Review of a book documenting the Queen’s last visit to Uganda

Posted: November 15, 2007 in Blog

I haven’t posted an article in a while– Of late I’ve been writing almost exclusively about this upcoming Commonwealth conference. Here is an article in today’s paper reviewing a recently-released book about the Queen’s last visit to Uganda in 1954. 

CHRISTOPHER MASON

KAMPALA

Anyone doubting the perceived significance of a visit from Queen Elizabeth II should have a look at a newly-released book that details the Queen’s last visit to Uganda in 1954.

“And so the most splendid three days in Uganda’s history drew to their close,” reads the final chapter of the book, which is titled “The Royal Visit to Uganda, Commemorating the Visit of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II and H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh 1954”.

Most splendid three days in Uganda’s history?

Is Uganda, in preparing to host the Queen yet again as she comes to open the upcoming Chogm conference, about to witness a handful of days that will mark yet another landmark in the country’s history?

Saying yes or no now would, perhaps, be pre-judging. But it is safe to say that a visit from the Queen held greater significance for the colonized Uganda of 1954 than for the independent Uganda of 2007.

The book is a fascinating examination of the visit, as well as of the Uganda the royals saw during their three-day stay. A lot has changed since 1954.

At that stage in its history, Uganda was a British colony about to enter the dawn of independence. It was a region with a growing sense of prosperity and self-importance that saw itself as the true jewel of Africa, or at the very least East Africa. In studying this book, readers see a Uganda that was not trying to step out from under the shadow of a ruthless dictator, as it is today nearly 30 years after the fall of Idi Amin.

Queen Elizabeth II, only two years into her reign, set foot in a Uganda that had every reason to believe that prosperity was on its doorstep. In fact, one of the Queen’s activities during her visit illustrated that sense of potential and prosperity.

She officially opened the Owens Falls hydroelectric dam in Jinja, which the British government had built in part to have control over the Nile River, but also because the power churned out by the dam would help develop infrastructure in a protectorate they saw as perfect grounds for economic growth.

The book provides a detailed account of the Queen’s visit with her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh. In 26 pages, the book illustrates in picture and text every aspect of the visit, from the receptions in Entebbe, to the opening of the dam in Jinja, to her cultural visit to western Uganda.

The book is the brainchild of Moses Zikusooka, managing director of QG Saatchi & Saatchi, the company that published the book and has handled much of the Chogm promotion and advertising campaign.

Mr. Zikusooka said at the book’s launch on Monday that he hopes to sell the book to Ugandans for about Shs10,000. Beyond being available in town during and after Chogm, he hopes it will be available at the airport in Entebbe and at area hotels so that Chogm delegates can also purchase copies.

Many of the photos were thought to have been lost, as many records and archives in Uganda were destroyed during the Amin era. But Mr. Zikusooka said he managed to find this collection of photos through the Royal Printers in Britain, as the Royal entourage had a photographer document their trip in 1954.

What the book does not explain in detail is why the Royal entourage did not visit Kampala. Though Entebbe was then the colonial capital, Kampala was a significant commercial hub, home to the prestigious Makerere University and the seat of power for the Buganda Kingdom, which was the protectorate’s largest and most-organized kingdom.

But the itinerary did not include a stop in Kampala because of the Buganda Kingdom, whose push for independence threatened to grow violent.

The book sums up this period in a single paragraph, explaining why dignitaries from Kampala had to attend Entebbe to meet the Queen.

“It was originally planned that the Queen would spend the morning of her second day in Kampala,” the book reads. “But because of the security situation in neighbouring Kenya, this arrangement had to be altered and those who were to have met the Queen went to Entebbe instead.”

Mention of Kenya aside, the Buganda Kingdom was, at the time of the Queen’s visit, in turmoil.

The Kabaka had been deported in Nov. 1953 because he refused to “co-operate loyally” with the British in forcing the Buganda parliament to withdraw a resolution demanding independence.

The deportation, however, did nothing to quell the push for independence and the colonial government declared a state of emergency at the end of November in 1953, less than five months before the Queen’s visit.

The royal visit was not in direct response to this instability, but was instead part of a tour of 14 Commonwealth countries the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh made between November 1953 and May 1954.

In an age when politicians and royal figures jet from one locale to another in a matter of hours, not days, it speaks to the great deal of change that has occurred over the course of the Queen’s reign, now into its sixth decade.

Today, a big deal is made of the Queen leaving England for a few days, when in the early stages of her reign she went on months-long tours.

Because the Queen’s visit largely avoided the controversy of the Buganda uprising, it is perhaps to be expected that the recently released book also glosses over the issue.

Instead it focuses on the various ceremonies that took place during the royal visit.

The trip, and the book, begins with an elaborate reception at the airport in Entebbe. The book documents this in photos, as well as a written account of the warm welcome.

“A 21-gun salute thundered out and puffs of white smoke drifted across the airport as the Queen inspected the guard of honour of the Uganda Police drawn up with immaculate precision,” the account reads.

“Then came the moment which provided one of the loveliest pictures of the whole Royal tour as a white-frocked African schoolgirl, Beata Kabasindi, went down on her knees to present the Queen with a bouquet of lilies, gardenias, orchids and ferns.”

A photo in the book nicely illustrates this moment.

The photos generally show a very different Uganda from today—but not because of the buildings and landscapes in the background, because the ceremonies took place mostly at colonial government sites.

Instead, the photos are a reminder of how much has changed in the country’s leadership.

Many of the photos share a common thread.

