The misunderstandings that occurred within the Buganda royal family about 10 years ago notwithstanding, Prince Alexander David Ssimbwa must be praised and honoured by Buganda and its well-wishers for at least one thing: He stood by his brother, Sir Edward Mutesa II, during the Battle of Mengo – also referred to as the invasion of the Lubiri – in May, 1966 and fought bravely against Obote’s superior forces until Sir Edward escaped from the palace to safety.
I have often been asked why Prince Ssimbwa did not escape with his brother. Well, I don’t know because I was not there, but according to the late Hannington Kalinimi Mpagi, son of Latima Mpagi, a former Buganda Minister, the Nnabagereka (Sir Edward’s wife) and other members of the Kabaka’s household were hiding within the palace during the fighting, and at the risk of his life, Prince Ssimbwa decided to stay behind and protect them.
Kalinimi said he was with Sir Edward and the prince during the battle. Stories that there was no contact between Obote’s forces and the Kabaka’s bodyguards should be discounted because one bodyguard who proposed that they should surrender received military justice from his commander. He was killed in the process.
Fortunately, Prince Ssimbwa who was mistaken for Sir Edward by Obote’s forces led by the then Army Commander, Idi Amin, was captured but was not killed. And so were the Nnabagereka, Princess Mpologoma and others. Ssimbwa was imprisoned for 64 years on charges of plotting to overthrow Obote’s Government, but as fate would have it, he was released from jail when Idi Amin overthrew Obote from power and became President.
After his release, Prince Ssimbwa joined the diplomatic service and was posted to Addis Ababa as an administrative officer.
Ssimbwa was a good footballer and Amin, a retired national boxer at the time, was known to him. The Battle of Mengo had turned the prince into Amin’s foe, but either through his personal common sense or that of his aisors, Amin, with his obsession for information on domestic and foreign affairs, decided that Ssimbwa had the potential of being a resourceful diplomat in a kingdom like ancient Ethiopia where, being a prince, he may have easy access to the authorities. Moreover, Emperor Haile Selassie and Sir Edward had been good friends for years before the latter died in exile in London in 1969.
My personal experience of Ssimbwa’s contacts in Addis Ababa was when he took me on a visit to an Ethiopian family, introduced me and, abandoning me in the sitting room, moved to another room with our hosts with whom he held a prolonged meeting.
When I asked him what they had been discussing, he replied simply that those people were “our in-laws”. Incidentally, my Ethiopian nick-name was Getachew.
Born in Nazareth, I had gone to school abroad at a very young age and could hence not speak my national language. Don’t ask me whether the prince made a family in Addis Ababa. Those were cultural matters. His dad, Sir Daudi Chwa, who died at the age of 43 married 17 wives and had 36 children.
Idi Amin recalled many of Obote’s appointees in the foreign service and replaced them with his own tribesmen and related ethinic groups in East Africa.
But he kept Ssimbwa in Addis Ababa partly because he was feeding him with what he (Amin) thought was useful information, but largely because after the Battle of Mengo experience, he feared that Simbwa’s continued presence in the country could awaken Baganda nationalism and create political problems for him in Buganda.
The Baganda have a saying that “Ekibi kigwaana wala” ( it’s wise to keep the undesirable at a distance).
I suspect this saying, coupled with the 1974 coup detat which ousted the Ethiopean Emperor from power, to have influenced Amin to post Prince Ssimbwa from Ethiopia to Communist China where he spent almost two decades.
He returned to Uganda upon retirement from the Foreign Service, long after President Yoweri Museveni had taken power and had since then been closely associated with the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM).
May his soul rest in eternal peace.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor