49 years after Lubiri attack: The lessons and memories

Uganda’s first president and King of Buganda, Kabaka Edward Mutesa II (C), inspects a guard of honour. He fled his palace at Mengo near Kampala amid an attack on May 24, 1966. FILE PHOTOS

What you need to know:

Overthrow. Today marks 49 years since the ouster of Kabaka Edward Mutesa II. On that morning of May 24, 1966, Uganda’s first president and king of Buganda fled his palace at Mengo near Kampala amid a downpour. With his escorts, they escaped to Burundi and then flew to Britain, from where Mutesa eventually died. Faustin Mugabe pieces together the events of that day.

The ‘storm’ that hit Lubiri on May 24, 1966, had been hovering over Uganda since independence, or even before.
For instance, Kabaka Mutesa wrote to Obote asking for the Uganda Army to play music on his birthday on November 19, 1965. But Obote refused in spite of Mutesa being the president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
In response, Obote said there was no need to have the army entertain Mutesa’s guests since the function was a private one.
In his speech to Parliament on April 15, 1966, Obote revealed how his refusal to release the army band to Mutesa worsened the relationship between Mengo and the central government:

“I want to tell the country that letters of this kind, resistance of this kind nearly brought this country into trouble after February 4, 1966. I am very clear in my mind that the idea was not only to remove the government, but the idea was that some of us, particularly myself should not live at all.”
“The idea was that someone should take my place, someone who was amenable not to resist requests of this kind, someone who was amenable to give to Mengo police posts which they lost in the Uganda High Court. Someone who was amenable to give to Mengo the finance which they lost in the Privy Council, someone who was amenable, probably to give back what used to be called lost, but now are called recovered counties.”

“Now, this was the background of the minds of the gentlemen who brought a motion in Parliament on February 4, 1966, and it was felt that immediately, steps would be taken to get rid of Obote who was stopping one man [Kabaka Mutesa II] from being the feudal lord of Uganda. Thank God there was that Obote!”
Among other reasons that led to the storming of the Lubiri was the breakup of the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) - Kabaka Yekka (KY) alliance on August 24, 1966.
After the collapse of the alliance, former prime minister and Democratic Party (DP) president general Benedict Kiwanuka, while in Britain, held a press conference.

The Uganda Argus of august 27, 1964, quoted Kiwanuka as having said: “The breakup of the UPC-KY alliance might prove to be the most important political event of the year for Uganda.”
The paper further reported that Kiwanuka had observed that the right moment for DP-KY to bond had come since Buganda had learnt a lesson from the collapse of UPC-KY alliance. However, the DP-KY alliance Kiwanuka had anticipated was never to be. And neither did the storm condense. It was instead reignited by the announcement of the referendum on the two “lost counties” of Buyaga and Bugangaizi.

When it was held on November 4, 1966, inhabitants in the two counties overwhelmingly voted to remain in Bunyoro Kingdom. This left Buganda furious, especially after the central government had refused to support Buganda to regain the two counties.
The February 4, 1966, motion tabled before Parliament MP Daudi Ochieng, also the secretary general of the KY, to censure then prime minister Obote and suspend the acting army commander, Col Idi Amin, over the smuggling of the gold and ivory into Uganda from Congo, increased the tension.

The motion was defeated in Parliament. And when all efforts to eject Obote politically from office failed, a coup was hatched by Mutesa and some military officers as well as some UPC cabinet ministers.
Due to fear, when the UPC government received raw intelligence that Mutesa had smuggled into his palace guns from abroad, they did not take time to sieve it.
With the May 22, 1966, Buganda Lukiiko ultimatum to the central government to exit Buganda’s soil by May 30, 1966, Obote reacted swiftly and with maximum force, lest the feared guns at the Mengo palace would be used to oust him.

Former army commander Idi Amin.

After the ultimatum was delivered, three Baganda chiefs and Amos Sempa, a former KY leader in the National Assembly, were arrested by the government.
The news of the arrest of chiefs Lameck Sebanakitta of Kyaggwe County, Micheal Matove of Buddu County and James Lutaaya of Ssingo by police led Baganda youth in Kampala to riot.

One police Land Rover on patrol was torched by the rioting youth on Kabakanjagala Road, but all police officers escaped alive, the Uganda Argus of May 24, 1966, reported.
To government, riots in Kampala, Mukono and Mubende indicated that Mengo was ready for war, more especially after the Gwanga Mujje, the traditional Buganda war drum, sounded in some parts of the kingdom.
Whether the May 24, 1966, attack of the Lubiri was a pre-emptive act, or a simple arrest and search, has not been convincingly told.

Watching attack next to Obote
“On that day, [May 24, 1966] Obote wanted Mutesa dead,” says a retired civil servant who was a senior aide to prime minister/president Milton Obote at the time.
He says he heard the conversation between Obote and then Col Idi Amin, then army commander, as the fight was raging on between government forces and the Kabaka’s guards. The guards, he says, put up a spirited fight before they were overpowered.
“I was with Obote looking through the window at the State Lodge, Nakasero, when the fighting was going on,” the former aide to president Obote responded.
“What did you see happening in the Lubiri from State House?” I asked.

“It was raining and we saw nothing, apart from the smoke and hearing the gun shots.”
“What else can you remember from that morning?”
“After sometime, Amin came driving himself in a jeep. He told Obote that they [soldiers] had met resistance at Mutesa’s house. Obote asked him what they needed to do to defeat them. Amin asked for permission [from Obote as the commander-in- chief] to use artillery to shell the compound where resistance was coming from. Obote accepted Amin’s request and Amin returned to the Lubiri.”
“After sometime, we heard a very big sound.”
“Did Amin come back to report to Obote in your presence?” I asked.

