Reviewing Queen Elizabeth's three visits to Uganda

Queen Elizabeth II walks past staff and patients at the Mildmay HIV Centre in Kampala, on November 22, 2007, on the first day of her state visit to Uganda. The Queen was due to officiate at the opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) on November 23, 2007. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Queen Elizabeth’s first visit to Uganda was rather a sad and short one when she made a stop-over at Entebbe Airport from Kenya in 1952, with her husband Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh. 

Queen Elizabeth II—whose reign of 70 years and 214 days is the longest of any British monarch and was stopped by her death on September 8, at the Balmoral Castle, aged 96—visited Uganda on three occasions.

Queen Elizabeth’s first visit to Uganda was rather a sad and short one when she made a stop-over at Entebbe Airport from Kenya in 1952, with her husband Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh. They were on their way to Britain for the burial of Queen Elizabeth’s father and her eventual accession as sovereign of England at age 25.

The princess and her husband had flown from Heathrow to Kenya on January 31, 1952. They were seen off by King George VI, too ill with lung cancer to make the tour himself.

The young couple stayed at Kenya’s Treetops Hotel in Aberdare National Park. King George died peacefully in his sleep at Sandringham House on February 6, 1952. Prince Philip broke the sad news to Princess Elizabeth the following day.

The tour had to be abandoned, and the young princess flew back to Britain as Queen and head of the Commonwealth on a Dakota plane.

The Uganda Herald’s issue of February 9, 1952, splashed the news of the new queen’s sojourn at Entebbe on its cover with the headline, “Her Majesty At Entebbe”. The story proffered thus: “Still wearing her holiday clothes—light pink frock, white halo hat and white accessories, Her Majesty, The Queen of England, alighted from the Dakota aircraft ‘Sagana’ at Entebbe Airport on Wednesday evening on her sad journey back to the United Kingdom. The plane touched down at 8:44pm and the Queen, followed by the Duke of Edinburgh, walked to the airport restaurant to wait for her departure, scheduled for 9:30pm.”

Sombre sojourn
Later, a Lodestar, carrying the royal luggage, landed at the airport, followed by the Royal Argonaut “Atlanta” which had been flown from Mombasa to carry the royal couple for the rest of their journey. Lightning, flickering along the horizon, heralded the approach of a storm and the rising wind whirled dust-devils across the tarmac of the runway. Exactly at the appointed time of departure, the storm broke over Entebbe.

The wind rose to a force of fifty knots and the “Argonaut’s” skipper announced that the take-off would have to be delayed. Purple and yellow lighting flashed continuously over the aerodrome, dimming the runway lights and illuminating the thrashing flag which flew at half-mast from the control tower. Sheets of rain lashed the silent planes and bounced on the black tarmac of the runway.

A room was prepared for the Royal couple in the airport manager’s private office, but they preferred to stay in the restaurant where the Queen drank a soft drink. They were accompanied by His Excellency the Governor, dressed in black, who had met the plane. From 10pm to 10.45pm, the storm raged at its height, but then slowly subsided.

At 11:40pm, the Queen, accompanied by her husband and wearing a borrowed mackintosh, walked to the “Argonaut,” which took off at 11:47pm for El Adem. The Royal couple were expected at El Adem at 9am on Thursday morning (East African Time) and were to go straight to London, where they were expected to arrive at 6pm (GMT).

“Strict secrecy was kept regarding the visit of Her Majesty to Uganda,” The Uganda Herald reported. “Entebbe Airport was rigidly closed and cordoned off by police. At the request of the Duke of Edinburgh, the Royal Couple were accorded complete privacy. The airport authorities say so violet a storm at that hour of night is very unusual during this period of the year.”

Her Majesty’s coronation took place in Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953. Representatives of the peers, the Commons and all the great public interests in Britain, the prime ministers and leading citizens of the other Commonwealth countries, and representatives of foreign states, were present.

