Englishmen dupe the Kabaka into bad deal

Kabaka Edward Muteesa II during his tenure as president of Uganda in 1963. Courtesy photo

What you need to know:

The tension. In the 11th part of our serialisation of her unpublished book, Tales from Mutesa’s Palace, Barbara Kimenye writes about Daudi Ochieng’s friendship with the Kabaka and two Englishmen, who duped Mengo into signing a bad deal. The first part was published in Saturday Monitor of September 26

Under the terms of the Buganda Agreement of 1955, signed jointly by the Kabaka and the governor, Sir Andrew Cohen, at a ceremony in the New Bulange, the Kabaka was returned as a constitutional monarch and supposed to be above politics. But old habits die hard.

While everybody at Mengo went through the motions of sticking to the rules supposedly restricting the influence and involvement of the palace, covertly it was business as usual. Demanding an overnight change of attitude in a centuries old social structure such as that which held the Kingdom of Buganda together was asking the impossible.

Besides, things were stirring in the rest of the country, and to the consternation of the old guard at Mengo, and by that I mean the important traditionalist section of ministers and chief, many Baganda intellectuals were prominent in the formation of political parties and supporting the call for a united independent Uganda. Unfortunately, these progressives were seldom seen at the convivial gatherings in the Old Twekobe, mixing with the empty-headed Mengo Set. No doubt they had better things to do. So the Kabaka was deprived of their opinions and advice, and instead heard only the narrow viewpoints of a blinkered clique.

One person who tried to bridge the gap between Buganda and the rest of Uganda was Daudi Ochieng. Daudi was of the Acholi people, a respected warrior tribe in northern Uganda, who later were to be almost wiped out by Idi Amin’s thugs. He was big, handsome, confident and one of the nicest natured men I have ever met. I believe that he and the Kabaka had been at school together.

Anyway, their friendship was important to His Highness, probably because Daudi, not being a Muganda was free of any sycophancy. He said what he thought; not what he believed the Kabaka wanted to hear. And as if to show that customs and culture could be shared, he always wore a kanzu [tunic]- the simple long white gown commonly worn by Baganda men under his tailored jacket. He also married a Muganda. I don’t pretend to know how Daudi hoped to guide the Kabaka away from the traditionalists’ complacent faith in their own ability to outwit the growing forces mustered against the status quo, or what he suggested as a compromise.

He remained a true and steady friend, however, throughout the fiasco which ended with the storming of the palace by Milton Obote’s troops and the Kabaka’s fleeing to Britain in 1966.

After Independence, when Obote was prime minister and Idi Amin head of the army, Daudi, an elected member of the Uganda Parliament, caused countrywide consternation by producing Amin’s bank statement before the House and demanding to know how a professional soldier had managed to amass a vast fortune. This led to revelations of gold smuggling from Zaire, heavily implicating Obote, and the matter was not allowed to fizzle out until a commission of enquiry was set up to examine the evidence.

Obote was ousted and president Amin in power by the time the commission’s findings were published in a massive tome from which mention of Amin’s role in the lucrative affair was kept to a minimum, and then ambiguous. Meanwhile, Daudi Ochieng had died; some say poisoned for his campaign against government corruption.

But before all this happened, political parties were getting into their stride by publishing manifestos unanimous in declaring their intentions towards a unified Uganda. This did not prevent certain groups forming in Buganda to claim special treatment of the kingdom as a separate nation. Augustine Kamya’s Uganda National Movement (UNM) started in 1959 spoke out for federalism, and all his public rallies ended with everybody turning to face Mengo and singing the Buganda anthem.
He advocated that gatherings in the other kingdoms and districts should follow this practice in the context of their own heads of society or administration. He perhaps would not have attracted very much attention had he refrained from calling a one-year boycott of Asian shops, cigarettes and beer outside Kampala and the main townships in an attempt to place trade in the hands of Africans.

In fact, at the unusually large rally which first brought Augustine Kamya to public notice, many anti-Asian sentiments were expressed, very strongly in the case of A.D Lubowa whose own political career led him to a top post in the Kabaka’s cabinet and later into Obote’s government bluntly threatened that the Asian community would face a difficult future if they did not identify with the Africans.

In our semi-rural area, we soon felt the effects of the UNM boycott. After several people were shot at as they left Asian shops carrying their usual groceries, terror, not support for the boycott, kept folk from patronising their friendly neighbourhood dukas. Very few folk were prepared to risk life and limb for a packet of milk hence my mother, as a European and therefore not involved, regularly did the shopping for our neighbours.

