A look at the History of Uganda’s Parliament

Published 2 years ago -

 Precolonial history[1] indicates that most traditional societies which make up the current Uganda were well organised in either centralised or decentralised forms of governance. There were four main kingdoms (Buganda, Bunyoro, Toro and Busoga) and a plethora of chiefdoms which provided the leadership concerned with making major decision making. A council of elders in most of the societies was primarily responsible for either advising the king, or making decisions in some chiefdoms for the well-being of the societies they led, for example Buganda had native chiefs (Omwami/Omutongole) that assisted the King (Kabaka) in the administration of the kingdom.

However, the history of formal legislation can be traced as far back as the turn of the century, when in 1888 the then Imperial British East African Company run Uganda like a company. In so doing, the company acted as the agent and for the benefit of the British Crown. Following the abolition of slave trade, there was a need to have Africans engage in economic activities to feed the British industries. The Imperial British East African Company was responsible for implementation of policies passed by the British Crown, monitoring the progress in Uganda and to report on the state of affairs in the protectorate.[2] The first traces of legislation were manifested in the various pieces of regulations passed by the company.

1902 was a very important landmark in that an Order-in-Council was passed and under this ordinance new provisions for the administration of Uganda were made. Orders in Council are issued “by and with the advice of Her Majesty’s Privy Council”, where an ordinary Statutory Instrument would be inappropriate.[3] The 1902 Orders in Council was therefore the first colonial constitution that was used to govern Uganda by the British. Article 12 of the Ordinance empowered the Commissioner, who was the then head of the protectorate (Uganda), to make ordinances (laws) for the administration of justice, raising of revenues and generally for the peace, order and good government for all persons in Uganda. He therefore became the Executive Officer and lawmaker. These legislations the commissioner made were through decrees.

Professor Kanyeihamba, notes that the period between 1902 and 1920 may be described as “dictatorial and despotic, if not in practice, at least in law.[4] However, in 1920 an order – in – council was proclaimed establishing the executive and legislative council bodies, and providing for their membership. The body was to be called the Legislative Council, commonly known as the LEGCO. It was empowered to enact laws and regulations for the administration of justice, law and good governance.

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The LEGCO was composed of seven (7) Europeans who included: the Governor, Sir Robert Coryndon who was the President of the Council; the other official members were the Chief Secretary, Mr. E.B. Jarvis; the Acting Attorney General, Mr. A.B. Howes; the Treasurer, Mr. A.E. Boory; and the Principal Medical Officer, Dr C.A. Wiggins. There were also two unofficial members who were supposed to vote automatically on the side of the colonial government to counterbalance the unofficial African members who came in later.[5] Mr. E.H. Levis and Mr. W.S. Garnhem (deputizing for Dr H.H. Hunter). The Council held its first meeting on 23rd March, 1921, in the High Court Chambers, then at Entebbe.

Until the 26th May, 1926 when the first Asian, Mr. Chrunabai Jekabhai Amin was sworn in as an unofficial member, membership to the legislative council was reserved for Europeans. By the end of the year, 1945 the council was composed of Europeans, the Asians and Africans. On October 23, 1945 the Governor, Sir John Hall, announced that the Secretary of State for the Colonies had approved a scheme for the nomination of three African Members to the Legislative council, representing Buganda, Eastern and Western Provinces.

Subsequently, on the 4th December 1945, the first Africans (that were considered men of stature and authority[6]) joined the LEGCO and were sworn in. They were the Katikkiro of Buganda; Michael Earnest Kawalya Kaggwa, Omuhikirwa /Katikkiro of Bunyoro; Petero Nyangabyaki and the Omughandisi we’nkalakalila (Secretary General) of Busoga; Yekonia Zirabamuzaale. Three years later, the Northern Province was reconstituted and allowed its own representative in the House. This meant that there were now four Africans; three Europeans and three Asians on the unofficial benches. By 1955 the membership of the council had increased to 60 and its meetings were held at the Kampala City Council Chambers.

In the late 1950s, demand for self-governance in the protectorate as a whole, and with the continuous call for an end to colonialism in Africa from the international community eventually led to a series of constitutional changes, notable were in the electoral law. This introduced the concept of a common roll providing for direct elections that further increased the membership of the legislature. All this climaxed in the holding of the first ever direct elections for the greater part of the Protectorate in 1961, under the new law.

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The new Council, then, met for the first time on the 17th April, with Sir John Bowes Griffin as the first Speaker. Earlier, on the 15th September, 1960, the Governor Sir Fredrick Crawford had issued a Proclamation to the effect that from the 19th September, 1960, all LEGCO meetings would be held in the present Parliamentary Buildings.

The first general elections were held in Uganda in March 1961 and it was the first time direct elections to the Legislative Council had been held across the entire country. The result was a victory for the Democratic Party (DP), which won 44 of the 82 seats. However, Buganda did not participate, and if the results were upheld, it would have made Ben Kiwanuka, a devout catholic Prime Minister, something the Protestant Colonialists could not fathom.

As a result, there was another general elections in 1962, and the Uganda People Congress (UPC) led by Apollo Milton Obote won with 37 seats as against 24 for the Democratic Party (DP) excluding Buganda. Buganda region had opted for indirect election, hence its Lukiiko nominated 21 representatives to the National Assembly. The Buganda representatives struck an alliance with the UPC known as UPC/KY Alliance which gave it the necessary strength to form a coalition government with Milton Obote as the Prime Minister and DP led by Ben Kiwanuka in opposition.

Following the attainment of independence on the 9th day of October 1962 led by the government elected on the Wednesday 25th April, 1962, the Legislative Council (LEGCO) was replaced by the National Assembly, which was the Parliament of the republic of Uganda. The First Session of the First Parliament of Uganda was held on Wednesday 10th October 1962, the following day after independence. Under the Independence Constitution of 1962, the First Parliament of Uganda was partly elected and partly nominated. The Buganda representatives were to continue to be indirectly elected by the Lukiiko.

Sir John Bowes Griffin, a British lawyer, became the first Speaker of the first Parliament and occupied this position from 1962 – 1963 before handing over to Narendra M. Patel in May 1963.


[2] Page 386 The Cambridge history of the British empire, Volume 4


[4]Constitutional and Political History of Uganda, from 1894 to the Present by Prof Kanyeihamba

[5] Page 107 Modes of British Imperial Control of Africa: A Case Study of Uganda, c.1890-1990 By Onek C. Adyanga

[6] Ahikire, 2004



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