Akbar Adoko Nekyon wants an epitaph reading: “I have played my role, and I am satisfied with my performance and legacy serving Uganda.”
He passed away soon after endorsing the now public view that post-colonial Uganda has failed and continues to fail. But the former politician was surprisingly a key player in this failure.
Other fallen politicians in the Uganda tragedy like Milton Obote, Idi Amin, Binaisa, Abu Mayanja, Samson Kisseka, Mayanja Nkangi and Ssebaana Kizito have not explained what went wrong. While Obote evaded the question, Binaisa, Abu Mayanja, Mayanja Nkangi and Ssebaana Kizito said they had written about the country, but they did not.
Nekyon wrote a personal account of this sad story of Uganda but he kept revising that he did not mess up here and there until he died without the courage to face its publication. The family promises to publish the book.
For the political actors like Nekyon and the public, the failure of post-colonial Uganda may have many answers. But it has one tale; the story of Uganda’s colonial and postcolonial developments lost and the hopes of recovery and further progress absent.
When former president of Ghana Kwame Nkrumah predicted that failed postcolonial states, like Uganda, will remain with only the title and the flag; he should have added the leaders and their story of this ruin.
The story of postcolonial Uganda starts with the independence struggle in 1952 when Nekyon also came on board. A buoyant 22-year-old student at Kings College Budo, Nekyon joined all existing anti-colonial efforts; Uganda National Congress (UNC), Kapenguria, Katwe and UNC-League. The UNC was a modern political party seeking Western type independent Uganda; Kapenguria was a Uganda fraternity with Kenya Mau-Mau; Katwe wanted Uganda returned to pre-colonial tribes, while UNC-League targeted colonial injustices and collaborators.
Of these independence groups Kapenguria and Katwe engaged in violent underground dissident activities while the UNC-League concealed its revolutionary motives as a youth wing of UNC. Nekyon was a classmate and friend of Grace Ibingira, who linked with but never joined UNC and the Kenyan communist Joshua Mwangi Kariuki, who was imprisoned for Mau Mau violence and was assassinated in 1973 over anti-capitalism politics in Kenya.
While his father was a colonial chief behind British rule, it is amazing that the young Nekyon associated with several anticolonial political groups with contradicting aims and practices.
In 1953, Nekyon moved to one of the forests to train in violent anticolonial action. It is not clear how he manipulated his way into the group because the armed wing of the Uganda anti-colonial struggle was restricted to Muslims and Banyarwanda yet Nekyon had not yet converted to Islam. The young Nekyon failed the political violence action training, but besides indicating that he appreciated violence in politics, his guerilla camp presents some ideas on the failure of post-colonial Uganda politics.
The first is that in the 1950s decade Muslims and Banyarwanda (foreigners) were the only ones trusted with the sensitive armed role.
The second is that the Muslims and Banyarwanda (foreigners) allocated the armed wing role in the anti-colonial struggle continued and each captured power in post-colonial Uganda. So the post-colonial problems of these minority and non-citizen groups controlling Uganda were planted during the independence struggle.
The other important lesson from Nekyon in a forest camp of anti-colonial guerillas is the observation that the particular forest that Nekyon attended and surprisingly all such forests, across Uganda that were used, and which could be used for guerilla action against bad politics, have since around 1996 been cut. It, therefore, means that Uganda’s failure is partly because such remedy is no longer available.
For Nekyon his membership in the anti-colonial struggle organisations while a secondary school student made him marked by the colonial authorities and thus having completed secondary school in 1953, he could not join the then Makerere College of London University. All similar secondary school students in active anti-colonial politics did not proceed in the colonial education system. This enabled them, including Nekyon, to seek for anti-colonial scholarships in India, Pakistani and the Soviet Union.
But in 1954 there was a boycott of colonial rule to prevent Queen Elizabeth from celebrating 60 years of colonial rule over Uganda. Nekyon, being a member of the UNC and the UNC-League, was approached to contribute in this struggle which included some violence.
