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Tracing the life, legacy of Sir Edward Muteesa II

By JM Kavuma-Kaggwa

How Obote ended the life of Uganda’s first President and why Uganda should value his legacy as a great leader and freedom fighter.

Sir Edward Muteesa II, the first president of Uganda, was born on November 19, 1924 and died on his birthday in 1969. If he had lived until today, he would have celebrated his 89th birthday on November 19.  The purpose of this article is to show why it is important for Baganda in particular and all Ugandans in general to remember Sir Edward Mutesa II, who was also one of the famous Kings of Buganda.


November 19 used to be a big day in Buganda during his time. I think it should be revived now that the Buganda Kingdom was restored.  Muteesa was President of Uganda from March 1963 to May 1966. He was also the Kabaka (King) of the Buganda Kingdom from 1939 to November 19, 1969.  He was educated at King’s College Buddo, Makerere University and Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. While in the UK, he also trained as a soldier in the Queen’s Grenadier Guards acquiring the rank of Colonel.

This military training helped him a great deal to fight off Obote’s army when it attacked his Palace at Mengo early in the morning on May 24, 1966. He fought for seven hours and wiped out the entire “special force” of 2000 men before he escaped from the Palace with a few of his soldiers and ran into exile in UK where he passed away on November 19, 1969.

It is alleged that he was poisoned by Obote’s secret agents who tracked him in London. When Mutesa II went into exile in the United Kingdom, Milton Obote is said to have vowed to follow him there and finish him off. With his little knowledge of the Baganda, he believed that by annihilating the Kabaka he would kill the Baganda’s love for their Kingdom.

He set up a dreadful intelligence network called the “General Service Unit” (GSU) headed by his brother Akena Adoko, and they embarked on the task of tracking the exiled Kabaka.

There were rumours that Obote was spending Shs 250,000 per week (a lot of money then) to track down the Kabaka. Their mission had completely failed until luck struck when the late Oscar Kambona of Tanzania who fell out with President Nyerere and fled into exile in London, organised a birthday party in November 1969 in Sir Edward Mutesa’s honour.

Also in attendance was a beautiful Muganda girl who had reportedly been recruited by the GSU to go to London, befriend Sir Edward, be close to him and poison him. She came close to the Kabaka during the party. It was reported that the Kabaka invited the girl to this birthday party and that was the time she managed to poison him because she was the one in charge of the Kabaka’s drinks that evening.

This story was told to me in Nairobi by the late Paul Kavuma, the former Prime Minister of Buganda, who passed through Nairobi on his way to London to attend the first funeral of the Kabaka. He came to me at East African Airways on Koinange Street and I quickly organised a return ticket to London.

When he came back, he narrated to me all that he was told both in Kampala and London.  He said that when news spread everywhere in Kampala that the Kabaka had died, Obote and his government immediately wanted the body to be flown back home for burial.

Kavuma said he got reliable information that Obote was going to handle the remains of Sekabaka Mutesa II in a way that would annoy the Baganda leading to terrible fighting and eventually result in loss of many lives.

Paul Kavuma was shocked and he quickly contacted Buganda’s friends in London and told them to plead with the British government to bury Sekabaka Mutesa in London temporarily until when the political situation changed in Uganda. The British consented to the request.

Three years later after the fall of the Obote government, the body of Sir Edward Mutesa was brought back by President Idi Amin in 1972 and was buried according to the Baganda traditions and customs at Kasubi Tombs.

The 1966 attack on the palace came that led to Muteesa’s exile was a result of a bitter political disagreement between Edward Mutesa who was a ceremonial Head of State and Milton Obote, the Executive Prime Minister who took advantage of an army, which was dominated by people from his area in the North of Uganda.

Sir Edward Mutesa II had been elected the first President by the Parliament of Uganda on the strong recommendation of Milton Obote and his party UPC in line with the agreement between Milton Obote and Kabaka Yekka Party in 1962.

Both parties agreed to form a coalition government after the Buganda Lukiiko voted to give all the 21 nominated Buganda MPs to UPC to enable if form a Government.

Sir Edward Mutesa was always smartly dressed – be it in the kanzu and a coat or an English Suit or a military uniform. He was always setting standards for men in Buganda.

He was a darling of the people both in Buganda and Uganda. The princes and princesses of Toro and Ankole kingdoms grew up in the Palace at Mengo.

