Election of Kabaka Muteesa as president of Uganda in 1963
Posted Thursday, August 2 2012 at 13:00
Holding the mantle. As part of the agreements for the UPC/Kabaka Yekka alliance, Kabaka Muteesa was elected president, but the road to that office was not all rosy.
At Independence, the Queen of England remained the Head of State of Uganda while Apollo Milton Obote was the Prime Minister. On the ground she was represented by the Governor-General, Sir Walter Coutts. This arrangement was temporary and on October 4, 1963, an election for a replacement took place. Sir Edward Muteesa, Kabaka of Buganda was elected to fill this position.
It had been part of the bargain for the Kabaka Yekka and Uganda Peoples Congress alliance that the Kabaka would be Head of State.
The Baganda of those days could not imagine anybody being in a status above their Kabaka. And so by making the Kabaka Head of State their sentiments were very well-taken care of.
There is another purpose the Kabaka’s election served. Ever since 1949, Buganda had sought to separate itself from the rest of the colony. Among the tasks Sir Andrew Cohen, as Governor, came to do was to counter the separatist tendencies of Buganda. It was in the process of handling this that the 1953 crisis erupted.
In 1961, Buganda actually filed for separate independence from the rest of the colony. It is the KY/UPC alliance which got Buganda to participate in the election of 1962. Making the Kabaka president was getting Buganda to be more involved in the politics of Uganda.
It is in this vein that Obote made a statement which was reported in the Uganda Argus of March 1, 1967. “The moment the Kabaka held the Bible and took the oath of office I knew he was in. But he never realised it until last year and therefore he wanted to kick me out and I was humble.”
The other reason for having the Kabaka become Head of State is what has been well-argued by Prof. Gordon Wright: “What can be the functional equivalents of monarchy in countries like the United States and India which have lost that institution irretrievably? One such [used by the Soviet Union in its constituent republics] is the ceremonial presidency which can be safely bestowed upon some prestigious and cooperative member of the former ruling elite for the vicarious satisfaction of the rest of the group. Indians never tire of pointing to the late President Zakir Husain, Chief Justice Hidayatullah and a covey of state governors from the Muslim minority.
These men may be ineffective, or unwilling to be real representatives of their community, but they do seem to lend the state some of the desired legitimacy in the eyes of the minority. They constitute a kind of “tokenism” for the downwardly mobile.
If the American presidency had developed in the direction in which it seemed headed under Eisenhower, it might have become a harmless sop of this sort for the Wasps in their decline.”
How was the Kabaka to become Head of State? An election procedure of some sort was contrived. In this procedure, it was Constitutional Heads who were qualified to contest.
The heads of kingdoms including the Kyabazinga of Busoga automatically qualified. In order not to have those districts or nationalities without Constitutional Heads feel left out, the position of Constitutional Heads of each district was created and filled. Teso District refused to fill its position. With the positions of Constitutional Heads filled, elections were then held.
Prior to the elections, the UPC caucus discussed the matter. The majority of UPC members came up in support of their Vice President, William Wilberforce Nadiope, the Kyabazinga of Busoga, leaving their President of the UPC with the Kabaka without support.
After prolonged deliberations, with Obote threatening to resign as leader, the UPC caucus grudgingly accepted to support Muteesa. Muteesa has given us his take of the arduous struggle Obote went through to get him elected President in his book, The Desecration of My Kingdom: “In October I was elected president.
Though important in my life and career, this moment was not so significant as a political straw in the wind as some thought. There were rumours that I must have made secret concessions to Obote over the lost counties, and that the Prime Minister was reversing his anti-Buganda policy, which was by now clear, if not threatening. These held no truth.
“Sir Walter Coutts had become Governor General after independence, but this was always meant to be a temporary appointment by the National Assembly. Indeed a few months before he said to me at a dinner in government house, where the next head of State would live, “And when are you coming here?” Genuinely misunderstanding, I replied, “On Saturday for lunch. Don’t you remember?”
Kabaka Muteesa further wrote: “He probably took this as a diplomatic manoeuvre to avoid answering. After discussions, it had been decided to elect one of the rulers for a five-year term. In that case there was little choice either for Obote or for me. He was not in a position to snub the Baganda, who would have been enraged if any other ruler was chosen, as the new president would have precedence over the Kabaka even in Buganda. Similarly, it was difficult for me to refuse.