Some leaders like Ignatius Musaazi fled while others were imprisoned, but the violence against Ugandans preparing to receive Queen Elizabeth continued. Nekyon’s excuse for not participating in this struggle is strange; it is that he could not or did not speak fluent Luganda.
In India, in 1956, Nekyon moved to the University of the State of Kerala through UNC contacts. He was on a political scholarship where he had to choose which role in the independence struggle and post-colonial Uganda he preferred to be prepared for.
It seems that Nekyon, together with Joseph Mubiru, who became the first African governor of Bank of Uganda, preferred to train to contribute after independence. This is perhaps an indictment on both Nekyon and the now celebrated deceased Mubiru, for failing to apply the training of successive post-colonial politics in post-colonial Uganda.
Nekyon, who was undertaking a Bachelors of Applied Economics, was trained on the part of politics in Communist approaches. While a student in 1957 Nekyon was initially careless by sending Communist literature, liberation and revolution strategy directly to the UNC Secretariat addressed particularly to John Kale. These documents were intercepted and caused criminal problems, of being a Communist, to Kale.
Return to Uganda
When Nekyon completed his course in 1959 and returned as a university graduate, he found Uganda on fire. There was a boycott against colonial rule whereby the anti-colonial Uganda National Movement was applying violence on any African who cooperated with the colonial government and the colonial economy.
The violence included intimidation, assault, slashing gardens, burning houses and killing with machete and guns.
Nekyon first withdrew to his home area in Lango and there got a part time job as an interpreter in the colonial administration.
The boycott was not strong in Lango. The militants applied violence on his cousin Obote at his home at Naguru on behalf of Nekyon.
An arrangement was made for a dispensation to recognise Nekyon as a UNC member allowed by the UNM Boycott to engage with the colonial regime.
Through this Nekyon was able to return to Kampala and work with Shell Ltd in 1959 and 1960.
In this way Nekyon did not directly participate in any of the most dangerous activities of the anti-colonial struggle. This is important because later in early 1963, Nekyon rubbished the move for the UPC/KY Alliance to recognise the list of the nationalists who according to the logic had ‘suffered most’ or ‘made the greatest sacrifice’ for independence.
Paulo Muwanga topped the list of independence struggle heroes, followed by JW Kiwanuka and John Kale. Nekyon said at the time of unity across the country a list without western Uganda where only John Kale from Kisoro was included was ‘rubbish’.
This was the only occasion when Nekyon was positive on Kabaka Mutesa and John Kakonge. Nekyon as the responsible minister rejected any independence heroes list without Kabaka Mutesa although there was no evidence of Mutesa ‘suffering’ and ‘sacrificing’.
Although one issue was that only Peter Oola, Yekosofati Engur, Otema Allimadi and Ogwalkwel were the people from northern Uganda on the list, the absence of Prime Minister Obote and himself (Nekyon) was the problem. None of the people in independence government Cabinet, including Felix Onama, was on the list of these heroes.
When earlier at the end of January 1960 the UNM Boycott of colonial regime was about to end, Obote was arrested while returning from an official UNC trip to India from where he joined Kale and they proceeded behind the Communist ‘Iron Curtain’. After two days in custody and interrogation, Obote reneged opposing British rule and renounced the UNC where he was the acting president appointed in absentia a year earlier at Mbale. There was a crisis in the UNC wing to which Nekyon reported and which was not part of the boycott violence.
Into the deep end
Nekyon joined the plans to merge the ‘Uganda Peoples Council’ secret UNC cells in northern and eastern Uganda with the five-member party called UPU. The colonial government, which had just signed the agreement to end the violent boycott in exchange for Uganda progressing to full independence within two years was party to the talks to form a civil political party.
Since Kakonge and Otema Allimadi had signed for the UNM to end the boycott violence, they were favoured ahead of Nekyon to legitimise the new political party.
