The New Vision, a Kampala English daily newspaper, carried a story on October 8, recycling claims by Maj Akorimo Kanuti, a retired Uganda Army officer, about his roles at Uganda’s Independence 57 years ago.
These claims have been recycled over the years by New Vision, Daily Monitor and some television stations, without evident effort to verify their accuracy. So, let us briefly examine them, within the limited confines of this column.
Kanuti’s claim that there was fear that the British would resist Uganda’s independence is false. The British could not wait to cede administrative responsibility to Ugandans. Indeed, after presiding over a rushed Constitutional Conference at Lancaster House in London, Iain MacLeod, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, eager to clear his “to do list” before leaving his post to become the Leader of the House and chairman of the Conservative Party, told Reginald Maudling, his successor: “Uganda is all wrapped up.”
Ignoring the opinions of colonial officials in Uganda and Kenya, MacLeod arbitrarily announced on October 9, 1961 that Uganda would gain self-government on March 1, 1962 and full independence on October 9, 1962. That done, he moved to his new job the next day. Uganda’s fate was determined by MacLeod’s career needs, not by careful consideration.
Notwithstanding our unpreparedness for self-government, and the unresolved thorny matter of Bunyoro’s “lost counties,” the Second Constitution Conference, held at Marlborough House in London on June 12-29, 1962, was an equally rushed affair. In the words of Alan Forward, the Private Secretary to Uganda’s last governor, “ the attitude in Whitehall was full steam ahead and to hell with the consequences!”
Interestingly, the 1962 conference delegates were given a deadline for completion of the deliberations to allow time for Parliament to give it the requisite three readings before Summer recess. Yes, the personal agendas of some of the British legislators determined, at least in part, the course that Uganda took because of our rushed independence.
Not all British legislators thought that rushing to grant independence was a good idea. The British House of Commons Hansard reports Mrs. Eirene White, the Labour MP for Flint East, saying on July 16, 1962: “Uganda will not be one of the easiest countries to govern. Obviously, we all desire independence, but to have internal self-government in March and complete independence in October seems a very short period in which to put the full strain of responsibility of independence on persons who have had so little experience in the art of government.”
The events of the last 57 years have affirmed the correctness of Eirene White’s concerns.
Kanuti’s claim that Amin and Obote were at loggerheads on the eve of independence is not supported by the evidence. In fact, Obote saved Amin’s skin when he rejected recommendations for his prosecution for mass murder shortly before independence. A much relieved and grateful Amin would have had no reason to disrupt the independence celebration.
Equally strange is Kanuti’s claim that there had been mounting suspicion of a possible revolution against Obote. Revolution by whom? Obote’s alliance with Kabaka Mutesa II of Buganda, had bought him support in the only region where any consequential uprising, if such was even a remote possibility, could have been triggered. With a well-chosen, albeit all-male cabinet, and a coalition majority in Parliament, Obote was at the peak of job security that he would ever enjoy in his life.
Kanuti’s most outlandish claim is that Obote gave him the responsibility to make the final decision on who became army commander and that, shortly before independence, the prime minister had given him the task of spearheading “a programme to form the national army.”
A new army was not necessary. The colonial authorities, leaving nothing to chance, had taken measures before Uganda’s independence, to ensure continuity of a professional and non-partisan army. The 1,000-man 4th Battalion of the King’s African Rifles that had existed since May 1917, would become the Uganda Rifles, under the command of Col Bill Cheyne.
Addressing the National Assembly on May 17, 1962, Sir Walter Coutts, the Governor of Uganda said: “I have been giving thought to the future of the 4th Battalion of the King’s African Rifles, and my Government has had the benefit of a most valuable report by the inter-party committee which I have set up to advise on a number of points, which will arise in the transformation of this battalion of the King’s African Rifles into the Army of an independent Uganda,” with a new headquarters at Jinja.
The plan was for the British Government to meet the cost of the Uganda Rifles from October 9, 1962 until March 31, 1963. This was confirmed by the Marquess of Lansdowne, who was minister of state for Colonial Affairs, when he informed the House of Lords in London on July 26, 1962 that “this would be at the cost of about £200,000 and we are doing our best to ensure that the weapons and equipment of the battalion are handed over in good condition and complete to the regular scale.”
So, the idea that prime minister Obote would busy himself with forming another army at that stage, let alone instruct one individual of lowly rank to do so, is a fabrication by one who knew the gullibility of those to whom he was speaking. That Obote would empower Kanuti to choose the army commander requires no serious comment.
Few events have attracted as many falsehoods as the identity of the people who lowered the Union Jack and raised the Crested Crane. I dealt with this at length in my letter of October 9 last year, under the headline: “Myth and mystery about Uganda Flag on Independence Day.” I will not rehash it except to state categorically that it was not Akorimo Kanuti.
All that the New Vision journalist who wrote last week’s article needed to do was to look at the photo in the same paper that shows a European soldier lowering the Union Jack.
Whether Kanuti’s claims reflect a severe memory lapse or a deliberate attempt to deceive is not as serious as the shortcut journalism that recycles his fiction as fact. A vigorous search for the truth is the insurance against distortion of history.