Friday, August 31, 2007


Lubiri attack: Kabaka had guns; wanted to overthrow Obote
With President Museveni not about to step down, and his predecessors Milton Obote and Idi Amin dying in exile in recent years, Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa is an endangered specie as he remains Uganda's only surviving former head of state.
Binaisa, 87, was a key actor in events - some quite controversial - that have shaped Uganda's history, even before he became president in 1979. MICHAEL MUBANGIZI and HASSAN BADRU ZZIWA spent some time with the octogenarian and recorded his untold story. Below is the second of a five-part series:

Binaisa in a pensive mood

After prison, I went back to my office in the law firm and started working. I also continued in the Uganda National Congress (UNC) where I was a member of the NCC Executive Committee headed by Ignatius Musaazi and Dr. Kununka from Hoima, Bananuka from Mbarara, and others. My work involved giving advice on all sorts of things, planning and it was tough.

I met Apollo Milton Obote in UNC when he came back from Nairobi to see our leader from Lango, Yekosofati Engur. The latter had been detained in Luzira Prison for three years. That is when Obote joined us. He later became leader of the group from Lango [and later led UPC]. We agreed with his leadership qualities. He was active as a leader and we were all active because we were all young. We had no difficulties of going on. We did not have this idea of tribalism, sectarianism, religion; they all did not bother us. You see, we were reading newspapers from Nigeria, Liberia and America. We were also reading about Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana - Gold Coast - as it was called then.

Godfrey Binaisa dancing with Tomoko Yamamoto on their wedding day
I was in the UNC when it spilt [into Obote and Musaazi factions]. I did not go with Musaazi because he was too lazy; he wasn’t working so hard. So I went with Obote’s group [with the likes of John Kakonge].
Obote was more alert, more aware of our problems in terms of organisation, because the national struggle had reached a point of no return. We were to work everyday; sometimes we would spend the whole night planning.

1961 elections
In 1961, there were general elections. The Governor said, “You should all go to elections,” but the Buganda Lukiiko said, “No, we are not going.” I wanted to participate, I was ready to contest but my area Buganda refused to participate. As a result, only 3% of the population registered [for the elections] in Buganda.

That was a very small number. How could I have contested, well knowing that only 3% had registered?
Consequently, the election was a fuss in Buganda. Some people went to Parliament with only 50, 80 votes in a constituency! It was only brave Baganda, like [former Prime Minister and DP founder] Benedicto Kiwanuka, who refused to listen to Lukiiko.

But the rest of the country voted.
Although Baganda boycotted, theoretically we participated. [For instance], I did not stand but I still campaigned for Grace Ibingira in Kajara (Ankole), and he won. We had made up our mind that although we are not participating, we were going with the rest of the country.
[Asked if that was not being disloyal to the Kabaka and Lukiiko] - That is nonsense!

These people, particularly Catholics, were brainwashed by Church leaders, making them believe only in themselves. Until the father or priest says, “do this”; they wouldn’t do a thing. Okimanyi - you know that!
The Baganda, as you know; they also wait for the Kabaka, sometimes the Kabaka doesn’t say anything, so they won’t do anything.

Horrible Lukiiko
I think Buganda’s stand was horrible because when you look at Uganda as a whole, these are the people - Kabaka Mutesa I in particular - who brought Mzungu here.

Yayagala ageziwale, n’abantu be babe bagezi -He wanted to get knowledge for himself and his people. That is why he told Henry Morton Stanley: “You write to your people, bampereze abasomi (to send me learned people).

And now these people who invited the Mzungu chose not to participate! Some of us were horrified; we did not like the idea.
If you are the one who brought Mzungu, what business have you got to say now at the last stage of the struggle, you are out of it?
They should have remained with other Ugandans and agreed to be subjected to elections. Of course that was a setback to the independence struggle.

First of all, these were the first people to be enlightened in modern ways of doing things, not only in business but everything, but then they chose to pull out at the last stage of the journey. It was terrible!
They [Buganda Lukiiko] had persuaded the Governor who allowed them to send members indirectly without elections.
The major argument was that if the position of the Kabaka is not clarified, then there should be no independence. I don’t know how they wanted it clarified but that was stupidity. Like what they are doing now; going back to President Museveni [for federo], what are they going to get?

After the elections, there was a whole year up to independence. It was DP in power, with Benedicto Kiwanuka as the first Prime Minister.
I did not serve in Kiwanuka’s reign, neither was I in Parliament. I was in my law firm.

Unholy alliance
[Ahead of the 1962 elections, UPC formed an alliance with the Buganda-leaning Kabaka Yekka party]. The UPC-KY alliance was a kind of adventurism on the part of Obote because he wanted to secure a majority. All these people wanted to get in [power]. How could he get a majority without Buganda who the Governor had permitted to send 21 members of the Legislative Council through the Lukiiko [without being subjected to indirect elections]?

The Central Executive of the party (UPC) agreed to go with Kabaka Yekka to help Obote form a government and throw out Kiwanuka who was regarded as being disobedient to the Kabaka. Remember he had gone into the elections contrary to the advice of Mengo; [thus as a Muganda] he disobeyed his parliament in Mengo.

It was a very unholy alliance, like the one you read about [in history of] Queen Maria Tereza of Austria which she made with Fredrick of Prussia. It wasn’t a genuine kind of relationship.

1962 elections
UPC won the April 1962 elections and formed government, with Obote becoming Prime Minister and Kabaka Edward Mutesa executive president, while DP led by Ben Kiwanuka formed the opposition.
I think UPC had 37 seats in the house of 80 and DP had 24 seats [and Buganda sent 21 indirectly elected members].

