Fort Portal lies at the physical and political heart of Toro, the youngest of Uganda’s traditional kingdoms, ruled – aptly – by the world’s most youthful monarch, not quite four years old when he took the throne in 1995. Toro started life as a southern principality within the Bunyoro kingdom, from which it broke away to become an independent kingdom in the late 1820s under Prince Kaboyo, the son of the Bunyoro king, Nyakamaturu. The original kingdom corresponded roughly with the present-day administrative districts of Kabarole (which includes Fort Portal), Kyenjojo, Kamwenge, Bundibugyo and Kasese, but the latter two are not considered to be part of Toro today.
In the mid-1820s, Nyakamaturu, reaching the end of his 50-year reign, was evidently regarded as a weak and unpopular ruler. As a result, Kaboyo, the king’s favourite son and chosen heir to the throne, had become impatient to claim his inheritance. In part, Kaboyo’s haste might have been linked to a perceived threat to his future status: Nyakamaturu had already survived at least one attempted overthrow by a less-favoured son, while the elders of Bunyoro openly supported
his younger brother Mugenyi as the next candidate for the throne. While on a tour of Toro c1825, Kaboyo came to realise the full extent of his father’s unpopularity in this southern part of Bunyoro, and he was persuaded by local chiefs to lead a rebellion that left Toro a sovereign state.
Nyakamaturu’s army had the better of the rebels in the one full-scale battle that occurred between them, but the ageing king was not prepared for his favourite son to be killed, and he eventually decided to tolerate the breakaway state. It has even been suggested that Kaboyo was invited to succeed the Banyoro throne after Nyakamaturu’s death in the early 1830s, but declined, leaving the way clear for Mugenyi to be crowned King of Bunyoro. By all accounts, Kaboyo’s 30-year reign over Toro was marked by a high level of internal stability, as well as a reasonably amicable relationship with Bunyoro.
The death of Kaboyo c1860 sparked a long period of instability in Toro. Kaboyo’s son and nominated successor Dahiga proved to be an unpopular leader, and was soon persuaded to abdicate in favour of his brother Nyaika, who was in turn overthrown, with the assistance of the Baganda army, by another brother called Kato Rukidi. Nyaika was exiled to the present-day DRC, where he rebuilt his army to eventually recapture Toro, killing Kato Rukidi and reclaiming the throne as his own. Toro enjoyed a brief period of stability after this, but Nyaika was not a popular ruler, and the long years of civil strife had left his state considerably weakened and open to attack.
The start of Nyaika’s second term on the Toro throne roughly coincided with the rise of Bunyoro’s King Kabalega, who avowed to expand his diminished sphere of influence by reintegrating Toro into the ancient kingdom, along with various other smaller breakaway states. In 1876, Kabalega led an attack on Toro that left its king dead. The Banyoro troops withdrew, and a new Toro king was crowned, but he too was captured by Kabalega and tortured to death, as was his immediate and shortlived successor. The remaining Toro princes fl ed to Ankole, where they were granted exile, and for the next decade Banyoro rule was eff ectively restored to Toro.
And that might have been that, had it not been for a fortuitous meeting between the prominent Toro prince Kasagama (also known as Kyebambe) and Captain Lugard in May 1891, at the small principality of Buddu in Buganda. Kasagama was eager for any assistance that might help him to restore the Toro throne, while Lugard quickly realised that the young prince might prove a useful ally in his plans to colonise Bunyoro – ‘Inshallah, this may yet prove a trump card’, he wrote of the meeting in his diary. Kasagama and his entourage joined Lugard on the march to Ankole, where they gathered together a small army of exiled Toro royalists. They then proceeded to march towards Toro, recapturing one of its southern outposts and most important commercial centres, the salt mine at Lake Katwe, then continuing north to the vicinity of Fort Portal, where a treaty was signed in which Kasagama signed away Toro sovereignty in exchange for British protection.
When Lugard left for Kampala in late 1891, leaving behind a young British officer named De Winton, the Kingdom of Toro had to all intents and purposes been restored, albeit under a puppet leader. De Winton oversaw the construction of a string of small forts along the northwestern boundaries of Toro, designed to protect it from any further attacks by Kabalega, and manned by 6,000 Sudanese troops who had been abandoned by Emin Pasha on his withdrawal from Equatoria a few years earlier. In early 1892, however, De Winton succumbed to one or other tropical disease, leaving Toro at the mercy of the Sudanese troops, who plundered from communities living close to the forts, and rapidly established themselves as a more powerful force than Kasagama and his supporters. The withdrawal of the Sudanese troops to Buganda in mid-1893 proved to be a mixed blessing: in the absence of any direct colonial presence in Toro, Kasagama briefly enjoyed his first real taste of royal autonomy, but this ended abruptly when Kabalega attacked his capital in November of the same year. Kasagama retreated to the upper Rwenzori, where several of his loyal followers died of exposure, but was able to return to his capital in early 1894 following a successful British attack on Kabalega’s capital at Mparo.
Toro functioned as a semi-autonomous kingdom throughout the British colonial era. Kasagama died in 1929, to be succeeded by King George Rukidi II, a well-educated former serviceman who is regarded as having done much to advance the infrastructure of his kingdom prior to his death in 1965. In February 1966, King Patrick Kaboyo Rukidi III ascended to the Toro throne, only eight months before the traditional monarchies of Uganda were abolished by Obote. The king lived in exile until the National Resistance Movement took power in 1986, after which he enjoyed a distinguished diplomatic career serving in Tanzania and Cuba.
In July 1993, the traditional monarchies were restored by Museveni, and two years later Patrick Rukidi returned to Fort Portal for a second coronation. He died a few days before this was scheduled to take place, to be succeeded by his son Prince Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukidi IV who was only three years old when he came to power. The first years of the restored monarchy were marked by controversy. The sudden death of the former king just before he would have been restored to power attracted allegations of foul play from certain quarters. The plot thickened when Toro prime minister John Kataramu (one of three regents appointed to assist the young Oyo) was convicted for ordering the murder of another prince in 1999.
Following his official coronation in 2010, King Oyo is now in his mid 20s and is doing what he can to develop Toro through various charitable organisations. Thus far, however, the young king is yet to match the fundraising prowess of his mother Best Kemigisha, a close associate of Muammar Gaddafi, whose munificence funded the restoration of the derelict Toro Palace on a hill outside Fort Portal as well the expensive educations enjoyed by Oyo and his sister Komuntale. As a result, King Oyo named Gaddafi the ‘defender’ of his kingdom, and the Libyan dictator’s miserable end in 2011 was deeply mourned in Toro, at least by those who had benefited from his philanthropy.