After the storm caused by the raid on Lubiri palace had settled and the new Constitution had been adopted, on November 16, 1968, then prime minister Milton Obote sat in ‘the factory’ – as his private office at the parliamentary building was called – to pen down what he called ‘Myths and Realities, A letter to a London Friend’.
In the ‘letter’, he explained why he ordered the raid on the Buganda king’s palace. Obote started by pointing out the failures of both friends and foes of Uganda for failing to see “the realities”. “They tended to give emphasis on myths and underrated realities,” he wrote.
He described the 1961 alliance between the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) and Kabaka Yekka (KY) as not aiming at bringing him to power but to give the people of Buganda a chance to participate in the 1962 general election.
“This is because at that time, it [UPC] needed foresight and boldness in the rest of the country outside Buganda to compromise on party policy and identity in order to ensure political stability and recognition of the National Assembly by all parts of the country,” Obote wrote.
A year after Independence, UPC used its numbers in Parliament through by-elections to determine who was to replace the colonial governor general as president. Obote said although he managed to have his party vote for Sir Edward Mutesa as president, the decision was a bitter taste for other tribes.
“This decision was not favoured by all the contenders to the office. The rulers of Bunyoro, Tooro, Ankole and Busoga met at Mbarara and selected a candidate….their candidate was not Sir Edward…. all the rulers were Bantu and yet they could not accept Sir Edward Mutesa, the Kabaka of Buganda, as president,” he said.
Cracks in political alliance
The first test to the KY-UPC alliance was the demands of Ebyaffe (Buganda’s alleged property, mostly land, which was converted into crown land in the 1900 agreement) by the Mengo government, soon after Independence. However, the UPC government found no constitutional justification for the demands.
“The rejection by the UPC government of a series of demands by Mengo in 1963 and 1964 exposed the myth that any time Mengo wanted anything, the government of Uganda had to comply, or that even today, the government of Uganda has to frame policies covering the welfare of the citizens of Uganda on the basis of the situation in Buganda region,” Obote wrote.
As a young country, Obote said there was a need to adhere to constitutional rule. However, this was the beginning of misunderstanding between the left and the right wings in the coalition.
The left wing (UPC government) wanted to follow the constitutional order of having a referendum in less than two years to resolve the contentious issue of the lost counties.
On the other hand, the right wing (KY) did not want that part of the constitution implemented. Mengo had different ways under which they could lose the territory in Bunyoro other than through constitutional means.
“Although speeches in the Mengo Lukiiko indicated the lost counties could only be resolved through bloodshed, Article 26 of the Independence Constitution stated; ‘In order to ascertain the wishes of the inhabitants of the county of Buyaga and of the county of Bugangaizi as to the territory of Uganda in which each of those counties should be included, a referendum shall be held in accordance with the following provisions— (a) the referendum shall take place on such date, not being earlier than October 9, 1964, as the National Assembly may, by resolution, appoint;…,” Obote explained.
However, there was a mood of uneasiness in the kingdom following the loss in the referendum.
As preparation for the third independence anniversary were winding up on October 7, 1965, five major events that have since shaped Uganda’s politics happened.
“On that day, I received a letter from Mengo, informing me that a group of left-wingers (Communists) were intending to overthrow the Government of Uganda and the Kabaka’s Government on or about October 9, 1965. The second incident was a letter written to the minister of Internal Affairs by late Daudi Ocheng, a KY member of parliament with a copy to me, saying the Minister should send a senior police officer to take a statement from an unnamed person regarding the activities of an army officer, Idi Amin,” Obote wrote. “Again, on the same day, at the end of a Cabinet meeting, I heard Grace Ibingira, saying he had discovered a plot to assassinate him during the Independence anniversary celebrations,” he added. Obote said the fourth matter was a report by the then commander of the Uganda Army, Shaban Opolot, to the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Defence, to the effect Baganda were plotting to assassinate him and that soldiers from the Congo would attack the headquarters of the Uganda Army during the celebrations.
