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The Sunday Times
Sunday, 26 January, 2003

Gadaffi In African Queen Mystery

The Sunday Times - World
January 26, 2003

Gadaffi in African queen mystery
By Jon Swain

THE Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gadaffi has developed a mysterious obsession with a centuries-old kingdom in western Uganda whose 10- year-old king is the youngest monarch in the world.

The relationship established by Gadaffi, renowned for bankrolling controversial African causes with his oil wealth, with the ancient court of Toro does not fit the mould of his more hard-nosed African adventures.

He has spent £2.5m rebuilding the palace and has bought homes in Kampala and London for the child king and the queen mother, a 35-year-old widow called Best Kemigisa.

Both have been entertained in Libya by Gadaffi, who is sponsoring the education of Princess Komuntale, the king’s teenage sister, at an international school in Tripoli.

In return the little king - officially called Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukidi IV but otherwise known as Oyo - has appointed the Libyan ruler as his adviser, decking Gadaffi out in traditional Toro royal regalia. He has asked Gadaffi for assistance to develop education, health and tourism.

Reconstruction has not always gone smoothly. Last month court bailiffs were repelled by the king’s guards after trying to seize his Mercedes because of an alleged failure to pay palace renovation costs to a Ugandan company.

“We don’t have a debt with these people. The money came straight from Libya,” protested Kemigisa.

In diplomatic circles in Kampala, speculation was rife last week that Gadaffi is infatuated with the queen mother. Kemigisa was widowed in 1995 when King Patrick Olimi Kaboyo II suddenly died from hypertension.

With his father’s unexpected death, Oyo succeeded to the throne at the age of three. He clutched a toy car and cried during the coronation. While his regents handle the kingdom’s affairs the boy - who briefly attended a nursery in Blackheath, south London, has been studying in Kampala and returning to Toro for holidays.

This weekend Stephen Nyabongo, prime minister of Toro, sought to dampen speculation that Gadaffi was amorously pursuing Kemigisa. There was “no substance” to claims of a relationship, he said; Gadaffi’s interest in Toro was part of his efforts to bring Libya closer to the African people.

Many of Toro’s 1m subjects have nonetheless been troubled by the amount of time that Kemigisa has spent in Libya as Gadaffi’s personal guest. One of her trips lasted two months.

“The people are very disappointed,” said one official. “It is as if she has been taken over by Gadaffi.”

Oyo met Gadaffi in May 2001 when the Libyan leader flew to Uganda for the installation of President Yoweri Museveni after his re-election as Ugandan head of state. The child king’s Libyan links were strengthened that month when he flew to Tripoli in an aircraft which Gadaffi had sent to collect him, his mother and his tribal guardians.

In July, Gadaffi returned to Uganda fresh from Zimbabwe, where he has invested heavily in property and business, lambasted white farmers and praised President Robert Mugabe’s seizure of their land without compensation.

He immediately drove the 200 miles to Fort Portal, the Toro capital, dazzling everyone with a convoy of armoured limousines said to have stretched for more than a mile. The locals thronging the route would have loved the spectacle more had members of his entourage thrown fistfuls of $100 notes out of the windows, as they had done while driving through Malawi last year.

A few months later Kemigisa returned to Tripoli. The visits and Gadaffi’s fascination with the tiny kingdom at the foot of Uganda’s fabled Mountains of the Moon have continued.

Toro is one of five historic kingdoms making up Uganda which were abolished by former president Milton Obote in 1966.

Museveni re-established the monarchy in 1994 to serve in a ceremonial capacity. A graduate of Gadaffi’s guerrilla camps, the Ugandan leader enjoys a special friendship with the Libyan strongman that is quite independent of Toro.

With oil expected to be discovered in the tiny kingdom, Toro is destined to become a linchpin of the Ugandan economy. Last week officials close to Museveni saw the prospect of an oil bonanza as one factor driving Gadaffi’s love for Toro.

Whatever the truth, Gadaffi’s meddling in sub-Saharan Africa has increased markedly in recent months. Denied the respect that he craves in the Arab world as a result of the 1988 Lockerbie airline bombing, he has courted the continent’s leaders assiduously. His avowed wish is for Africa to develop into one country - a union of states with him, of course, as the president.

For now it is all a pipe dream. But Gadaffi’s friendship with many African leaders paid him a handsome dividend last week. Despite its dismal human rights record and United Nations sanctions for international terrorism, Libya was elected to chair the UN human rights commission with African votes.

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