UAH is secular, intellectual and non-aligned politically, culturally or religiously email discussion group.

{UAH} MAYANJA NKANGI The Last Interview

The Last Interview

He is unquestionably a legend. In the '50s Jehoash Mayanja Nkangi was the first Ugandan to study at Britains reputable Oxford University. He became Buganda's youngest Katikiro and held different portfolios in various governments as well as the current NRM government. Mr. Nkangi is like a walking history book. When Eyecon reporters visited him not long ago, he shared his legendary life story with us.

Chairman, there is a generation which does who Mayanja Nkangi is. Perhaps you can talk us through your life story. When did you join politics?

Before I answer your questions, I want to know whether your readers are interested in my life and the future of Africa.
I don't want to be irrelevant.

That's why we are here Chairman.
If you say so. To answer your question, I joined politics in 1948.

Who inspired you?

Mr. Apollo Kironde, a historian and a teacher at Kings College Buddo taught us about the 1900 Buganda Agreement. I realized that it was inequitable to be ruled by European immigrants. That's when I joined politics, and that is how the anti-colonialism movement started in Uganda.

Did you know Dr. Obote at the time?

At that time, no. He was ahead of me. When he was at Makerere, I was still at Kings College Buddo. I joined Makerere in 1950.

What major did you choose Makerere?

I studied Mathematics and Applied Economics.

In November 1953, Sir Andrew Cohen exiled Kabaka Mutesa. What exactly caused the expulsion and how was the status quo in Buganda at the time?

It was horrifying. Cohen, a foreigner, exiling our Kabaka? Many called it a coup d'etat.
It all started when the Secretary of State for the Colonies floated a new idea of a Federation for East Africa in a speech he delivered in June 1953. His speech received strong protests from Buganda, and this was when the spirit of rebellion started to grow against the British rule.

It was around the time Ignatius Musaazi had started the Uganda National Congress.
We passed a resolution of disapproval and drafted a memorandum suggesting what should be done.
Who were you colluding with?

During my stay at Makerere's Northcote Hall, Abu Mayanja was my close friend. Together with four of our Northcote peers, we drafted a memorandum asking Buganda to be granted be a constitutional monarch because Buganda was an independent state well before the Europeans arrived. Businesspersons in Katwe rallied behind us, and as a result, Sir Keith Hancock, an Australian professor working on Her Majesty's instructions was sent to study the situation on the ground.

This is how the 1955 agreement came about which saw the return of the Kabaka and on October 8th, 1962, Buganda got her autonomy. Other kingdoms like Ankole, Busoga, Bunyoro and the Kingdom of Toro were all semi-autonomous.

How did you end up in Britain?

I joined Oxford University on a government scholarship in 1954 to study Economics, Taxation and Public Banking. After completion in 1957, I realized that I did not want to work in the public service. So, I told the lecturer who was looking after scholarship holders to get me another scholarship so that I could study law.
In his letter to the government of Uganda, he wrote 'this young man has scathing intelligence, give him another three years' I was flattered.

But the Brits were not keen on the idea because in 1957
Ghana became independent, and it was the lawyers who spearheaded her independence.
So, the Brits were not ardent on law scholars. Nevertheless, I was given another three-year scholarship to study law at Lincoln's Inn of Court in London, but I did it in one year because I was sick of the place.

Where you one of the first Ugandans to study at Oxford?

As we speak today, getting into Oxford is not easy for African students. I am sure it was even harder 60 years ago. Don't you consider yourself lucky?
I give glory to God. You see, even at that time it would take much for an Englishman to get into Oxford University, but I got in there easily.

Did the Oxford white boys bully you?
Nope. They were very friendly. They used to invite me to their homes for dinner. I remember one incident, however, when a fellow student asked me if I would consider marrying an English girl. I gave him a look, the young man later apologized.

Were you offended?

I didn't like it. Asking a Muganda to marry an English girl was an insult!

Observably, there were no Baganda girls at Oxford. Are you implying that you never dated during the years you spent at this establishment?

Dating is just playing about, but I can never …(long pause) let me tell you why! I think there is a reason why God created me as an African. Am not implying that He did not create them, but I am saying He created varieties for good reasons and we should persist. (Laughter)

When did you return to Uganda?

What job did you do on your return?

I tried to open up a law firm, but the regulations at the time were that one could not come out of university and open a law firm unless they have been at a senior lawyer's firm for at least six months. So, I joined Benedicto Kiwanuka and Lawrence Ssebalu Advocates. These were DP diehards.

Did you find the situation any better than the way you
left it?

Uganda was hot politically with many political parties emerging. Three months after my return, I started my own which I called the Uganda National Party (UNP.)
During that time, there was a boycott by traders buying Asian goods. They used to chuck them in the streets. Many were arrested, and I successfully defended them.

