During the late nineteenth century, Christian missionaries, both Catholic and Anglican came into the interior of Africa. The first of the Catholic missions in Uganda was established by the White Fathers as early as 1879.
The largest and most powerful of the local ethnic groups was the Baganda, a group in which European missionaries took particular interest. The Baganda were among the richest and most advanced tribes in central Africa. Moreover, they “bore a certain patina of civilization that was to astound Europeans later, with well-organized bureaucracies, statesmanship of a superior order, finely developed arts and architecture, and unusual handicrafts.”
King Mwanga, after his ascension, changed the situation dramatically. As a young man, Mwanga had shown some favor to the Christian missionaries, but his attitude changed as soon as he took the throne. According to tradition, the kabaka was the center of all authority and power in the kingdom, and he could use his subjects as he wished. But the presence of the missionaries was severely diminishing his authority among the new converts. Mwanga was enraged, as a result, the king sought to eliminate Christianity from his kingdom and began a violent persecution of the missionaries and the new Christians.
In January of 1885, Mwanga had three Baganda Anglicans— Joseph Rugarama, Mark Kakumba, and Noah Serwanga— dismembered and their bodies burned. In October of that same year the newly arrived Anglican bishop, James Hannington, was murdered along with his caravan on their way to the region. In response, Joseph Mukasa, a senior adviser to the kabaka and a recent Catholic convert, reproached Mwanga for executing Bishop Hannington without having offered him the customary opportunity to defend himself. Mwanga, furious at what he saw as Mukasa’s insolence, had him beheaded on November 15, 1885. Mukasa became the first of the black Catholic martyrs on the continent.