in 1902. Before that fateful “Order in Council” was signed at the at Buckingham Palace on April 1, 1902, lakes Rudolf (Naivasha), Elmenteita, Nakuru and Baringo were inside Uganda.
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta got furious with Amin’s history lesson to the Ugandans and, for weeks, things were very bad between Nairobi and Kampala.
A couple of weeks back when the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ended, regional social media banter focused on that sub-region that almost made Kenya fight Uganda 45 years ago. It transpires that all the young men and women who enabled Kenya and Uganda be the only two African nations in the top quarter on the Olympic medal table (no South Africa, no Nigeria, no Ethiopia in sight) hail from that area.
The Kenyans said all these world-beating athletes were Kenyan. The Ugandans said they were Ugandan. If the history-loving Ugandans also paid attention to detail, they would have claimed that the “Order in Council” of 1902 was signed on Fools Day and so it was a joke, meaning Eliud Kipchoge and company belong to Yoweri, not Uhuru.
This banter of communities that belong to either side of the border has been enjoyed at the highest level of both countries when the Ugandan president suggested to his Kenyan counterpart that they should swap the Awori blood brothers so we take the mild Moody Awori and send the fiery Aggrey Awori to Kenya.
A reversion to the even later pre-1911 borders would have made the Ugandan president even happier as the troublesome military intellectuals like Kizza Besigye and Henry Tumukunde would be in Rwanda as their Kigezi sub-region would not be part of Uganda.
However, back to athletics, a revision to pre-1914 borders would deprive Uganda of its singular historic claim as Dorcas Inzikuru, the person who set the first world record for women 3,000 metres steeplechase, would belong to South Sudan, where her West Nile sub-region belonged.
In terms of security, that 1902 Order in Council perpetuated the annoyingly endless lawlessness of today’s northeastern Uganda and northwestern Kenya. Fifteen years ago, Uganda had managed to disarm its Karimojong warriors and brought them under the same penal code as the rest of the country.
But because “our” territory stretching to Lake Turkana was transferred by the British to Kenya, Uganda Police and Uganda Peoples Defence Forces could not go and collect the weapons in the hands of Kenyan Turkana and Pokot. So our unarmed Ugandan Karimojong became easy prey to ex-Ugandan Turkana, Pokot, et al cattle rustlers. So last Christmas season, our Karimojong sold many beef cattle to Kenyan and Sudanese traders and used some of the money to rebuild their deadly arsenal which the government had depleted and closed. Now we are back to armed lawlessness in the northeast.
By the way, the 20th century redrawing of borders is still impacting today’s politics. Kenya was not supposed to have any bit of Lake Victoria. That means that with Uganda stretching to Naivasha, William Ruto and Raila Odinga would all be Ugandans, well contained by Yoweri Museveni. Kenyans would be preparing for next year’s elections without those two guys anywhere in the equation.
And there is something many Ugandan intellectuals opposed to the multiplication of districts don’t know. I was told by elderly islanders of Lake Victoria that as Museveni took power in 1986, they had finalised their petition to the UN and several other authorities seeking to leave Uganda to join the United Republic of Tanzania. I don’t know if Museveni knew of the move but the islanders of Ssese — which had been under Masaka district on the mainland that did not care about them — were granted a district now called Kalangala as one of the first acts of the new revolutionary government.
But that is very recent history which is not about to bother today’s millennial cyber warriors. A hundred years from now, people who will be around then will analyse if the unique Victorian islands would have been better for marine eco-tourism under Tanzanian jurisdiction than as Kenyan palm oil plantations under Ugandan jurisdiction that they became.
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:[email protected]