Undisputed nationalist

Sir Edward Mutesa promoted national unity and that was the sole reason why the Buganda Lukiiko allowed Kabaka Yekka Party to make a political alliance with UPC in 1962. It is also remembered that when he was the President, he offered the whole of his salary to the people of Karamoja to develop that region. He also built a hospital for the people of Karamoja, in Moroto.

Sir Edward Mutesa played a big role in the struggle for independence of both Uganda and Kenya. He demanded for independence from the Britons in 1953 and because of that he was exiled. When he came back from exile in 1955, he signed the 1955 Buganda Agreement on October 18, which would set out the ‘road map’ for Uganda’s independence.

The 1955 Buganda Agreement had an important clause, which clearly stipulated that“There will be no major constitutional changes in Uganda until the year 1961.” The major constitutional changes came in March 1961 with Internal Self Government, and full independence on October 9, 1962.

During the time of his exile in London (1953-1955), there was a secret link between him and Ignatius Musaazi. When he returned from exile, he secretly gave material support to the Uganda National Congress (UNC) during the most critical time of the struggle for independence – 1956 to 1959.  Across the border in Kenya, Sir Edward Mutesa helped to finance the Mau Mau revolution, which fought for Kenya’s independence. How did this come about?

In 1945, Omutaka Semakula-Mulumba attended the 1945 Manchester Conference in UK where African freedom fighters resolved to liberate Africa. In 1946, Jomo Kenyatta and Semakula-Mulumba returned from Britain on the same ship. Semakula-Mulumba was made a Kikuyu elder at Dagorati Village near Nairobi. Kenyatta later went back to London briefly, and he finally came back to Kenya in 1948 to launch the Mau Mau war of independence for Kenya.

Arriving in Mombasa, Kenyatta declared that he was going to launch a war of independence. He named the war MAU MAU, which stood for; MUZUNGU ALUDI ULAYA MWAFRICA APATE UHURU (MAU MAU). (Kiswahili for; let the Europeans go back to Europe so that the African can get independence). Kenyatta said he had no money to fund the war. Semakula-Mulumba told him that he would approach the Kabaka of Buganda and request him to assist the Mau Mau revolution financially.

Semakula-Mulumba secretly approached Kabaka Sir Edward Mutesa II on this matter and the Kabaka gladly accepted to give Kenyatta money to fight for Kenya’s independence.

That financial support greatly solidified the friendship between Sir Edward Mutesa and Kenyatta. Indeed, Kenyatta allowed Ugandans to seek refuge in Kenya after the onset of the 1966 crisis in Uganda.

At the time of independence in 1962, Sir Edward Mutesa proposed that the Buganda Emblem, the Shield and Spears (Amafumu n’Engabo) should be turned into the Uganda National Emblem but without the lion at the bottom.

The lion was removed and River Nile, the coffee crop and the cotton crop were put in its place at the bottom. Instead of the drum in the middle is the Buganda drum (Mujaguzo) Milton Obote proposed the Crested Crane and the Uganda Kob.

Sir Edward Mutesa always wanted people to be educated and civilised and to live a good life in their homes as well as working hard to be wealthy. He was a regular visitor to various schools in Buganda.

He built Masaka Technical Institute, which is now Mutesa I Royal University. He also built the Bulange, that magnificent building at Mengo, which is now the seat of the Kabaka’s government.

Sir Edward Mutesa had plans to establish agricultural State farms on the 9,000 square in the different areas of Buganda to produce food and other cash crops mainly for export. For instance, the whole of Namanve Forest on Jinja Road was to be a Buganda State Farm growing mainly coffee, pineapples, mangoes, passion fruits and oranges. These plans did not materialize because of the 1966 crisis.

Socially, we will always remember Sir Edward Mutesa II as one who spoke English like a real Englishman. Unfortunately, all the recordings of his speeches which were in the archives of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and at the Palace and Bulange in Mengo were vandalized by Obote’s army on his orders.

Sir Edward Muteesa also loved hunting and playing football. He did leave his kingdom unceremoniously with gunfire behind him, but the legacy he left behind will forever be etched in the history of Buganda, Uganda and the region for centuries to come.

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JM Kavuma-Kaggwa is an elder from Kyaggwe, Mukono District.

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