May 22, 2008
Queen Elizabeth opens Owen Falls

It was announced in Parliament recently that the Owen Falls Dam bridge, built by the British colonial administration and inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II in 1954, is on the verge of collapse. Queen Elizabeth opened Owen Falls on her second ever visit to Uganda. This special report by The East African’s BAMUTURAKI MUSINGUZI focuses on this visit and others made by the Royal Couple to Uganda over the years.

Members of the British Royal Family have made several visits to Uganda on both official and private tours – and when Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh came here to attend the bi-annual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) last year, they were making two and three visits respectively to their former colony.

According to records available at the Uganda National Archives in Entebbe and in the Makerere University Main Library in Kampala, Queen Elizabeth’s first visit to Uganda was rather a sad and short one when she made a stop-over at Entebbe Airport from Kenya in 1952 with the Duke of Edinburgh on their way to Britain for the burial of her father and her eventual accession as Queen of England.

Her second visit came two years later when she inaugurated the Owen Falls Dam.
‘Uganda Welcomes Her Majesty and The Duke,’ was the led story in The Uganda Herald’s edition of April 29, 1954.
“In spite of the gloomy forecast and a heavy storm in the early morning, the sun smiled down upon Entebbe Airport when Her Gracious Majesty Queen Elizabeth II set foot for the second time [to open the Owen Falls Hydro-Electric Scheme] and in happier circumstances on the soil of her Protectorate of Uganda. The Guard of Honour from the Uganda Police, led by the Police Band, in their white uniforms were drawn up on the tarmac. His Excellency the Governor…were waiting to welcome Her Majesty as the aircraft came in low over the lake at five minutes to ten…”

The Royal Party flew in a B.O.A.C. Argonaut. Among the officials to receive them were the three Regents of Buganda; P.N. Kavuma, M. Mugwanya, and L. Mpagi.
Describing the scene at the airport, The Uganda Herald wrote: “…The trains of the national anthem filled the air as the band played the royal salute. The 21-gun salute thundered out from the other side of the airfield, and clouds of yellow cordite smoke drifted slowly away in the light breeze.”

The Queen and the Duke drove the two miles to Government House (State House) in Entebbe along the gaily decorated road and beneath triumphal arches of the Baganda, European and Goan communities.

A ceremony of welcome was held in the grounds of Government House at 11:30a.m. attended by the three Regents of Buganda, the three African rulers from the western province (Rukirabasaija Agutamba Omukama of Bunyoro, Rukirabasaija Omukama of Toro, and Rubambansi Omugabe of Ankole), members of the Executive and Legislative Councils, bishops and judges, representatives of 12 districts in the Protectorate outside Buganda, leading members of the civil service and the [general] public.

In his welcome speech, P.N. Kavuma, the Senior Regent of Buganda, expressed sorrow that the King of Buganda was not able to personally welcome the Queen.
“…It is a matter of personal sorrow to the people of Buganda, whose spokesman I am, that Your Majesty cannot be received today by our own ruler the Kabaka, as we had so deeply wished; but our private sorrows cannot mar the true happiness we feel at seeing Your Majesty in our midst…”
Kavuma added: “…We ardently pray that your majesty will retain many memories of our country, which, under Your Majesty’s gracious protection, is proceeding surely along the path of progress…”

The Queen replied: “…It is a great pleasure to us to have been able to include a visit to Uganda in our Commonwealth tour. I have often heard my parents recall pleasant memories of their time here in 1925 and my mother and sister have spoken of the brief stop they made in Entebbe last year when they were able to meet a number of you.”
She continued: “This is not the first time that we have been to Uganda; my husband and I stopped here for a few hours on our way home from Kenya after my father’s death two years ago. But it is the first chance we have had of meeting the people of this country. We are very glad therefore to attend this most representative gathering so soon after our arrival. I am indeed glad to see before me people from Buganda and from every district, in the Eastern, Western and Northern provinces, as well as men and women belonging to every profession and trade of many different races and creeds from all parts of the country and from every walk of life. I hope that we may all regard this gathering today as symbolic of the unity of purpose of all parts of the Protectorate and of all who live in it.”

