Forty-four years ago on November 21, the Kabaka Fredrick Edward Muteesa II died in a London exile in circumstances that have remained murky and controversial. Was he poisoned or did his death arise from a natural cause? In our five part series, “Muteesa: The Last Days” starting this weekend, we recount the Kabaka’s last days beginning with his narrow escape from soldiers who attacked his palace on the orders of then prime minister Milton Obote.
KAMPALA- On the dawn of May 24, 1966 Kabaka Edward Muteesa II and his subjects were awakened by heavy gun fire from Uganda Army’s Special Forces commanded by Col. Idi Amin. Every creature inside the palace, including humans, horses, donkeys, dogs, and cows went “wailing” in fear.
Mengo Palace was burning. The Special Forces had the orders from President Milton Obote to capture or kill Kabaka Muteesa, so it is alleged. Fortunately, Muteesa escaped in a surprise move from the fortified palace. However, the events of the day, escape from the Lubiri and the route he used to Burundi has remained a mystery dotted with doubts from different accounts.
Several theories have been advanced to explain his escape and route. So, did he jump over the perimeter wall or did he go through the infamous ‘Kilyanggo Kibbi’ or ‘Gate-of-Death’? Did he go through south-western Uganda to Rwanda, Zaire and Burundi? Or he went through Tanzania to Burundi?
In his book Desecration of My Kingdom Muteesa wrote that him his bodyguards engaged the enemy for hours during a heavy downpour using the little ammunition available before they eventually escaped by climbing over the perimeter wall.
His former bodyguard Jehoash Katende while appearing before the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the violation of human rights in Uganda since 1964 to 1988 on August 16, 1989, contradicted Mutesa’s version on the fighting and the escape from the palace.
When Counsel Edward Ssekandi [current vice-president], a member of the commission asked retired Captain Katende whether what Muteesa wrote in his book about the fighting and his escape was a true account of the event.
Katende answered that there was no contact between the Kabaka guards and the Uganda army. He, however, added that Kabaka fired once.
Brig Tadeo Kanyankole’s narrative
This information corresponds well with what retired late Brigadier Tadeo Kanyankole told the Monitor newspaper of December 19, 1997. Brig Kanyankole, then a Lance Corporal in the Uganda Army, who participated in the Lubiri battle, said there was no fighting between the Uganda army and the Kabaka guards.
He said the Royal guards had dug-in at the main gate [Wankaki] along the Kabaka Anjagala Road to ambush any invading soldiers. Besides, for two days, fanatic Baganda had been sounding the ‘Ggwanga Mujje’ (the war drum )and many had assembled for war in the Lubiri. Many of them were executed when the reinforcement from Mbarara garrison arrived.
Kanyankole said the first gun shot was fired from the Kisenyi gate at 4am and later near the Katwe gate to enable the Kabaka forces escape through the other gates.
Kanyankole told the Monitor that they were 100 soldiers only with instructions to shoot any palace worker who had declared war on government. They broke the gates to access the Lubiri with the exception of Wankaki which was heavily guarded.
Katende had earlier told the commission that at about 5am, the first guard stationed at Kaalala gate called and informed him that the army had broken the gate before other guards also called informing him that other gates had been broken by the army.
Kanyankole told the Monitor that they found a loaded gun inside Kabaka’s bedroom. Some Baganda had somehow anticipated a war. Asked about Mutesa’s escape, he said: “What I remember is that king Mutesa escaped through the small gate near the Kayanja ka Kabaka (Kabaka’s Lake)) where people who died in the palace were led outside for burial. And he never came back to his kingdom alive.”
On Kabaka’s way of escape from the Lubiri, Katende was non-committal as he refused to answer whether Mutesa jumped over the wall or not. He, however, said: “Heavy shooting was followed by wailing and confusion and my sole objective was to protect my Kabaka. I quietly smuggled out my Kabaka for safety as there was a heavy rain during the shooting.”
Katende also told the commission that they walked from Lubiri to Ndeeba village. Katende also confessed that he saw no injured or a dead body before escaping from the Lubiri with the Kabaka.