How Harry Galt arrived at Port Ugowe now Kisumu
Harry Galt arrived at Port Ugowe now Kisumu in 1899. Six years later as he sat reading at Mbarara, a man made his way unnoticed through the fence, threw a spear that struck him in the chest, and made off into the dusk. Galt died within minutes, and for the next few years, the whole of Ankole suffered because of the murder.
Native administrators were accused of negligence for failing to prevent the murder. Chief Gabrieli Rwakakaiga and Sub-Chief Isaka Nyakayaga were accused of, curiously, being absent from Ibanda when Galt arrived on 19 May, although they had been informed of his itinerary and were expected to meet him and supply food for his escort and porters.
The second accusation was that neither of them rushed to the scene when Galt was speared, to offer help or apprehend the assailant.
To Wilson who had been appointed to investigate the murder, this behavior meant that the two were involved in Galt’s murder. Making it even worse for the two colonial chiefs was the confession by a man called Mugwisaki who claimed that the murderer of Galt was a man called Rutaraka. It later turned out that Rutaraka was one of the agriculturalist clients of Sub-Chief Isaka.
Wilson decided to pursue this lead, but upon reaching Rutaraka’s home, he was told by neighbors that Rutaraka had committed suicide shortly after killing Galt. However, it seemed quite clear that Rutaraka had been strangled by his brothers after killing Galt, and that the story of suicide had been concocted.
It was even claimed that Sub-Chief Isaka had been well aware of Rutaraka’s death, and had probably instigated it to get rid of the evidence, but a delegation of Ankole Chiefs visited Wilson and pleaded with him to spare the two chiefs because Rutaraka had acted alone.
However, Wilson found quite preposterous the idea that Rutaraka could have acted alone. To him, this appeal by the chiefs was proof enough that they were part of the wider conspiracy.
In his bid to gather more evidence, Wilson decided to move his detention camp – suspects, witnesses, and all elsewhere; to Hoima, in the northern kingdom of Bunyoro.
Unfortunately or fortunately, on 30 June, the eve of departure, another Ankole pastoralist came forward to accuse Chief Gabrieli Rwakakaiga and Sub-Chief Isaka Nyakayaga of instigating Galt’s murder.
Wilson seized upon this new intelligence, construing it as a chink in the armor of the conspiracy. On his arrival in Hoima with all the detainees, he convened a court consisting of a magistrate, a missionary assessor, and the Chiefs and Kings of Bunyoro.
This ‘court’ recommended that the two chiefs, the late Rutaraka’s family members, and neighbors should be put on trial. Rutaraka’s family was to be put on trial because the contradictory accounts extracted from them were considered to constitute perjury.
All those mentioned were subsequently tried by a court in Kampala. Sub-Chief Isaka and Chief Gabrieli were found guilty of conspiracy to murder Galt, and sentenced to hang. Rutaraka’s neighbors and family were each sentenced to ten years in prison by the same court.
All the suspects appealed at the High Court in Mombasa, with Gabrieli and his relatives selling cattle to hire a Mombasa lawyer. The High Court in Mombasa found them not guilty, demolishing both Wilson’s judgment and that reached in Kampala, based on the gross flaws and contradictions in the evidence. The High Court further noted that no convincing motive had ever been suggested. Wilson was outraged by this ruling, as was general European opinion in Uganda Protectorate.
Luckily for Wilson, for reasons quite unconnected with the Galt case, he had briefly become Acting Commissioner, with responsibility for the whole of the Protectorate. He used the powers that this position gave him to impose his punishment, exiling both Gabieli and Isaka to Kismayu.
The exile was not technically a punishment for any specific offense, nor was it subject to appeal. Chief Gabrieli died in exile, and Isaka returned many years later, by no means forgotten but widely shunned.