Being married to Buganda’s attorney general forced Mpanga to flee country

The difficult political times forced Joyce Mpanga to leave the job of a university lecturer to become a primary school teacher in Britain. She talked to Sunday Monitor’s Henry Lubega about how her marriage to Buganda’s attorney general forced her into exile after the 1966 attack on Lubiri.

Sunday August 25 2013

The Mpangas at their wedding in 1965. Behind  Mpanga is Miria Obote and Milton Obote.

The Mpangas at their wedding in 1965. Behind Mpanga is Miria Obote and Milton Obote. Courtesy photo 

I got married to Andrew Fredrick Mpanga in August 1965, when the relationship between Buganda and the central government was not at its best. He was Mengo’s solicitor general, and later attorney general. By the time of the attack on the Lubiri, Mpanga had been sent by the Mengo government to London to tell the world what was happening in Uganda and Buganda in particular. He never came back to Uganda but in June, we met in Nairobi when he was looking for Kabaka’s whereabouts.

Going to Nairobi then required one to get permission from police to join one of the two convoys that were escorted up to Jinja. There was one in the morning and another in the afternoon all setting off from CPS. For the three weeks I was in Nairobi, my husband managed to locate the Kabaka in Burundi. And I advised him not to return to Uganda as people were being imprisoned, but I came back.

When I returned, one night CID operatives came home, saying they had a message for me from the Kabaka; I told them I was not his agent. Thereafter, another operative rented a house near my house and I suspected he was to keep watch over my home.

During the same period, I noticed a Vaux Wagon car which used to park near my home and it trailed me to and from work every day. I was even followed to the shops. A friend of mine, whose brother was a CID agent, informed me that her brother had told her to caution me about the secret meetings going on at my home; but there was nothing of the sort. One afternoon while on my way to Makerere, I met my brother-in-law coming to see me. As we talked by the roadside, a convoy of police vehicles passed us, in the middle was my cousin Dan Kamanyi’s car. I immediately knew he had been arrested. I made a U-turn and went to his place only to find a lot of policemen; I decided to go to Namugongo to inform his parents.

When they saw me, they just sent me away to avoid the police associating me with them for they knew they were being watched. That same night, Kamanyi’s father, who was a natural resource minister in Mengo, was also arrested. Later, I learnt that it was Kamanyi who drove Muteesa from his hiding place in Mengo to Ssembabule. In a later development, I was called to CID by a one Hassan to go to his office for interrogation because I had been seen at Kamanyi’s house during his arrest. I decided not to go, and that’s when I took the decision to leave the country.

Planning the exit
I went to my sister in Makerere and told her what was happing, and requested her to look after my baby in case I was arrested, and also gave her powers to operate my account to look after my child. As the academic year closed in April 1967, I planned to get out of the country. But I did not tell anyone for fear of leaking my plans. Only my mother-in-law knew about it; unfortunately there was death of a Ugandan in UK and they were raising money to bring the body back. She told some people that I would take the money since I was going to London in two weeks’ time. I immediately made my mind that I would leave the country before the two weeks.

I managed to get my three months long vacation pay from Makerere, got money from my husband’s account and set off with my baby, brother, sister and two other male relatives. The big number was to pretend we were going on a holiday.

At 11pm on Saturday, we set off from Lungujja. When we reached the check point at Jinja, a soldier lets us through after seeing a baby’s basin in the car. The second roadblock was at Tororo but I drove passed it to the Kenyan border. In Nairobi, we checked into Mayfair Hotel. The next day, I went to East African Airways to book a ticket to London; unfortunately they asked me to go back to Uganda to get an income tax clearance certificate. I was not ready to comeback for it.

My passport was in the names of Joyce Masembe not Mpanga, and I was taking a young Lydia Mpanga with me who was not in my passport. I went to the British High commission for help. Luckily, the lady at the reception recognised me as I used to go there with my husband when he was processing Kabaka Muteesa’s travel documents.

She referred me to the senior counsellor who asked me for a marriage certificate and the child’s birth certificate, which I didn’t have. She referred my case to the Home Office in London which asked my husband for proof that I was his wife. Fortunately, his friend had kept newspaper cuttings of our weeding photos, which Obote and the Kabaka attended. They were presented to the Home Office, which then directed that my daughter be given travel documents as a British subject and the High Commission booked me on a flight out of Nairobi that very evening.

At the airport, I had a problem because they could not accept the baby’s travel documents from the British High commission. It took the intervention of the High Commission’s official who took me to the VIP section and I got out of Nairobi.

In exile
We were met by my husband at Heathrow Airport. Starting a new life was not easy, I was not working and he didn’t have a stable job either; yet we had a baby to look after. In the beginning, we moved several times before getting a suitable place.

In the end, we took up a basement flat being vacated by a Ugandan who was returning home. In the new flat I had to baby-sit for the landlord as part of the rent payment arrangement. We were short of cash, so I wrote to Rapid Results College who were providing correspondence courses for overseas students, applying for a job as a trained teacher who could mark their English and History papers. They instead offered me a job to write lessons content for Islam in West Africa.

My husband was very accommodating because he would stay home while I went to the library to look for material to prepare my lessons. In 1968, I applied to the Inner London Education Authority for a part-time teaching job. To go for the Inner London Education Authority interviews, I needed a certificate and a passport, but my passport had already expired.

When I went to the Ugandan High Commission in London to get a new passport, a junior officer I found there asked me: “Are you not one of the Kabaka’s people? I wouldn’t touch you with a long broom stick,” it was a big insult; I just walked away. I told the authority that I was in exile and the high commission had refused to give me a new passport. They contacted the Indiana University in America and cross-checked with the London University Senate House for records. They also wrote to Makerere to know about my last salary. I was recruited as a fresh graduate until they confirmed my records.

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