“No,” he answered.
From several witnesses accounts recorded on that day, including Mutesa’s book Desecration of My Kingdom, a huge boom was heard after countless gun shots.
The witness further revealed: “There was tension at the State lodge. We wanted to know the situation inside the Lubiri. Obote wanted to be certain if Mutesa was dead.”
“Since his body [Mutesa] could not be located in and around the Lubiri, in the morning towards midday, Obote sent me to the Lubiri to access the situation. I used a helicopter to land in the Lubiri because we felt it was not safe for me to drive to the Lubiri in a government car.”

“He asked me to look at the dead bodies inside the Lubiri to see if there was one of Mutesa. I looked at almost every dead body. I had never, and I never, seen a number of dead bodies like those I saw in the Lubiri. Many people were killed,” the witness recalls.
“Did you try to trace Mutesa’s whereabouts?” I asked.
“Yes, the government tried, but the Baganda concealed the intelligence the government wanted. But somehow, the intelligence tracked his [Mutesa’s] movements up to Masaka [Bukakata port] where it is said he boarded the ferry and escaped to Tanzania before proceeding to Burundi,” the witness says.
Although he has written a book about Amin, the witness did not mention the account of May 24 as he saw it from the State lodge on Nakasero Hill in Kampala. When asked why, he said: “I don’t want to have quarrels with Buganda.”

President Obote’s memorable quotes on Buganda and Kabaka Mutesa II

From 1963 when the rift between the Uganda Peoples Congress and Mengo government ( UPC-KY alliance) emerged, through the 1966 Buganda crisis to 1969 when Kabaka Mutesa II died in exile, president Obote made several statements on the Kabaka Yekka party, Buganda and the Kabaka himself. Below are some of the quotes Faustin Mugabe compiled:

On feudalism
“Without the foresight, drive and leadership of the UPC, the bulk of the people in Buganda would today still be opposed to the central authority covering the whole country. The achievement of our political independence had been delayed simply because of the difficulties encountered in the pursuit of unity and understanding. The preparation for independence with a central government has struck at the root problem of loyalty – and attempts to solve it have brought fear,”
Uganda Argus, April 4, 1962

“The past policy of feudalists that the masses were unable to govern themselves and had therefore to be ruled by certain categories of individuals due to no qualifications other than birth has been replaced by the principle that citizens should work together, sharing joys and tribulations on the basis of equality, believing in one government, one Parliament based on common leadership and one people.”
East Africa Journal October 1968

On possibility of Mutesa returning to Uganda
“There will be no discussions. Let no one think this government [UPC] is thinking of restoring Sir Edward Mutesa as the Kabaka… Sir Edward is no longer the Kabaka of Buganda.”
Uganda Argus, June 30, 1966

“If there is any Ugandan citizen, here or abroad who thinks Uganda will go back to the old days where the whole politics of the country were around individual patronage and personality [Sir Edward Mutesa II], that person can go on dreaming.”

Former president Milton Obote.

Uganda Argus, October 9, 1968

On abolition of kingdoms
“I tell you, we have not done wrong. The government wanted to abolish the era of servitude that the people had known for centuries and centuries. Those who wanted to remain slaves could stay backward.”
Uganda Argus, April 19, 1968

“The events of the last two years represent a frontal attack to remove feudalism from the face of Uganda and in the same process; a new vista opened the eyes of many to the advantages of the national unity.”
Uganda Argus, July 7, 1968

“The era of serfdom is gone; and young people of Uganda must be allowed to grow in an atmosphere of freedom and find themselves in adulthood in the role of participants in advancement of freedom and not in the role of serfs.”
Uganda Argus, January 11, 1971

On Mengo/UPC government conflict
“Mengo had wanted to take over the police in their own district so that there could not be a single Uganda policeman in Buganda. They also wanted various other services to be handed over to them. The government [UPC] had resisted their [Mengo] demand to decide on the subversion which Uganda would give Mengo. Then Uganda had a president [Mutesa] who did not know whether he was an elected president or a president by birth.”
Uganda Argus, June 10, 1968

On Kabaka Yekka
“If Kabaka Yekka decide to upset the government [of UPC] in the Parliament, the Kabaka alone would be held responsible. There are still people especially in Buganda who are living in 1900. That was why UPC members in Buganda were experiencing trouble. They wanted change, but other people did not.”
Uganda Argus, August 3, 1964

“Some KY leaders thought it possible to introduce Buganda imperialism into Uganda, but the UPC opposed this just as it opposed White imperialism.”
Uganda Argus, August 4, 1964

On kings
“They had power to rule, to kill, to do practically anything they liked. One of them even assumed the name of husbands of all men.”
Uganda Argus, April 19, 1968

On ousting King Mutesa
“Government must be based on the will of the people and nationalism and not on the whims of one man who happens to occupy a position because of what position or status of his ancestors occupied in society in the past.”
Address to Parliament on May 28, 1966

“There is nothing to regret about what we have done; what we have dealt with is clear. What we must have is determination in the government. We are determined.”
Uganda Argus, May 28, 1966

“We are prepared for anything. My information is that there will not be any resistance, unless foreigners try to put their noses in [the conflict] then we shall cut down their noses. I am here on behalf of the people of Uganda. We are not going to allow any province in Uganda to rebel irrespective of local opinion in that province.”
Uganda Argus, May 28, 1966

On Buganda
“It is very dangerous for anyone to try to isolate any tribe in Uganda. It is even more dangerous for any politician to try to isolate Uganda’s central province. Buganda is an essential part of Uganda. Uganda cannot do without Buganda, just as Buganda cannot do without the rest of the country.”
Uganda Times, August 15, 1980

“It is possible that during our term [UPC government 1962-1971], we overacted. But I have no grudge against any Ugandan. I am a liberated Ugandan.”
Uganda Times, November 7, 1980