Nekyon, not tainted with violence, was up in arms to become secretary general. Otema declined the new party but Kakonge, who had no post both in UNC and UNM boycott, accepted the post.
Due to related reasons Nekyon vowed not to stand for any party office where Kakonge was a member. The actual reasons cannot be confirmed but Nekyon remained more or less permanently hostile to Kakonge. Nekyon could not share Communism with Kakonge although they shared Communists ideologies.
Nekyon did not participate in building the new UPC party and declined any other post and to be a founder member. Through most of 1960 Nekyon did not support the efforts by Obote and Kakonge to establish the new UPC.
Despite funding, UPC could not make headway against the highly funded and long established UNC. The rival UNC had no leader with Musaazi suspended for suspending Kale and Obote had defected.
By a tragedy for the UNC and a stroke of luck for the UPC, Kale, who had been announced to return to Uganda at the end of August 1960 to lead the UNC and contest to lead Uganda in the February 1961 elections, received a flower bouquet from a young girl as he boarded a plane to Moscow on August 18, 1960. The flower contained a bomb which killed Kale. This death placed UPC in business as it claimed the place of UNC throughout the country.
This is when Nekyon claimed candidature for the constituency of Lango South East on the UPC ticket for the February 1961 elections. Nekyon won the election, resigned from Shell and became a full time politician as an Opposition MP of UPC when DP was in government.
The Leader of Opposition UPC in March 1961 allowed the secretary general Kakonge to appoint the Opposition officials in Parliament. Kakonge had also won one of the easy constituencies in Buganda because of boycott of elections by the people of Buganda. Nekyon either declined to be appointed by Kakonge or maybe Kakonge did not appoint him.
In the Uganda Parliament of March 1961 to April 1962, Nekyon specialised in intellectually rubbishing, interrupting and even heckling the Leader of Government and later the Chief Minister and finally the Prime Minister, Benedicto Kiwanuka.
The Speaker of this Parliament Sir John Griffin, on many occasions was at pains to make Kiwanuka speak against the efforts of Nekyon.
However, in the March 1961 to April 1962 Parliament, Nekyon was the greatest Speaker in the entire House. The Leader of Opposition, Obote, and other UPC Opposition members depended on Nekyon to engage the ex-officio Europeans and Indians and Government side DP Members.
Nekyon boasted that he was so eloquent and intelligent that the Speaker and the Government Side could never correct him.
He also taunted several not-so-bright Government side DP MPs like Alphonse Ntale that if he is in the House they should not bother to contribute. Nekyon used to thank these DP MPs for ‘saying much about nothing’.
Nekyon engaged with the colonial Finance minister over the conditions of Uganda being accepted into the World Bank on conditions of permanently and perpetually taking loans. On December 5, 1961 Nekyon challenged adoption of conditions that made Uganda permanently sink in World Bank loans. He made several great contributions in this Parliament.
The controversial issue arose for Nekyon when the Opposition UPC and Buganda negotiated or were invited or colluded with the British Government to cut short the tenure of the DP Government and hold fresh elections.
The conditions included an alliance that would defeat the DP and bring UPC and Buganda KY into Government.
Due to his debating skills, Nekyon was part of the UPC committee negotiating with Mutesa and Buganda. Kakonge was excluded on a flimsy excuse that he was a communist yet Mutesa and Buganda were capitalists. Kabaka Mutesa wanted to be the Prime Minister of the Alliance Government competing with Obote. Both Nekyon and Grace Ibingira introduced a condition that the prime minister should be a university graduate. Mutesa and Obote were matriculation level; equivalent of Senior Six.
At some point during the Alliance negotiations, Grace Ibingira and Nekyon were the candidates, with Nekyon in the lead to become the prime minster of independent Uganda.
The British Government had other ideas. It was comfortable or more comfortable as they politely stated with the less educated Mutesa and Obote leading Uganda than the highly educated Ibingira and Nekyon.