Mutesa died on November 21, 1969 at 28 Orchard House, Rotherhithe in London
By Muwonge Magembe
This month marks 45 years since the body of the late Sir Edward Mutesa II was returned to Uganda for burial from London, United Kingdom.
It was returned on March 31, 1971. Mutesa was the 35th Kabaka of Buganda and the first president of the independent Uganda. Above all, he is the father of the reigning Kabaka of Buganda, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II.
Mutesa died on November 21, 1969 at 28 Orchard House, Rotherhithe in London. He died barely two days after he celebrated his 45th birthday with among others in attendance; the late Fred Mpanga and Kasozi Luganda.
At the time of his death, Mutesa was weighing 63kilogrammes with a height of 5 ‘6’ feet. He was found dead by his body guard, Capt. Jehoash Katende when he entered his bedroom to greet him on return from work. As a norm, before and after Katende went out or returned from work; he had to kneel down and greet Mutesa. This time, however, he regrettably found Mutesa dead in his bedroom.
At the time of his death, Mutesa had spent three years and six months in exile in London. He was forced into exile after soldiers commanded by Col. Idi Amin attacked his Mengo palace on May 24, 1966. Amin was acting on the orders of Prime Minister, Dr. Apollo Milton Obote.
At the time of the attack, Mutesa was inside the palace. He miraculously escaped owing to his military background as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Grenadier Guards where he was commissioned in 1947 by British King George VI; the father of reigning Queen, Elizabeth II.
Mutesa sneaked out of Uganda until he arrived in Burundi in June 1966 with support from, among others; Kampala Archbishop, the late Emmanuel Cardinal Nsubuga, Anzerena Nabakooza and Kitayimbwa Mumiransanafu of Sembabule.
Using a pseudo name - Kyeswa - Mutesa boarded Sabena Airline cargo plane at Bujumbura Airport. It made a transitory stopover at Entebbe Airport before it proceeded to Brussels in Belgium on its way to London Gatwick Airport.
Following his death, Metropolitan police held investigations to establish the cause. In fact, on November 22, 1969, their detective, Henry Dowswell of Southwark police station visited the bedroom where Mutesa died from. Amidst the investigations, Mutesa’s body was kept at Southwark mortuary.
Meanwhile, a postmortem was conducted on November 24, 1969 by Hugh Robert Molesworth Johnson, a pathologist from London Hospital.
Additional extensive tests on the cause of his death were carried out by scientists from the Department of forensic medicine at the London Hospital in the presence of Arthur Gordon Davies, the coroner (an official who investigates violent, sudden, or suspicious deaths).
As Desmond Henley was embalming Mutesa’s body, the authorities issued a burial certificate on November 25, 1969.
When then President of Uganda, Obote received the news about the demise of Mutesa, he asked the British government led by Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson to repatriate the body to Uganda for burial.
However, members of Buganda royal family objected. They suspected that Obote intended to disgrace Mutesa further in death by burying him without adhering to Buganda traditional procedures that befit a fallen Kabaka.
In light of that objection, Mutesa was momentarily buried at London cemetery on December 3, 1969. This was after a requiem service that was held at Wellington barracks chapel. It was attended by Democratic Party (DP) leader, Ben Kiwanuka, Bishop Adrian Kivumbi Ddungu of Masaka Diocese and Monsignor Anatoli Kamya represented Kampala Archdiocese. The requiem service was jointly conducted by Bishop C.E Stuart, John Taylor and Rev. S.J Davies.
In 1971, after Amin removed Obote from power, he made a promise to Buganda royal family to return Mutesa’s body for burial at Kasubi. He also consulted Prince Badru Kakungulu and Prince George Mawanda (Mutesa’s brother) about the traditional procedures required.
On February 22, 1971, Amin appointed a top ministerial committee to organise its return and burial. The committee was chaired by Abu Kakyama Mayanja, the Education minister. The other committee members were; Lt. Col. Obitre Gama (Minister for Internal Affairs), Eng. James Zikusooka (Minister for works), Dr. J.H Gesa, (Minister for Health), Wanume Kibedi (Minister for Foreign Affairs) and Charles Oboth Ofumbi (Defense minister).
With local preparations finalised, Mutesa’s body was exhumed from London cemetery. Amin’s government chartered a Caledonian Airways plane owned by London businessman Adam Thomson on which the body was loaded on at Gatwick London Airport on March 30, 1971.
A high powered delegation led by Foreign minister Kibedi accompanied it to Uganda along with Mutesa’s younger brother Prince Henry Kimera (Mutesa’s young brother), Paulo Muwanga (head of protocol in the ministry of Foreign affairs) and Prince John Barigye of Ankole, among others.
On arrival at Entebbe International Airport on March 31, 1971 at 10:00am, Amin was at hand to receive it. Afterwards, the body was flown to Kololo Independence grounds for public viewing and to other places; parliamentary building, St. Paul Cathedral and Bamunanika palace.
Finally, the body was laid to rest at Kasubi royal tombs on April 4, 1971. All traditional burial procedures were adhered to especially when the then 16 year old Prince Ronald Mutebi performed a ritual of placing a piece of bark cloth on his deceased father’s casket before burial at Kasubi. That act signified that Prince Mutebi was the rightful heir and the next Kabaka of Buganda. Indeed his coronation as the 36th Kabaka of Buganda occurred 22 years after (on July 31, 1993). It was held at Buddo when Prince Mutebi was 38 years and three months old.