Former Kabaka Edward Muteesa’s body arrives at Entebbe airport in March 1971. PHOTO/FILE


Inside the dark history of poison allegations in Uganda’s politics

What you need to know:

  • Recent stories of alleged poisoning of politicians has brought back to life a phenomena that has for long been believed to exist in Uganda.
  • In this article, we go back in history and highlight some of the prominent pre-1986 stories of alleged killing of leaders by poisoning, Faustin Mugabe writes.

Following the death of former Speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah in the US last month, allegations that he was poisoned emerged.

Mr Nathan Okori, Oulanyah’s father, insists his son did not die of natural causes and that he was “poisoned”. This contradicted Health minister Jane Ruth Aceng’s version that Oulanyah had cancer and had died of multiple organ failure.

The claims by Mr Okori and some politicians evoked stories of death by poisoning among Uganda’s elite. In this article, we go back in history and highlight some of the prominent pre-1986 stories of alleged killing of leaders by poisoning.

King Ntare of Ankole
One of the earliest recorded claims of poisoning of a prominent Ugandan was in Ankole Kingdom about 278 years ago. 

When King Ntare IV of Ankole Kingdom in south-western Uganda died around 1744, it was alleged that he was poisoned within his palace.

His wife, Ntimbiri, a princess from Mpororo Kingdom, was one of the suspects. Evidence used to pin her was that she refused to commit suicide upon the king’s death.

Traditionally in Ankole, when a king died, all his wives would commit suicide and would be buried with him.

It is said she openly protested against the norm and vowed to return to her homeland, Mpororo Kingdom. That night, she escaped from the palace. After some days, she was apprehended near the Mpororo border and was executed.

Ntare had married two princesses, both daughters of King Kamurari of Mpororo. History does not reveal what happened to Ntimbiri’s sister.

Kabaka Mwanga
In 1903, former king of Buganda Mwanga died in exile in Seychelles Island in the Indian Ocean. In 1899, Mwanga and Kabalega, the Omukama of Bunyoro, were captured in Lango in northern Uganda while fighting the British imperialists and exiled to Seychelles.

In September 1903, Mwanga’s wife Doris Mwanamu Bakazikubawo, her daughter Mary Ma’zi and five other kingdom officials returned from Mwanga’s funeral in Seychelles amid rumours that Mwanga had died of poison administered by British colonialists.

The rumour claimed that Mwanga was poisoned because he had insisted on returning to his kingdom and being reinstated as a king, which the British did not want. 

King Kabalega
King Kabalega Chwa II’s mysterious death is also recounted with claims of poison. The claims allege that Kabalega died hours after taking milk brought by two princesses of Bunyoro, sent by King Andereya Duhaga II.

Former king of Buganda Mwanga (left) and his Bunyoro counterpart Kabalega. They were both believed to have been poisoned. 

On April 7, 1923, Kabalega died inside a hut at Mpumudde, a few kilometres north of Jinja Town. 

In 1899, Kabalega and Mwanga of Buganda had been taken prisoners of war in Dokolo in Lango and were exiled to Seychelles. In 1923, Kabalega was allowed to return to Uganda; but not to Bunyoro. 
In the Uganda Journal, Vol 19, No 2, September 1955, a British administrator in Uganda writes: “He [Kabalega] died at Jinja on April 7, 1923. His body was embalmed and brought to Masindi and then there ensued great disputation among the Banyoro as to where he should be buried. I wished him to be buried in one of the old sites of the Abakama of Bunyoro, then ceded to Buganda. Finally, Andereya Duhaga II, then the Mukama, decree that he be buried at Mparo, three miles from Hoima, where Kabalega had a home which was never attacked by the Baganda.”

Whether the milk was laced with poison or not will never be known because no post-mortem was conducted.

Katikkiro Apollo Kaggwa
On February 2, 1927, former Katikkiro (prime minister) of Buganda Kingdom, Sir Apollo Kaggwa, died at a hospital in Nairobi, Kenya.

While it was reported that the post-mortem indicated that Kaggwa died of heart failure, rumours in Buganda claimed that he had been poison over the office of the katikkiro. 

Months earlier, in July 1926, Kaggwa had been forced to resign from his post as katikkiro amid allegations of corruption in his office. 

Propagators of these allegations said the former katikkiro was taken to a hospital in Nairobi and not Mengo Hospital in Buganda because those who had poisoned him would connive with the medical personnel at Mengo to finish him off.

