Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Monarch Profile: King Mutesa II of Buganda

The man known affectionately as “King Freddie” was born Edward Frederick William David Walugembe Mutebi Luwangula Mutesa II on November 19, 1924 at the home of Sir Albert Cook in Makindye, Kampala in the British protectorate of Uganda, part of what was then generally known as British East Africa. He was the fifth son of Sir Daudi Chwa II, KCMG, KBE, Kabaka or King of Buganda, the largest of the kingdoms in Uganda. His mother was Lady Irene Drusilla Namaganda of the Nte clan. His grandfather had been deposed by the British and his father had inherited the throne when he was only one year old. Mutesa II, like his father, attended the highly regarded King’s College Budo as a boy and had a traditional as well as modern education. He was only fifteen when his father died and he inherited the throne of the Kingdom of Buganda on November 22, 1939. His reign as Kabaka was formally proclaimed at Mengo Palace just outside the Ugandan capital of Kampala. Due to his age he originally reigned in cooperation with a regency council.

On his eighteenth birthday in 1942 he was formally inaugurated as the thirty-fifth king of Buganda with full royal powers (such as they were) at Buddo Hill after which he went to England to finish his education at Magdalene College in Cambridge. While there he joined the University Officer Training Corps and was later given a commission as a captain in the elite Grenadier Guards. In the later half of the 1940’s Uganda went through a period of upheaval as the people protested against the idea of creating a federation of the three countries of British East Africa. Africans feared this would endanger the rights they enjoyed by coming under the rule of the predominately European government of Kenya, effectively making the federation an East African version of Rhodesia. Protests were mounted against the Royal Governor of Uganda, the local government and even the king as tribes which had been granted autonomy by the British felt this would be threatened by federation.

Despite being the target of some of these protests, King Mutesa II actually agreed with them and opposed the idea of a federation. Against the wishes of Sir Andrew Cohen, the British Governor of Uganda, King Mutesa II called for the secession of Buganda from the rest of the country if the federation idea went forward. Ironically enough, most of the people in Buganda felt safer being under the direction of the Foreign Office in London rather than the Kenyan government in Nairobi. Feeling they had no other option the traditional parliament formally called for independence from the rest of Uganda in 1953 with the full support of King Mutesa II. Sir Andrew Cohen responded by using his own forces to have the King deposed and swiftly removed from the country, sending him into exile in London, accusing him of being an obstacle to the plan for transition from a British protectorate to full independence.

This was not true of course, the King was not against independence, but was against the proposed federation. Cohen, a Jew who was certainly opposed to racism, had done a similar job with the creation of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. His idea was that the version of “White” rule practiced in places like Rhodesia and Kenya was preferable to that of South Africa and he was trying to unite as many British African countries as possible against that method. However, removing the King was exactly the wrong thing to do as he was faced with the immediate opposition and even hostility of the entire population who demanded that “King Freddie” be given back to them. With no one even willing to work with him, Governor Cohen at last had to agree and negotiated the return of the King to Kampala on October 17, 1955 in a new constitutional monarchy for Buganda with an elected parliament but remaining within the country of Uganda.

In 1962 Uganda became fully independent from Great Britain and King Mutesa II played a key role in this as the leader of the largest semi-autonomous state within the federation of Uganda. The leading political figure was the radical nationalist Milton Obote of the Uganda People’s Congress. He formed a government in coalition with the Buganda monarchist party Kabaka Yekka (“The King Only”) and became the first prime minister. King Mutesa II was accorded the honor of being the first President of Uganda. The country was republican on the larger federal level but retained traditional tribal monarchies on the sub-national level. As king of the largest sub-national group it was only natural that “King Freddie” become the first Ugandan president. It was though a largely ceremonial position and political power was quickly concentrated in the hands of Prime Minister Obote. Nonetheless, the presidency of King Mutesa II was the most happy and peaceful period Uganda has known since independence. Yet, it was all too short as trouble began bubbling up quickly.

