King Mwanga II of Buganda, also known as Danieri Basammula-Ekkere Mwanga II Mukasa, was a Ugandan monarch who ruled over the Kingdom of Buganda (Uganda) in the late 19th century. He is widely known for his resistance to the influence of Christian missionaries. However, he is also remembered for the rumors that he was bisexual, who slept with the male pages (young male attendant or servant) of his royal court.
Mwanga II was born on June 16, 1868, to Kabaka Muteesa I and one of his wives. He ascended to the throne in 1884 after his father’s death, becoming the 31st Kabaka (King) of Buganda. He was only 16 years old at the time, and his reign was characterized by power struggles and tensions between different factions within Buganda, particularly those who supported Christianity and those who opposed it.
At the beginning of his reign, King Mwanga II was open to the influence of Christian missionaries initially, particularly those from the Anglican Church. He allowed them to build makeshift schools, missions and roads in Buganda. However, his attitude towards Christianity changed after he discovered that the missionaries were gaining political power and influence in Buganda by converting not just his people, but the pages in his royal court using fear tactics such as threats of hellfire to dissuade them from their traditional beliefs.
In an effort to resist a Christian worldview that undermined the authority of his office, King Mwanga II insisted that Christian converts abandon their new faith and executed those who didn’t between 1885 and 1887. It is believed that at least 30 Catholic and Protestant went to their deaths. Twenty-two of the men, who had converted to Catholicism, were burned alive in June 1886 and later became known as the Uganda Martyrs. Among those executed were two Christians who held the court position of Master of the Pages, Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe and Charles Lwanga. They had allegedly defied the king by rescuing royal pages in their care from ‘sexual exploitation’ by Mwanga.
King Mwanga II’s persecution of Christian converts, particularly those in his royal court, was fueled by a variety of factors. One of the main reasons was his fear of the growing influence of Christianity, which he saw as a threat to his traditional authority. Additionally, Mwanga was concerned that the missionaries and their converts were becoming too powerful and could challenge his rule. He also disliked the fact that Christian converts were adopting foreign customs and practices, which he saw as a threat to Buganda’s culture and traditions.
According to Assa Okoth, Mwanga’s overriding preoccupation was for the “integrity of his kingdom”, and perceived that men such as Lwanga were working with foreigners in “poisoning the very roots of his kingdom”. Not to have taken any action could have led to suggestions that he was weak.
It is during this time of religious conflict that rumours about King Mwanga II’s alleged relationships with his male pages began to surface, portraying him as a deviant and immoral ruler who engaged in homosexual acts.
One of the written records of Mwanga’s alleged sexual preferences was a letter by Alexander Mackay, a Scottish missionary who settled among the Buganda. The letter told the story of how a young page called Apollo Kaggwa had been punished for refusing to service the king. Additionally, Mackay claimed that the king had developed a marijuana addiction and was engaging in improper behavior with Arabs at court, from whom he had allegedly acquired the practice of homosexuality.
It is important to note that the historical evidence of Mwanga’s alleged relationships with his male pages is scarce and inconclusive. Many of the accounts were based on hearsay and testimonies from individuals with vested interests in discrediting Mwanga.
As the situation in Buganda became increasingly untenable for Christians, their plight caught the attention of the British, and in 1888, Mwanga II was deposed by a British-backed expeditionary force consisting of Christians and Muslims, which installed his brother as the new Kabaka of Buganda. Mwanga made several failed attempts to regain the throne, but his efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. He was eventually exiled to the Seychelles in 1899, where he died in 1903. While in exile, in an interesting twist of fate, he was received into the Anglican Church and was baptized with the name Danieri (Daniel). He died at the age of 35, leaving behind 16 wives and many children. His remains were repatriated and buried at Kasubi in 1910.
Despite his short reign, Mwanga II remains an important figure in Ugandan history, remembered for his resistance to colonialism and his commitment to preserving Buganda’s independence and traditions.