The last days of Kabaka Edward Muteesa


Kabaka Muteesa talks to his chiefs in the 1950s. Courtesy photos, Uganda a Picture History, Fountain Publishers

Posted  Thursday, November 24  2011 at  00:00


In the second and final part of our series, Apollo Makubuya, the current Attorney General of Buganda writes that even with all the odds stacked against him, Kabaka Edward Muteesa stood his ground and refused to give in to the demands President Milton Obote had set.

Milton Obote left nothing to chance – in ensuring that Muteesa was rendered a destitute. He personally oversaw that Muteesa had no access to funds from Uganda. According to a memo from the British High Commission in Uganda dated January 4, 1967, Obote himself actively pursued the question of Muteesa’s finances. On one occasion, he summoned a Standard Bank official and asked him if he could shed light on the possibility of funds being passed from Uganda to Muteesa.

The discussion, at which Obote was said to be pleasant and amiable, lasted two hours but the official explained that he was unable to help the President on this question. On another occasion, Obote twice summoned the local Barclays Bank Manager, Mr. Woodcock, and interrogated him at length to establish that the Kabaka had no funds. The Bank official confirmed that there was no money available to Muteesa. In the mean time, Sam Odaka discussed with the British High Commissioner the possibility for Mutesa’s land and property to be sold by his sister Princess Victoria Mpologoma.

But, as the High Commissioner saw it, even if the land was sold there was “no reason to think that the Uganda Government will allow Muteesa to receive these moneys without paying the political price” or “eating a full measure of humble pie”. Alongside the Ugandan Government, the British maintained an intense search for Muteesa’s assets in Uganda so that they be sold and, hopefully, the proceeds would go to Muteesa to “keep the wolves away from his door for at least a few months” if one may use the language of the High Commissioner.

While HMG’s agenda on Muteesa was more obscure than Obote’s, it was equally uncharitable. In spite of his plight, some senior officials felt that HMG was handling Muteesa with “kid gloves”. The Commonwealth Office for example pressed the Supplementary Benefits Commission to work with Muteesa’s solicitors to obtain “a more precise statement of Muteesa’s assets and how they can be realised, than Muteesa is prepared to make”.

The Commonwealth Office’s primary aim was “to help the Supplementary Benefits Commission to relieve themselves of the burden of Mutesa” by arranging “so far as we can, for his assets to be made available in some way or the other”, in other words, by hook or crook.

The wolves were not only at Muteesa’s door, they were also on Princess Victoria Mpologoma’s door. Indeed, according to the Daily Telegraph of February 18, 1969, she together with 15 others were arrested and detained under emergency laws. She was to be charged with high treason. It was believed by Basil Bataringaya, the Minister of Internal Affairs, that she supplied money for an abortive army mutiny in an attempt to overthrow the Ugandan government and secure the return of the Kabaka.

British government declines to help
When Muteesa’s friends asked the British government to intercede in Princess Victoria Mpologoma’s long detention without trial, HMG’s response was that it could “do nothing about the detention of Victoria since she is a Ugandan citizen. To them, her detention was “a matter for the Uganda Government and any approach by HMG would be taken by President Obote as interference in the internal affairs of Uganda”.

On the matter, a senior British official stressed that “President Obote is extremely sensitive to the question of Sir Edward Muteesa and his family” adding that “we have had to be very careful in the past to avoid any action which could conceivably be construed as support for Sir E Muteesa by HMG”. Mr P.M. Forster, the British High Commissioner in Uganda wrote that on matters concerning Muteesa, Obote’s “emotions are strongly engaged and his behaviour tends to be irrational.”

At home Muteesa’s assets were left to the vultures. Nobody was in charge. Taifa Empya reported cases of some senior Baganda lawyers and politicians scrambling for his personal property. It is said that Obote, like Governor Andrew Cohen before him, cajoled the Baganda to forget Muteesa and install another prince as their Kabaka. But, like Cohen, his plans were met with dismal failure.

Muteesa was worried about his family. Naturally. In particular, he was concerned about the wellbeing of his sister Victoria and Sarah Kisosonkole. Through his solicitors, he asked HMG for information about them. HMG was reluctant to provide this information fearing what Obote may think or suspect.

Because of the fear to insult Obote, HMG also declined a request made by Muteesa who wanted to send his son Ronnie (the reigning Kabaka) to his mother in Kenya for Christmas in 1969. The mother feared that the young prince may be kidnapped. HMG’s view was that it was a difficult matter and did not think that it “could offer any view” as “it was for the boy’s parents to make their own judgement”. The British bureaucrats believed that if their advice “came to the ears of President Obote, which it easily could, we should have insulted him”.

Kabaka refuses to accept Obote’s demands
However, and in spite of the blackmail and torment that Muteesa suffered at the hands of his British hosts and Obote’s regime, he did not relent. He never gave up. And, in an interview with officials from the Supplementary Benefits Commission on his financial affairs, it was perfectly clear that Muteesa was “not prepared at present, either publically or privately, to make the declaration which would enable the Uganda government to permit the transfer of some of his assets to this country”.

Much to their chagrin. It is not difficult to imagine what would have followed if Muteesa had yielded to Obote’s conditions. According to HMG, Muteesa did not seem to be especially concerned about his own plight and gave them the impression that he was “lethargic and complacent”. This must have infuriated Obote and his cronies even more.