“The fifth incident concerned the activities of a then major in the Uganda Armed Forces, Katabarwa, brother of Grace Ibingira, who was the commandant of the Training Wing stationed in Jinja. He came to Kampala on October 7, 1965, and on return to Jinja, contacted a number of officers, including two who were on open charge and, therefore, not on duty, to draw arms and to report to Brigadier Opolot at the army headquarters in Kampala,” he added.
On October 23, 1965, Mutesa left State House Entebbe and moved to State Lodge in Makindye. Three events happened on May 23, 1966, that warranted government’s response.
On the morning of that day at the Buganda parliament, George Kaggwa Nyanja tabled a motion ordering the central government off Buganda land. It was debated and passed the same day. Government responded by arresting three Lukiiko members; James Lutaaya, Lamecka Sebanakita and Michael Matovu, who had supported the motion. Their arrest sparked off riots in different parts of Buganda. During the riots, rioters attacked a police station in Kayunga and killed one officer.
On the same day, a military truck, on its way to Makindye state lodge to deliver supplies to a platoon of soldiers guarding the president, came under attack from ex-servicemen at Kibuye. With the riots going on the same night, an order to attack the Lubiri was made.
“The decision to send a unit of the army to Mengo (Lubiri) was taken by the Cabinet at about 9pm on May 23, 1966,” Obote wrote.
After Cabinet had approved the proposal to send an army unit to Lubiri palace, Obote held a meeting with the army commander and head of police. The two were in support of the move to investigate the presence of arms in the palace.
“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,” he said.
The attack on the palace was followed by the declaration of the state of emergency in Buganda.
To this, Obote said: “The decision to declare a state of emergency in Buganda was not taken until a report was received to the effect that some of the ex-servicemen, who had attacked the army lorry, had had in their possession modern weapons, which they alleged were distributed to them by officials at the Lubiri (Mengo) Kabaka’s palace.”
“There was also information at about 9pm to the effect that a number of Police stations had been over-run by mobs led by chiefs, and that some of them had been burnt out. These were some of the considerations that led to the declaration of the state of emergency in Buganda region,” he added
On Independence Day, two days after the above incidents had happened, while at the Makindye presidential lodge, the prime minister and other guests were shocked to see the heavy security presence at the event.
“The next day, I went to inform the president of what I had learnt since October 7, and also to tell him that neither the minister nor myself knew of the deployment of forces at the presidential lodge; but when I raised these matters with the president, he merely waved me off and said he was himself going to discuss the matters with Opolot, and added that as commander-in-chief, he preferred to discuss matters of this kind with the army commander rather than with a civilian prime minister,” Obote said.
Between October and December, there were military manoeuvres that concerned the prime minister. It all started with the unofficial transfer of troops accused of disobeying orders of the army commander from Jinja barracks. The transfer was deemed illegal as it was done outside the stipulated six-month notice. Then in December, the president placed an order for weapons from Britain through a local firm.
“We have letters from a British firm, which show that the firm was not happy with the orders on the grounds that the weapons ordered were too heavy for an individual and that the firm had always dealt with governments only,” Obote wrote.
“One of the letters from the Kampala firm states that President Mutesa had placed the orders on behalf of the Uganda army and that although the Kabaka’s government was to pay for the arms, that only meant that the president, in his capacity as the Kabaka, was to have the first trial of the arms before handing them over to the army. That was the situation, which had developed as we entered into 1966,” he added. When Obote went on a tour of the northern region at the beginning of 1966, there were a number of political and military developments in Kampala that threatened his position.
In his absence, a vote of no confidence was tried in Parliament but never succeeded and so was a military coup on February 7, 1966. Obote returned to Kampala almost a week after the failed coup. He immediately wrote to the president, explaining what he had been briefed on what had happened in Kampala during his absence, and sought an audience with the president. He got no response.
Obote wrote: “The next day, I telephoned his office, or rather where he was staying, and spoke to his private secretary to whom I gave a message that I wanted to see the president immediately. I was told that the president had gone to Masaka, but the fact is that he was a few steps from his secretary who was speaking to me on the telephone.” The meeting never took place.
Actions. Between October and December, there were military maneuvers that concerned the prime minister. It all started with the unofficial transfer of troops accused of disobeying orders of the army commander from Jinja barracks. The transfer was deemed illegal as it was done outside the stipulated six-month notice.