Two out of the six counties that Buganda annexed from Bunyoro had been a contentious issue even during the constitutional deliberations. The British Members of Parliament had commended Bunyoro for accepting to forego the other four counties to ease the independence process. During the Independence Bill debate, it was agreed that the future of Buyaga and Bugangaizi be decided by a referendum, not more than two years after independence. All parties, including the Buganda delegation, agreed.
In August 1964 as per the Constitution, Cuthbert Obwangor, the minister of Justice, presented the Referendum Bill to Parliament and proposed a date when it was to be held. Some members of Kabaka Yekka (YK) party walked out of the House in protest. However, KY’s Secretary General Eriabu Lwebuga stayed and voted for the motion, saying “The Lancaster conference in 1962 had accepted to have the referendum two years after independence.”
With the Bill passed by Parliament, it needed the presidential consent to come into law. The president, Sir Edward Mutesa, was not going to consent to a Bill that was taking away a piece of ‘Buganda’ land. When it was presented to him at State Lodge in Makindye, Kampala, he said: “These are difficult times; I need to consult one or two persons.” It was the Prime Minister who signed it into law. The signing sparked off a legal battle between Mengo and an ex-serviceman – a resident of Buyaga – against the central government. On October 30, 1964, the Chief Justice, Udo Udomo, ruled in favour of the central government.
Having failed to stop the referendum in the courts of law, Mengo lost the two counties of Buyaga and Bugangaizi to Bunyoro. There was strife in Buganda, leading to the resignation of the kingdom’s cabinet.
During the commotion that followed the referendum, then Prime Minister Milton Obote told Parliament: “The Lukiiko last year had the responsibility to advise the Kabaka before assuming the Office of the President as to what oath he should take. No representation came to me as prime minister from the Lukiiko that the Lukiiko would not agree to the Kabaka as president taking an oath, which would bind him to respect each and every provision of the Constitution of Uganda, including Section 26 of the Order in Council, which provides for the holding of the referendum in the counties of Buyaga and Bugangaizi.” Following the referendum, the relations between Obote and Mutesa were never the same. On February 24, 1966, Obote suspended parts of the Constitution, downsizing the Buganda cabinet.
On March 2, the Office of the President and his deputy were abolished by the Prime Minister and less than a month later on April 15, the Constitution was officially abrogated. By this time, the alliance that had brought UPC to power had cracked, with many KY members crossing the floor and joining UPC. Many Baganda, who had earlier sang praise songs for Obote, realised that Obote had no permanent political friends or enemies.
The tension continued building up until April 1966 when Obote ordered for the downsizing of the Mengo cabinet from seven ministers to three, just like it was during the reign of Kabaka Daudi Chwa. This did not go down well with both the Lukiiko and the affected ministers. The then kingdom premier, Mayanja Nkangi (RIP), said: “He downsized our government from seven ministries to three. We were so surprised and asked ourselves what this was all about. As Lukiiko, we passed two resolutions in which we asked him to get back to the Constitution, which recognised the Kabaka’s cabinet.”
However, the central government turned down Lukiiko’s demand to return to constitutional rule. On the Sunday evening of May 9, 1966, Buganda Lukiiko speaker, E.M. Kalule called for a special session to be held on May 10, 1966. Unknown to many, the special session was on the request of one of the members of the Lukiiko. As soon the seating was called to order, George Kaggwa Nyanja from Kooki tabled a motion saying, “Obote the Prime Minister has done a number of things contrary to the Constitution; therefore, he should take his government off Buganda land”.
Shortly after the tabling of the motion, Nkangi called for an adjournment, which the speaker granted. During the adjournment, Nkangi called Kaggwa to his office and asked him to change the wording of the motion.
Nkangi told Kaggwa that he was going to rephrase the motion to read: “Prime Minister, we ask you to go back to the rule of the Constitution, reinstate all the Buganda ministers you sacked, and the President and the Vice President. Should you refuse to do so, Buganda will reconsider her position”.