In The Desecration of My Kingdom, Muteesa writes that Obote was “behaving much as the British did when they exiled me, and making the same mistakes, though he has added violence and chaos. The army rules… but just as I was supported by my faith in the loyalty of my people in the dark years of exile, now I believe utterly that the Baganda will show their devotion, though it demands great courage and perseverance. In the end I shall return to the land of my fathers and to my people”. Indeed Muteesa returned to the land of his forefathers. But as a dead man.

Unclear circumstances of the king’s death
It is said Muteesa died of alcohol poisoning in his London flat in November 1969. The British police claimed that he committed suicide. Other accounts say that he was poisoned by Obote’s assassins. Others claim he was grossly neglected by his minders – who failed to deliver him to hospital in good time. But a British journalist John Simpson, interviewed him in his flat only a few hours before his death.

He found that Muteesa was sober and in good spirits. And, although Simpson reported this to the police the following day, this line of inquiry was not pursued. Simpson says he that he “tried to tell the British police my story and even though I was the last person to see him they didn’t seem to want to interview me, which I have always found very strange and rather disturbing.” HMG has never offered an explanation for this. It seems therefore, that we shall never know what or who killed Muteesa. What we know though is Obote’s regime made Muteesa’s final years hell on earth.

In fact he refused Muteesa’s body to be returned to Uganda for burial. We know that, when it mattered most, the British establishment did little or nothing to help Muteesa or his family. To them he was a burden and an object of scorn and ridicule. One wonders why, once he had fallen, HMG had Muteesa’s casket draped with the Union Jack and let the Grenadier Guards carry it in full ceremony and honour.

But, whatever or whoever killed him, we know that, in the end, Muteesa died a frustrated but firm man. He never gave up and never let us down. He kept the faith. We salute him as our true hero. His spirit endures. We shall always remember him for many things not least – standing up to British imperialism at a youthful age of 29, his heroic triumph against Governor Andrew Cohen, his grand and heroic home-coming on October 17, 1955, his role in Uganda’s Constitutional making process in Lancaster, his fight against Obote’s dictatorship; his love for his people and respect for the Lukiiko plus his charm, dignity and sense of optimism.

And, most of all we shall never forget the historic return of his body and burial at Kasubi in 1971. Of course it is ironic that it was Idi Amin, he who led the attack on Muteesa’s palace in 1966, who was showered with praises for allowing his body to return home.

So, what do we learn from this tragic story? Many lessons abound. For 27 years, Buganda Kingdom was “abolished”. But was Uganda any better off? In this sad episode of our history, Buganda lost. But Obote and, notably, Uganda did not win.

And, although it is now almost 20 years since the colourful coronation of Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi at Nnagalabi, the wounds of 1966 have not fully healed. It hurts to see that no one has ever been tried and/or convicted for these heinous crimes. How will these wounds heal and how will Buganda and Uganda forge ahead in a united, peaceful and prosperous way? This question ought to bother our leaders yet there is little evidence that it actually does.

Fred Mpanga, Buganda’s former Attorney General and Muteesa’s old and friend, opined in 1968, that the “monarchy, where it existed in Uganda is not an anachronism. It was a vibrant political force and a stabilising factor. That is why its untimely abolition may prove the weakest link in the chain of the events that began in 1966 when Obote seized all the powers of government”.

What is the way forward?
Forty two years after Muteesa’s death, the Kingdom of Buganda remains a square peg being forced to fit in a round hole. Often, its attempts to resolve issues on land, federalism, the position and role of the Kabaka, for example, are thwarted and sometimes violently so. When shall we learn that the politics of betrayal, brinkmanship, force and violence cannot secure us a peaceful and joyful future? When shall we learn that dialogue and mutual respect is the way to go?

The challenge to us, mostly the politicians, is to resolve the Buganda question in Uganda alongside other burning national issues such as the economy, oil resources and corruption. The time is now. We cannot afford to wait any longer to lay a foundation that will guarantee our children and their children a stable future in Uganda and East Africa. And, more importantly, we can no longer afford politicians and schemes that seek to divide rather than unite; that seek to coerce rather that engage; and those that aim to destroy rather than build.

As we ponder these issues, as well as Uganda’s future, the lessons in Muteesa’s long and arduous journey – from his Palace in Mengo to a small one-bedroom flat in England where he died – dare not be lost on all of us. Therein may lie the answer.

Long live the king.


About ekitibwakyabuganda

Ba Ssebo ne ba Nyabo, Twebaza Abaganda bonna abulumulirwa Obuganda . Era twebaza ne mikwano gya Buganda gyonna wonna wegiri munsi yonna. Omukutu guno gwatandikibwawo nga e’kigendererwa kwe kuyigiriza abantu ebintu ebikwatagana no’Buganda era nokuwanyisiganya ebilowozo nebanaffe abatali Baganda. Abaganda ne mikwano gya Buganda mukozese omukisa guno muwereze ebirowozo byamwe no’bubaka bwona obunaagasa Abaganda na’baana Buganda berizala mu maaso eyo. Obumu ku bubaka obuwerezebwa ku mukutu guno bugyibwa mukuwanyisiganya ebirowozo okubera kumukutu gwa Ugandan’s at Heart (UAH) Forum ogwatandikibwawo Mwami Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba. Era twebaza muzukulu wa Kintu ne Nnambi ono olw’omulimu gwakoledde bana Uganda bonna abali e’bunayira mungeri yo kubagatta mu byempuliziganya no’kutumbula okukolaganira awamu.

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