State killings, the attack on Mengo

Kabaka Mutesa II (3rd L), tours one of Buganda counties. The Kabaka spent a lot of time in the Bunyoro Lost Counties when a referendum was to be held. courtesy photo

What you need to know:

Backstabbing. In the 13th and second last part of our serialisation of her unpublished book, Tales from Mutesa’s Palace, Barbara Kimenye writes about Buganda riots over the Lost Counties, and the plot against the kingdom. The first part was published in Saturday Monitor of September 26.

We got through independence without a scratch. It was when the question of the “Lost Counties” recurred that [Milton] Obote showed his real face.

The “Lost Counties” were a part of the kingdom of Bunyoro, Buganda’s traditional enemy, which were handed over to Buganda in 1895 by Captain [Frederick] Lugard after the Baganda with Captain Lugard’s aid, had won yet another Baganda/Banyoro war.
Ever since, the Banyoro had demanded their return in a long-running dispute. The land in question was scarcely populated, so when Obote as prime minister in November 1964, announced that a referendum would be held in the area for the inhabitants to decide which kingdom they wished to belong, there was a big rush of Baganda ex-servicemen to establish residence and push up the voting in favour of Buganda. The Kabaka was hardly ever at Mengo during these hectic weeks because when he wasn’t carrying out his duties as president of Uganda, he was at his camp set up in the Lost Counties.

And all for nothing. Obote stumped the manoeuvre by making ineligible to vote anyone who had not lived in the area for a length of time in excess of anything the Kabaka and his ex-servicemen could hope to achieve. The Lost Counties reverted to Bunyoro.

On the day the results of the referendum were announced, there was chaos in Mengo township. Cars were hijacked with the declared purpose of being driven to the Lost Counties, rioting broke out in the vicinity of the New Bulange, and a schoolboy among the crowd shouting for vengeance outside Mengo post office was shot by central government police trying to restore order.

I then worked as a reporter on the Uganda Nation, and I telephoned home as soon as I heard of what was happening. Our servant, Aston, who stammered at the best of times, was barely coherent. Gradually, I gathered that he had locked the house, a mob was rampaging down the road, and the children had not returned from Lubiri Primary School, which they now attended. I didn’t wait to hear more. I set off right away to find my sons, and once on my own stamping ground encountered several other parents anxious about the whereabouts of their offspring.

Hours later, we discovered that John Butler, headmaster of Lubiri Secondary School, and his wife Beryl, had braved the mobs to collect as many schoolchildren as they could and ferry them by car to Makerere University where various lecturers kindly housed them. Mine were there, too, thank God and the wonderful people who took them in and kept them overnight, were Marjorie and Murray Carlin.

The Lost Counties referendum riots were frightening. They were small beer, however, in the light of what later happened at Nakulabye, a small market centre not far from Makerere. I think Nakulabye was the first indication that the gloves were off as far as Obote was concerned.

Face to face with anarchy
I might have missed it if my friend Florence, wife of the Acting Nigerian High Commissioner, had not put herself in the New Mulago Hospital with a vague illness, which did not prevent her driving everybody mad. I was commanded to bring several brands of medication to the hospital, and once there, expected to spend an hour or two listening to her complaints. I can’t remember how I came to be driven home in a High Commission station wagon, but I do know that the route from Mulago, took us through Nakulabye.

The driver and I realised that something unusual was going on as soon as we approached a nightclub run by two South African musicians. There were special unit police everywhere, and when the driver was ordered to stop, an automatic weapon was roughly pushed into his face. Fortunately, the CD plates on the station wagon were noticed by an officer, and we were allowed to proceed. Even so, the going was slow because dozens of people were being jostled across the road and hurled into the back of landrovers. One sight engraved upon my memory forever was of a man staggering between two policemen, his face, a shiny mask of thick blood in the light of a street lamp. I could only think stupidly of blackcurrant jelly. The High Commission driver and I were too shocked to speak on the remainder of the journey.

Once inside my house, I burst into helpless, frightened tears.

Kimenye (C) with her sons Daudi (L) and Topha in Kabale.

Early next morning, as a conscientious reporter, I was back at Nakulabye. A sombre crowd stood around a small group of mud and wattle houses, and from within came the anguished wailing of mourners. Nineteen dead. It wasn’t hard to reconstruct what had taken place, even without eye-witness accounts. A fight in the nightclub was the excuse for sending in the special unit, who had gone in with a vengeance, then turned their attention to the cluster of little dwellings near the market.

Shots had been fired at random through closed doors, and people too terrified to disobey orders to open-up had been knocked about and seen their pitiable household goods destroyed. One woman explained through her weeping that her son, a Makerere student, had been visiting her. He had opened her door to the attackers who had immediately accused him of stoning the police during some earlier confrontation. After smashing everything in the one-roomed shack, they had taken him outside, shot him in the stomach, and refused his mother any attempt at easing his agony or to bring a doctor. This student was among the 19 dead.

