As Uganda prepared for independence in 1962, a new and heavier burden than those borne by previous governments arose. Uganda was conscious of the statesmanship with which to move into foreign affairs, especially since its new diplomats had to learn on the job to hone their professional diplomatic skills.
When Uganda took its first steps into international diplomacy, a year before 1962, the burden fell on Benedicto Kiwanuka. The DP President General and Uganda’s first Premier had to appoint representatives to the UN in New York, and London. But this was not without tribal and religious dogfight in deciding who takes the postings.
Lord Andrew Benedicto Adimola thus became Uganda’s first black diplomat and opened Uganda Office at Trafalgar Square in London. As Government Agent, he oversaw Uganda and British Colonial Office interests in London. He quickly adjusted and coordinated all programmes and organisation of Independence Delegates for the Uganda Constitutional Conference in London in 1962.
But as the nation readies to celebrate 50 years of independence, Uganda’s pioneer diplomat has passed on. Lord Adimola had lain confined to his living room couch –disabled. He had been humbled by rheumatic arthritis.
As a devout Catholic, Adimola rarely missed the Sunday service, but could only be chauffeured to Gulu Cathedral and no more took up his special seat, which remained empty near the altar. But he still received Holy Communion ministered to him inside his car in the cathedral compound.
When we chatted at his home- five kilometres on the Gulu-Juba Road last year, Adimola’s firm voice and warm smile had belied a painful disorder of the joints that crippled his legs. His souvenirs of chafed books and wall portraits were caked with dust. But Adimola’s most prized portrait remained a framed copy of 1961 Uganda Argus newspaper article which announced his meteoric rise into Foreign Service.
Then with a sparkle in his eyes and euphoria in his voice, he asked me to unhook the framed copy of the article. “Read,” he directed, as I dusted the 50-year-old framework of the article that chronicled a segment of our prized history.
Mr Adimola was appointed by colonial Governor Sir Walter Coutts as Uganda’s first Government Agent in London in March 1961. As a pioneer diplomat, Mr Adimola initiated Uganda’s diplomatic office in London and oversaw Uganda affairs and Colonial Office and the Commonwealth. He also oversaw Uganda’s press, radio and tourism interests and presented briefs to the Government of Uganda.
He sat through all discussions in the British House of Commons that discussed Uganda’s 1962 Constitution, proposed and discussed Bills, and took them to the House of Lords for amendment and approval. Adimola was later called to the prestigious House of Lords, earning the nickname and honour title – Lord Andrew Adimola of Lacorshire.
Lacor, his little village outside Gulu Town, soon also acquired the famous equivalent of the English administrative district or county label of Lacorshire.
In 1961, Mr Adimola won the privilege to receive from Queen Elizabeth of England, the documents and ‘Instruments of Power’ which transferred power from the British colonialists to independent Uganda. He was assigned a special plane to Entebbe, the seat of the colonial government, to hand over the documents to Governor Sir Walter Coutts. He flew back to London on the same day to prepare Ugandan students and British colonial service officers to celebrate Uganda’s independence at the Royal Palace in London.
After four years of Foreign Service, Adimola was replaced by Ambassador Bazarabusa from Bukonzo and he returned to Uganda in 1964. After nine months of leave, he was sent off to New York and South Africa, but declined. Hereafter began Lord Adimola’s period of glittering career as one of Uganda’s finest permanent secretaries for 20 unbroken years.
His first stint was in 1965, when he was Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary and as Permanent Secretary for Animal Industries, Game and Fisheries (1966 and 1968) under Apollo Milton Obote. Adimola, together with Minister John Babiha, are credited for the breeding of hybrid cattle and development of dairy and beef industry as they oversaw the establishment of Aswa, Acholi, Agago, Maruzi and Ankole- Masaka ranching schemes.
Adimola then moved to the Ministry of Culture and Community Development between 1968 and 1970. But Adimola was soon accused of drafting a ministerial policy paper that Minister Katiti failed to read and present before Cabinet. He was consequently reshuffled and appointed Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education before Maj. Gen. Idi Amin upset the old established order in Uganda in 1971. Between 1971 and 1974, Adimola was re-posted to the Ministry of Education under Minister Barnabas Killi.
But his glittering career soon came to a shattering end after he was dismissed in 1974 for rejecting orders to grant 30 per cent of Makerere University quota to Muslims. Adimola had cleverly called for a review of the 1969 population census, which revealed Muslims were only five per cent of Uganda’s population and declared Muslims must compete on equal terms with other Ugandans.
To protect his scalp, Adimola fled to Kenya in 1971 and linked up with his Makerere Old Boy Minister Mwai Kibaki, who offered him a job as head of refugees from Uganda, Sudan, and Somali. But Adimola was forced out to Tanzania. In 1979, he joined other Ugandan exiles in the Moshi Conference in Tanzania to design a blueprint of the post-Idi Amin political order. His proposition of Yusufu Kironde Lule and not Milton Obote as interim President was popularly adopted on account that Kampala required a leader receptive in Buganda.
Adimola returned to Uganda in 1979 as Minister for Reconstruction and Rehabilitation and later head of Uganda Cement Corporation. But he retired to become a renowned farmer between 1980s and 1994. He had three tractors to plough his 5,000 hectares of farmland with 3,000 hectares for rice and groundnuts, and another 200 hectares under Friesian cattle. He had a yearly yield of 100 bags of upland rice. But all were vandalised in the northern war without compensation.
The witty politician
Lord Adimola bounced back into public life as an architect of the July 1985 coup d’état that toppled the Milton Obote II regime although he declined to take up a cabinet portfolio in the military junta-led interim regime.
In 1992, Adimola was thrown into the political limelight again, together with eight other Northern Uganda politicians when they were arrested and jailed in Luzira prison by the Museveni regime but won the case.
Two years later, Adimola beat youthful Norbert Mao to the Constituent Assembly delegate seat for Gulu Municipality. Adimola humorously dismissed Mao as a mere toddler who had not even been weaned on doing his toiletries.
Known for his sharp tongue and wits, Adimola as one of the framers of the 1995 Constitution, is also remembered for his wisecracks during debates in the Constituent Assembly (CA). But at 70 years, and weighed down by age and prone to slumber in the House, he would quip that it was the unsightly NRM delegates he didn’t want to see as he listened that had him closing his eyes often –not sleep.
Adimola is also remembered for a passionate speech in the CA debates on land issues when he warned the NRM of war in Acholiland should the CA enact a law that dispossess the Acholi of their ancestral land!
Adimola was a keen listener to the radio, and avidly read newspapers. But he regretted Independence did not bring all the treats Ugandans had expected to relish. He took his hats off for the 1995 Constitution as a good law failed by lack of will to implement its good principles.
But as the sun set on 88-year-old Lord Adimola, his wish remained that the grandchildren of his two sons and two daughters and all young Ugandans, would live in a better country after 50 years of independence.
Fare thee well Lord Andrew Benedicto Adimola, you have served your country with distinction!
This article was originally published by Monitor Publications.