The Queen graciously presented signed portraits of herself to the rulers of Bunyoro, Toro and Ankole. She conferred accolades on Sir Fredrick Crawford, K.C.M.G., Acting Governor of Kenya, and on Sir Charles Westlake, Kt., chairman of Uganda Electricity Board (UEB). She also presented insignias to several high ranking officials.
Owen Falls

In another article in the same edition of the newspaper, The Uganda Herald reported that the primary purpose of the visit of Her Majesty the Queen was to inaugurate the Owen Falls Hydro-Electricity Scheme at Jinja.
Of this, His Excellency the Governor, Sir Andrew Cohen, K.C.M.G., has written: “I believe that if we maintain a spirit of harmony, unity and enterprise, the Owen Falls Dam will open new horizons of opportunity and prosperity for Uganda and all who live here.”

Sir Cohen, in a forward message to the brochure prepared in connection with the opening by Queen of the hydro-electric scheme, wrote:
“I am proud that this historic event has taken place during my tenure of the office as Governor. This great enterprise was initiated by Sir John Hall as an act of faith in the future of Uganda; and his faith was shared by the Legislative Council, which gave the project whole-hearted support. Already, we are seeing that this faith is justified. I express my admiration for the foresight and courage of those who conceived the scheme and I pay tribute to all who have taken part in the planning and construction of the dam and all that goes with it. They can be proud of their contribution to a feat of engineering which ranks with any in the world.

“Despite its technical complexity and the fact that we have had to draw upon skill and experience from many parts of the world, it belongs to Uganda and to Uganda’s people. The power which the dam will provide and the industries it will make possible will bring solid benefit to everybody in the shape of increased wealth; above all, it will bring new opportunities to Africans. Uganda will continue to be primarily an agricultural country, but it has long been recognised that it is dangerous to tie the county’s economy almost entirely to two cash crops. The Owen Falls Scheme will add powerful strings to our bow,” the Governor added.

The first recorded suggestion of using the source of the Nile for the production of electricity was made in a prospectus published in 1904 by the proposed Uganda Development Company, which later became that great enterprise, the Uganda Company Limited.

The prospectus said: “For the supply of power it would be possible to erect an electric generating station to be worked by water power from the Ripon Falls. A cheap supply of power and light would lead to the establishment of various other industries.”

In its edition of May 1, 1954, The Uganda Herald reported the events surrounding the Queen’s inauguration of Owen Falls Scheme under the headline, “Mwebale Omulimu (Thank you for your work)” on the front page.

“…The scheme which Your majesty is to inaugurate today will contribute greatly to the development of this Protectorate, by the release of electric power in a country 800 miles from the coast which has no fuel resources of its own,” Sir Cohen said.

“It will also play a most important part in raising the standard of living of the people; for it will make possible the establishment of industries which will increase the national income and the resources available for expanding education, health and other services so ardently desired by the people…”

In her speech, the Queen said: “I am glad and proud to be here to day with my husband to open the Owen Falls Hydro-Electric Scheme. By its size and magnificence it bears more eloquent witness than any words of mine to the vision of those who were responsible for its conception and to the skill of those who built it…

“This power will serve industries which are already in being and others which will be established in the future. Without power there can be no economic development and without power no country can go forward in the modern world…”

The Queen performed two ceremonies at the Owen Falls, the first at the dam where she opened the sluice gates, and the second inside the power station where she started one of the turbines and declared the Owen Falls Hydro-Electric Station open.

The Queen and the Duke proceeded to the control room and thence to the conference room where further presentations were made, and a souvenir of the occasion given to the Queen by the chairman and members of UEB. Thereafter, the Queen and the Duke joined guests of the Board invited to take refreshments in the entrance hall of the Power House.
The Royal Visitors were seen off at Jinja Airfield by a few leading citizens of Jinja and representatives of the Busoga District Council. The Police Band (conducted by C.T. Beare, A.R.C.M.) played before and after the ceremony. Shortly after dark, there was a display of fireworks over the site of the Owen Falls Scheme.

