|UGANDA’s 60 YEAR OLD CONFLICT (PART 5): How Mutesa shot his way to safety|
|Written by Observer Media Ltd|
|Wednesday, 13 January 2010 19:56|
|In his book, Desecration of My Kingdom, Sir Edward Mutesa vividly describes the May 24, 1966 attack on his palace and how he made his escape. Here are some extracts:
Mutesa (R) chatting with Obote
It was not yet dawn – about 5.30 in the morning – when I was awakened suddenly by the sound of gunfire: quite near, I reckoned, certainly inside the wall that surrounds my palace and grounds.
As I hurried into a shirt, some trousers and a pullover, and sat on my bed to pull on some suede boots, I tried to work out more precisely what was happening and where the shots were being fired. Somewhere beyond the garages, it seemed; perhaps 200 or 300 yards away. I strapped on a webbing belt with a heavy automatic in the holster, grabbed a carbine, and dashed into the cool, dark garden to look for the commander of the bodyguard.
Troops from the Uganda Army were attacking my palace on the orders of the Prime Minister, Dr. [Milton] Obote. So much was clear. Nor should it have been in the least surprising. We had been suspecting such a move for weeks, and I myself had been surprised when nothing happened the previous evening.
Yet I was filled with a sense of outrage now that it was happening. The Constitution allowed me a bodyguard of 300, but I only had about 120, and many of these were absent.
Each man had a Lee-Enfield rifle and we managed to get hold of three carbines, half a dozen Sterling sub-machine guns and six automatic rifles. There was, unfortunately, no hidden arsenal, though Obote said later that that was what his soldiers had called at this early hour to collect.
Photographs of this cache tried to make something of an ancient German Spandau, a machine-gun, which bad been rusting gently on my veranda for years, and my brother Henry’s ceremonial R.A.F. sword.
Nor was the palace designed as a fortress. The main gate is indefensible, and the two buildings, which are separated by gardens, are easy to approach under cover…
Mutesa (L), Mayanja Nkagi and other Buganda officials
I quickly collected a few men and we made off to the west. I had in mind a group of trees from which we could command a clearing and possibly defend one of the bottom gates, Nalongo, if it had not already been breached.
We did not get there. A light fence surrounds the garden, and suddenly we saw two or three men standing in a half-opened doorway, peering cautiously in. We dropped one and the others made off. That was the first of many unfortunate deaths I saw that day.
We made that first foray with no idea as to how many men were attacking or from which angle. Now friends approached in the half-light and told me something of what had happened and what was happening, though still we did not know how many had been sent against us.
Perhaps that was just as well, as it would scarcely have raised our spirits to know we were faced with over 1,000, odds of ten against one, with our equipment much inferior.
However, my men were the more experienced in service, and a great number of the enemy were occupied in surrounding the wall. This high brick wall encloses an area much larger than the palace and gardens.
Inside are school buildings, white bungalows with corrugated iron roofs, football pitches, many houses with mud walls and thatched roofs that were to burn easily, and above all, dividing the open, grassy spaces, plantations of banana trees.
With our knowledge of every inch of the terrain, there was enough cover, confusion and resistance for us to elude our pursuers indefinitely, deployment plans having previously been sanctioned by myself.
The Special Force that had been sent against us was not very subtle. They had foolishly used lights to burn some thatched huts just inside the wall, and, thus lit up from behind, made themselves into very easy targets.
When one lot did break through the gate called Kalala, they ran across an open sports ground to join others who had come through the main gate. A pocket of my men commanded the open ground and held up their much larger force for some time, inflicting heavy casualties.
We had done as well there as we could have hoped, and now fell back. Another entrance had been forced through the southern gate, Sabagabo, and it was those men that had awakened me. The western corner was still ours, or at least disputed throughout the action.
It was well known that I preferred to live in the old palace, which stands smaller, darker and more African behind the gleaming white European building, which is used mainly for formal functions.
For the time being, this newer palace was left alone while they closed in on the rooms I used. It began to look as if it was me personally that they wished to destroy.
I heard someone shout, “Has he a safe?” as they entered the far side, and saw through a window my papers being torn up and my filing cabinets smashed with rifle butts.
We had not the strength to counter-attack, but we took up a position amongst some eucalyptus trees, which covered Nalongo, a white wooden gate, and held on. Nobody ever came through that gate.
As the sun got up, dispersing the morning mists, our gloom increased. There seemed to be an endless follow-up supply of enemy soldiers, many of whom were occupied with destroying my rooms.
I think they believed their own stories about hidden supplies of arms, and even indulged in fanciful ideas that a king must have hoards of treasure buried beneath his palace.
