The Toro Kingdom, in turn, named him a "Defender of the Crown," its highest honor, complete with a royal spear and crown. The only other outsider to have received that title recently is Museveni, who restored Uganda's traditional kingdoms in 1993, some 26 years after President Milton Obote formally abolished them. A few months before Qaddafi's capture and killing, Toro Queen Mother Best Kemigisa added another title, calling him her "best friend" in an interview with a local newspaper.
But Qaddafi's largesse to the Toro Kingdom wasn't entirely selfless. Like the continental wars he helped fund and the mosques he built, the Libyan dictator's friendship was also an investment -- a foothold purchased among Africa's traditional leaders to propagate his vision of a united, yet tribal African state. "Toro Kingdom was his darling institution," Winyi says. "Whatever he wanted done, he would use Toro Kingdom to do it."
Winyi should know. He's the guy who got the 2 a.m. phone calls from frazzled Libyan Embassy officials. Could he organize a conference of traditional leaders in Uganda in three days? Could he assemble a group of East Africa's tribal kings and have them in Benghazi in 72 hours? It's the latter request that got the royal family in hot water with the Ugandan government.
Winyi claims with some pride that the unified body of traditional leaders Qaddafi assembled in August 2008, dubbed the Forum of Kings and Sultans of Africa, was originally a Toro idea. In its initial conception, Winyi says, the forum was to consider the role of traditional rulers in modern Africa. But Qaddafi had other plans. He wanted to leverage the group to pressure continental leaders who had rejected his call for a unified African state. Over this motley assortment of African tribes, Qaddafi -- at once iron-fisted dictator, simple Bedouin, revolutionary philosopher, and billionaire oilman -- would rule. At the 2008 meeting, he orchestrated a ceremony at which the body named him "King of Kings." Photos from the event show Qaddafi seated on a throne, surrounded by African rulers resplendent in traditional costumes.
Six months after his "coronation," Qaddafi arranged for the royals -- including the Toro queen mother -- to dust off their finery and fly to an African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he was to be named chairman of the organization. But the traditional leaders were initially blocked from entering the summit because they were not official heads of state. Eventually, Qaddafi managed to get at least seven of his royal allies into the hall, including one from Benin who publicly championed Qaddafi's "crowning" in a statement that was later struck from the official record. "Many heads of state in Africa felt this was very, very bad," Winyi says." It caused a lot of problems for the traditional leaders back home."
Back in Uganda, Museveni was not amused. The president, who came to power in 1986 and -- with Qaddafi's fall -- is now the fifth-longest-serving African leader, had long opposed the Libyan dictator's call for a United States of Africa. When Museveni reinstated Uganda's four traditional kingdoms, he restricted them to purely cultural institutions -- without political authority. It was a shrewd move. In a country where many people still identify and marry along tribal lines, Museveni won accolades for returning the kingdoms to the people, while the limitations he placed on them ensured he was not promoting any future political rivals. But suddenly, there was Qaddafi, arm in arm with the Toro leadership, undermining Museveni's position on the world stage. Uganda's Parliament moved quickly to curb the kingdoms. For one thing, Winyi says, requests for official travel were now to be run through Uganda's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Still, the new restrictions didn't dampen the kingdom's enthusiasm for Qaddafi. Many in Fort Portal kept a close eye on the civil war in Libya last year, praying for Qaddafi to defeat and then to escape the Libyan rebels. When he was killed, "it was terrible," says Ray Bashir Kayondo, a local radio personality. "Someone even called me when he was shedding tears.… [Qaddafi's] an icon here."
Ironically, if anyone has grown less popular since Qaddafi arrived on the scene, it's the Toro royals. Today, photos of the royal family touring Libya, or of King Oyo and his sister attending posh Western schools that Qaddafi helped pay for, rankle when as many as 30 percent of the people in the kingdom get by on just $1.25 a day. The people of Toro saw Qaddafi "give money, but it [didn't] reach the grassroots person," says Solomon Akugizibwe, who works for a local NGO documenting the kingdom's heritage.
One of the king's regents, Rev. Richard Baguma, insists that the Toro people "are not jealous" of the royal family. He says that when King Oyo, now 20 years old, returns from studying at Britain's famed Sandhurst military academy for his coronation anniversary later this year, he will be greeted with the usual fanfare. And because "Defender of the Crown" is a hereditary title, Qaddafi's heirs -- wherever they are -- are welcome to attend too, Baguma says, smiling.
Back atop Kabarole Hill, caretaker Charles Muhanga gives me a tour of "Qaddafi's Palace," calling the renovation a gift from the Libyan people. Circling the coral-pink mansion, Muhanga stops in front of the entrance. Next to one of the doors, there's a rectangle of darker paint and four telltale holes where the screws have been removed. Until recently, the plaque memorializing the day Qaddafi laid the foundation stone had hung there. Muhanga can't say when or why it came down.
But no one here in the land of Toro needs a plaque to remember the kingdom's benefactor. Qaddafi was "a good man," says Akolebirungi, the cosmetics salesman. "Here in Africa, he did so many good things for us."