There is a special place in the annals of colonial history for a certain inconspicuous pile of stones just outside Ibanda town. It forms the shape of a pyramid and it marks the spot where a British colonial administrator was murdered in 1905.
Harry St. George Galt arrived in Uganda filled with the dreams of grandeur and adventure that had come to be expected of a young man on Her Majesty’s service in the golden age of empire. His first assignment was tax collector for the Ankole sub region. He would later rise to Sub Commissioner of the Western Province, his last posting before the events we are about to describe.
Said to be of harsh deportment, the newly appointed provincial officer allegedly forced some natives to carry him from Fort Portal to Ibanda. When the porters got tired, they requested him to let them rest but he refused and ordered them to march on until they reached Ibanda – “Paka Banda”, he said in his limited linguistic skills to mean, “up to Ibanda.” The porters compiled up to Katooma, 3 km from Ibanda Town after the present day Kagongo Catholic Church where he stopped and rested in a Government house. As the locals rehashed Galt’s cruelty, a man named Rutaraka, incensed by the officer’s acts, decided to take matters into his own hands. He picked up a spear, sneaked through a fence and charged Galt who was sitting in the government house compound. With the precision of a jouster, Rutaraka impaled Galt through the chest ending his life shortly after.
His death would have remained a minute footnote in the history of the British Empire but being the first of its kind in Uganda, it attracted a massive reaction by the administration. The assassin would later commit suicide for fear of what was to come. Two chiefs were tried and convicted by the courts only to be acquitted on appeal. A lengthy report was written by an official commission of inquiry. Somebody summed it up as “a complicated story that incorporates witchcraft, cover-ups, buffalo-poaching, at least two double crosses, exile, a drinking party, smallpox, infected milk and a hunch-backed dwarf, one of the most terrible cases of distorted mind and body.” It was the whodunnit scandal of the century. Sir Hesketh Bell, the Governor, considered that the two chiefs who had been acquitted should nevertheless be punished for their negligence. They had failed to report facts which would have led to the arrest of the suspected assassin, who later committed suicide. Bell further ordered that they should be exiled to the coast. In addition, the Omugabe and his senior chiefs were fined hundreds of heads of cattle and a special tax levied to pay for the building of the Galt Memorial Hall. The pile of stones was a collective punishment on the natives who were forced to build a 5m high pyramid to cover Galt’s blood. Bell wrote in his biography ‘Glimpses of a Governor’s Life’, “these proceedings may appear high handed and arbitrary, but it was essential to impress upon the natives throughout the Protectorate the sanctity of the lives of our small staff of officers, and the lesson that was given to the people of Ankole was so striking that it is unlikely that it will ever have to be repeated.”
Harry St. George Galt was the only colonial officer to be murdered in Uganda. Over 100 years later, some old people still use his death as a principle chronological marker. Whether we shall meet any of them for a recap of these events is highly unlikely but the pile of stones still stands, neglected though and covered by bush but with plans underway to turn it into a tourist site someday.
There is another attraction on the trail; the caves of Nyakahondogoro, thought to provide safe haven to the Bachwezi. If this feels like a trek back in time, that’s because it really is. Our hosts, the Hill Trekkers of Ibanda have been instrumental in exposing this trail through the beautiful hills of Ibanda. They will make for excellent company.
*The cost for this hike is 260,000 for MSU members and 275,000 for non-members.
*Please note there’s an additional entry fee of $30 for foreign residents and $40 for foreign non-residents.