The coalition of the Uganda People’s Congress and the Kabaka Yekka soon began to come apart. The UPC accused the monarchist party of favoring only the interests of their own tribal nation and of stocking the government with their own people. There was some truth in this but it was only because Kampala was located in their territory and, as a result, more of their people were educated and qualified for government service. The real reason, of course, was that Milton Obote was envious of the position of the King and wanted the presidency for himself. As the parties grew apart so did the King-President and his Prime Minister who were frequently at odds. The coalition ended in 1964 and things quickly spiraled out of control. Obote was challenged in his own party and after brutally suppressing his opposition suspended the constitution and declared himself President of Uganda in February of 1966.

King Mutesa II stated, quite correctly, that this violated the agreement by which Buganda had remained a part of Uganda and thus, as King, reasserted the independence of his kingdom and ordered Obote to leave his capital city. Knowing this would probably be easier said than done he also appealed to the United Nations to intervene, but of course, there was no time for that. In one of the great acts of republican betrayal on the African continent, Obote rallied his military supporters and launched an armed coup against the President of Uganda, “King Freddie”. Declaring him a traitor, Obote sent an armed column led by his right-hand-man General Idi Amin to besiege Mengo Palace. Loyal monarchists rushed to the defense of their king and did their best to sabotage the advance of the army but it was to no avail. They killed hundreds of people storming the palace and King Mutesa II and a few surviving royal guards only barely managed to escape and flee into Burundi.

Major General Sir Edward Frederick William David Walugembe Mutebi Luwangula Mutesa II, KBE, as he was formally known in England, was granted asylum in the United Kingdom and spent the rest of his life in exile there. Obote enacted a new constitution in 1967 that abolished the traditional monarchies and he set up a brutal, leftist dictatorship. The King wrote his autobiography and on November 21, 1969 died under mysterious circumstances. The official cause of death was given as suicide by alcohol poisoning though this remains highly questionable and many believe the King was assassinated by agents of Obote. Without his leadership, Uganda went downhill rapidly. Obote was eventually overthrown by a military coup led by Idi Amin who became dictator of Uganda. In 1971 he arranged for the body of King Mutesa II to be returned home and gave him a full state funeral. As we know, he went on to kill hundreds of thousands of Ugandans before being overthrown himself by Obote who was overthrown again by another military coup in due course. It was after that time, in 1988 that Ronald Mutebi II, the son of Mutesa II, returned to Uganda and was proclaimed Kabaka of Buganda in the traditional way in 1993 following the restoration of the sub-national monarchies.


  1. Non-Islamic African monarchies are often forgotten, but I'm glad you remember them.
    As someone who has lived in Kenya, Uganda's neighbor, I do find that the political systems of that region are beyond redemption. No amount of talk or even action against corruption or abuse of powers will deter the political class. The truth is that the countries functioned much better while colonized, if at the cost of the people's independence. At least the roads were maintained.
    However, such countries rely immensely on the support of Western democracies for medical care, infrastructure, and education (even if much of it goes into the pockets of politicians).
    It's a shame there's never been a King of Kenya.

  2. If independence had to come I think it should have come much later than it did. The countries were cobbled together and not prepared to be the sort of "modern" nations they were trying to be and it was at a time when radical, revolutionary politics were being pushed on less developed peoples all over the world. Also, the foreign aid you mention really does little good in the long run. Many African governments have come to expect it and neglect their own people while living off of 'guilt money' from First World nations. It's very sad.

  3. I've always thought they should do away with all the borders drawn by our well-meaning forbears, and duke it out to fashion real nations.
    The violence would be cataclysmic, however, and it would be too tempting for others to get involved.

  4. Thanks for sharing this about interior Africa Kingdoms many of which later became republics. Three names Rhodes, Cohen and Lugard seem to have played bigger roles to break the African indigenous institutions in place. These they replaced with 'White' Imperialistic institutions. Trust me, at that time armed with maxim guns, better medicines, roads and built environment that was motivation to break the hardest African.

  5. My mother, now 85, remembers the death of Mutesa. Apparently he was given a bottle of whiskey for his birthday and died the next day.


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