Were you in touch with other Pan Africans lik; Mugabe, Kenyatta and Nyerere?

I was not. My main interest as a Ugandan was to force the British out. The UNP slogan was, "Let us make our own mistakes." And that chance came on October 9, 1962.

How did you become a minister?
After independence, I was among the 21 members nominated by Mr. William Kalema to represent Kabaka Yekka to the National Assembly (NA).
At the NA, I was appointed the parliamentary secretary in the ministry of public affairs and then a minister without portfolio. In 1963, I was appointed the minister of commerce.

And how did you become the Katikiro?

At 33 years old, it was very easy, let me tell you how.
There was a referendum, which saw Buganda lose the counties of Buyaga and Bugangaizi.
After the defeat, Buganda Katikiro Michael Kintu was dropped. God has always been there for me. After the referendum, Kabaka Yekka and the UPC alliance collapsed. UPC and the party I was chairing (UNP) were big rivals but surprisingly, Obote campaigned for me because he thought it would be easier to deal with a 33-year-old Katikiro than the much-revered Masembe Kabali and Eldard Mulira who were the two main front-runners for the Katikiroship.

Did you discuss your intentions of working for Mengo with the Kabaka Mutesa?

On a Sunday, someone rang to say that the Baganda wanted me to become the Katikiro. I asked him why me when there are many bigger shots?

The following Monday an old man called Ali Kasirye, came to my chambers, stood in the doorway and said: "Mayanja, I am told you are chickening out to become our Katikiro." I told Ali that I am not chickening out, but I am not campaigning either. 'If you can run the campaign for me, I am up for it.' He volunteered to start my campaigns.
However, I understand when Katikiro Michael Kintu was about to relieved from his duties, the Kabaka asked him if he could recommend anybody for the post. Kintu forwarded my name as his choice but also wondered if I will be accepted because I was only 33 and not married.
When the Kabaka heard this, he shrugged it off by saying "when I became the Kabaka I was not married either!"

At that time were you close to the Kabaka?

I would say no, I'll tell you why! In 1938 when I was a small boy, much smaller than I am nowadays, the Kabaka came to my village, and I stretched my arms thinking that he may touch me. He did not. Later, I learned that the Kabaka does not shake hands.

The second time I got close to meeting him was in 1954 while I was studying at Oxford and he was in exile. He had come to the Universty to visit Ernest Ssempembwa who was teaching Luganda at the institution.

When did the problems start with Obote yet he campaigned for you?
It all started in 1966 when Daudi Ochieng, (a member of Kabaka Yekka) came to Butikkilo and reported that Idi Amin and Obote had a lot of money on their bank accounts. We all wondered where they got the funds from. The motion was tabled to investigate them on Friday, but the following Monday Obote altered the constitution and made himself the president.

The Lukiiko passed a resolution that Obote's actions were illegal and ordered him to remove his government from Buganda soil. On hearing this, Obote invited me to his office, but I declined, and I informed the Kabaka about it.
Had I had honoured the invitation; the Baganda would have called me a traitor.

Where was Kabaka at that time?
He was a prisoner in his palace. He had been ousted.

Are you saying that Obote outsmarted the elite Baganda?
Yes, he did. You see, Baganda don't tell lies. When I say, you are a fool you are a fool. Obote, however, played amoebic politics.

In 1962 Obote asked Grace Ibingira, Abu Mayanja, and Balaki Kirya to help him convince the Kabaka to be part of his government. You know what he said after changing the constitution? 'I planned to destroy Muteesa for four years and when I saw him taking an oath in 1962; I knew I had got him.'

You had a learned team you were working with and yourself as an Oxonian, didn't you see this coming?

You know! What you fear you hate and what you hate you want to destroy. Obote feared Buganda. He wondered why the Kabaka and his Katikiro were cheered everywhere, yet he didn't get anything of the sort. Let me give you an example.
One afternoon I went to a packed Nakivubo Stadium, where Obote was presiding over a football match between the Ugandan Cranes and an Egyptian national team.

I arrived slightly late at the time when Obote was inspecting the teams. When people saw my vehicle, bearing the Buganda flag, they gave a massive round of applause distracting Obote's inspection. I told the driver to stop the automobile and wait until the inspection was done. As soon as Obote took a seat in the pavilion, I drove into the parking yard to a boisterous acclamation. The Egyptians could not understand why a simple Katikiro could steal the show from the country's Prime Minister. Later, Obote's cousin, Nekyon, said, "When the Baganda see Mayanja Nkangi, they think Jesus Christ has come back!

When did you go into exile?

In 1966.

Did you go with the Kabaka?

No. He went through Burundi, and I went through Kenya. But we linked up while in England.

During your London days, did you share accommodation with Kabaka Muteesa?
No. In Buganda customs, the King and the Katikiro cannot sleep under the same roof.

