Battle of Mengo Hill
|Battle of Mengo Hill|
|Commanders and leaders|
|120 royal guards|
|Casualties and losses|
|100 killed or captured|
In February 1966, Prime Minister Milton Obote had changed the constitution, taking the powers of the presidency, formerly held by the Kabaka, for himself. The Kabaka is the ruler of Buganda, the largest and most influential of the five traditional kingdoms within Uganda, and the capital of the kingdom, Kampala, is also the capital of the country. The Kabaka at the time was Mutesa II. Kabaka Mutesa II protested Obote's actions, ordering Obote to leave Buganda lands and appealing to United Nations Secretary-General U Thant to intervene. Obote immediately accused the Kabaka of high treason and ordered his protégé, Idi Amin Dada, to lead troops against the Kabaka's residence on Mengo Hill, which was promptly surrounded.
The Kabaka called for his subjects to defend him, and many responded by acts of sabotage throughout Buganda, while thousands of monarchists attempted to set up blockades to hinder Amin's troops and engaged in running street skirmishes. However, the Kabaka's bodyguards were lightly armed with hunting rifles, especially as compared to the army units and, two days after the palace was surrounded, the palace was overrun and set alight. Kabaka Mutesa II himself escaped the compound during a cloudburst in the middle of the battle.
"When Obote sent his soldiers to bring Mutesa to him ‘dead or alive’ the King was unprepared. Out numbered, with only 120 guards and facing the Uganda Army with its Lee–Enfield rifles, three carbines, six Sterling machine guns and six automatic rifles, it was a losing battle. Determined to protect the King, the [royal] guards knew the only option was for him to flee. Rain connived with the royals, as it slowed the attackers’ advancement.
Jumping over bodies as they fled, Mutesa and 20 royal soldiers hauled each other over the six foot high brick walls of the palace. Unfortunately, Kabaka Mutesa landed in a precarious angle that left his back bone injured. But the king was free and that’s all that mattered."
Within a few days the Kabaka and two of his bodyguards were able to cross the border to Burundi and exile. After brief stays in Nairobi and Addis Ababa he was given asylum in the United Kingdom where he stayed until death, under mysterious circumstances, in 1969. Various Baganda chiefs, members of the royal family and others thought loyal to the Kabaka, were imprisoned. The Lubiri Palace was almost completely destroyed in the course of the fighting and the looting which followed. Priceless historic artefacts and royal regalia were stolen and destroyed, including the sacred Mujaguzo drums. This desecration caused immense psychological suffering for many Bugandans who regarded the event as an apocalypse. Mutesa II died in exile, but was allowed to be buried in Buganda by a new president, Idi Amin. Amin promoted the narrative of a Muslim boy from the poor outskirts of the country taking on the Christian leader of Uganda's dominant tribe. The mystique of this action granted him greater legitimacy at least in some sub-populations.
Notes and references
- "The Battle of Mengo Hill" by Time, 3 June 1966
- How Uganda and Buganda fell out Archived September 18, 2008, at the Wayback Machine., Titus Kamebo, The New Vision, 23 May 2008
- "We used to watch films in Luzira" Archived July 22, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. by George Herman Jjuuko Kkolokolo, The Observer (Uganda), June 15, 2007
- "Obituary:Idi Amin", The Guardian, August 18, 2003