Dr E. B. S. Lumu: The reluctant politician at centre of 1966 Crisis

Tuesday December 17 2019


By Muniini K. Mulera

Dear Tingasiga;
Notwithstanding our sadness following the death of Dr Emmanuel Bijugo Sajjalyabene Lumu, we celebrate and give thanks to God for his life and service to our country. Dr Lumu, who died at 103 years of age, was a distinguished citizen who was among the last of the great generation that bridged the transition from colonial rule to Uganda’s independence.
Born in Komamboga, Kampala on February 25, 1916, E.B.S. Lumu, a Muganda, was the son of Mikaili Sajjalyabene of the Fumbe clan and Hannah Nalwanga of the Mpewo clan. His father was a court clerk and his paternal grandfather, Rev Nuwa Kikwabanga, was one of the first African clergy in the Native Anglican Church of Uganda. Whereas Rev Kikwabanga died of sleeping sickness in 1905, before Lumu’s birth, his paternal grandmother, Mariam Namitanda Kagyankemba, would play a major role in raising him.
After receiving basic education at Kyebando and then Mengo Junior School in Kampala, Lumu joined King’s College Budo in 1933. He was a resident of Canada House. Whereas his career goal was engineering, Lumu was involuntarily enrolled to study medicine at Makerere University Medical School. He graduated in 1945, followed by two years of intensive medical internship.
Despite the thorough training, Lumu became an assistant medical officer. African medical graduates, complete with knowledge and skills that were similar to those of their European counterparts, were not allowed to carry the label of a “medical doctor.” It would take many years of struggle to get full recognition. It was not until 1964 that Dr Lumu, along with dozens of other distinguished colleagues, finally received their degrees of Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery, at a graduation ceremony at Makerere that was presided over by President Julius Kambarage Nyerere of Tanzania. His medical career saw him serve Ugandans in West Nile, then Acholi and, finally, Kampala. However, it was his career in politics that would earn him a prominent spot in Uganda’s history.
Dr Lumu was one of the pioneer physician-politicians who became active in the pre-independence alignments. A founder-member of Kabaka Yekka (KY), the Buganda royalist party, he was a delegate at the pre-independence Constitution Conference in London. Elected to Parliament on a KY ticket, he became Uganda’s second African minister of Health. (The first African minister of health was Zakariya Babukiika during prime minister Benedicto Kiwanuka’s brief government.)
Whereas his tenure as minister of Health (May 1962-February 1966) was too short to allow significant achievement of his goals, Dr Lumu presided over a process that was building on an already excellent system that the colonial regime had bequeathed to us.
Newspaper reports of that period show a leader who was actively engaged with the frontline workers at Mulago, at district hospitals and at smaller rural units. Healthcare workers of the time, including my late father, always spoke very highly of him. In later years, as the country’s health services collapsed, people would get nostalgic about the brief, shining moment to which Dr Lumu was a major contributor.
Within three years of Uganda’s independence on October 9, 1962, the ill-prepared rulers of the land were consumed by political fighting that they were unable to manage. Dr Lumu joined the faction within the ruling coalition of UPC/KY that wanted prime minister Milton Obote out of office. This faction, which included Cabinet ministers Grace Ibingira, George Magezi, Balaki Kirya and Matiya Ngobi, was backed by Kabaka Edward Mutesa II, who was the State president of Uganda, and Brigadier Shaban Opolot, the army commander. The plan was to remove Obote from office through a vote of no confidence. If this failed, a military coup would be launched to complete the job.
However, on February 22, 1966, Obote launched his own coup. He arrested the five ministers, followed by the revocation of the independence Constitution, the dismissal of Mutesa as president, the imposition of a new Constitution, with Obote as executive president. On May 24, 1966, Obote ordered troops to invade Mutesa’s palace at Mengo and forced the Kabaka to flee into exile in England, where he died in 1969.
That Dr Lumu was an active participant in the plot to remove Obote from office is not in doubt. The late William Wilberforce Rwetsiba, in whose house some of the plotters’ meetings were held, confirmed this to me during a visit to my home in Toronto in 1998. (His son Derrick and my wife were present during Rwetsiba’s revelation of this critical piece of information.) Rwetsiba erased any doubts I had had regarding the alleged roles of the major actors in the 1966 crisis.
Lumu and his colleagues remained incarcerated without trial until they were set free by Gen Idi Amin Dada in February 1971. He came out of prison a changed man, completely cured of interest in active politics. He re-established his medical practice, with a clinic in Kisenyi, Kampala through which he served patients until retirement at the age of 80 years.
For a man who had risen to the very centre of political power to have remained completely silent even after the overthrow of Amin in 1979 raises intriguing questions. Was his experience in prison so awful that he became deeply averse to Uganda’s chaotic politics? Perhaps he had a post-traumatic stress disorder.
Had he entered politics with the naïve innocence of the gentleman that he was, expecting that everyone else would play by the rules the way the colonialists had attempted to do? Was he disillusioned by the unpreparedness of his countrymen and women to engage in the civilised give-and-take of democracy that he and his peers had imagined possible during the exciting period before flag independence? One easily relates to such feelings.
We may never know what really happened to the fire in the belly of this fine gentleman who was among the immediate inheritors of the complex experiment that the British called Uganda. Nevertheless, I salute him for his distinguished service to Uganda – as a physician, a politician and, above all, as a parent.
Like most of his colleagues who were central actors in the post-independence crisis that set Uganda on a tumultuous trajectory, Dr Lumu appears to have died without writing his memoirs. If that be true, it is a terrible tragedy and a great loss for us and for posterity.