Navy dates as far back as the traditional era when monarchism was the prevailing form of governance. It is thus a significant facet of Uganda’s time-honored history. It cannot be talked about without mentioning the royal navy when the Kabaka’s war canoes dominated the battle scene in Buganda.
The mid nineteenth century saw Buganda’s territory expand and grow in all sectors possible; economic, social, cultural and military, becoming Uganda’s most powerful kingdom. Speaking of royal navy, Buganda had fleets of outrigger war canoes, which patrolled Lake Victoria (Nalubaale) and were so instrumental to her increase over and above defense.
Geographically, Buganda was and still is positioned along the shores of Lake Victoria. The canoes usually crossed to the different shores of the lake and sure to say, they carried out conquests that expanded Buganda’s zone of influence into regions like Bunyoro, Busoga, and others. This explained her authority over the islands of the lake and some regions south of it that is, in Tanzania.
It is on record that Buganda’s royal navy is approximated to have had 125,000 troops just for a single campaign towards the East. From there 230 fleets of war canoes were put in position to offer supplementary support. This figure was given by European explorer and journalist, Henry Morton Stanley in 1875 and although it looks exaggerated, it is just adequate to say that it was well established, in full control, and ready for all missions.
The entire naval arrangement was under the command of an admiral, the highest rank of naval officers. He was also referred to as the Gabunga, who also happened to be the chief of the Lungfish (Mmamba) clan.
Currently, the Gabunga role has been maintained but no longer as a commander of the navy. Rather, they are heads of the fishing communities along the shores of Lake Victoria, overseeing all fishing activities. The position is now not limited to men alone; women as well can take it on.
The royal navy force was established in order to offer backup to the already gallant ground armed force. These two combined, and well armed with traditional weapons, contributed to Buganda’s supremacy among all the interlacustrine kingdoms.
Like other martial forces, recruitment into the naval army was based on among other factors, one’s physical strength. This was to basically keep a valiant army, ready to take on any form of military expedition.
In the contemporary age, Buganda’s military force are no longer functional and the various positions held in that respect, are simply cosmetic, owing to the fact that her influence was greatly reduced during and after the colonial period. The Central Government is now in charge of all the armed forces -equipped with modern weapons. However, despite all that, the records and memories held of Buganda’s noble naval force make her one of Uganda’s most powerful kingdoms
By Enid Karen Nabumati