Bazarrabusa’s death: accident or assassination?

It might seem odd to start this blog with a post on Bazarrabusa’s death. However, a recent e-mail from an American academic reminded me that this issue has provoked some speculation.

Bazarrabusa died on April 25, 1966 while on leave in Uganda. The contemporary press relayed official reports that he “died when his car was in collision with a bus in central Kampala.”1 But recent accounts have been rather less consistent. Louise Pirouet — in her Historical Dictionary of Uganda — reports somewhat plausibly (but quite inaccurately) that Bazarrabusa “was tragically killed in a climbing accident.”2 In Tribe, Rwenzururu fellow-traveler Tom Stacey claims Bazarrabusa was “murdered one evening on the streets of Kampala by persons unknown and for reasons unknown,” or later, “snipered in the street of a Kampala suburb.”3

I have spoken with several people who expressed suspicion about this death, some vaguely attributing it to Prime Minister Obote’s government. Are these suppositions founded, or do they simply betray a wariness born of years of political brutality? We may never know, though further research will hopefully generate some answers. Given the context of mounting political tensions in early 1966, suspicions of foul play are not entirely unreasonable. Obote was facing mounting criticism, both from the Opposition and within the ranks of his own UPC party. On February 24, following allegations of his implication in corruption and gold smuggling (involving future despot Idi Amin), and rumors of a pending coup d’état, Obote suspended the 1962 constitution and detained several government ministers. The fragile post-independence alliance with Buganda collapsed as Obote accused the President of Uganda (Kabaka/King of Buganda, Sir Edward Mutesa II) of calling for foreign military intervention. On April 15, Obote declared himself President and introduced a new constitution. On May 24, he sent troops (led by the newly promoted army commander, Idi Amin) to attack Mutesa’s palace, eventually driving the Kabaka into exile. The following year, Obote introduced a new “republican” constitution, abolishing the kingdoms.4

Presumably, Bazarrabusa would not have looked kindly on these events, which cast Uganda in a poor light and probably put him (as High Commissioner) in a rather uncomfortable position. Was he also more deeply involved in the the situation, or had he made engagements or alliances that might have put him at risk? It would be rash to speculate without further research.

In any case, this period of crisis arguably marked the beginning of a decline into autocracy that culminated with Amin’s bloody rule in the 1970s. In a sense, Bazarrabusa’s death at this particular moment symbolized the end of an era marked by the legacy of Sir Andrew Cohen’s Legislative Council (in which Bazarrabusa had served his political apprenticeship). The series of compromises engineered first by the British, then by Obote, had disintegrated, and the colonial construction that was independent Uganda began to succumb to its own internal contradictions.

  1. ”Uganda Envoy Dies in Road Crash”, The Times (26 April 1966): 12. [Back to text]
  2. M. Louise Pirouet, “Bazarrabuza, Timothy (1912-1966),” Historical Dictionary of Uganda, (Metuchen, J: Scarecrow, 1995): 84. [Back to text]
  3. Tom Stacey, Tribe: The Hidden History of the Mountains of the Moon: An Autobiographical Study (London: Stacey International, 2003): 349, 355. [Back to text]
  4. For one perspective on the 1966 crisis, see Akiiki B. Mujaju, “The Gold Allegations Motion and Political Development in Uganda,” African Affairs 86, no. 345 (Oct., 1987): 479-504. Available via JSTOR and other databases (subscription required). For pro-Buganda accounts, see the essays on “The 1966 Crisis” at and [Back to text]

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