Did the British government give the Kabaka any facilitation?

Nope. Not politically nor financially. Steadfast friends paid for his upkeep.

Did you ever think at any point that the Brits sided with Obote?

It never crossed my mind.
Who paid for Mr. Nkangi's expenses?

For the first year, I borrowed from acquaintances, but later I got a job in the Department of Economics at the University of Lancaster in 1967 until 1971 when Idi Amin toppled Obote's government.

Racism in the 60's was tumultuous. Was it easy for a black man to get a skilled job in Britain?

I tried many times without success. Whenever I mentioned what I studied and what I did before I came to Britain; they would tell me that I was over qualified!
When I applied for a job at Lancaster University, Mr. McBen who was the head of the accounts department tipped me that when they ask me how much money I was looking at, I should tell them to decide. This trick worked, and I got the job.

Should I say you were the first Ugandan Nkuba Kyeyo?

Possibly yes! Laughs… but at that time, there were no Nkuba Kyeyos like today. We were exiled professionals.

While in exile, did you communicate with Obote?
No! Communicate to him about what?

Did he try to reach you?

If he tried, he never got through the whole time.

When did you decide to return to Uganda?

One morning when I was at Lancaster University, I heard that the Ugandan government had been toppled.
I went home and found my daughter standing in front of the television. The BBC had just confirmed that Obote had been ousted.
I was keyed up, and after three weeks, I resigned my job at Lancaster University. My boss called me a fool because he reckoned they were about to make me a senior lecturer.
I did not listen to him, and I flew back.

Were you not afraid to return to Uganda under Idi Amin?

If you are a coward, how can you live in this world?

Did you notify the president ahead of your return?

No. I just bought a ticket and headed for Heathrow, however when I arrived at Entebbe International Airport, some police officers attempted to apprehend me. I recall their commander asking them if they had secured my arrest warrant. Their illegal assignment was discontinued after that.

On your return, did you ever come face to face with Idi
Amin or did you ever apply for a job in his government?

No. One day, President Idi Amin invited me and other
Baganda to the conference centre. Prince Mutebi was also around. He asked in a tone.
"What do the Baganda want?" Without dithering, I told him to give them their Kabaka. "But it's the same Baganda who told Obote to remove the Kabaka," Amin answered back pointing at some Baganda around.

At any point did you think your life was in danger during Amin?

I didn't think so. However, one day, one Nanyonga who worked as a spy walked into my chambers and saw Kabaka's photo hanging on the wall. She asked why I didn't have Amin's photo in my office. I told her that Uganda was my history.
After a week she came back and inquired, 'Why don't you become a minister?' I told her that I was a minister before, let others get a chance to serve.
After a few days, she returned again and asked in Luganda 'Why is Amin killing people?' I asked her if she has ever been a leader and I concluded by reassuring her to give him time to settle in. She never returned after that.

Did you ever meet Obote again after 1966?

No, but he used to ask people about my whereabouts. During the eighties, Obote asked Paul Ssemwogerere, "Where is your commander?" of course he was asking about me. When I learned about this, I called a press conference, and I told journalists that
'Today Obote is asking where Ssemwogere's commanders are, but next time he will be asking who pulled the trigger.'
It did not take long before his government was toppled.

After the 1985 military coup, you were appointed the Minister of Labour. Did you participate in bringing down Obote?

Not in actuality. I was appointed Minister of Labour without my knowledge; I heard on the radio that I was appointed minister! I have a feeling that Paul Muwanga did it to please the Baganda.

But you accepted the post nevertheless, Why?

Let me tell you why! One afternoon, I was called to take an oath, I drove to the parliament building but refused to swear in! The presiding judge looked at me and said, 'I admire your courage.'
After three days, Muwanga sent a soldier to tell me that he was waiting for me to take the oath. This time my colleagues advised me to accept the appointment because Paul Muwanga was an autocrat who could do anything to harm me.

After a few months, the Lutwa was toppled, NRA took over and formed a government in which I was appointed Minister of Education.
In 1992, I was moved to the Ministry of Finance until 1998 when some people wanted me out.

Who are these people?

I won't name them today because they Bible says "there is a time to speak and a time to keep quiet." Anyway, President Museveni moved me to the Justice and Constitutional Affairs Ministry. God is great. I was appointed to all these posts without lobbying! Not bad for a chap who studied on scholarships.


Hon.Mayanja Nkangi died at Nakasero Hospital. He was 85.


Disclaimer:Everyone posting to this Forum bears the sole responsibility for any legal consequences of his or her postings, and hence statements and facts must be presented responsibly. Your continued membership signifies that you agree to this disclaimer and pledge to abide by our Rules and Guidelines.To unsubscribe from this group, send email to:

Sharing is Caring:



Post a Comment

Popular Posts

Blog Archive