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Why Baganda celebrated on May 24

By Kavuma-Kaggwa

This time, commemoration of Buganda’s ` day of darkness’ had special significance

On May 24, 2014 the Baganda from all areas of Buganda converged at Mengo Palace to remember May 24, 1966, the day of “darkness”, when Milton Obote, who was the Executive Prime Minister, ordered his troop to attack the Kabaka’s Place at Mengo.

The attack came as the climax of a terrible political disagreement between Sir Edward Mutesa II who was a ceremonial Head of State and Milton Obote who was the Prime Minister. Both sides had formed a political alliance between Obote’s Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) and the Buganda Party, Kabaka Yekka, after the 1962 Independence general elections.  After the 1962 elections the two parties, DP and UPC secured an equal amount of Parliamentary seats outside Buganda. Baganda, with their 21 members appointed by the Buganda Lukiiko, were the deciding factors. The Lukiiko voted to side with Obote/UPC. It is generally said that Benedicto Kiwanuka was sidelined by the Buganda Lukiiko after the 1962 general elections because he was a Roman Catholic.

By 1966, however, the alliance had collapsed, and the Baganda in the Buganda Lukiiko had earlier on passed a resolution ordering Obote to “remove his Government from the Buganda soil”.

The political disagreement was mainly sparked by Obote’s desire to have absolute political control and influence over the whole country. Obote could not tolerate one area of the country having more political power and influence over the people. Sir Edward Mutesa having fought so much, with other Baganda, to achieve Uganda’s Independence, together with other historical factors, could not allow this.

Obote had earlier on during the time leading to Independence shrewdly worked with Buganda politically to penetrate into the Buganda society. He abandoned his first wife Milier and married a Muganda lady Miria Kalule. His political confidantes, the late Abu Mayanja and Daudi Ochieng took him to the Bamunanika Place where he knelt down to greet the Kabaka.

In all his plans to penetrate into the Buganda society and gain political influence, Obote was standing on a solid rock of having an army which was dominated by the Northern Uganda tribes.

The military attack on Mengo Palace came in the early morning of May 24, 1966. It was said that Obote decided to launch an attack on the Palace after he had received what was described later as “wrong and misleading information” that Edward Mutesa had amassed strong weapons in the Palace to fight him. Mutesa had also received reliable information that Obote was planning an attack on the Palace.

The attack

Obote first sent the 2000 man “special force” of the police. They found Mutesa ready to repel the attack and he wiped out the entire force.

Obote then sent the army led by the then Army commander, Idi Amin, and the airforce dropped bombs over the Palace.

The battle lasted almost seven hours. Early morning at nine o’clock a thick cloud moved from Lake Victoria and remained over the Palace causing very heavy rain over the Place and Mutesa managed to escape via the Ndeeba side of the palace wall.

He escaped with his soldier the late Abraham Senkoma who lifted him over his (Senkoma) shoulders and Mutesa managed to jump over the Palace wall. He hurt his back, but it was later treated in London.

While walking towards the Kabaka’s Lake, a small Fiat taxi came and the driver took him to Rubaga Catholic mission. He found the priests, the late Cardinal Emmanuel Nsubuga and the current Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala, at the breakfast table. He dropped his guns on the table and they asked him in Luganda – “Sabasajja what has happened to you??” He replied – “I have been fighting Obote’s army in the Palace”.

The priests sheltered him overnight and the following morning they dressed him as a Catholic priest and a young man Daniel Kamaanyi, son of a former Buganda Chief, drove him to some places in Western Buganda.   Saza chiefs in Western Buganda helped him to escape to Burundi. On the day he boarded a ferry at Kagera River, Obote’s soldiers missed him because they arrived when he had crossed the river on the ferry. They tried to call it back but the ferry captain refused to turn back.

In Bujumbura he boarded a Sabena Airlines Flight to London via Brussels.

After Mutesa’s escape Obote and hundreds of his supporters held an overnight drinking vigil at State House Entebbe celebrating Mutesa’s downfall and what they called the end of the supremacy of the Buganda Kingdom.

What surprised Buganda most was that Obote who started with “a good heart” towards Mutesa and Buganda later on developed terrible hatred against them.

In November 1965 he imported weapons from China preparing for something sinister, and they were captured in Kisumu by the Kenyatta Government. They were marked “matooke consignment”!! President Jomo Kenyatta invited President Mutesa at Gatundu near Nairobi and warned him about it.

