Business and Finance
Intrigue and manoeuvres in designing the Uganda flag
To mark 50 years of Uganda’s independence, New Vision will, until October 9, 2012, be publishing highlights of events and profiling personalities who have shaped the history of this country. Today, MICHAEL KANAABI AND RICHARD DRASIMAKU search the archives and bring us the story of how the Uganda flag came to being
It was a game of manoeuvering and positioning in Uganda’s corridors of power before independence when it came to choosing the national flag.
The last pre-independence government that was led by the Democratic Party (DP) has already created a provisional national flag to replace the Union Jack. The flag was mainly green, which is the colour of the DP.
However, during elections to choose Uganda’s first post-independence government the DP lost to Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), the party that received the instruments of power from the colonialists.
The UPC government’s first order of business was to change the colours of the provisional flag. The predominant colours of the flag that was eventually adopted at Uganda’s independence are red and black, which are UPC’s.
While it is generally believed the flag was designed by the then justice minister Grace Ibingira, a one Paul Mukasa is also credited to have been one of the designers.
And in 2007, Semei Nyai Matia, a retired teacher from Maracha district also laid claim as the original designer of the flag and wants a compensation of sh1.5b, a commercial building and a truck.
The Ugandan flags
Uganda has had four flags so far. The country has had the Protectorate flag, ‘the Union Jack’, the 1961/62 Provisional flag and eventually the post-independence flag which the country uses today. The provisional and the postindependence flags however had radical changes reflecting the colours of the parties in power.
The provisional flag
At the dawn of independence, the DP government, under Prime Minister Kiwanuka, set up a committee to design the national symbols that included the flag, the coat of arms and the national anthem.
The committee, chaired by the late Prof. Senteza Kajubi came up with the provisional flag, which was made up of mainly DP’s official colours: green, two strips of yellow and blue with the Crested Crane standing on one leg in the middle. This provisional flag was used between March and October 1962.
However, when DP lost the April 25 1962 election to the UPC/Kabaka Yekka alliance, radical changes were made to the provisional flag ahead of the Independence day on October 9, 1962.
The UPC manoeuvre
In an earlier interview, Prof. Kajubi, said the committee encountered hurdles in choosing the flag following the change of government from DP to UPC/KY. “We had been appointed by the DP government, but we were now reporting to the UPC government,” Kajubi said in an interview with the New Vision.
“The original flag presented to the Cabinet had the colour blue to represent the water bodies of Uganda, yellow for the tropics and green to represent the natural vegetation of the country.”
“When this flag was presented to the Cabinet in 1962, it was rejected on the grounds that colour green fades.
Instead, Grace Ibingira, a cabinet minister with artistic capabilities, liked the flag of West Germany and went with that in mind to Prof. Cecil Todd
at Makerere University, who came up with the present day flag. This flag was selected at the cabinet, not committee level as originally planned,” Kajubi said.
Provisional flag rejected
While some believe the provisional flag was rejected due to political intrigue, the late Ibingira said it was discarded on technical grounds following advice from the flag’s manufacturers, Messrs Porter Bros.
The manufacturers reportedly said the green colour was pale and would fade fast in Uganda’s hot sun, while the blue didn’t match anything Ugandan.
Consequently on May 8, the UPC/KY cabinet met in Entebbe and appointed a sub-committee chaired by Ibingira with the then health minister Dr. E.B.S Lumu, information minister Adoko Nekyon and regional administrator, the late Cuthbert Obwangor as members.
Since Ibingira was also an artist, the committee reportedly requested him to make the selections and submit samples, of which two were shortlisted.
At a full cabinet meeting in Entebbe on May 16, 1962, the current flag was chosen and also endorsed by the committee’s artistic advisor, Prof. Cecil Todd.
The criteria for choosing the flag included being cheap and easy to produce being different from the other flags, according to Ibingira. He adds that he included the Uganda Crane as well because of its gentle qualities and the fact that it was already a national symbol being used on the colonial flag and also present on the provisional flag.
The Nyai Matia claim
Picking a cue from the late Prof. George William Kakoma, who sued the government demanding compensation for composing the national anthem, Nyai Matia claims his idea was stolen by the committee that selected the Uganda flag.
Born January 1, 1933 in Koi village in Maracha, Nyai says he was among the many Ugandans who responded to radio announcements of a national competition to design the national flag. “My design was black on the top and yellow and red aligned in equal horizontal shades,” recalls the former teacher.
“Black stood for the African people and land, yellow for sunshine on the tropical equator zone, red for bloodshed in the struggle for Uganda’s peace and self-determination.”
Nyai Matia adds: “In May 1961, another announcement was made calling on the participants to improve on their designs or submit new one. At this point, I decided that I should double each colour band and insert a crested crane as a national symbol in the middle.”
Nyai Matia said after that, the internal affairs ministry kept the results under wraps until on the eve of independence celebrations when the media announced the colours of the new national flag without mentioning the designer. He was filled with joy and awaited a reward as had been promised. But the reward is yet to come.
Payments to composers?
However, Kajubi, the committee chairperson said the announcements for the submissions of national symbols never mentioned any rewards for the winners.
“Our mandate was to receive and select the best item. And the adverts never stipulated what one was to receive in return. It was upon the Cabinet to decide what they were to give to the winners but no reward was mentioned to the best of my memory,” Kajubi clarified.
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