Nearly to a person, photos of local leaders— commanders of the 4th (Uganda) Battalion of the Kings African Rifles, officials from Makerere University, civil service leaders or the director of National Parks— show Uganda’s major institutions being controlled by British representatives.

Today, those positions, or their modern equivalents, are occupied by Ugandans who do not have to answer to a colonial power the way their British predecessors did. Those Ugandans instead have to answer to fellow Ugandans.

As such, the upcoming visit by Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles will perhaps not be later recognized as the most splendid three days in the country’s history, as the last visit has been in this book.

Instead, the trip will hopefully be remembered years later as an honour bestowed upon a country that remains a proud member of the Commonwealth and one that, at the time of this year’s visit, was restoring the pride and potential Uganda held at the time of the Queen’s last trip to Uganda in 1954.

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Comments
  1. Mrs Mary Woollard says:

    My father Mr T.D Johnstone served the Queen on the 3rd of may 1954 he was the chief steward catering department of the east african railways and harbours at that time i have even got photos and letters thanking my dad which is all in an album from the year 1946

    • Susanne Holm says:

      Dear Mrs Woollard,

      I realize it was long ago that you wrote this post, but it made me very interested in talking to you. I am researching historical photographs in Uganda, focusing especially on the Queen’s visit. If you have anything at all, photos, letter, verbal stories – anything! – I would love to get in touch with you and learn more about it.

      Please get back to me! I would appreciate it immensely!

      • Hamid says:

        My name at the time visited Uganda in 1954 was Mohammed Hamid, It was subsequently changed to Hamid Faquir. My dads name who was a medical Doctor in Uganda most of his life was Mohammed Faquir. He received MBE from the Queen in either 54 or 55. At the time he was living in Soroti. My memory is fading a little bit but I recall as a young boy bowling out Prince Phillip in a Cricket display set up at our secondary school in Jinja. I believe a picture of the event was published in Uganda Argus ,which after numerous hours I cannot locate. Hope fully you will have better luck in verifying this info. Come to think of it I may have corresponded with you some time ago

        Sent from my iPhone

    • Mary. Woollard says:

      Yes I have and I would be interested talking to you

      • Susanne says:

        Thank you dear for your reply. Where can I find you? I live in Kampala and you can most easily reach me on WhatsApp +46708745739 or phone 0791052659.

        I am very much looking forward to connecting with you!

      • Mary WOOLLARD says:

        My name is Mary WOOLLARD I live in lancashire United Kingdom my father Mr TD Johnstone worked on the eastern railways in Kenya for 26 years as the chief steward and got a badge of honor from our queen Elizabeth it’s all in the staff magazine African railways and harbours June 1952. I am the youngest of his daughters I wasn’t even born then,so I don’t really know much about it all I know is that I am so proud to have a dad who achieved so much
        Thanking you
        Mary WOOLLARD my phone no is 07940222518 I am free mainly on a Monday evening,Sunday all day Tuesday evening

      • Susanne Holm says:

        Do you have Skype by any chance? It would be nice to see your face when talking to you, and also more convenient than a cross-continent phone call.

        What I am most interested in is the photographs you mentioned you haven from the Queen’s Visit.

        Kind regards,
        Susanne Holm

  2. Larissa says:

    My mum just gave me a dress my great aunt, Doreen Brown wore to meet the queen on her visit to Uganda. I found your account of the queen’s visit very interesting.

    • Anonymous says:

      What a wonderful keepsake for your family to have, Larissa. Thanks for your feedback, and I’m glad to hear you found the account interesting.

    • Susanne Holm says:

      Hi Larissa. I am a social anthropologis and I’m currently researching historical photographs in Uganda with emphasis on the Queen’s visit. Therefore, I would love to learn more about your family’s stories from the Queen’s visit. Any small comment is of great interest to me, so please contact me if you want to talk more. My e-mail is miss__susanne@hotmail.com

      I am very much looking forward to hearing from you!

      Kind regards,
      Susanne Holm

  3. Its a rich review that gives a deep insight into lots of mysteries surrounding the Queens visit.Thanks to the publishers and the author for the remarkable efforts.In which local bookshop can i get myself a copy. olenymario@gmail.com

    • Susanne Holm says:

      Dear Oleny Solomon Mario,

      Did you manage to find a copy of the book? I would love to get hold of one myself but I don’t know where or how.

      Since I am undertaking research in Uganda with emphasis on the Queen’s visit from 1954 I am very curious to find both printed material and personal stories and memories.

      If you would like to talk some more, please contact me. Any comments are of great help!

      My e-mail address is miss__susanne@hotmail.com

      Kind regards,
      Susanne Holm

      • Solomon Mario Oleny says:

        Hi Susanne,I am sorry I’ve just come across your feedback.I am sorry to confirm I havent yet come across any.My biggest challenge is that the discipline of record keeping hasnt been observed so much in Uganda.As such, it takes more than luck to come across such litetature.
        Regards, from Uganda
        Solomon M Oleny

  4. Hamid Faquir says:

    I remember her and her husband comming to our school in Soroti where we had set up a cricket pitch for her husband to swing a bat. I remember the article in uganda paper called Argus or such

  5. Brian kafuko says:

    Am a grand son of constable Isabirye Ibrahim who received a medal of honour in 1954 from queen Elizabeth and am proud of having a medal from her magesty

  6. Chris Mason says:

    It’s wonderful to see so many people connecting over the Queen’s visit to Uganda in 1954. Thank you all for commenting and Susanne good luck with your research.

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