Posted Wednesday, November 23 2011 at 00:00
Tomorrow will be the 42nd anniversary of the death of Kabaka Muteesa. In our first instalment of the series on the last days of the Kabaka in England, Apollo Makubuya, Baganda’s current Attorney General, writes about the struggles the king went through during his exile in England.
Beyond the controversy surrounding his death, little is known or written about Sir Edward Muteesa’s struggle to survive in the UK from 1966 to 1969. This piece is written in memory of one of Uganda’s most unsung heroes – born on November 19, 1924 and died on November 24, 1969. It uncovers the treachery, intrigue and the diplomatic scandals surrounding what the British bureaucrats called the “Muteesa problem”. It ponders the lessons from Obote’s attack on the Lubiri and Muteesa’s defiance of political blackmail and oppression.
When Sir Edward Muteesa (Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) and Uganda’s first Commander-in-Chief and President), jumped over the wall of the Lubiri and walked hundreds of miles to escape Obote’s killers, he did not know what lay in store for him. A new insight, based on historical documents and accounts from family and friends, portrays another dimension on his life in exile in the UK – a life that was as wretched as it was inspirational.
The struggle to settle in England
Far from the grandeur of his palaces and the splendour of the State House, Muteesa, together with his guards Maj. Katende and George Malo, had to settle for a very small one-bedroom flat in Bermondsey in a neighborhood called Rotherhithe. This was kindly offered by a friend – as they had no money at all to rent a better shelter. Other friends, like Major Richard Carr-Gomm, Lord Boyd of Merton, Captain Ronnie Owen and his Solicitor Martin Flegg, set up a small trust of about £789 for his upkeep. Once this fund run out, he had to apply to Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) for unemployment benefits (the dole). He got £ 8.1s a week while his guard, Mr. Katende, got £7. 6s a week. On this, they survived from hand to mouth and sometimes on a diet of tea and biscuits. Some Baganda individuals like one Mr. Iga occasionally supported. Many were scared to be associated with Muteesa for fear of what Obote would do.
To maintain the benefits from HMG, Muteesa and his guards were required to declare any gifts donated by friends including birthday presents. Muteesa relied on the kindness of his friends to pay school fees for his children. Employment in the army, where he was a Lt. Colonel with the Grenadier Guards, was declined or frustrated by the British Government. His pension from the civil contingency fund was not paid. According to the UK Ministry of Social Security no “suitable” employment was available.
Living in exile takes its toll
The British bureaucrats felt that the only possibility for employment was “if he undertook agricultural or forestry training”.
In the early days of exile, his movements were mostly restricted to his flat – for fear of being abducted by Obote’s men. So bleak was his condition that, at a meeting with the Secretary of State on May 10, 1968, Lord Boyd said that Sir Edward had had a mental break down and was suffering from delusions. Lord Boyd described his plight as “pathetic”. Of course, his mental state was not always like that. On many occasions he was jolly, notwithstanding his new circumstances.
Almost overnight, Muteesa had become a diplomatic nightmare and a thorn in HMG’s side. On top of their troubles with Ian D. smith in Rhodesia, Julius K. Nyerere in Tanzania, and Kenneth Kaunda in Zambia, the British Government was keen not to annoy Obote and his new Government. Yet at the same time, it was also under considerable pressure from Muteesa’s influential British friends to take good care of him. In the event, HMG chose to abandon Muteesa and support Obote.
It thus accepted Muteesa as a private citizen and not a political refugee. It refused to have any official dealing with him. This was regardless of the fact that Obote had violently abrogated Uganda’s independence Constitution and had the blood of many Ugandans on his hands following the attack on Muteesa’s palace on the cold night of May 24, 1966.
A memo from 10 Downing Street dated February 6, 1967 shows that the British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, agreed with the Commonwealth Secretary that “any overt grant to the Kabaka could be politically embarrassing”. And, while the Prime Minister pondered discreet support from “secret funds”, this was rejected because his bureaucrats felt that “HMG had no moral or legal obligation to assist Muteesa”. Also, because they felt that “while the risks of detection would be slight, there was just a possibility that the Ugandans might guess the truth and this would seriously damage our relations with them”.
