Students Give Uganda King a Royal Welcome

Some dropped to their knees and bowed at his feet. Others grabbed his arm in a soul brother handshake. A few slapped him on the back and embraced him like a long-lost buddy.

That’s the way Los Angeles acts when royalty comes to town, the King of Uganda discovered Monday.

King Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II accepted each greeting with a smile during a visit to the California Afro-American Museum for a student seminar on African history.


“I’ve never met anybody as high as a king before,” confessed 15-year-old John Chang of Belmont High School. “I saw the mayor once. And the lieutenant governor--that’s the highest I’ve seen until now.”

Some were surprised that Mutebi wore an impeccable blue pin-striped suit instead of royal robes and a crown, and that he spoke in impeccable English instead of Luganda or any of four other African dialects. Most were surprised by his youthfulness.

“How old is he, anyway?” whispered Nakia Harvey, 17, of Washington High School, who sat a few rows behind his majesty during the three-hour museum seminar.

Mutebi is 39. He was crowned as 36th kabaka (king) of Buganda last July to end a 24-year gap in the monarchy. He replaces his father, King Edward Frederick Muteesa II, who died in exile in London in 1969.

Muteesa was dethroned as Buganda and three other Ugandan kingdoms were abolished in a takeover by former President Milton Obote and later by military strongman Idi Amin. Last year’s restoration of a royal dynasty that started in 1314 was seen by many in Uganda as representing a return to civility after Amin’s brutal dictatorship.

After his father’s death, Mutebi studied at Cambridge University and shared a London house with Stephen Jackson, now an advertising agency owner who lives in West Los Angeles.

“No other royal family has a lineage going back 700 years,” said Jackson, 39, who helped plan Mutebi’s six-day Los Angeles trip that ends today with visits to St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Compton and the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew University Medical Center.

“He felt absolutely helpless during Amin’s reign. It was the dictionary definition of helplessness,” said the British-born Jackson. “He is a spiritual, cultural king. He goes around like Queen Elizabeth trying to bring about economic aid. Except he has to work a little harder.”

During his Los Angeles visit, Mutebi has met with medical researchers to discuss Uganda’s growing AIDS problem and huddled with business leaders.

“We’re looking for people interested in investing in agriculture, tourism, small business,” Mutebi said. “It’s a good opportunity.”

On the home front, he said, leaders are beginning to pull together “to try for unity in a country torn apart by more than 30 years of civil strife.”

The king’s talk of investment opportunities struck a special chord with 26 of the 200 or so students attending the seminar. The ninth-graders in teacher Mike Dacker’s class at the newly created International Polytechnical High School in Pomona have formed their own Junior Achievement-type projects. They are creating products such as shirts, jewelry and foods in hopes of selling them internationally.

Adults in the crowd predicted that Mutebi’s style will help propel his struggling country forward.

“Even though he’s royalty, he’s very easy to talk to,” said Irene Campbell, 70, a resident of Los Angeles. “I think he will do well.”