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Early Development

Uganda has a rich and varied military history. Many of the country's precolonial societies possessed complex military organizations. One of the most powerful traditional leaders, Kabarega, king (omukama) of Bunyoro from 1870 to 1899, transformed his personal guard into a standing army (see Early Political Systems , ch. 1). This force used a variety of modern weapons, including Remington rifles, percussion muskets, and breech and muzzle loaders. Mutesa I, king (kabaka) of Buganda from 1852 to 1884, also raised a standing army, led by a general and several captains. At the height of its power, Mutesa's army of several thousand warriors had more than 1,500 rifles.

After Britain became interested in Uganda's economic potential in the nineteenth century, a group of British merchants created a small military force to protect their interests. In 1890 the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEA), which administered the territory that would become Uganda, established an army to defend British investments there. This force of 300 included Sudanese soldiers (most of whom were recruited in Egypt) who were organized into a Zanzibar Levy. The following year, Selim Bey, who commanded a military unit for the German explorer Emin Pasha, agreed to allow about 100 of his Sudanese troops to join the British force in East Africa.

After Britain declared a provisional protectorate over Uganda in 1893, the colonial authorities formed a military unit of 600 regulars and 300 reservists, most of whom were Sudanese. Four Arabic-speaking British officers assumed responsibility for their training. In December 1893, Colvile led a force of several thousand Baganda fighters and 420 Sudanese in a campaign against Bunyoro, Buganda's arch-rival. This "pacification" succeeded in subduing Bunyoro and secured for Buganda a politically dominant role in the protectorate.

Sudanese soldiers provided the mainstay of the Ugandan army, whose task was to preserve British interests and to launch punitive expeditions against those who rebelled against the crown. In 1895 the colonial authorities organized these soldiers into rifle companies, which became known as the Uganda Rifles. Despite the good reputation they achieved at riflery, many Sudanese became disillusioned with the rigors of military service in a foreign country under British command. Their grievances included loneliness, low pay, poor food, bad officers, and frequent reassignments, often to remote areas.

When the colonial government failed to resolve these problems, the Uganda Rifles mutinied in 1897, killing the commander of the force and five other European officers. Discontent spread rapidly through Uganda's Muslim community, which was sympathetic to the Sudanese soldiers, and violence erupted in several regions. Finally, Britain dispatched troops from India to suppress the mutiny.

To prevent another revolt, the colonial government diversified the composition of the military. It reduced the number of Sudanese recruits, increased recruiting among the Indians and Ugandan Africans, and increased the overall ratio of European officers to soldiers. The government also granted a 400 percent military pay raise. But by December 1900, military expenses were eroding the profitability of the colonial enterprise, so Special Commissioner Sir Harry H. Johnston organized a lower-paid constabulary of 1,450 armed natives. The following year, to further reduce costs, British officials consolidated all military forces in East Africa and British Somaliland into the King's African Rifles (KAR). In 1903 the Uganda Armed Constabulary Ordinance and the Uganda Prisons Ordinance separated the police and prisons from the KAR.

The colonial authorities maintained racial separation in the military by assigning Africans to the Fourth Battalion and Indians to the Fifth Battalion. In 1913 the authorities disbanded the Fifth Battalion and supplemented the Ugandan unit with the Uganda Volunteer Reserve and Uganda Rifles Corps, both auxiliary forces that could be used to quell domestic disturbances.

The Fourth Battalion took part in several punitive expeditions and armed patrols in Uganda and neighboring territory. The best documented among these were against the Lumbwa and other peoples of western Kenya between 1902 and 1906; a mission to Lake Kivu, southwest of Uganda, in 1909; the campaign against Shaykh Muhammad Abdullah Hassan (dubbed the "Mad Mullah" by foreigners) in British Somaliland in 1909 and 1910; patrols against cattle raiders in northeastern Uganda and northwestern Kenya each year from 1910 to 1915; and an expedition into southern Sudan (then Jubaland) in 1914.

Data as of December 1990

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