Thus HMG gave Muteesa no more financial assistance than it would to any other “destitute resident”.
How HMG felt about the king
HMG’s position on Muteesa is best captured in a memo of June 24, 1968, authored by R. G. Tallboys of the Commonwealth Office (East Africa Department) to Mr Scott. It stated that –
“If we are ever going to be rid of the Muteesa problem, other than simply waiting for him to go away, there are two lines of approach we should adopt. One is to use his friends and sympathisers in this country as a channel for putting heavier pressure on Muteesa to accept the Uganda conditions, rather than having these friends serve as their main purpose to channel to us tales of woe about Muteesa’s circumstances. The situation is :- (a) His family have been generously treated by the Uganda Government. (b) He has been given assistance by HMG in the form of social benefits. (c) he has assets in Uganda that can be sold. (d) He can almost certainly obtain access to the proceeds, or some of the proceeds, of these assets if he accepts the reality of political conditions in Uganda. (e) There is no case whatever for HMG to do more for him than has and is being done. The second thing is, without waiting for Mutesa to agree to the Uganda conditions, to encourage the realisation of his land in Uganda…I am writing to Peter Foster suggesting that Muteesa’s land should be sold without waiting for prior approval to the effect that the proceeds can be transferred…Once there is cash in the bank it may be easier to get both Muteesa’s agreement to Obote’s conditions and/or to get Obote to agree to remission of some of the money – even if only interest earned. Muteesa is not a destitute in the sense that he has no assets – his financial difficulties here are no more than the cost of his personal vanity and pride.”
The position of Uganda’s government on Muteesa – and that of Obote, in particular, was always clear. In his autobiography entitled The Desecration of My Kingdom, Muteesa wrote that by 1966 “Obote has already put me as President squarely in his sights and having obtained the range by mere pointing out at me publicly, he is now pressing firmly at the trigger”.
The hate and venom poured on Buganda and Muteesa by Obote and his UPC colleagues in the post-1966 period is available for all to see in the Hansards of the National Assembly.
In short, for Obote and his friends, Muteesa needed to be cut down to size. Now that he had escaped with his life, Muteesa needed to be starved of funds so that he could succumb – either privately or publically – to acknowledge the established state of affairs in Uganda.
Somehow, the British played along and pressured Muteesa to accept these conditions in total disregard of their (il)legality, morality or even implications on the long standing relationship they had with the kingdom and people of Buganda since 1894.
The Baganda were able to see through this although they could do little because of the fear instilled in them by the emergency laws and Obote’s brutal terror machine in Buganda. But in a brave open-letter to the British Prime Minister dated May 21, 1968, some six Baganda students, including Y. Nsambu, Joseph Male, M. Nansamba, and S. Nansamba, protested the actions of Obote and HMG government.
They stated that “the British Government has now joined hands with the Uganda authorities in holding the Kabaka as a hostage until His Highness surrenders”.
How the kingdom came to be abolished
Sam Odaka, Uganda’s Minister for foreign Affairs at the time, set the conditions for the amelioration of Muteesa’s plight.
He declared that the Government of Uganda was prepared to consider any proposal to remit funds from Muteesa’s assets in Uganda to England, but that such consideration was dependant on Muteesa giving “definite and unequivocal proof that he accepts the changes that have taken place in Uganda, the 1967 Constitution and the authority of the present government”.
Obote was not content with Muteesa’s dreadful life in exile. So, to complete his subjugation and the humiliation of the Baganda, he, by a stroke of a pen, “abolished” the 600-year old Kingdom of Buganda.
He then confiscated all the Kingdom’s land and assets and handed them to the State. As if that weren’t enough, he converted the Kabaka’s palace at Mengo into an army barracks. He took over the former Lukiiko (Buganda’s Parliament) and made it his new army headquarters.
The palace grounds were later to become one of Uganda’s most notorious torture chambers and killing fields.
Many people including Abu Mayanja, Mayanja Nkangi, David Ssimbwa and others were detained without trial. Many others were killed. Little surprise that, during those difficult days, the saying that “a good Muganda is a dead one” gained popularity in the corridors of power.