We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Mutesa II (1924–1969), king of Buganda, was born Edward Frederick William David Walugembe Mutebi Luwangula Mutesa on 19 November 1924 in Kampala, Uganda, the only son of Kabaka Daudi Chwa II (d. 1939) and his wife, Irene Namaganda. Mutesa was the thirty-fifth kabaka (king) of the kingdom of Buganda in Uganda, in a line of kings dating back to the sixteenth century. In an eventful career he suffered exile to Britain twice, first by the Uganda protectorate government in 1953 and second by President Obote of Uganda in 1966. In Britain he was popularly known as King Freddie of Buganda.

Mutesa was sent to King's College, Budo, at the age of five, where he soon showed his prowess at sport and was captain of football. Later he went to Makerere College in Kampala, and in 1945 to Magdalene College, Cambridge, though he did not complete a degree. He became an honorary lieutenant-colonel of the Grenadier Guards, and through his education he acquired the style and bearing of ‘a perfect English gentleman’ which he retained to the end of his life. During his reign as kabaka he frequently appeared in his guards' uniform and he was always immaculately dressed. For his people, the Baganda, he was the symbol of their historic prestige and power as a centrally organized monarchical state, and his court retained the elaborate ritual of former times. His chiefs knelt before him, while commoners had to prostrate themselves on the ground. Relations with the British protectorate government of Uganda had been firmly established in the Buganda agreement of 1900, which the Baganda maintained was not a document imposing colonial rule but a treaty between two allies. As the British preferred to develop Uganda as a unitary state with a strong central government, this traditional view of the agreement was bound to cause tension.

Mutesa's father died in 1939, when Mutesa was a youth of fifteen, so he was guided by three regents until he reached the age of eighteen, when he was crowned as kabaka. In 1948 he married Damali Kisosonkole. In this period he had to face the first serious demonstrations of political and economic unrest, in the riots of 1945 and 1949 in Buganda. These were symptomatic of the growing pressures in the process of modernization, in Buganda and in the protectorate as a whole. The process was to be carried forward at a much faster pace by the new governor of Uganda, Sir Andrew Cohen, who arrived in 1952. A brilliant and ambitious administrator, Cohen soon showed through his reforms that he wished to build up a strong central government with a rapidly expanding and increasingly elective central legislative council (the embryo parliament). To the Baganda, it looked as if the semi-autonomy and privileged position of the kingdom safeguarded by the 1900 agreement would be in jeopardy. The other three smaller monarchies in Uganda shared the same fears. Mutesa faced a fundamental dilemma in that he wished to defend the monarchy and the powers of his government, while at the same time he was obliged by the agreement to co-operate with the protectorate government. For the enlarged legislative council, the Buganda lukiko (consultative council) was called on to nominate three representatives to it, or, if they refused, as seemed likely, the kabaka was to nominate them instead. If he complied, he would undermine his own position as their kabaka. At the same time, the Baganda feared British intentions to form a federation of east Africa, in which Kenya, with its settler-dominated government, would inevitably play the major role and the kingdom of Buganda would lose its powers. Instead, the lukiko was pressing for a timetable for independence for Buganda alone. Cohen insisted that Mutesa must comply and nominate the three representatives. Mutesa considered that in a contest of loyalty he owed his allegiance to his own people, so he refused. Cohen then declared he was in breach of the 1900 agreement: he was no longer recognized as kabaka, and he was peremptorily deported in great secrecy to Britain. This was a staggering blow to the Baganda, and in the following two years they were very hostile to the protectorate government. However, Cohen's action was by no means universally approved by the British, and it was recognized that the kabaka must return. Long negotiations ended in the second agreement of 1955, with the kabaka this time as a constitutional monarch, that is with limited powers. Mutesa returned in October, to a tremendous welcome in Buganda. If he was not always popular before, now he was a martyr and a hero. In 1962 he was made a KBE.

As independence for Uganda loomed in 1962, Buganda again showed strong separatist ambitions, but it was won over by the promise of a federal status within the independent state, partly through the moderating counsels of Mutesa. Milton Obote's party was temporarily allied to the kabaka yekka party of Baganda royalists, in order to win his victory. He duly became prime minister and Mutesa was elected president of independent Uganda, but after Obote discarded the alliance with the kabaka yekka party there was little co-operation between the two men and Mutesa's position as president looked dangerous. The final crisis came in 1966 when Obote arrested five cabinet ministers, including the leading minister from Buganda. In a period of desperate plotting by Obote to overthrow his political adversaries, who included Mutesa among them in their counter-plotting, Mutesa requested foreign governments, including the British, to send in troops. Obote replied by suspending the constitution and dismissing Mutesa as president; he then ordered the army to storm the palace in May 1966, and Mutesa had to flee to Britain, an exile for the second time and lucky to escape with his life. He described this in his book The Desecration of my Kingdom (1967).

Mutesa arrived penniless in Britain and had to borrow clothes from friends among the guards officers. The British government, which had provided him with a stipend during his first exile, this time failed to give him support or due recognition as a former friend and ally but chose to continue their support of Obote. Mutesa lived in poor circumstances until his death, at 28 Orchard House, Rotherhithe, London, on 21 November 1969, aged forty-five. President Amin ordered his body to be brought back to Uganda for a state funeral, and he was buried at the Kasubi royal tombs in April 1971. Mutesa had been torn between conflicting loyalties to his people, the kingdom of Buganda, and the state of Uganda; he was ever a man of two worlds, Western, urbane, debonair, yet the staunch head of an African traditional monarchy. He was survived by his wife and several children, one of whom, Ronald Mutebi, was crowned as the next kabaka in 1993.

Oliver Furley


S. Cooper, ‘Educating the kabaka: Magdalene, Buganda and the empire, 1945–1948’, Magdalene College Magazine and Record, new ser., 34 (1989–90), 39–44 · E. F. Mutesa, The desecration of my kingdom (1967) · D. A. Low and R. C. Pratt, Buganda and British overrule (1970) · P. Mutibwa, Uganda since independence (1992) · D. Brown and M. V. Brown, eds., Looking back at the Uganda protectorate (1996) · P. Kavuma, Crisis in Buganda, 1953–55 (1979) · L. Brown, Three worlds: one word (1981) · ‘When Mutesa II “ate” Obuganda’, The Monitor (13–16 April 1993) · The Times (26 Nov 1969) · The Times (29 Nov 1969) · D. Foot, letter, The Times (3 Dec 1969) · R. Hunt, Daily Telegraph (6 April 1999) · R. Hunt, The Times (29 April 1999) · P. H. Cordle, ‘Lieutenant Colonel His Highness Sir Edward Mutesa’, Guards Magazine (summer 1999) · Kabaka Ronald Mutebi II, ‘The 1966 crisis’, www.buganda.com/crisis66.htm, 2000 · private information (2004) [D. N. McMaster, M. Macpherson, Andrew Stuart, Alice Walusimbi] · d. cert. · WWW · The People (6 April 1971) [special issue, ‘In memory of Sir Edward’]


CUL, letter of Sir R. Bennett, MS 45  



BFINA, news footage · IWM FVA, documentary footage · IWM FVA, news footage


portrait, repro. in Mutesa, Desecration of my kingdom