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.
The commission heard from Katende that ADC George Mallo, himself and Kabaka Mutesa spent the night of May 25 at the home of the Rev Kigozi near Rubaga village.
On May 26, the trio reached Mawogola from there they realised that the government intelligence was fast tracking them. They hurriedly moved to Mbarara from where a Good Samaritan hiked them to the frontier in Kabale District. On June 23, 1966 another Good Samaritan helped them cross into Rwanda and proceeded to Goma and Bukavu in Zaire before reaching Bujumbura in Burundi.
‘Protecting his dignity’
Soldiers and highly intelligent people know how to conceal intelligence and also confuse the enemy in words, propaganda and actions when captured, or planning to act, or when in action. In his book Sir Edward wrote: “I cannot describe my route which was by no means direct, as the prime minister might take the opportunity to wreak his vengeance on anyone he thought had helped. I will only say that I did not go through Tanzania as he stated.”
Could this statement mean that Muteesa may have deliberately chosen to write in his book the way he did in order to ‘protect his dignity’ and as a result, the truth was not told but rather made for the readers to believe? Otherwise, why couldn’t Katende say yes or no to the commission whether the Kabaka jumped over the wall or not?
Commissioner John Nagenda had earlier warned that some individuals in Buganda had been coached on what to say and threatened to name perpetrators if the witnesses to the commission did not tell the truth of what they saw.
If we had not seen the television pictures of the arrest of former presidents Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, who would have believed that the former most powerful leaders in the Middle-East and Africa respectively could run and hide in bushes, gardens and trenches when declared wanted dead or alive? It is said that at the ninth hour, anything is possible – and anomalies can happen to anyone regardless of their status.
Four years ago, I met an ex-FRONASA fighter (an askari) at a school in south-western Uganda. He told me he was a businessman “smuggler” when Yoweri Museveni recruited him into the FRONASA ranks while in Tanzania.
He told me that he and others shared a small house with Museveni and Janet before Muhoozi Kainerugaba was born. He also confided in me that while in exile, poverty nibbled at Museveni’s home the way lice bite humans. My editor then ‘did not’ believe the story.
Until Janet Museveni authored her autobiography, ‘My Life’s Journey’, 2011, who could have believed that at one time, there was no money in Museveni’s pocket to buy a maternity dress for his wife – and that Janet improvised by wearing dresses over trousers as the tummy bulged? Unlike Janet, sometimes authors are too shy to reveal the real truth in their autobiographies.
On how he escaped from the Lubiri, on page 15 of his book Muteesa, wrote: “There is a tradition that no [dead] body save that of the Kabaka should leave through the Palace gates, so if a commoner dies inside the walls there is this opening through which he may pass.”
He adds: “Unfortunately, it was locked and we could not break the lock. So we had to climb.” Once outside the Lubiri to the next destination, he wrote: “Two taxis driving without particular urgency came into sight…I waved them down…We clambered in and asked them to drive us to a couple of miles to the White Fathers near the Roman Catholic Cathedral. We had no money, and I sent the driver on to my friend who would pay him. I realised that to be my friend was now a source of terrible danger.”
Records from Uganda police this writer saw, however, indicate that a taxi driver Salasi Makanja, a 28-year-old resident of Nnalumunye village, Ssabagabo, Busiro is the driver who chauffeured the Kabaka and his bodyguards to Rubaga Cathedral.
He was detained at Jinja Road police station before he was brought to court. On July 4, Makanja appeared before the Kampala chief magistrate Serwano Kulubya.
Prosecutor assistant Inspector of police, Nekemeya Kibuka told court that on May 24, 1966, at Ndeeba village, Makanja was arrested by police who found him with a rifle and nine ammunitions. In his defence, through his lawyer, Z.Haque, Makanja said: “The rifle was found in my possession but it did not belong to me.”
His lawyer told court that Makanja was stopped by several people at Ndeeba who asked him to drive to a house 100 yards away and then forced him to give a lift to the deposed Kabaka.
Asked by the magistrate where he found the Sir Edward Muteesa, Makanja replied that Muteesa was in the house together with several other people – who asked him to drive the Kabaka and others to Rubaga and that it was them who left the gun in his car.
Obote’s version of Muteesa’s escape
So did the Kabaka and his bodyguards escape from the Lubiri Palace through the ‘Gate-of-Death’ as Obote told the Cabinet on the evening of May 26, 1966 and the press the following day in Kampala? During a press briefing at his office in the Parliament Building, Dr Obote explained how his intelligence information indicated that Kabaka Muteesa II escaped from the Lubiri through the infamous Kilyango kibbi exit, (also known as the Gate-of-Death.)
He said: “Sir Edward, who was in the Lubiri, got out through the Gate-of-Death when it was raining and went to Rubaga [Cathedral], had tea there. From Rubaga, Sir Edward spent a night near Natete. He was driven in the early hours through ‘Burungi Bwansi’ to Masaka – and from there to Bukoba [Tanzania].
In Bukoba, he stayed at a Catholic mission from where he went to Rwanda before he proceeded to Burundi.”
Obote’s information corresponds well with what Katende told the commission and what Muteesa wrote in his book in the first 48 hours after the escape from the Lubiri. Muteesa mentions of how he went to Rubaga and was served tea while there.
This writer talked to someone who was working in the president’s office at the time but preferred to remain anonymous. He said intelligence information the government had was that a telephone call was made to a Catholic mission from Rubaga to Tanzania to host the Kabaka. The conversation was made in Italian language which was difficult for the intelligence to expeditiously interpret; and by the time the government did, Muteesa had already crossed into Tanzania from where he went to Rwanda and finally Burundi with the help of the Catholic priests.
Idi Amin’s claim
In March 1987, former president Idi Amin in a telephone interview from Saudi Arabia told BBC that he helped Muteesa escape to Tanzania. Amin told BBC radio that intelligence personnel had captured him – but he managed to help him escape to the Tanzanian border by giving Muteesa cover and an escape route.
Amin claimed that Muteesa was driven to the border in a one Kisosonkole’s green Zephyr.
During the Luweero war, Yoweri Museveni used the Catholic Church communication system to reach his contacts here and abroad. In 1983, government security eaves-dropped Emmanuel Cardinal Nsubuga’s telephone at Rubaga and discovered that Museveni often used his line and that the Cardinal personally also used it to receive information for Museveni.