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15 years ago, this wedding shattered Ugandan records

Today, August 27, 2014 marks exactly 15 years since Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II and the Nnaabagereka Sylvia Nagginda tied the knot at St Paul’s cathedral Namirembe.

This was the first royal wedding Ugandans were witnessing in 50 years and Robert Mugagga takes you down memory lane, compiling great moments that made this arguably Uganda’s wedding of the century.

The year 1999 was just a month old and Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II had been on the throne for almost six years. He was, and still is, so adored and highly respected by his estimated 5.5 million Baganda subjects (about 18 per cent of the Ugandan population) scattered in different parts of the East African landlocked country of Uganda.

This, especially, for his wise and brave leadership in a country where monarchies had only been restored. Besides, his late father, “King Freddie” (Ssekabaka Edward Muteesa II) had been a darling of many Baganda during his reign; so much that when years after his death Idi Amin brought his remains home from London where he had died in exile, thousands of Buganda loyalists queued for miles and days, to view his embalmed body as it lay in Namirembe cathedral.

Yet despite this love and respect, Mutebi’s subjects were not amused by their youthful king’s apparent laidback stance on having a queen or a Nnaabagereka. Some conservative Baganda and diehards could no longer continue just waiting and took it upon themselves to front possible candidates for the position, while others beseeched the Kabaka to find a wife.

A great announcement

Then on the morning of February 18, 1999 a great announcement was made. Then katikkiro (prime minister) Joseph Mulwanyamuli Ssemwogerere officially announced that the Kabaka had not only finally found a wife, but that the wedding ceremony would take place in August that same year.

Earlier on, rumours had been rife about the Kabaka being secretly introduced to some lucky maiden’s parents in their home along Entebbe road. The wedding announcement indeed caused tangible excitement throughout Buganda with royal drums being sounded in some parts of the kingdom.

Most surprising of all was the identity of the Kabaka’s fiancée. Sylvia Nagginda Luswata was unknown to many, having stayed and worked in the USA for a long time. One American newspaper wrote that the Kabaka had found an American wife and a graduate of New York University. (Probably because she held an American passport, studied, lived and worked there).

Most Baganda had expected the Kabaka to pick his wife from a list of many obvious Kampala socialites of the time. Indeed, one prominent, beautiful doctor had at one point been considered a “sure deal” for the position of Nnaabagereka. But the royal eye was elsewhere.

Who the lucky lady was

News filtered through, giving details about Buganda’s newly-found gift. Nagginda, Mutebi’s keen subjects were told, had been born in the United Kingdom 38 years earlier and at three months old was put, unaccompanied, on a plane destined for Entebbe, to grow up in Uganda and learn the Kiganda culture.

She arrived in Uganda in a kibaya (baby basket), the reason she was nicknamed “Kibaya” during her childhood. Nagginda’s parents, it emerged, were John Mulumba Luswata and Rebecca Nakintu Musoke of Nkumba, Busiro, who had met in the United Kingdom as students and later relocated to the United States of America.

As for Nagginda, she had attended Lake Victoria primary school, Entebbe, Gayaza Junior School and Wanyange Girls, before going to the USA. In America she earned an associate degree with honours from the City University of New York, a bachelor’s degree from State University of New York and a master of Arts degree with honours from the New York Institute of Technology. Her major field of study was public relations, including economics, journalism and corporate communications.

How the two met

As expected, every Muganda wondered how the Kabaka had got his catch. Who made the first move? Is His Majesty a hopeless romantic? How did he propose? Did an assistant do the work for him? Some answers we may never get. But Mutebi and Nagginda, according to press reports, met in the USA in 1993 when the Kabaka was shopping for his then upcoming coronation.

Later that year their relationship improved and they became closer when Nagginda returned to Uganda to participate in the UMA trade fare, where she was a coordinator and public relations consultant. She reportedly met the Kabaka at his Banda palace then.

Besides, the former UMA chairman, late industrialist James Mulwana, was very close to the Kabaka. Then there was the former minister of women affairs in the Mengo government, Joyce Nabbosa Ssebugwawo, whose husband, Dan Ssebugwawo was a brother to Nagginda. Both Mulwana and Ssebugwawo were largely credited for being good match-makers who made that relationship a reality.

Who did what

So many Ugandans got involved in the preparations for the Kabaka’s wedding. From politicians down to villagers, everyone sought to make the occasion a big success never seen before in the land. For example, mzee Joseph Mary Yiga played the welcome tune upon the Kabaka’s arrival at Namirembe cathedral for the royal wedding service.

The renowned trumpeter in the 1950s used to wake up Mutebi’s father, Sir Edward Muteesa II, every morning; it is him that entertained him during breakfast; him that played the tune that called him to lunch and like a baby, soothed him to sleep in the evenings with his trumpet. How honoured he must have felt to play the instrument again as his former master’s son – his current master – took a wife!

Elsewhere, specially brewed wine was prepared. Christine Hughes Maseruka, a Ugandan who had lived in North America for 25 years and owned Christine’s House of Wines brewed four brands of wines to commemorate the royal wedding. The brands included Royal Dessert wine made from local fruits, Royal red wine and Royal white wine.

