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

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.

After the 1971 coup, my husband came back to Uganda and I stayed with the children. While there, a decision to return Kabaka’s remains was made. About six of us were opposed to it, and we wanted to first hear that the kingdom had been reinstated. The group opposed to the return was given air tickets by the Ugandan government to come home. I was offered a one-way ticket without my children I demanded for their tickets because I was not prepared to leave them behind.

After the Kabaka’s burial, I tried to get a job here. Kyambogo advertised the vacancy of a principal; I applied and I was called for the interviews. The secretary to the board was my former student at Gayaza and Makerere. She told me I had the best scores and I was likely to get the job. Unfortunately, the job went to Adonia Tiberondwa. I knew Tiberondwa from Makerere, he came and told me he wanted me to work under him as a lecturer but I turned down the offer because of the terms.

After failing to get employment, we decided to go back to London. I went to Abu Mayanja who had headed the burial committee and asked him for a return ticket because he had given me one way tickets when we were coming for the burial.

After a lengthy argument, he gave me three return tickets for my two children and myself.
In July 1972, I was tipped by the Dean Faculty of Education at Makerere that since I left the university, no one was teaching my subjects and I was encouraged to apply. But before I could get a response, the late Kalimuzo, who was the principal Makerere and also chairman of the East African Examinations Council, sent me a negative response about my Makerere application. He instead sent me a job offer from the Examination Council. So I came back as a secretary to the council in July 1972, ending my exile.

When Lule became president in 1979, he appointed me Uganda’s ambassador to Germany, but I refused. I was not ready to leave the country again. He instead appointed me as the deputy chairperson Public Service Commission where I served until I became a minister of Women in Development in the President’s Office in February 1988.
Then in 1989, I was appointed minister of State for Primary Education until 1991. I ceased being a minster but remained a Member of Parliament for Mubende District.