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Memories of an eyewitness at Kololo on Uganda's Independence Day 1962 - By Dr. Bbuye Lya Mukanga

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Memories of an eyewitness at Kololo on Ugandas Independence Day 1962 - By Dr. Bbuye Lya Mukanga

My recollection of Uganda’s Independence Day isshrouded in memories, fuzzy as they are, of some of the events and people leading up to the day. My paternal grandmother, Ludiya Nabizizi, was the sister of Semei Lwakilenzi Kakungulu. She was also the Princess Royal (Nalinya) to Kakungulu during the era of a pipedream of the British promise to make Kakungulu King of Bukedi. 


Blood being thicker than water, my grandfather, Isaya Balironda Musoke, who was the husband of Kakungulu’s Nalinya, was a senior officer in Kakungulu’s “Kingdom”. As a result, my father partly grew up and spent a lot of his youth in Eastern Uganda. Some of his best friends were from those times and places of his early years. They included people like Balaki Kirya, James Wakholi, Watuwa, David Nabeta, Cuthbert Obwangor and Joshua Muwonge Kirya (who also married my aunt.) 


In a rather strange twist to things, my father was also good friends with a man from Bwamba named K. M. Ngirisi (MP, Toro North West), as well as Gasper Oda (MP, West Nile and Madi West.) These and others were all people that represented their areas in the negotiations for the granting of Independence to Uganda. 


Thus, during the intense period of the “London Conferences” on Uganda’s Independence, these and others of my father’s non-Baganda friends used to come and stay at our house while going to and from the airport, and also when they came to visit the Governor at Government House in Entebbe. 


As a 10-12 years old lad, I quietly listened to the conversations of these ‘old men’ as they set out to define their ideas of the future Uganda and that of their respective communities within the future Uganda. In retrospect, I think that from an early age my perspective of Uganda was shaped more by the conversations of this cosmopolitan group of my parents’ friends than by the more parochial, “Kabaka waffe” rhetoric of my parents’ Baganda friends and my maternal uncles who were some of the best friends of the Kabaka. 


My parents were also good friends with the colonial Minister of Local Government, Mr. Lack Boyd and his wife Betty. However, I never heard any conversation of a political nature between them. Hence, I had no idea what the British thought of giving up their privileged position as rulers of Uganda. While not Independence fighters in the conventional sense of the expression, my parents strongly believed that Uganda should be free from colonial rule. As Independence Day approached, I was completely infected with their joyful enthusiasm. 


Around January 1962, I had suffered from an attack of cerebral malaria that had almost killed me and led me to miss one year of school. Being out of school at Independence meant that I did not participate in the various parades and other activities that schools put on to celebrate the occasion. And I was not among the parties of school boys and girls that went to the airport and/or lined the road from the airport to welcome the Duke and Duchess of Kent. 


At Independence, all of my older my brothers and my sister were away in boarding school. On Independence Eve, my father told me that he had managed to get tickets for himself, my mother and myself to attend the ceremonies. My father told me that he wanted to take me to the ceremonies as a representative of my siblings. I paraphrase his words: “The future is about you! It is you who has gained freedom. I want you to be a witness to this historic occasion.” 


And, so, as a 12 -years old boy, I was at Kololo Airstrip when at the stroke of midnight on 9 October 1962, the British Flag came down and was replaced by the Black, Yellow, Red and Crested Crane of the new nation. That is my most vivid memory of the night. The next vivid memory I have is how happy people were – Europeans, Asians, people from all corners of Uganda. Even the Duke and Duchess of Kent appeared to be so happy, even though they were leading an abdication of power by the British government.


I do not know what time we arrived back home in Entebbe. However, early that morning before I had had a good sleep, my father woke me up to go to Kololo again to witness the handing over of the “Instruments of Independence” by the Duke of Kent to the Prime Minister. I know it was a Tuesday, and one of my best memories of driving to Kampala is how bright and sunny the day was. All houses and shops were decorated in Uganda colours. People lined the roads, greeted each other and cheerfully waved at passing vehicles. 


Soon after my parents and I arrived at Kololo Airstrip, we run into one of my older brothers. He was member of the First Mengo Troop of Boy Scouts at King’s College Budo. The Boy Scouts and Girl Guides of Uganda had been assigned special responsibilities at the ceremonies, such as directing guests to their assigned places. When we met my brother, he was shining the Kampala Mayor’s car. The Mayor, Mr. Serwano Kulubya, was standing by. In my estimation he was admiring the Boy Scout shining his car more than he was admiring the car. Later, my brother told me that Mr. Kulubya gave him a bob (one shilling) for his efforts.


 I think my parents and I returned home around lunch time. I remember my mother saying that she should have cooked a big meal and invited people for lunch. My father told her that she would not have had the time and, anyway, people were too busy celebrating Independence to waste their time on my mother’s matooke! 


That having been said, the whole family, including my younger siblings and the aunt who was looking after them, walked to Lake Victoria Hotel and had our lunch there. This was the first time that I had a meal at Lake Victoria Hotel. Before that I had had the impression that only Bazungu were supposed to eat there. 

We spent the rest of the day just walking around Entebbe, greeting people on the streets and also going to some homes of friends. People greeted each other with the words: Mukama y’ebale okututuusa ku lunaku olw’edembe. (“Thank the Lord for leading us to this day of freedom.”)




“Independence” was, it seemed to me, a strange concept. The concept that people seemed to value was “freedom”. Looking back, I can see why my father spoke to me of “freedom” on 9 October 1962, and why people congratulated each other on achieving “freedom”. Independence was supposed to be only a tool for achieving freedom. The goal was freedom, not Independence. Did Uganda obtain the tool, and yet missed the goal?


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