One man was shot dead as he went to relieve himself outside a local bar where he had been enjoying a few pints. And on Christmas Eve, Prince Kimera responded to seasonal greetings from the Omulamuzi’s private secretary by giving the man some money to buy himself a drink. The man went off to the same local bar, and met the same fate as the earlier imbiber, notwithstanding his known preference for waragi, the gin-like spirit distilled from bananas. On the whole, the UNM did little more than make life unpleasant for a great number of people.

Barabara Kimenye (Centre) and friends at S.Korean National day. Courtesy photo

In any case, the Kabaka’s government was already past contemplating federalism. Come 1960 and the demand was for a separate autonomous state within Uganda. In addition to lengthy documents explaining Buganda’s position, letters were written to anybody and everybody considered as having influence on world opinion - and all done separately on the battered manual typewriter in the Kabaka’s private office. It was a heavy, tiring job taking up many days and nights.

One particular Saturday afternoon, when the old typewriter developed alarming symptoms and the only means of correction (in those far off days) was a rubber which either scarred the paper of left an ugly mark, I rebelled and without asking anyone’s permission sent a palace driver off in a car to collect my own portable from home.

Hours later, His Highness came along to see how the work was progressing. Instead of being pleased that I had shown initiative in order to speed up the work and present it respectably, he was almost speechless with rage at the audacity of my discarding his typewriter in favour of my own. It was the only time I ever saw him in a temper, and I now believe that he was more worried about the political situation than he generally showed, and the typewriter incident provided an opportunity for him to let off steam.

Suddenly, Mengo was awash with constitutional legal experts from Britain, and I left Protectorate government secondment in the ministry of Education to work directly in the Kabaka’s government for the new Attorney General, Walter Jayawardena, originally from Sri Lanka, but until joining us a member of the London Chambers which supplied one of the constitutional experts.

Walter was brilliant, and his main recreational obsessions were John Donne’s poetry, medieval church music and ballroom dancing. Otherwise he was good-looking and dapper, and within no time he was a member of the clique, which regularly congregated at the Speke Hotel where John Ayres was manager.

Although he was married to a lady who taught handicapped children in London, Walter simply could not help falling in romantic love with a certain type of woman; tall, slim, dark, and hair drawn back in a bun on the nape of the neck. He put this weakness down to his having been deeply attracted to his ayah [maid] in early childhood, and discussed it quite freely in the manner of those devoted to self-analysis.

Yet the person who gave him the run-around during most of his time in Buganda was entirely the opposite of his stereotype. Jean was short, sturdy, and blonde and ready for anything. Walter who loved fine wines and such delicacies as king-size prawns, was all of a sudden drinking illicitly distilled waragi and eating pieces of roast meat in out-of -the-way hovels where angels would definitely fear to tread.

Most mornings, he came into the office looking haggard. Obviously, his efforts to involve Jean in his enthusiasm for Donne, medieval church music, not to mention ballroom dancing, were not paying off. Nor did she appreciate his home entertainment, which consisted of gargantuan platters of rich food accompanied by wines that provided Walter with an opportunity to air his knowledge on the juice of the grape - a sepulchre cantata resounding in the background. Jean made no secret of wishing herself in one of her preferred haunts, knocking back the waragi.

Things between the two came to a head when Walter tottered into the office one morning doing his best to hide his face. He had good reason. One side was an unbecoming shade of blue. His first explanation that he had overturned his car on a tricky stretch of a road outside the city might have been accepted without comment, if Walter had not gone on to give completely different reasons for the cause of his injury to two different people in the space of two hours. The truth emerged late that afternoon at the Speke Hotel.

As usual, three or four of us girls (as we were at the time) converged on John Ayres to swap gossip. John would be in the bath, modestly covered to the chest in scented bubbles, a row of bath racks containing, respectively, his beauty aids, his toiletries, the book he was currently reading, and a tea tray. We would perch anywhere we could, share his tea and dish the dirt.
His version of Walter’s predicament, which John had heard direct from Jean was that the worm had turned: in other words, Walter had grown tired of sitting in mud and wattle bars surrounded by dedicated waragi drinkers. He had dragged Jean out, pushed her into his car, and upon realising that she carried a bottle of waragi, had snatched it from her and hurled it into the roadside bush. Whereupon she sprang out of the car to search for the bottle, Walter followed, and a fight had ensued during which she removed a shoe and clocked him with the stiletto heel. He was a most forgiving soul, or maybe Jean meant more to him than any of us suspected, for a few days after the battle, the pair of them appeared at the Speke, she wearing a black sari, a martyred expression, and Walter’s olive branch - an armful of pure gold bangles. This is not meant to imply that Walter’s extramural activities took precedence over his work or affected it detrimentally. Regardless of how little sleep he had had, his mind was as sharp as ever when confronted with any tricky legal problem. So when Jeremy Thorpe MP and a very presentable guardsman whom I can only remember as John descended with a flourish on Mengo, it was Walter who saw through the charm and counselled caution. Not that his advice was fully heeded, although it might have been, had not Jeremy Thorpe immediately spotted Freddie Mpanga, barrister-at-law, as the likeliest instrument in the furthering of his plans.