The two men agreed to the amendment. However, once the special sitting resumed and Nkagi tabled the amendments, Kaggwa opposed the amendments supported by three other members; James Michael Matovu, Lutaya, and Lameka Sebanakita. The motion was debated in its original form and passed.
Commenting on Buganda’s role in the crisis in 2009, Nkangi said: “Buganda’s share in the conflict was the issuing of the ultimatum chasing the central government off Buganda land. Besides that, I don’t see Buganda’s role in the conflict.”
The raid on Lubiri palace followed a number of incidents, which included the attack on army trucks delivering supplies to the state lodge in Makindye, the alleged presence of arms in palace and the ultimatum given to the central government. The order to raid the palace easily passed as a preventive attack on the side of the central government.
Raid on Lubiri
To justify his action, Obote said Lubiri was full of guns and that his government had captured people with illegal guns who confessed to getting them from the palace. In the Uganda Argus of May 25, 1966, he is quoted saying: “My orders did not include the detention or arrest of Kabaka. I was only interested to find out whether there were arms in the palace.”
A day before the attack on the palace, military trucks transporting supplies to a military platoon at Makindye presidential lodge came under attack at Kibuye. This is where Mutesa was residing, having left State House in Entebbe in October 1965. In a police swoop following the attack, several former servicemen were arrested. During their interrogation, they reportedly claimed to have got the arms from the palace.
On the morning of the same day, government had arrested the three members of the Lukiiko who had opposed the amendment to the motion, asking the central government to take its government off Buganda land. The arrest of the three sparked off riots in Bugerere, and the rioters attacked a police station at Kayunga in which a police officer was killed. With all these happening on the same day, Obote called for a Cabinet meeting.
Obote, writing in a Letter to a London friend, said: “The decision to send a unit of the army to Mengo (Lubiri) was taken by the Cabinet at about 9pm on May 23, 1966.” He further wrote: “I directed the army commander, specifically against an army attack of the palace, and that special care should be taken not to harm Sir Edward [Mutesa] whom I thought was in the palace. The army commander sent 40 men, including officers.”
More than a month earlier, Obote had announced the abrogation of the independence Constitution, and suspended the post of the president and that of this deputy. But the abrogation was a process in the making.
According to the Uganda Argus of March 4, 1966, he is reported to have said: “During my tour of northern region, the president did not hesitate to summon some ambassadors accredited to this country and made firm requests for military assistance.”
Without naming the ambassador or their countries, he went on to say that the concerned ambassadors confirmed to him in writing that they had been asked about military assistance.
Obote’s claims of Mutesa’s plans to oust him were confirmed by his government’s attorney general and later president Godfrey Binaisa when he told a local weekly (The Observer newspaper) in 2007: “It all started when Obote sent his police to find out about weapons that had been brought by the Kabaka into the palace. The Kabaka had his own personal guns, but these were guns for fighting, he wanted to throw out Obote. He wanted to become the real president because he was almost ceremonial.”
But Mutesa denied the allegations in his book, ‘Desecration of my Kingdom’, saying besides the guns in possession of the 300 soldiers for his security, including bodyguards he was entitled to, there were no other guns in the palace. However, he concedes that at some point he considered raising his own force. Despite the denials of the kingdom having guns, speaking to Daily Monitor in 2013, Dan Kamanyi, son of Lameka Kamanyi, Buganda’s then minister of mineral resources, said: “At home we had two guns. When my mother woke me up, I reached for one gun and went outside. Bullets were like rain.”
Months later, Dan Kamanyi later went ahead to plan an ambush to kill Obote while on his way from Luzira just a few months after the raid on the palace.
Mutesa escaped the Lubiri unharmed, save for the minor injuries he sustained as he jumped over the palace fence. He first went to Rubaga Cathedral where he had a cup of tea before moving to August Musoke’s home close to the cathedral just below the hospital.
Later that day, with the help of Dan Kamanyi, Musoke drove Mutesa to the home of Semyoni Nsibambi in Mengo where his escape route was planned the next day.