THE LAST WORD: By Andrew M. Mwenda
How 50 years have not changed the nature of the confrontation between the central government, traditional authorities
Exactly 50 years since Prime Minister Milton Obote attacked the palace of Sir Edward Mutesa, the King of Buganda, President Yoweri Museveni has attacked the palace of the king of Rwenzururu, Wesley Mumbere. In typical political style, opposition leader Kizza Besigye tweeted his horror at both the attack on the palace and the people killed. I am sure Besigye and many of his supporters think if they were in power they would have handled the situation differently.
In many ways, this is a good thing for Uganda because even if our politicians learn nothing from such experience, it will remain as a major source of debate on the contradictions that tend to characterise the exercise of power. For many years, Museveni denounced Obote for attacking Lubiri, Mutesa’s palace, and Baganda agreed with him. Museveni simplified a complex problem by reducing it to the “madness and maliciousness” of Obote.
On May 21, 1966 the Buganda Lukiiko (parliament) passed a motion seceding from Uganda and ordering the government of Uganda to vacate Buganda soil. Obote did not react. Earlier Mutesa as president of Uganda had ordered a large quantity of weapons through a company called Gailey and Roberts. Mengo has also summoned Baganda ex-service men to Lubiri promising to arm them for the defense of the kingdom. All this information reached the police. Again the Obote administration did not take action.
In the following days, however, gangs attacked and overran police stations across six counties in Buganda. This escalation of violence, coupled with the aforementioned order for arms and ammunitions, provocations and intelligence led to an emergency cabinet meeting. The cabinet instructed Obote to take tough action to resolve the problem – to use the cabinet’s own words, to “go the whole hog”.
Obote called in Inspector General of the Police, Erinayo Oryema, and asked him to send a police unit to Lubiri to verify the allegations of arms. When they went there, they were fired at and several were killed. Obote called in deputy army commander, Col. Idi Amin, and asked him to send a unit of the Uganda Army to back up the police. They were shot at and could not get into the palace because apparently Mengo had effective machine gun power.
The fighting went on all day until Amin decided to reinforce his unit and bombed the palace to force his way in. Thus marked the Battle of Mengo, which sent the Kabaka to exile thus making Obote the most hated man in Buganda. I have read the events of February to May 1966 from the accounts of Mutesa, Obote and many other players of the time and I got to the conclusion that Mengo left the prime minister with no option but to attack the palace.
Thus, as Museveni consistently condemned Obote and even argued that the prime minister should have played music for the Kabaka to get out of the palace, I was the lone voice, then a young journalist at Monitor, who always argued that history has been unfair to Obote on this account. No leader of Uganda would have acted otherwise except force a confrontation with Mengo. Indeed, Obote exhibited a high degree of tolerance and patience with Mengo. Museveni would not have taken such arrogance from Mengo.