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50 years on, Duke of Kent returns to familiar Uganda

Godfrey Opira, 25, looked tense and unsettled, often checking his sweaty hands.

He moved from one notice board to the next poster display to make sure everything was fine at the Murchison Memories exhibition. Dressed in a green T-shirt and black pants, Opira paced about Masindi hotel, waiting for the arrival of the Duke of Kent, Prince Edward.

“I feel happy, I have never seen him. I never thought such an opportunity would be presented to me. I am going to shake hands with the person who flagged off Uganda’s independence,” Opira said.

The Duke of Kent is cousin to both the Queen and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh. He was born in 1935 to the late Prince George and the late Princess Marina. He inherited his title following the death of his father in 1942. In 1961, he married Ms Katharine Worsley and together they have three children and eight grandchildren.

The Duke of Kent represented the Queen at Uganda’s independence in 1962. At the time, Opira was not even born. Now the golden jubilee had brought Opira a chance to meet one of the former rulers of Uganda.

He has done his research on the man he has been waiting for since it was announced to his company, Soft Power Education (SPE), that a member of the British royal family would be visiting to learn about their Conservation Education Community Outreach programme (CECOP). Opira was also chosen to take the Duke through Uganda’s tourism history.

“He was 27 years old when he presented the scroll of independence to Uganda and now he is 77 years old. All of us are excited. Everybody would want this but it has been possible only for me,” Opira says.

When the Duke finally arrives, he displays such cordialness. From one poster board to the next, he listens to Opira and Rob Johnson take him through wildlife conservation in Murchison Falls national park, a programme that the duke is passionate about.

“What approaches are you using to conserve the park?” he asks, bending over to look at a picture of poachers with their prey – hippopotamuses.

Through CECOP, SPE promotes community conservation through educating communities on why it is important to protect the national park. Opira says the charity offers alternative livelihood projects to communities to prevent them from poaching and encroaching on the natural resources of the park.

“This way we raise awareness of the benefits of conserving while also providing businesses for the people to continue living a normal live alongside the plants and animals in the parks,” Opira tells the Duke.

The Duke is taken through Murchison Memories exhibition, which tells the story of the national park’s past, present and future through photos, literature and artefacts. He informs the two young men that he flew over the Murchison Falls on his first visit to Uganda with his newlywed wife Katharine Worsley in 1962.

At a reception hosted by the British High Commissioner, Alison Blackburne, the Duke freely mingles with excited guests. He shakes hands with guests without any concerns about Ebola or any other possible danger arising from his warm approach. During lunch at the Senior Command and Staff College in Jinja, he catches everyone by surprise when he lines up to collect his lunch at the buffet with everyone else.

Fond memories

The Duke says his recollection of his first visit to Uganda was meeting kind and warm people.

“It is a great pleasure to be back having come in 1962 to represent the Queen and hand over independence. In 1962, it was the time that the King’s African Rifles were wound up. I have been to the cemetery and found some of the soldiers that fought in the two world wars,” the Duke told UPDF soldiers of his visit to the Jinja War Cemetery where he paid his respects to over 300 Ugandan and British servicemen.

The Duke was visiting the Uganda Rapid Deployment Centre and the Senior Command and Staff College at Kimaka in Jinja. The visit was meant to highlight the support the British government renders the UPDF and its operations in Somalia.

“The courage of Ugandan forces in Somalia is recognised all over the world. I congratulate and express thank you to Ugandan troops and offer condolence for the soldiers who were lost,” the Duke said.

At the Rapid Deployment Centre, he was welcomed by Maj Gen Francis Okello, the former force commander of Amisom. The centre was built using funding from the UK government. He was then welcomed to the Senior Command and Staff College by Brigadier Apollo Kasiita.

“In all you are doing, take into consideration that it’s the people who you are commanding that are crucial. The days of using force are becoming rare, it is non-combatant methods that are often used,” the Duke advised the soldiers.  

smwesigye@observer.ug

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