For power matters, Uganda Electricity Board (now Umeme) was entrusted with lighting up the main venue for the kasiki (stag party) at the royal mile (the tarmacked Kabaka Anjagala road linking Bulange to the Twekobe palace at Mengo). The UEB team had instructions to ensure there was uninterrupted power supply at the kasiki and wedding party venues. Little wonder that a giant ancient-looking generator was towed along as a backup.

Busiki galore

To commemorate the royal wedding, a number of busiki (bachelor’s parties) took place throughout Buganda. Apart from the main one along Kabaka Anjagala road, parliamentarians held theirs in the Parliamentary gardens where they danced and wined all night long, drinking to the Kabaka’s good health. The merry-making lasted several hours.

In  downtown Kampala, residents of Kisenyi and surrounding areas converged on Nakivubo stadium where drinking and dancing went on through the night. Most pubs in Kampala and its suburbs remained open that night on the eve of the wedding. Not to be outdone, even the beggars around the Old taxi park also staged their own kasiki along Luwum street, which had been decorated with balloons and banana plants by the traders operating from there.

The controversy surrounding the 13-year-old Sarah Nsobya, a protocol virgin wife who is traditionally also given to a kabaka, had finally blown over, after the kingdom clarified that the king would never consummate that ‘marriage’.

Then came the d-day

Friday, August 27, 1999 was a sunny and clear day. Thousands of people trekked to Namirembe cathedral to attend the royal wedding service. By 7am the place was full of women mostly dressed in busuuti, while the men wore kanzus of all colours and fabric. Those who could not make it to Namirembe stayed glued to the live telecasts on UTV (now UBC TV).

Because mobile phones had just been introduced in the country a year or two earlier, you can imagine the disappointment the few privileged Ugandans experienced when they were told to leave them behind for security reasons, as the president would be in attendance. Museveni arrived at the cathedral at around 9:43am and received rounds of applauses obviously for having restored the Buganda monarch. Twenty minutes later, the Kabaka who had no best man arrived at the cathedral in his royal regalia, to thunderous applause and drumming by royal entertainers.

There was chaos as police worked hard to control the paparazzi and members of the public who surged forward to get a glimpse of the man for whom the bells pealed. The Kabaka entered the cathedral at approximately 9:55am and waited for his bride for nearly 35 minutes. This prompted complaints from some loyal subjects, questioning how the Nnaabagereka-to-be could keep the king waiting; but most agreed, whatever a man’s status, he has to wait for his wife on their wedding day.

When the bride arrived, it was to thunderous screams and jubilation. Not one bride before or since, has drawn such a uniform gasp from guests at the church and curious faces watching on TV at home. Equally eye-catching were the adorable twins Kimberly Nakato and Karen Babirye, daughters to William Nagagga, who were the petal girls/flowergirls.

Nagginda’s custom-made ivory gown cannot be forgotten; tailored to imitate a traditional busuuti at the bust and sleeves, it then flowed out like a normal wedding gown below Nagginda’s waist. Full of pearls and looking very regal, the soon-to-be queen had chosen well in approaching Beatrice Iga, a Ugandan living in the diaspora, to design and tailor her gown. Her hair was held back in a simple coif, leaving all the attention to her big eyes and uniquely full lips. She was a stunning bride.

At 11:11am, the rings were exchanged. The main celebrant was then Archbishop Livingston Mpalanyi Nkoyooyo assisted by then bishop of Namirembe diocese, Rt Rev Samuel Balagadde Ssekadde and the Cathedral dean, Rev Daudi Sserubidde. The wedding service earlier scheduled to start at 10am and to last strictly 90 minutes, ended at around 12:47pm.

The grand reception

The wedding reception took place at the newly-renovated Twekobe palace at Mengo, which accommodated 2,000 invited guests. Thousands more self-invited guests waited in the Lubiri grounds, dancing and jubilating, nonetheless. From Namirembe cathedral to the Twekobe, the Kabaka’s long motorcade spent almost 40 minutes to cover such a short distance, because excited people in their hundreds lined the roads to catch a glimpse of the king and queen.

The couple was travelling in a brand new Lincoln and kept waving at the cheering multitudes. At the reception, invited guests included king Makhosetive Dlamini Mswati III of Swaziland and Zwellthin of South African Zulu. After the national and Buganda anthems were played by the Prisons band, the guests settled down to enjoy light entertainment provided by the best assembled traditional instruments in the land.

The entertainment interval was followed by a heavy meal, blessed by Emmanuel Cardinal Wamala. Later the Kabaka and his bride cut a giant six-tier cake with the Buganda emblem, baked by the famous Saava baking family.
There was enough cake to go around, even for the thousands in the grounds.

One tailor from Mulago who was in the Lubiri throng can never forget the wedding.

“How, when I lost my new shoes in that place? I don’t know how they left my feet, but the crowd was so big, it was impossible to locate them. But what a wedding!” Maama Kasirivu said.

By the end of the day, Mutebi’s wedding had smashed records. Some Baganda concur, not even the legendary wedding by one Muganda, Majanja in the 16th century, could come close.


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