Later on Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, a Luo, who was the Vice President and Tom Mboya, also a Luo, who was Secretary General of KANU and Minister for Constitutional Affairs, advised Kenyatta to release the weapons. In May 1966 the whole thing exploded.  Obote declared himself President of Uganda, abolished the Buganda Kingdom and other Kingdoms and he abrogated the 1962 Constitution which allowed Buganda a federal status, and he consolidated his philosophy of “kill Baganda, suppress them, annihilate them and finish them”.

He set up a dreadful spy network which he called “General Service Unit” to spy on Baganda everywhere and he detained many political leaders and banned the Democratic Party and he established a one-party system.

He followed Edward Mutesa in London using the General Service Unit to finish him and in the end he finished him when a young stupid Muganda girl became very close to Mutesa and she allegedly poisoned him on his Birthday party in London on November 19, 1969.

The General Service Unit which was headed by Obote’s relative Akena Adoko, was spending Shs 250,000 in foreign currency every week to track down Edward Mutesa. It was big money at that time in Uganda.  They completely failed to get him and later on they decided to send a Muganda girl to London to track Mutesa. The girl first registered at a secretarial college in Nairobi and disappeared after two weeks.   She went to London where she managed to penetrate into the circles of the late Oscar Kambona, who was in exile after falling out with President Nyerere of Tanzania over socialism. Kambona was a friend and very close to Mutesa.

One day in November 1969 Kambona organised his birthday party and invited Mutesa. He attended and the Muganda girl was at the party serving guests. She served Mutesa and became very close to him.

On November 19, 1969 Mutesa orgnanised his Birthday Party and the girl was one of the Baganda who attended. At the end of the party few people remained and she was one of them serving Mutesa with pure water.  He preferred water at such functions. It is alleged that at that time, she managed to put poison in the glass which Mutesa was using. She suddenly disappeared and early morning the following day Mutesa’s aides found that he had passed away. She telephoned and asked – “how is the Kabaka?”

Baganda who were living in London tried to kill her but she kept herself out of sight for a long time. Later she got married to a Muganda from a well-known family in Buganda and died after a short time and the husband was alone at the funeral.

When the sad news reached Kampala that Mutesa had passed away in London Obote and his Government celebrated. Obote tried to convince the British Government to bring the remains to Kampala but Paul Kavuma, who was at one time Katikkiro of Buganda heard that Obote had “a sinister plan” should the remains get into his hands, telephoned Baganda in London and they appealed to the British Government that Mutesa should be temporarily buried in London until when Obote will be out of power.  Paul Kavuma and J.W. Kiwanuka former Chairman of Uganda National Congress passed through Nairobi to London to attend the funeral and I organised their return air tickets on East African Airways when I was a Marketing and Sales Executive.  On his way back after the funeral, Paul Kavuma passed through Nairobi and he narrated the whole story of what happened in Kampala and London when Mutesa was in exile before and after he passed away.

Whatever Milton Obote did to dismantle the Buganda Kingdom made the Baganda lose their “political power and economic power” and they endured a lot of social and economic suffering.

Late 1980 and early 1981 they decided to fight Obote who had also been overthrown by his own army, fled into exile, and had been newly installed as president after the rigged 1980 general elections.

Fighting Obote

Paul Kavuma, Prince Badru Kakungulu and Bishop Mukasa formerly of Mityana set up a fighting force which they later on merged with then-rebel leader Yoweri Museveni’s Patriotic Resistance Army (PRA).   Museveni (now President) had emerged on the political scene in Uganda with “strong military muscle” to fight Obote. He had been Defence Minister under Paul Muwanga’s Military Commission which organised the fraudulent 1980 elections. In that position, he was in control of Kabamba Training Barracks and was a highly experienced guerilla fighter.

Buganda joined forces with him and in July 1981 he negotiated with former President Y.K. Lule in Nairobi and they formed National Resistance Movement (NRM) and army, NRA.

A bitter war was fought in Luwero for five years and victory was achieved on January 26, 1986.President Museveni took power on January 29, 1986 and he is still in power.

The Baganda restored the Buganda Kingdom on July 1993 and they started to rebuild their economic and political power.

They have made remarkable progress in building schools, universities, hotels/lodges, factories, industries, big commercial buildings, towns, supermarkets, trade, agriculture, places of worship, good and permanent living houses and social welfare and social centres for all kinds of entertainment.

Finally, the tyrannical regimes have been wiped out completely. Democracy has been consolidated, a new constitution, multi-party system and there is peace and economic progress everywhere in Uganda.


Kavuma-Kaggwa is an elder from Kyaggwe

Mukono district

Tel: 0772-584423

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