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The Heckmans served Uganda generously

By Vision Reporter

Added 29th June 2012 12:50 PM

To mark 50 years of Uganda’s independence, New Vision will until October 9, 2012 be publishing highlights of events and profiling personalities that have shaped the history of this country.

The Heckmans served Uganda generously

To mark 50 years of Uganda’s independence, New Vision will until October 9, 2012 be publishing highlights of events and profiling personalities that have shaped the history of this country.


To mark 50 years of Uganda’s independence, New Vision will until October 9, 2012 be publishing highlights of events and profiling personalities that have shaped the history of this country.

Today, we brings you the story of Joyce Heckman, the private secretary to two time head of state Milton Obote and whose husband on numerous occasions was the financial advisor to the government of Uganda

She came to Uganda in the early 1960s with her husband Maxwell, who had been appointed by the Commonwealth Office as the civil secretary to the Ugandan government, later becoming chief accountant to the Uganda customs and immigration police.

Joyce began working as a secretary for the Uganda government and subsequently became chief secretary and later personal assistant to Milton Obote, the political leader, who led Uganda to independence from the British in 1962.

Those who knew Heckman were pleased with her work. “Heckman was a very hardworking woman and as a personal secretary to the President, she used to work very long hours with the President ensuring he went through his day’s work without any hitches.

She was also very enthusiastic and interested in whatever she did, which made her perform exceptionally well at her tasks and earning the favour of President
Obote,” said Henry Kyemba, who served as the Obote’s principle private secretary.

Kyemba added that Obote was always talking about her exceptional performance and was never reserved or apprehensive when it came to praising her for her work. The Heckmans lived in Kampala for many years and Joyce travelled extensively with Obote, attending several Commonwealth Heads of State meetings and UN conferences.

When Pope Paul VI visited Uganda in 1969, Joyce Heckman was given a papal silver medal to mark the occasion. In 1970 she was appointed Member of the British Empire for services to Uganda on behalf of the
Commonwealth.

She continued to work with Obote until the day he was overthrown in a military coup by Idi Amin. At fi rst, despite Amin’s bloodthirsty reputation, the British were delighted to see the back of Obote, who had embarked on a policy of nationalisation and had threatened to withdraw from the Commonwealth if Britain went ahead with plans to resume arms exports to apartheid South
Africa. (Britain was one of the first countries to recognise the new regime).

But as Amin began to show his true colours, it became clear that Uganda had exchanged one authoritarian government for a much worse one. Although
diplomatic relations were only eventually broken (by Amin himself) in 1972 after the expulsion of the Asians, life for British expats became more and more uncomfortable.

Following the coup, the Heckmans were unable to leave immediately and were subsequently forced to work for the Ugandan dictator against their will. Despite Joyce’s association with Obote, it seems that Idi Amin liked having a British
woman at his beck and call.

He called her “Joycey” (which she hated), although there was an undercurrent of menace beneath the jocularity. Amin had placed a price on the Heckmans’ heads should they try to escape. Towards the end of 1971, Joyce entered into secret negotiations with staff at the British High Commission and one night the Heckmans were told to gather together their personal belongings and wait for a knock on the door.

When it came they were bundled into a Land Rover and told to keep their heads down as they and other British expats were whisked away by the Special Air Service in a convoy of Land Rovers. They travelled more than 500 miles over dirt tracks to Nairobi and to freedom.

When Amin was overthrown in 1979 and Obote returned to power in 1980, Joyce Heckman returned to Uganda to work in the President’s offi ce, while her husband was appointed, under the aegis of the Foreign and Commonwealth Offi ce, as fi nancial adviser to the Uganda government.

When Obote was deposed for a second time in 1985 and, after a period of chaos, replaced by Yoweri Museveni, the Heckmans were again given only a few hours
to leave the country. This time they travelled in considerably more comfort.

Joyce Margaret Wakeham was born in Liverpool on February 20, 1927. After leaving school she trained as a secretary and worked for Philips Electrical. In 1947 she married Maxwell Heckman, then working as an accountant with British Road Services.

After fi nally returning from Uganda, Joyce worked at Liverpool University as secretary to Dr. Peter Spencer. She remained in regular contact with Obote’s, widow Miria until shortly before her death, last week.

Joyce Heckman’s husband predeceased her. Their son and daughter survive her.

Adapted from The Telegraph

The Heckmans served Uganda generously

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