Queen Elizabeth’s Controversial Links with Uganda

By Our Special Correspondent

Queen Elizabeth who passed away on September 8th 2022 had interesting ties with Uganda that may take long to be fully compiled, starting the day her father died while she was holidaying in Kenya in 1952. Her first flight ever as Queen was aboard the old East African Airways that evacuated from Nairobi brought her to Entebbe where she could connect to the UK aboard the British carrier to take her throne.

The turning point for the worst in relations between her government and Buganda Kingdom came from the sitting arrangement during her coronation. The Kabaka of Buganda, Sir Edward Mutesa II was placed among paramount chiefs while Queen Slote of the tiny South Pacific island whose population was just 50,000 was seated among sovereign monarchs.

Queen Salote who stood at 6ft-3in became the sensation of the coronation occasion when she refused to have the top of her carriage as she rode through London covered yet it was raining and somehow she did not get wet.

Mutesa was not amused and on returning to Uganda, the Mengo administration demanded that Buganda’s affairs be transferred from the colonial to the foreign/ commonwealth department. Matters of the proposed East African federation before independence of the region became stickier as Mengo opposed it. The climax of the dispute was the deportation of Kabaka Mutesa.

Mengo refused to appoint another Kabaka, waged legal and PR battles until Her Majesty’s government and returned Mutesa to his throne in 1955, to a rousing welcome by his subjects – many of whom had not cut off their beards or worn shoes for the three year duration of his exile.

It was during Mutesa’s exile in the UK that Queen Elizabeth came to Uganda to commission the Owen Falls Dam for generation of electricity. It was possibly the coldest reception she received in her 70 year reign during which she visited over one hundred countries. When she returned to Uganda the third time (counting the 1952 transit) for the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), mention of her previous visit was carefully avoided though it was an economic milestone for the country.

Mutesa’s second exile of 1966 till his demise in 1969 also in the UK further strained relations between the Buganda and British monarchy. Mutesa who was a Lieutenant Colonel in Her Majesty’s Grenadier Guards applied to rejoin his unit, and was expectedly turned down for obvious reasons. He had just been overthrown as head of state and the UK was anxious to maintain good relations with the new commander-in-chief in Kampala.

Her Majesty’s government refused to intercede for Mutesa in his quest to access his substantial wealth in Kampala and he was reduced to near destitution after being denied work. Finally, he succumbed and accepted to receive the dole, a small payout to keep jobless destitutes alive. His son and heir, Prince Ronald Mutebi, was supported by Mutesa’s UK army comrades.

When Queen Elizabeth visited for CHOGM in 2007, (now) Kabaka Ronald Mutebi II, a member of the Anglican Church which was headed by the British monarch, was noticeably very scarce in Uganda. Yet when the Head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis came visiting a decade later, Kabaka Mutebi had a special audience with him.  Nevertheless, Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga issued a politely worded condolence message upon the Queen’s demise.

A big sticking point between Her Majesty’s government in Uganda was some 50,000 Indians (out of 80,000) who were in Uganda but had not taken up Ugandan citizenship. Obote’s government was working hard to deport them, accusing them of exploitation and capital flight. When Amin took power, he implemented what Obote had been fidgeting with, giving them 90 days to quit in August – November 1972.

The matter of the Uganda Indians will take a long time to be settled. It is believed that UK and Uganda compensated them, in the late eighties and early nineties they were invited to return and claim their properties. The Indian property battles still rage.

Ugandan scholars led by acclaimed archeologist Professor Lwanga Lunyiigo have started changing the narrative of the Uganda Indian expulsion whose golden jubilee commemorations had started gathering at the time of the Queen’s death. President Museveni had been scheduled to attend one of those in London in a week’s time when the Queen died, and it was cancelled.

At Makerere University which is marking its centenary, there have been epic clashes between renowned Professor Mahmood Mamdani and Prof Lunyiigo. The latter has opened the public’s eyes to the facts of the massive capital flight that  the Indians perpetrated all the decades they were in charge of Uganda’s economy, in his new book – Uganda An Indian Colony 1897-1972, by giving statistics proving the ‘plunder’.

In a Makerere bout with Mamdani, Lunyigo appealed to the Indians that during the ongoing golden jubilee events where they are being praised for ‘miraculously’ succeeding in business after arriving penniless in 1972, they should remember to thank Idi Amin for helping them reunite with the hundreds of millions of pounds they had stashed there from Uganda, and which, according to Lunyiigo, they invested and made the economic miracle in their new countries.

All controversies aside, Ugandans have been openly full of admiration for Queen Elizabeth II over the years, because of her dignified way of conducting herself. In any case, her government gave lavish gifts to Uganda at independence, including a modern teaching hospital and todate, UK remains one of Uganda’s biggest donors. Ugandans are genuinely grieved at the death of Queen Elizabeth II and pray for Her Soul’s Peaceful Eternal Rest.

Renowned Makerere University Prof Mahmood Mamdani doesn’t agree with his colleague Prof.S. Lwanga Lunyiigo on the Indian question in Uganda

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