A look at the His­tory of Ugan­da’s Par­lia­ment

By: Isaac Okello

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.

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.

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

[3] http://​www.par­lia­ment.uk/​site-in­for­ma­tion/​glos­sary/​or­ders-in-coun­cil/

[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