It should be noted that, according to Dr Albert Cook’s book Uganda Memories: 1897-1940, until World War II, Mengo was considered the best hospital in East and Central Africa.

Katikkiro Samuel Wamala
In 1943, Samuel Wamala succeeded Martin Luther Nsibirwa as the new katikkiro of Buganda. Around that time, the protectorate government had asked Buganda to enact a law compelling the kingdom to donate land for the expansion of Makerere College, now university, at Makerere Hill. 

Katikkiro Wamala opposed the law and the proposal to introduce protectorate agents in Buganda. On October 1, 1944, in the Buganda Lukiiko (parliament), Wamala officially fought the protectorate government proposal.

In the report ‘Inquiry into the disturbances which occurred in Buganda in May and April 1949’ on Page 9, it is reported that: “Shortly after this announcement, the katikkiro [Wamala] was examined by a medical board which found traces of mental disorder and recommended 12 months’ rest from duty. He subsequently died in exile from cerebral syphilis.”

Katikkiro Wamala was very popular among the Baganda for opposing the acquisition of more land in Buganda for the expansion of Makerere College.

When he died, his supporters claimed that he was poisoned by the British who wanted to bump him off so that they could get the land. 

Daudi Ochieng 
On June 4, 1966, Daudi Ochieng, then Member of Parliament for Mityana and secretary general for Kabaka Yekka, a Buganda political movement, died of cancer at Mulago hospital in Kampala. 

Former Mityana MP Daudi Ochieng.

Ochieng was from northern Uganda, but studied at Kings College Budo where he met Kabaka Edward Muteesa and they became great friends.

On February 4, 1966, Ochieng tabled a motion seeking to suspend deputy army commander, then Col Idi Amin. He also wanted then Prime Minister Milton Obote and two ministers Felix Onama and Adoko Nekyon investigated for allegedly plundering Congolese natural resources. 

On March 8, 1966, an inquiry investigating Ochieng’s allegations opened in Kampala. The inquiry led by vice president of Court of Appeal for East Africa, Justice Clement Nageon de L’Estang, wanted Ochieng to appear on the opening day of the inquiry, but he was unable to attend because he had for weeks been admitted to a London hospital. 

Nevertheless, he was forced to fly back to Kampala to testify before the inquiry. Even before Ochieng tabled his February 4, 1966, motion before Parliament, he had been in and out of the hospital treating cancer.

But when he died in June 1966, his relatives accused Obote of poisoning him. 

Edward Muteesa II
On November 21, 1969, former Kabaka Edward Muteesa II died in exile inside his house in London. The coroner’s report conducted at The London Hospital Medical College, published on November 28, 1969, in London indicate that Muteesa died of acute alcohol poisoning. 

A Ugandan, Prof ABK Kasozi, researched about Muteesa’s death and in 2013 authored a 341-page book titled The Bitter Bread of Exile. 
On Page 236, Prof Kasozi writes that: “The inquest into the death of Sir Edward Muteesa resumed on November 28, 1969, and the cause of death was pronounced to be ‘acute alcohol poisoning’. The pathologist said the amount of alcohol found in the body was more than one third above what is considered lethal. The alcohol level in the blood was 406 milligrams per 100 milligrams. A level of 350 milligrams was considered potentially lethal.”

Former Kabaka Edward Muteesa (right) two days before he was found death in his house in London, England, in November 1969.  PHOTOS/ FILE

About the origin of the rumour that Muteesa was poisoned, Prof Kasozi on Page 240 writes: “A rumour that Sir Edward Muteesa was poisoned was believed by some officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to have been started by Fred Mpanga [Buganda’s attorney general] and other Baganda refugees in London.” 

On Page 244, Prof Kasozi writes: “…it is no wonder that the poison rumour spread like wild fire among the Baganda. The scapegoating was not limited to the Ugandan girl in the UK, but hated individuals, presumed supporters of UPC and Obote [then president of Uganda] were defined as killers of Sir Edward Muteesa by many simplistic minds.” 

“Wanting simple explanations, Baganda often delude themselves with simple answers of complex issues. I witnessed this in my village in rural Masaka where a hated local middle peasant was believed by the locals to have participated in the killing of Muteesa. Yet this person had never left his village for Kampala or overseas.”

History . . .Earliest claims 

One of the earliest recorded claims of poisoning of a prominent Ugandan was in Ankole Kingdom about 278 years ago. Ntare IV of Ankole Kingdom died around 1744.