I was sustained throughout the morning by anger. I had known that an attack was probable, but I had not foreseen the random, pointless quality of their violence. Huts were burned for no conceivable tactical reason and I heard the screaming of an old woman as she burned.
Kabaka shoots ‘looter’
The captain of my guard, Major Kibirige, disappeared and must have become a casualty. Once I was overwhelmed with emotion, and foolishly returned to the palace garden alone. There, I selected a looter and shot him out of honest rage. I felt calmer and somewhat uplifted as I made my way back.
Someone had loosened the horses, and they added to the atmosphere of disorder as they galloped to and fro in a frenzy of fear.
Though firing of small arms and mortars was almost continuous until midday, and though we held our position, it was getting desperate. I decided to abandon the trees and defend a cattle kraal with the same arc of fire, though it had mud walls and a thatched roof that might be fired. We were there when it started to rain.
It rained, as it can in Uganda, with a violence that made fighting impossible. For an hour visibility was reduced to a minimum and the main noise was the water thudding on to the roof and hissing in the trees.
Though the kraal would have been a useful place to hold, to save ourselves from being encircled, we decided we were not strong enough, and moved out into the rain to go a little to the north.
Many thought we had escaped at this time and it would have been an opportunity, but we were surrounded and had not prepared a route. Nor had we yet taken the decision.
At first I had thought it was to be merely a skirmish. We saw now that it was more serious than that, but still hoped that in the face of such prolonged and successful resistance the troops might call off the threat. Otherwise we hoped to resist until evening and escape in the dark.
Soon after the rain, a scout called for us to watch a sight which horrified me. From the palace a strange procession of women emerged, my sister and wife among other relations and maids.
I had not seen them during the fighting, but could imagine their feelings. Now they walked slowly towards the gate we were defending. I piously hoped they would stop, but they did not hear me and continued out of sight.
A moment later, there was a burst of fire and I exclaimed, “It can’t be true,” certain that they had been massacred. I am still not sure what happened, but they were allowed through and later put in prison.
As they disappeared, there was a new attack on the gate, which was already surrounded with corpses. We beat it off yet again. Our own ammunition was low and there was no indication of the troops pulling out.
Nor was there a chance of driving them away. I began to plan an escape as the decision was clearly forced. To the north the bandmaster and another group of the guard were firing gallantly,
For a time our attack seemed to have little effect, though we gave them all we had and their counter-fire was feeble. Then at last a truck moved off and a minute later two more disappeared. We had made that area a little too lively and now there was a gap. How long it would remain open we could only guess.
As nine of us made for the red-brick wall, there was a shout and a girl rushed up to us from the direction of the enemy. She was Katie Senoga, a kindergarten school teacher.
“What on earth are you doing?” I asked her, but there was no time to do anything but take her with us. Poor girl, she was crying and trembling all over. I remember thinking that, if she had had a gun, in her excitement she would probably have tried to kill us all.
Window of death
We wasted ten valuable minutes, trying to open a hatch in the wall. There is a tradition that no [dead] body save that of the Kabaka should leave through the palace gates, so if a commoner dies inside the walls there is this opening through which he may pass. Unfortunately, it was locked and we could not break the lock. So we had to climb.
The wall, which had seemed quite low as a defence, suddenly loomed large when we stood beneath it. It is in fact ten or twelve feet high. Luckily, the bodyguard are trained to scale such an obstacle, and by standing on each other’s shoulders we could haul ourselves on to the top, still slippery from the rain.
Speed was essential. I threw my rifle down, and as I jumped I eagerly bent over to reach it. It was a mistake I was to regret every day for a month. Landing unevenly, I dislodged a bone in my back from its place and I felt a sharp pain.
There was no time even to swear then, and we ran across the road into a plantation of banana trees, horribly aware how conspicuous we had been on the wall and unsure whether we had been seen.
Several bodies had been left on the ground, but there seemed to be no living opposition. For a moment we waited, with the rain still dripping from the leaves and the irregular firing behind us.
In less than five minutes, the most curious incident of the whole escape took place. Two taxis driving without particular urgency came into sight. After a momentary qualm as to whether they were full of soldiers. I waved them down.
They behaved as if it was the most normal event in the world, and if this was because we were armed to the teeth, they gave no sign.
We clambered in and asked them to drive us a couple of miles to the White Fathers near the Roman Catholic cathedral. Huddled on top of one another, we felt far safer, though in fact we must have been very lucky not to have been stopped. The Fathers received us, calmly accepting the unfamiliar clatter of rifles on the refectory table with aplomb.
The Kabaka eventually escaped by walking and hitch-hiking for over a month to Burundi through Congo. He later continued to England where he died on November 21, 1969.