Bugisu Cooperative Union (BCU), Uganda’s only surviving cooperative Union is an
establishment that has existed since 1954.
Arabica coffee was introduced in Bugisu in 1912 and it has remained the central economic
activity of the Bagisu community. The decision to form a cooperative union was precipitated
by European and Asian private traders who benefited from Bugisu coffee more than the
In the 1920s, European and Asian private traders were the coffee buyers who created what
was called “the buying ring” in 1927 whose purpose was “to eliminate wasteful competition"
aimed at forcing down the Bugisu coffee prices. The predatory nature of this buying ring was
such that they bought coffee right from the grassroots at very low prices. This practise
agitated the native Bagisu farmers who felt they were getting a raw deal from their coffee.
In 1931, prominent Bagisu namely; Samson Kitutu, S.K. Mutenyo, J.N.K Wakholi, X.M.M.
Gunigina, Fenekas Masaaba, Wagisi and others formed the Bugisu Coffee Scheme (BCS) to
supervise the marketing of their coffee.
However, the powers of BCS were hijacked and a Colonial Government Administration
backed company called "A. Baumann & Company" took the leading role angering the
In 1933, because of pressure, BCS was given exclusive buying rights. It was however
operated by a European Manager hired by a District Commissioner. Although the BCS was
for Bagisu, more lucrative positions were taken by Europeans, Asians and Baganda. There
was a Board of Directors (BOD) that comprised five members – with only two Bagisu
In 1938, BCS was contracted to only carry out coffee collection from farmers but not to sell.
This was intended to reduce its controlling powers on the coffee supply chain.
A new company, Bugisu Coffee Marketing Company (BCMC), an all-European owned
company, was formed in 1940. It took the lucrative role of coffee marketing and earning
abnormal profits. The entire Board of BCS was left with a peripheral role of advisory and
collecting and delivering of cover to BCMC for selling.
Ater bitter complaints by the Bagisu farmers about the structure of BCMC, two Bagisu
representatives were appointed between, 1944-49 to serve as a channel to farmers and to
agitate for the rights of farmers but the BCMC remained in full control. The Bagisu
conviction that they were being grossly cheated by the company became deeply rooted.
In 1946, Samson Kitutu with group took advantage of the new Cooperative Law provision to
quickly root for the formation of Bugisu Cooperative Union to have own control and
eliminate BCMC and foreign control of their coffee. In the same year, the first two primary
societies were formed and started operating. By 1949, 24 societies had been formed.
The cooperative idea of 1931 came to fruition in 1954 and Bugisu Cooperative Union (BCU)
was formed in July 1954. Arabica Coffee became Bugisu coffee offically in its true sense.
BCU offered an institutional framework for achieving control over their primary source of
livelihood. It became a symbol of Bugisu Unity and an agency of economic nationalism. A
comprehensive framework through which Gishu solidarity could be expressed.
Upon formation, Samson Kitutu was elected the first president of BCU. He was succeeded by
S.K. Mutenyo in 1958. X.M.M Gunigina became the third BCU president in 1962.
In 1962, before the British granted Uganda independence, they questioned whether Ugandans
had financial capacity to govern themselves. To alley British fears and excuses, Bugisu
contributed $328,388.70 and Buganda $547,314.50 to show we could manage ourselves.
Ideally, it’s Bugisu and Buganda which guaranteed Ugandan’s independence.