[Asked to comment on critics who describe the transition from Kiwanuka to Obote as an anti-Catholic stance] -No, not really, part of it yes, part of it was because many Catholics did not listen to Mengo - Lukiiko - and went to elections and voted Kiwanuka.

Mengo wasn’t against Catholics; it was against the whole system because they did not want Baganda to go to elections. They wanted Kabaka first of all to be declared president, or something…
It was around that time that I became QC –Queen’s Counsel - in1962.
I am the only Ugandan with that title but it doesn’t mean a thing. There are no monetary gains [per se] but a Queen’s Counsel is given more money than other lawyers when they work, because you are a senior person. If they are giving other lawyers say 100 pounds, they may give you 500 or 1,000 because you are a QC.
So I have been getting that money, but it’s little because I am operating in a poor country.

Queen’s Counsel in Britain just means a senior lawyer and many High Court judges in Britain are QCs.
In Britain, QCs can’t go to court alone; they need what they call learned juniors, junior counsels, to handle their books and open them when they are talking. You don’t take any examination to become QC. You need to have practised as a qualified barrister. You also have to be recommended by the Lord Chancellor to the Queen to be appointed.
But because Britain no longer has powers over us, we can’t have new QCs. The Queen is no longer head of our state; she is head of the Commonwealth.

It was also around that time, after the elections, that I joined Cabinet - when Prime Minister Obote formed government and appointed me Attorney General in 1962. I was the only senior lawyer among them.

1966 crisis
I was Attorney General during the 1966 crisis. There was fighting at the Lubiri Palace and the Kabaka Mutesa who had been president of the country ran to Europe.

It all started when Obote sent his police to find out about weapons that had been brought by the Kabaka into the palace. The Kabaka had his own personal guns but these were guns for fighting; he wanted to throw out Obote. He wanted to become the real president because he was almost ceremonial. That is when Obote realised that he wanted to take his seat.

The fighting started in the morning, around 8a.m.; the Kabaka started shooting because he had a very big maxim gun. The fighting went on up to around midday.

[Asked about allegations that as Attorney General he is the one who advised Obote to storm the Lubiri] – But I wasn’t the army commander! Being Attorney General doesn’t make you commander of the army. I wasn’t commanding the troops and he [Obote] did not consult me.

You see, political consultations are different from army orders. What legal advice would I give on that sort of thing when people were fighting for power?
Anyway, after the fighting, Kabaka Mutesa went to England where he died [in 1969]. But the Baganda had to cool down as long as they knew their king was still alive. I think they were mainly concerned with their king being killed [during the attack] on the Lubiri but he wasn’t.

[Asked about the significance of the attack on the Lubiri] - But since I didn’t participate in it how, do you ask me? What do you want me to say? The thing is, as somebody wrote, “Power corrupts but absolute power corrupts absolutely”; these two were fighting over who should be the top man!

I don’t think this event would have been avoided. Both men were very ambitious, even the Kabaka was. The two couldn’t sleep in the same bed. It had to happen as long as both had ideas about power, about becoming top man.
Obote accepted to have a ceremonial king, who had no political power, and Mutesa accepted it.
It was a great risk [for the king to turn around and pursue power] but he took it.

My post as Attorney General was very difficult. I was head of the bar and I was a Muganda. We passed difficult things but I just hardened and we passed them. So, I think it was June 1967, that I resigned.
I wrote to him [Obote] a resignation letter but he did not accept it. He never answered back. Until now he has never accepted it.
I had had enough and was tired. Tired of the whole thing, too many intrigues, distortions, lies…

They were pioneered by everybody - government, Mutesa, parliament, they were all attacking me all the time because they wanted power. They all wanted the Attorney General to agree and endorse whatever they were saying, and once you say no, that is too bad.

In many cases I would just refuse. You see, Obote wasn’t a lawyer, neither was the Kabaka. But they wanted power, power. But I also did not like his [Obote’s] detention powers without trial, and I told him.
I did not like detention at all because like I told you, I had myself been detained without trial. How could I support an idea that had hurt me?
But that [displeasure with Obote’s detention without trial powers] wasn’t the major reason behind my resignation. The real thing is that I was tired. I had done five years of a very difficult job. There were problems of a growing, young country. I don’t remember who replaced me but after that, I went back to the law firm.

1967 constitution
About allegations that I made the constitution, we had a complete hiatus when Kabaka, the head of state, had run; what should we have done? Our head of state disappeared from the country and went to England. But these Baganda saying Binaisa, Binaisa [wrote the constitution] think that me as a trained lawyer, I would allow the country to run on its own?

The constitution had to change; we had to get a new head of state because there was no one to sign laws. A gap had to be filled up. I wrote it with my colleagues in the law department but writing of words is not the most important thing; the important thing is the deliberations before it was passed.

We took a draft in parliament that deliberated on it clause by clause, and passed it. People who call it ‘pigeon hole’ Constitution [because MPs were asked to find drafts in their pigeon holes] –ebyobyakujerega – that is meant for ridicule!

[Asked about allegations that he advised Obote to ban political parties]-I did not do that. I don’t remember, but he never approached me on that. I did not like his idea of banning political parties but what could I do except what I did - to resign?

Only in The Weekly Observer next week, Binaisa talks about the 1971 coup, his life in exile, his work with Dr. Andrew Lutakoome Kayiira’s Uganda Freedom Movement, how he was chased away from the Moshi Conference, and the election of Prof. Yusuf Lule as president.

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