Freddie was a very nice person, but one who loved to play the black Englishman. He always wore tweeds and quite often sported one of those short brimmed hats with a small feather in the band. Additionally, he cultivated the rather shallow mannerisms of a debs delight. His day was made if any visitor remarked on his utter Englishness. Jeremy Thorpe and Company made sure that Freddie lived on cloud number nine whenever they were around, and it paid off.

To begin with, the two had arrived with a stack of one issue of Hansard, the official report of the British House of Parliament proceedings, in which heavily underscored in ink was recorded a question by Mr Thorpe concerning the future of Buganda in an independent Uganda. This was supposed to prove how much they had the fate of the kingdom at heart, and after Freddie had dished out the copies of Hansard to the ministers and other influential people, meticulously explaining to teach the importance of having a supportive voice in the mother of Parliaments, Mr Thorpe was practically home and dry.

That combined with the ability to be the most entertaining company in the world made him straightaway a palace favourite. The Kabaka, with Freddie Mpanga constantly singing the praise of his new admiring friends, was soon all too ready to believe that there was nothing self-seeking in their proposal for placing Buganda firmly on the international scene of world affairs at a cost, of course, of £1,500 (about Shs8.1m) a year.
Yes, £1,500 seems a pittance today, but in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it constituted a small fortune.

The idea was to publicise Buganda as a culturally unique entity – in documentaries, magazine articles, international exhibitions, and promote its produce all over the world. For instance, Mr Thorpe and John were convinced that Buganda’s groundnuts with good planning strategy, could corner the market for salted peanuts sold in cinemas worldwide, thus bringing untold wealth to the kingdom.

This last idea sent Walter reaching for the smelling-salts. He refused to believe that people of any political and economic intelligence did not know that the fraction of world production of ground nuts ending up salted for sale in places of entertainment internationally was far less than one per cent. But when he pointed this out up at the palace, as well as the fact that the £1,500 represented only the retaining fee, that Buganda would be liable for expenses incurred in the grand propaganda campaign, according to what he had read in the draft proposal; Freddie Mpanga quickly jumped in with talk of trust and excellent intentions. After all, our two guests were English gentlemen whose word was their bond. And he ought to know, wasn’t he himself the nearest thing to being one?
Eventually, Walter was at least able to persuade the Kabaka to only agree to a contract forgone year instead of the suggested two, and he insisted upon a clause under which the money paid would be returned in the event of no action by the company Mr Thorpe represented and of which he was a director. Freddie was incensed at what he took to be a slur on his friends. He was determined to prove to them that his faith and that of Buganda remained intact.

So one day when Walter had gone to lunch, I was surprised to see Freddie entering my office with Mr Thorpe and John in tow. They wanted me to type out the contract between Mr Thorpe’s company and the Kabaka’s government. I knew as I typed that the document was not according to Walter’s recommendations, but I kept a copy for Walter and assumed that he would attend to the alterations before it was signed. He returned from lunch, read the contract, and drove straight to the palace. But too late to do anything. Freddie Mpanga had persuaded the relevant official in the Kabaka’s treasury to sign, and Mr Thorpe and John were already at the airport with signed contract and cheque for £1,500, waiting to board their plane to London.

Sorting out the mess
Nothing was heard from either Jeremy Thorpe or John for almost a full year. Then Walter rushed early into the office and urgently requested the file on the Thorpe/Kabaka’ s government transaction. His memory had not failed him. The final contract devised by Freddie and his friends, and typed by me, stated that if notification of termination of the company’s services was not given by a certain date, Buganda would be liable to pay another annual retainer fee of £1,500. We had less than a week in which to deliver the notification of termination, and for the rest of the day Walter ran around like crazy getting the go-ahead from the Treasury and from the palace.

The kiganda practice of always having to consult and discuss before taking action nearly drove him mad. Fortunately, the black Englishman stayed out of sight, and we got out of our predicament by the skin of our teeth. The Uganda Constitution was a more serious matter for Walter’s legal expertise to tackle.

The proofs of the final document, the size of thick book, arrived in our office at about 10.30 in the morning, and the Buganda government delegation was expected to read and digest it in time for a meeting at Government House at Entebbe, three-and-half hours later.

Although it was impossible for even Walter to read such a tome and explain it fully to the people concerned within the allotted period, Government House would allow no postponement of the meeting. I think it was then that the Kabaka and his government realised that they were on their own. Worse, that the British government was quite prepared to throw them on the dogs.