Today in history: Obote attacks Lubiri

May 24, 2016

The May 24, 1966 battle is an indelible scar in the history of Buganda Kingdom because what was once one of the most prestigious and magnificent palaces has now been reduced to a national motor rally circuit.

Mutesa's escape into exile followed an attack on Lubiri, where he resided, by government forces on the orders of prime minister Apollo Milton Obote.

The May 24, 1966 battle is an indelible scar in the history of Buganda Kingdom because what was once one of the most prestigious and magnificent palaces has now been reduced to a national motor rally circuit.

Subsequently, the attack led to a new dimension in the political system of Uganda, which was largely rooted in the 1962 Constitution. Following the attack, the 1962 Constitution was abrogated, giving Obote more executive powers over the affairs of the state and the prime minister less.

If this Constitution had remained in operation, perhaps Uganda today would have one of its current kings as president, and President Yoweri Museveni as prime minister.

What led to the attack

The marriage of convenience between Obote's Uganda People's Congress (UPC) and Kabaka Yekka (KY) before independence is said to have fuelled events that resulted in one of the darkest days in Buganda. For instance, according to pundits, the two parties had nothing binding — KY was a Buganda traditionalist's movement with a fanatical base, while UPC comprised elitist left wing politicians.

Notably, it is believed the marriage had an ulterior motive — ousting the Democratic Party (DP) Prime Minister Benedict Kiwanuka after he had trounced Obote in the 1961 general elections, which placed DP at the helm of the first pre-independence self- government. So, neither KY nor UPC would independently defeat DP, necessitating the alliance.

Worse still, Kiwanuka, although from Buganda, was liberal-minded, especially on kingdom affairs and therefore popular. His popularity undoubtedly edged out Mutesa politically on a nationwide scale. This, as expected, was a bitter pill for the Buganda traditionalists to swallow, since they strongly believed, as it is even today, that the Kabaka is above all men.

Additionally, cold blood between Buganda and Kiwanuka thickened following the Marlborough House conference which preceded the famous Lancaster conference. In this conference, the Kabaka and Buganda's position in Uganda's politics were some of the contentious issues, forcing Kiwanuka to storm out in protest of the excessive powers given to Buganda.

That was not the first time Kiwanuka and Mutesa were at loggerheads — they were known not to have been close friends years before. Upon Kiwanuka's return from World War II, he approached Mutesa for a bursary to further his education. However, he was told that the kingdom had no money, although others were being sponsored. As a result, Kiwanuka sold some of his land to raise college fees in South Africa.

So, partly the myth that no man equals the Kabaka of Buganda, oiled with egoism and intrigue, led to the collision of monarchist Mutesa and anti-monarchist Obote.

After independence, cracks in relations between Mengo and the UPC cropped up. Buganda felt isolated after all regions in Uganda rejected the KY membership. For instance, Busoga region had established the Kyabazinga Yenka Party to drum support for their king.

While still grappling with such rejection and perhaps pushed by the hand of fate, Mutesa in June 1963 went to the lost counties of Bunyoro and shot dead eight Banyoro at a market — they were protesting his presence.

The shooting did not only anger the Banyoro and other kingdoms, but also the central government. The Uganda Nation and The Nation of June 16-20, 1963 reported rumours of having Mutesa arrested while in Bunyoro, although they were dismissed by Felix Onama, the then minister of state for defence.

Amid all this, the political tempest in Buganda was gathering momentum. So, to contain this tempest, Obote tactfully set a political bait — Parliament on October 8, 1963 elected Mutesa as president.

Ironically, Mutesa's presidency did not augur well as anticipated. Instead, it fuelled resentment across the country, a situation that Obote manipulated opportunistically to ouster him.

However, the actual KY-UPC claws came out after Bunyoro regained the lost counties following the 1964 referendum — KY, perhaps in vengeance, started political violence in Buganda. In a reactionary manner, Obote, while addressing UPC delegates in Kampala on August 2, 1964, called for the disbandment of KY, saying its task had been completed.

Similarly, Parliament on January 27, 1966 passed a law banning KY. Before reading the new law, justice minister Cuthbert. J. Obwangor said: "KY activities had raked havoc in the central region. Cows were savagely decimated, crops burnt or slashed in gardens and human life destroyed."

Unfortunate for KY, attempts to reconcile the two parties were dented by Kampala deputy mayor Jabel Bidandi Ssali and former UPC wingers Kintu Musoke, Godfrey Binaisa and Joseph Kyeyune who on February 17, 1966 at a press conference vowed to fail any attempt to bridge the rift between UPC and Mengo.

The following week on February 22, five dissenting Cabinet ministers were arrested and sent to Patiko Prison in Gulu and two days later, the 1962 Constitution was suspended. With total powers now up his sleeves following the suspension of the Constitution, Obote on March 2, 1966 abolished the offices of president and vice-president.

Gripped by a dictatorial frenzy, he sealed off Entebbe State House on March 8, 1966 and withdrew all the soldiers and workers. Notably, Mutesa wrote from Makindye State Lodge condemning Obote's actions.

On April 15, Obote was sworn-in as president and a new constitution promulgated, abolishing all Saza chiefs and Kabaka's nominees to the Lukiiko. As he swore-in his Cabinet, Obote said he would not allow the bwana mukubwa and owekitibwa in his new government.

Armed with retaliatory feelings following KY disbandment, the Buganda Lukiiko on May 20, 1966 passed a resolution calling the UPC government to vacate Buganda territory by May 30. And, as a follow up on the ultimatum, Mutesa wrote to the United Nations for intervention. The letter which Mutesa signed giving the UPC government the May 30 ultimatum, reached Obote on May 23, as violence erupted in and around Kampala.

Consequently, an emergency Cabinet meeting convened and a state of emergency was declared in Buganda, with a curfew beginning from 7:00pm to 6:00am. Before noon, the KY leader, Amos Sempa and three other Saza chiefs; Lameka Sebanakita of Kyagwe, Michael Matovu of Buddu and James Lutaya of Ssingo, were detained at Kampala Central Police Station and violence erupted in Kampala.

The Nation of May 24 and 25 reported that Baganda youth had erected road blocks and harassed non-Baganda, especially people from northern Uganda. They also stopped and robbed passengers and shops, as well as destroying property.

Cornered by such lawless developments, Obote, while on Uganda TV and Radio Uganda, issued a statement that branded the Mengo ultimatum an act of treason. The statement in part read: "It will be recalled that Sir Edward Mutesa did commit treason by attempting to negotiate without authority for foreign troops."

Therefore, with treason slapped on Mutesa, the Uganda Army, powered by a Cabinet resolution, stormed Lubiri in the wee hours of May 24, 1966 under the command of Col. Idi Amin. Mutesa was only fortunate to have escaped and fled to Britain through Burundi. He died in 1969 in Britain.


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