People

The Life And Times of Obote’s British Adviser Joyce Heckman

Joyce_Heckman_2260561b_633772441

website geneva;”>She went out to Uganda in the early 1960s with her husband Maxwell, dosage who had been appointed by the Commonwealth Office to the post of civil secretary to the Ugandan government, later becoming chief accountant to the Ugandan Customs And Immigration Police.

Header advertisement

Joyce began working as a secretary for the Ugandan government and subsequently became chief secretary and later PA to Obote, the political leader who led Uganda to independence from the British in 1962.

The Heckmans lived in Kampala for many years and Joyce travelled extensively with Obote, attending several Commonwealth Heads of State meetings and UN conferences.

When Pope Paul VI visited Uganda in 1969, Joyce Heckman was given a papal silver medal to mark the occasion. In 1970 she was appointed MBE for services to Uganda on behalf of the Commonwealth.

She continued to work with Obote until the day he was overthrown in a military coup by Idi Amin.

At first, despite Amin’s bloodthirsty reputation, the British were delighted to see the back of Obote, who had embarked on a policy of nationalisation and had threatened to withdraw from the Commonwealth if Britain went ahead with plans to resume arms exports to apartheid South Africa.

(Britain was one of the first countries to recognise the new regime).

But as Amin began to show his true colours, it became clear that Uganda had exchanged one authoritarian government for a much worse one.

Although diplomatic relations were only eventually broken (by Amin himself) in 1972 after the expulsion of the Ugandan Asians, life for British expats became more and more uncomfortable.

Following the coup the Heckmans were unable to leave immediately and were subsequently forced to work for the Ugandan dictator against their will.

Despite Joyce’s association with Obote, it seems that Idi Amin liked having a British woman at his beck and call.

He called her “Joycey” (which she hated), though there was an undercurrent of menace beneath the jocularity. Amin had placed a price on the Heckmans’ heads should they try to escape.

Towards the end of 1971, Joyce entered into secret negotiations with staff at the British High Commission and one night the Heckmans were told to gather together their personal belongings and wait for a knock on the door.

When it came they were bundled into a Land Rover and told to keep their heads down as they and other British expats were whisked away by the SAS in a convoy of Land Rovers. They travelled more than 500 miles over dirt tracks to Nairobi and to freedom.

When Amin was overthrown in 1980 and Obote returned to power, Joyce Heckman returned to Uganda to work in the president’s office, while her husband was appointed, under the aegis of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as a financial adviser to the Ugandan government.

When Obote was deposed for a second time in 1985 and, after a period of chaos, replaced by Yoweri Museveni, the Heckmans were again given only a few hours to leave the country. This time they travelled in considerably more comfort.

Joyce Margaret Wakeham was born in Liverpool on February 20 1927. After leaving school she trained as a secretary and worked for Philips Electrical.

In 1947 she married Maxwell Heckman, then working as an accountant with British Road Services.

After finally returning from Uganda, Joyce worked at Liverpool University as secretary to Dr Peter Spencer.

She remained in regular contact with Obote’s widow Miriam until shortly before her death.

Joyce Heckman’s husband predeceased her. Their son and daughter survive her.

Joyce Heckman, born February 20 1927, died June 15 2012

Comments

Header advertisement
To Top