Opening Owen Falls Dam
“Uganda Welcomes Her Majesty and The Duke,” was the title of the lead story of The Uganda Herald’s edition of April 29, 1954.

The story read thus: “In spite of the gloomy forecast and a heavy storm in the early morning, the sun smiled down upon Entebbe Airport when Her Gracious Majesty Queen Elizabeth II set foot for the second time (to open the Owen Falls Hydro-Electric Scheme) and in happier circumstances on the soil of her Protectorate of Uganda. The guard of honour from the Uganda Police, led by the Police Band, in their white uniforms were drawn up on the tarmac.

“His Excellency the Governor…were waiting to welcome Her Majesty as the aircraft came in low over the lake at five minutes to ten… The Royal Party flew in a B.O.A. C. Argonaut. Among the officials to receive the Royal Party were the three Regents of Buganda, Abeebitiibwa P.N. Kavuma, M. Mugwanya and L. Mpagi.”

Describing the scene at the airport, The Uganda Herald added thus: “…The trains of the national anthem filled the air as the band played the Royal Salute. The 21-gun salute thundered out from the other side of the airfield and clouds of yellow cordite smoke drifted slowly away in the light breeze.”

The Queen and the Duke drove the two miles to Government House (State House) in Entebbe along the gaily decorated road and beneath triumphal arches of the Baganda, European and Goan communities, to attend the official ceremony of welcome and the investiture.
A ceremony of welcome was held in the grounds of Government House at 11.30am, attended by the three regents of Buganda, the three African rulers from the western province (R.A. Omukama of Bunyoro, Rukirabasaija Omukama of Tooro and Rubambansi Omugabe of Ankole), members of the Executive and Legislative Councils, bishops and judges, representatives of 12 districts in the Protectorate outside Buganda and leading members of the civil service and of the public of all races.

In his welcome speech, P.N. Kavuma, OBE. (senior regent of Buganda) expressed sorrow that the King of Buganda was not able to personally welcome the Queen. “…It is a matter of personal sorrow to the people of Buganda, whose spokesman I am, that Your Majesty cannot be received today by our own ruler the Kabaka, as we had so deeply wished; but our private sorrows cannot mar the true happiness we feel at seeing Your Majesty in our midst…,” Kavuma said, adding, “…We ardently pray that your majesty will retain many memories of our country, which, under Your Majesty’s gracious protection, is proceeding surely along the path of progress…”

The Queen replied thus: “…It is a great pleasure to us to have been able to include a visit to Uganda in our Commonwealth tour. I have often heard my parents recall pleasant memories of their time here in 1925, and my mother and sister have spoken of the brief stop they made in Entebbe last year when they were able to meet a number of you.”

She added: “This is not the first time that we have been to Uganda; my husband and I stopped here for a few hours on our way home from Kenya after my father’s death two years ago. But it is the first chance we have had of meeting the people of this country. We are very glad, therefore, to attend this most representative gathering so soon after our arrival.”

She proceeded to note: “I am indeed glad to see before me people from Buganda and from every district, in the Eastern, Western and Northern provinces, as well as men and women belonging to every profession and trade of many different races and creeds from all parts of the country and from every walk of life. I hope that we may all regard this gathering today as symbolic of the unity of purpose of all parts of the Protectorate and of all who live in it.”

The Queen graciously presented signed portraits of herself to the Abakama (rulers) of Bunyoro, Tooro and Ankole, and then the Investiture began. She conferred Accolades on Sir Fredrick Crawford, KCMG, Acting Governor of Kenya, and on Sir Charles Westlake, Kt., chairman of Uganda Electricity Board (UEB). She also presented insignias to several high ranking officials.

In the same edition under the another headline, “The Owen Falls Hydro-Electricity Scheme”, The Uganda Herald reported that the primary purpose of the visit of Her Majesty the Queen to Uganda is to inaugurate the Owen Falls Hydro-Electricity Scheme at Jinja, of which his Excellency the Governor of Uganda, Sir Andrew Cohen, K.C.M.G., has written: “I believe that if we maintain a spirit of harmony, unity and enterprise the Owen Falls Dam will open new horizons of opportunity and prosperity for Uganda and all who live here.”