According to UEB, the scheme provided for the installation of 10 turbines with a total installed capacity of 150,000 kilowatts. “Six of these turbines are being installed in the first instance, and with the demand already contracted for, the electricity produced will be fully utilised. 
“...The total cost of the Owen Falls Scheme and associated transmission lines will be over 21 million pounds sterling, but in a world of fuel shortages and rising prices, the resulting economies will be considerable. As an example, the hydro-electric power available when the station is completed will equal the amount of electricity produced by 500,000 tonnes of coal per annum. Uganda has neither coal nor oil, the importation of which must inevitably result in heavy ocean freight and carriage costs.”

The Queen was born in London on April 21, 1926, the first child of the Duke and Duchess of York, subsequently King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Five weeks later, she was christened Elizabeth Alexandra Mary in the chapel at Buckingham Palace.

In 1952, King George VI’s illness forced him to abandon his proposed visit to Australia and New Zealand. The Princess, accompanied by Prince Philip, took his place. On February 6, during the first stage of this journey, in Kenya, she received the news of her father’s death and her own accession to the throne.

Death of a king

On Thursday, February 7, 1952, The Uganda Herald newspaper announced the death of King George VI under the headline, ‘Death of The King.’
“His Majesty the King passed away peacefully in his sleep at Sandringham in the early hours of this morning (February 6). He had gone to bed last night in his usual health,” The Uganda Herald reported on its front page.

According to the newspaper, although February 7 was not an official day of mourning, all government offices throughout the Protectorate were closed. There were no performances at the three Kampala cinemas that evening.
Under the headline, ‘Her Majesty At Entebbe,’ The Uganda Herald reported on February 9, 1952, on page one that, “Still wearing her holiday clothes – light pink frock, white halo hat and white accessories, Her Majesty, the Queen of England, alighted from the Dakota aircraft “Sagana” at Entebbe Airport on Wednesday evening on her sad journey back to the United Kingdom. The plane touched down at 8:44p.m. and the Queen, followed by the Duke of Edinburgh, walked to the airport restaurant to wait for her departure, scheduled for 9:30p.m.”

Later a Lodestar, carrying the royal luggage, landed at the airport, followed by the Royal Argonaut “Atlanta” which had been flown from Mombasa to carry the royal couple for the rest of their journey. Lightening, flickering along the horizon, heralded the approach of a storm and the rising wind whirled dust-devils across the tarmac of the runway. Exactly at the appointed time of departure, the storm broke over Entebbe. The wind rose to a force of fifty knots and the “Argonaut’s” skipper announced that the take-off would have to be delayed. Purple and yellow lighting flashed continuously over the aerodrome, dimming the runway lights and illuminating the thrashing flag which flew at half-mast from the control tower. Sheets of rain lashed the silent planes and bounced on the black tarmac of the runway.

A room was prepared for the Royal Couple in the Airport Manager’s private office, but they preferred to stay in the restaurant, where the Queen drank a soft drink. They were accompanied by His Excellency the Governor, dressed in black, who had met the plane. From 10:00 to 10:45p.m. the storm raged at its height, but then slowly subsided.
At 11:40p.m. the Queen, accompanied by her husband and wearing a borrowed mackintosh, walked to the “Argonaut,” which took off at 11:47p.m. for El Adem. The Royal Couple were expected at El Adem at 9a.m. on Thursday morning (East African time) and were to go straight to London, where they were expected to arrive at 6p.m. G.M.T.

In the same edition of February 9, The Uganda Herald carried a message dated February 7 from the Governor, Andrew Cohen that read:
“It was with the most profound regret that information was received yesterday afternoon of the death the previous night of His Most Gracious Majesty King George VI, to the great sorrow of the Royal Family and of all His Majesty’s subjects. Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh passed through Entebbe Airport yesterday evening on their way to London and I informed Her Majesty personally on behalf of the people of Uganda, of our profound grief and deep sympathy at the death of His Majesty, her father, and presented to Her Majesty our loyal and humble duty.”

Her Majesty’s Coronation took place in Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953. Representatives of the peers, the Commons and all the great public interests in Britain, the Prime Ministers and leading citizens of the other Commonwealth countries, and representatives of foreign states were present.