The Uganda Nation newspaper was found to be uneconomical by the parent group. It folded, and Rex Brindle, the chief reporter and I were reduced to mere stringers. It was not a satisfactory role. Our stuff, written after hours of leg-work, would be condensed to a paragraph or two. Rex eventually went to work in Nairobi, and I gave in to the blandishments of Shafik Arain, a staunch UPC man, and went to work on the government newspaper.

It was in this capacity that I covered the commission of enquiry into the Nakulabye slaughters. Little did I know that everything I wrote was vetted by Obote. The pro-government version of my copy which subsequently appeared in the paper sent me scurrying back to Mengo and the Kabaka. I may be short on pride, but I think I have integrity. His Highness received me calmly. He understood that writing was what I most wanted to do, so he put me in charge of the New Bulange library and arranged for me to write the tourist brochure for the royal tombs from material supplied by Asaph Lule, a historian.

Kabaka’s music taste

Barbara Kimenye (C), then a reporter for Uganda Nation newspaper, her editor Manning Blackwood (R) and a colleague at the paper’s offices in Kampala.

Meanwhile, for the first time in Buganda’s history, security became an issue at Mengo. Sonny, the security officer at the British High Commission, was called in to give advice. We loved him, but he was appalled at our lax ways. That Mutesa II rode or walked around without bodyguards, and that the palace was more or less open house to anybody who cared to enter, was beyond his understanding. Sonny personally installed alarms in and around the Old Twekobe.

He relates how the Kabaka once came across him up a ladder and whistling Colonel Bogey, the Kabaka asked him if he enjoyed military music, and when Sonny, more out of politeness than truth, said that he did, His Highness was jubilant. “So do I!” he declared, and from that moment on, Sonny worked to the accompaniment of recordings of the Grenadier Guards’ band.

Sonny was instrumental in my sons being educated in neighbouring Kenya. Originally, they were supposed to attend Kings College, Budo after finishing at Lubiri Primary School. Sonny visited my house on the morning that thieves had broken in and got away with our radio, television, and various other taken-for-granted appliances. My concern was that I had called the police, they had arrived quickly - and drawn aside their car so that the thieves (parked in the grounds of Basiita Inn to load my belongings) could make their escape. Sonny was not in the least surprised. It was apparently common knowledge at the British High Commission that the Uganda Police force were instructed to be less than helpful in Mengo district.

I referred to the mob going wild down our road during the Lost Counties fiasco, and Sonny seriously predicted that next time it would be Obote’s tanks. “Whatever you do, get these children out of the country,” he advised me. So in October of that year, 1965, Topha and Daudi were taken across the Uganda Kenya border to Kaptagat Prep. School.

Jayne Brunton, or Auntie Jayne as the children called her, drove us there, and we had our first taste of how limited in experience Ugandan children were when they put on the prescribed uniform: both Topha and Daudi proudly emerged from the house with vests worn over the navy blue airtex shirts. In Uganda’s climate, they had never before seen a vest. Jayne was one of the expatriate secretaries supplied by the British government who worked for Uganda government ministers and heads of state-controlled development bodies.

She was thrilled to be chosen as personal secretary to the Kabaka when he became president, and although she was based at State House, Entebbe, and had a flat there, she soon became very popular with everybody at Mengo. She and I had known each other casually for some time but when she worked for the Kabaka in his capacity as president, we formed a friendship which continues to this day.

An official visit to Uganda by Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon caused His Highness to ask Jane to postpone her annual leave. She did so gladly. Nothing made her happier than helping to arrange schedules and organising formal events.

As a social secretary, she was unbeatable, and everybody, especially the Kabaka, was delighted with her work. But then some sinister undertones crept in. Jayne, who had hitherto enjoyed a good working relationship with His Highness, such as I enjoyed at Mengo, suddenly was embarrassed by hints from her associates in his establishment that he wished for more intimacy, in other words, he wanted to sleep with her. From what I gather, the Kabaka himself made no moves in this direction, and she abruptly dismissed the idea.

Nevertheless, Jayne went on annual leave less joyfully than she might have had these lurid suggestions not been voiced. She came back ready to ignore what had been said and looking forward to another glamorous stint as the President’s personal secretary.

On the day of her arrival, a shock was in store. Somebody else was gazetted to her State House post, and Jayne was relegated to a minor ministry.

Nobody from State House or Mengo contacted her to offer any explanation for the change or, for that matter, to thank her for her services. We, her friends, were left with the impression that Jayne1s refusal to slip into the traditional roll of court ladies had offended and caused the loss of her job. Yet, cut off as she was from presidential and royal circles, Jayne remained the Kabaka’s loyal friend, and when Lubiri was stormed by Obote’s troops in 1966, she watched the battle from Lugard’s Fort across the valley, aghast at how life went on as usual in the surrounding areas.