Home History & Culture Kabalega Corridor: Trailing Uganda’s fiercest anti-colonial hero

Kabalega Corridor: Trailing Uganda’s fiercest anti-colonial hero

As Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom prepares to mark 100 years since he died in 1923, tourists can learn about Kabalega’s extraordinary life and time by trailing the Kabalega Corridor, a new tourist trail being developed by the kingdom’s tourism ministry.


By Gilbert Mwijuke

In 1869, a 16-year-old boy commanded an army that fought and defeated his elder brother’s forces in a succession war that followed the death of their father, King Kamurasi Kyebambe IV of Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom.

After he was crowned king in 1870, this audacious boy would embark on an expansion drive that saw him rule over a large territory that stretched from present-day Karagwe in northern Tanzania to Juba in South Sudan.

In his heyday, King Chwa II Kabalega’s Bunyoro was not only one of the most militarily and economically powerful kingdoms in Africa, but also one of the most scientifically advanced.

In 1879, for instance, a successful cesarean section – thought to be the first in Africa – was performed by a native Munyoro surgeon on a 20-year-old woman, saving both mother and baby.

The kingdom’s economy was augmented by iron smelting, ivory trade and salt from the Kibiro Salt Works. Kabalega’s blacksmiths had also learnt how to duplicate European weapons, which they manufactured both for export and strengthening of the Kingdom’s army.

When it came to war, Kabalega will forever be remembered as a military genius – an anti-colonial hero who rendered the establishment of British colonial rule in eastern Africa an excruciating adventure. And Kabalega didn’t command from the comfort of his palace but rather, bellowed orders from the frontline, alongside his soldiers.

Even though he was finally defeated by the invading British colonial army and subsequently exiled to the Seychelles Islands in 1899, Kabalega’s military genius and bravery earned him respect from proponents and foes alike – including two of Uganda’s battle-hardened presidents.

In 1972, in honour of a man whose power was earned by daring and doing, President Idi Amin renamed the famous Murchison Falls to Kabalega Falls, and in 2009 President Museveni declared Kabalega a national hero for defying British colonial power to protect his kingdom’s independence.

Commemorating 100 years

Now as Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom prepares to mark 100 years since he died in 1923, tourists can learn about Kabalega’s extraordinary life and time by trailing the Kabalega Corridor, a new tourist trail being developed by the kingdom’s tourism ministry.

Bunyoro is home to some of Uganda’s most popular tourist attractions, including Murchison Falls and Kibale Forest national parks. As tourists admire the region’s scenic national parks, they’ll also get to learn about Bunyoro’s most iconic hero.

“Kabalega is an icon and a legend in Uganda’s history,” says Apollo Rwamparo, Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom’s second deputy prime minister and minister for tourism. “The Kabalega Corridor is not only a way of making people appreciate him, but it will also help to preserve the sites on the route.”

The trail will feature signposts that will shepherd tourists through Bunyoro’s lush countryside as they explore landmarks that made Kabalega one of the greatest men in Uganda’s history.

“The trail features two sections, the short circuit that stretches 21 kilometres, and the longer one that’s over 400 kilometres long,” Rwamparo says.

Mr Rwamparo said development of the trail will be completed by end of this year and, once it opens to tourists, they will need between three to four days to properly explore all the sites on the route.

The starting point will be the Karuziika Palace in Hoima City, where King Kabalega spent his final days as Bunyoro’s monarch and where a giant, 10-metre statue of his will be erected.

Also thrown into the mix is the scenic countryside of Kyenjojo district, where Kabalega was born in Mwenge village on June 18, 1853; Kitonya, where the succession war between Kabalega and his elder brother Kabigumire ended in 1870; and the Royal Mile in Budongo Forest, a mile-long trail that was created by Kabalega as training grounds for his soldiers.

Kabalega’s military might

Tourists will also learn about Kabalega’s military might when they visit the Sir Samuel Baker Monument, from where, in 1872, Kabalega successfully attacked and defeated Sir Samuel Baker – the British explorer-turned Governor-General of the Egyptian Empire’s Equatorial Province – frustrating the latter’s attempt to annex part of Kabalega’s territory and the areas surrounding Lake Victoria.

Carrying the Egyptian flag, Baker had arrived in Bunyoro commanding a strong force of the Egyptian army, only to be unpleasantly surprised and ingloriously humiliated by Kabalega’s formidable forces. With his tail firmly tucked between his legs, Baker was forced to retreat – never to be seen in Bunyoro again.

“Baker underestimated the military strength of King Kabalega because he knew the king was illiterate. But little did he know that Kabalega was an extraordinarily intelligent, creative and intrepid fighter,” says Simon Businge is a 74-year-old retired civil servant who now works as a county chief in today’s Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom.

He adds: “Even during those days of yore, Kabalega’s army comprised battalions and brigades that were as organised as most of today’s modern armies.”

Other important landmarks on the route include Katasiha Fort, which Kabalega built in 1894 following an attack on his capital in Mparo by the British colonial army commanded by Col Henry Colville; Kangai in Dokolo district, where Kabaka (king) Mwanga of Buganda and Kabalega were arrested in April 1899; Mpumude in Jinja, from where Kabalega died on April 6, 1923; as well as Mparo Tombs, the site of his meeting with Dr Emin Pasha in 1878 and where he was buried at 69 years old.

Mr Rwamparo also revealed that there are several commemorative events that have been planned to be held throughout 2021 to 2023 to celebrate 100 years since Kabalega’s death – including the Kabalega Rally, Kabalega Memorial Lecture, a week-long cultural festival, and the launch of the Kabalega Museum, among others.

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