A Brief History of Busongora Kingdom

[Posted - Jan 5 2016]

From ancient times BuSongora was an important part of the world, and was incorporated into several of Africa’s largest and most powerful empires. Throughout history Busongora was visited frequently by travellers from as far afield as Europe and China, and over the course of centuries Busongora in turn sent envoys and settlers to every part of the planet.

BuSongora played an important role as the fountain and haven of the Nile Valley’s various civilizations from the earliest times and through successive eras. At least as early as 25,000 years ago Busongora was already an important cultural centre for continental Africa. The people who lived in Busongora played a key role in the development of world civilization, and were the founders of both the Kushite and Egyptian empires. The Axumite empire conquered the Kushites in 350 AD and then occupied Busongora for 300 years before withdrawing under pressure from the armies of the Mohammedans.

When the Axumites withdrew, Busongora became part of the remarkable Shenzi [Zenj] empire with its capitals at Gondar [Ethiopia], Bigo bya Mugyenyi [Uganda], Iziimba za Mabwe [Zimbabwe], and Kilwa [Indian Ocean] among others. Busongora became one of the Shenzi Empire’s most important regions, especially in the later centuries as the empire’s capitals shifted from the coastal regions of Africa into the African interior.

The Shenzi (Zenj) Empire at the height of its power included much of East and Central and South Africa, including parts of Western Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Congo, Southern Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi. Its founder and first emperor was an Axumite general or governor named Hangi who lived around 630 AD. The Shenzi were subjected to constant war with the Islamic armies that eventually took over Egypt and Sudan, and the rest of North Africa, and many Shenzi people were made captive and sold into slavery across Asia and Europe. It was the Shenzi captives who gave their name to the Great Zenj Revolts that rocked the Persian Gulf and Arabia in the 800s AD.

Despite being under attack by the Islamic armies in the Sudan and the Indian Ocean, the Shenzi Empire was a world-class power from its inception in 630 AD to about 1090 AD, when it appears to have begun a slow but troubled disintegration caused by internal rebellion, and the gradual loss of its coastal and overseas territories. The Sung Shi (History of the Song Dynasty - compiled in 1345) records two visits to China in 1071 CE and 1081-3 CE of the embassy of Zenjistan. Zenjistan is Persian for "Land of the Shenzi". The leader of the embassy - whose name is recorded in Chinese as Zengjiani - reputedly made a considerable impression at the Chinese Imperial Court (the Chinese called Africa "Zengdan" in honour of the Shenzi).

One of the most notable rulers of the Shenzi Empire was Kogyere I Rusija Miryango. Kogyere’s epic cycle among the Basongora shows that she was one of the last rulers of the Shenzi Empire, and that during her reign as empress she was the richest woman in the whole world. At that time the estimated population of the entire planet Earth was around 250 million people. Kogyere’s reign ended when she abdicated, and left the imperial throne to her nephew Ishaza. However, during the reign of Ishaza, the throne was usurped by a powerful courtier named Bukuku. It was in protest of the cruelty of Bukuku that Kogyere led the rebellion that resulted in the breakaway and founding of the independent state of Busongora, with Kogyere as its first autonomous ruler.

Most of the stories about Kogyere which so define the corpus of Basongora legends and proverbs refer to Kogyere’s wisdom and kindness and her administrative skills. The Basongora epic stories also tell of Kogyere’s role as the matriarch of the dynasty that subsequently grew out of her rebellion, and came to expand Busongora in order to turn it into what became known as the Chwezi Empire, as the Basongora - especially under the reign of king Ndahura I Kya Rubumbi - tried to recover the fortunes of the former Shenzi Empire.

Under Kogyere I Rusija-Miryango and her descendants and successors - notably the emperors Kyomya I kya Isiimbwa, Ndahura I and Wamara Bwigunda - Busongora went on to become the Chwezi Empire. At its greatest extent the Chwezi Empire covered most of Africa’s Great Lakes Region - stretching from middle Congo in the west to central Kenya, and from Lakes State in South Sudan to Ufipa in south Tanzania. Less militarily aggressive Basongora rulers of the Chwezi Empire were no less impressive however, and also made great contributions to the culture, unity and security of the Great Lakes Region of Africa. Among these are rulers famed for their defensive skills, for trading abilities, for spiritualism, for good government, or for other accomplishments - most notably Kyomya II Rurema, Kakara ka Shagama, Njunaki Kamaranga, Nyakahuma, Kirobozi, Kitami kya Nyawera, Kyomya IV Bwachari, and king Kaihura [ruled 1894 to 1901].

The Chwezi Empire weakened drastically in the 1300s, but survived and lived on as Busongora Kingdom. The kingdom remained one of the largest and most powerful states in central Africa however, and defended itself successfully against invasions by the states of Nkore [1840s], and Bunyoro [1875]. In 1891, Busongora succumbed to civil war, amid almost simultaneous invasions by Arabs, the Maniema of central Congo, and the Europeans and their Toro, Ganda and Nubian allies.

By the start of the 20th century, the reduced Busongora kingdom still included what is now the Parc Nationale de Virunga [Congo], Queen Elizabeth National Park [Uganda], Kibale Forest Reserve, Katonga Reserve, Imara Magambo Forest, and Semliki National Park, as well as the regions of Mwenge and Kitagwenda, Shema, and Bunyaruguru in what is now western Uganda. 

Between 1891 and 1902 thousands of Basongora died in massacres perpetrated by the colonial occupation. The cattle of the Basongora were deliberated killed or confiscated, and Basongora were subjected to harsh and humiliating mistreatment by the British, Belgian and German occupation of Busongora. Many colonial officials wrote in protest of the conditions they were forced to inflict on the Basongora on the orders of Frederick Lugard, Henry Colville, Rodheric Owen, Harry Johnston, and other leaders of the colonial occupation.

In 1907 the kingdom of Busongora was dissolved entirely with the capture, imprisonment and deportation of King Kasigano of Busongora. Kasigano’s ostensible crime was his alleged subversion of the British while protesting the division of the state of Busongora into two halves by the proposed border between the Congo Free State and the Uganda Protectorate. Most of the surviving 360,000 Basongora were subsequently forcibly relocated from their homes, and were made to live in squalid and miserable conditions in concentration camps around Lake Edward [Rueru].

In 1910, an estimated 250,000 Basongora died of sleeping sickness. The death of 75% of an entire kingdom’s population in one year destroyed the spirit of the people. It left them disorganised and even more vulnerable to abuse. Between 1912 and 1920 all of Busongora’s lands, properties, palaces and cultural sites were confiscated and looted, or were annexed to other kingdoms in the region, notably Toro, Bunyoro, Buganda and Nkore. A large number of settlers from other tribes and states were brought to settle in the now abandoned lands of the Basongora, many to work in newly established plantations.

The surviving Basongora were forced to assimilate into the new settler communities, or to change their identity. Those who refused to integrate were subjected to abuse or were forced to migrate. One of the laws that dealt only with Basongora, authorised forced labour on the roads and plantations, and allowed any non-Musongora worker, porter, or soldier [askari], to enter the homestead of a Musongora who had escaped the forced labour and to take any or all the women from the home to rape or marry forcibly. Many Basongora women had to quickly disown their ancestry and change their identity in order to avoid rape. Many Basongora men had to disown their women in order to save them. Other Basongora did their utmost to escape from home and go seek safety in other kingdoms and states. Most ended up in Buganda, Toro, Bunyoro and Nkore.

[Author: King Ndahura II Imara Kashagama of Busongora +256.789 756 487]