In its edition of May 1, 1954, The Uganda Herald reported the events surrounding the Queen’s inauguration of Owen Falls Scheme under the headline, “Mwebale Omulimu (Thank you for your work)” on the front page. 

“…The scheme which Your Majesty is to inaugurate today will contribute very greatly to the development of this Protectorate, by the release of electric power in a country 800 miles from the coast which has no fuel resources of its own,” Sir Cohen said. “It will also play a most important part in raising the standard of living of the people; for it will make possible the establishment of industries which will increase the national income and the resources available for expanding education, health and other services so ardently desired by the people…”

In her speech, the Queen said: “I am glad and proud to be here today with my husband to open the Owen Falls Hydro-Electric Scheme. By its size and magnificence, it bears more eloquent witness than any words of mine to the vision of those who were responsible for its conception and to the skill of those who built it…

“This power will serve industries which are already in being and others which will be established in the future. Without power there can be no economic development and without power no country can go forward in the modern world…”

The Queen performed two ceremonies at the Owen Falls—the first at the dam where she opened the sluice gates and the second inside the power station where she started one of the turbines before declaring the Owen Falls Hydro-Electric Station open.

The Queen and the Duke proceeded to the control room and thence to the conference room where further presentations were made. The chairman and members of UEB then gave the Queen a souvenir. Thereafter the Queen and the Duke joined guests of the Board invited to take refreshments in the entrance hall of the Power House.

Chogm 2007
Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by The Duke of Edinburgh, returned to Uganda for the third time to attend the bi-annual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in 2007. This visit included the Opening Ceremony of Chogm on November 23, 2007, and other events linked to Chogm.

Charles, the Prince of Wales (now King Charles III of England) and The Duchess of Cornwall (Camilla, now Queen Consort) also made an official visit to Uganda for the first time during and after Chogm 2007. This provided Prince Charles with an opportunity to consolidate and develop further the diplomatic and charitable work of his many official visits to Commonwealth countries through a series of engagements and meetings. Prince Charles had a boat ride at the Source of the Nile as part of his private programme in Uganda.

The Duke of Edinburgh accompanied the Queen on all her Commonwealth tours and state visits, as well as on public engagements in all parts of the United Kingdom. According to Buckingham Palace, The Duke of Edinburgh visited Uganda in 1964, but it does not give details of his tour. Prince Philip died “peacefully” at Windsor Castle on April 9, 2021.

Visit of other Royals

Queen Elizabeth II’s father and mother were the first members of the House of Windsor to visit Uganda as Duke and Duchess of York on a holiday that also took them to Kenya in 1925.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, also returned in 1953 on short visits on her way to and from Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to open the Rhodes Centenary Exhibition in Bulawayo with Princess Margaret and later in 1959 in a tour from Kenya.

The Queen Mother opened the new £150,000 Library Building at Makerere College (now Makerere University) in Kampala on February 21, 1959. Twenty-one students received their degrees from the Queen Mother. Later in the afternoon, she opened the new Lugogo headquarters and stadium of the Uganda Sports Union in Kampala.

“Cheers and the boom of royal salute greeted the Duke and Duchess of Kent at Entebbe Airport yesterday when they arrived for the Uganda Independence Celebrations,” the East African Standard reported on October 8, 1962.

The Duke of Kent handed over the constitutional instruments to the Prime Minister of Uganda, Milton Obote at a grand ceremony in Kololo, Kampala on October 9, 1962. 

The Princess Royal is the second child and only daughter of The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh. Princess Anne has also been to Uganda several times as the president of Save the Children.

Editor’s Note: Part of this story and other visits to Uganda by members of the British Royal Family have been published in The East African and The Observer newspapers.

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