Idi Amin Deja Vu—Uganda’s Spate of State Kidnappings and Murders

The late dictator Gen. Idi Amin
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The late Gen. Idi Amin established a state of terror never before seen in Uganda until now. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

In Uganda, fear reigns. This fear is fed by reports of “drones” abducting people—some of whose bodies are later discovered abandoned in various locations—randomly. 

“Drones” are the terms Ugandans have given to vehicles with no registration plates manned by state secret police and soldiers for the sole purpose of kidnapping civilians. 

A few days ago, Police in Mpigi began investigating circumstances under which 15 bodies were dumped at a village by unknown persons. Lydia Tumushabe, the police spokesperson for the Katonga Region said the local chairman for Busese A village in Nkozi sub-county, Mpigi district, was informed of a person identified as Aisha Kwagala who’d transferred remains of 15 persons from Kyengera to have them buried in Busese village. “This was however rejected by the landlord who forced Kwagala and her team to carry their bodies back," Tumushabe said. 

The remains were, however, later brought back deep in the night and dumped in Busese village where they were left unburied. Police removed the 15 bodies, wrapped in backcloth, and took them to Gombe hospital. 

Uganda’s opposition leader, member of parliament Robert Kyagulanyi, a.k.a Bobi Wine, recently stated to journalists during a press conference that 3,000 of his followers are still missing. They are either in jail or unaccounted for after alleged abductions by security forces.

As pressure mounts on the Ugandan authorities to find scores of other missing persons—whose family members claim were abducted by security forces before or after last month’s presidential election—the situation grows grim.  Internal Affairs Minister Gen. Jeje Odongo told lawmakers last week that at least 31 of 44 alleged kidnapping victims “are yet to be traced.” He said, “We undertake to investigate each and every one of the reported incidents.”

It was the first time a top Ugandan official acknowledged the reported abductions. However it will not be the last time, count on that. That admission has triggered a storm. Ugandans are saying that many Ugandans are taken at night in vans without license plates. 

Some lawmakers, including the parliamentary speaker Rebecca Kadaga, have asked the authorities for an explanation. They want to know if the authorities, led by President Yoweri Museveni, are targeting civilians as payback for Museveni’s allegedly poor showing in the 2021 elections. Gen. Museveni’s main calling card as president has been to claim that Uganda has enjoyed relative peace and security during his regime. 

However the election silly season of 2021 was the most violent in years, with security forces cracking down on supporters of Bobi Wine, Museveni’s main challenger. Even the late dictator Gen. Idi Amin’s son, Hussein, has come out to condemn Museveni’s horrific human rights record. 

“For me I think (and that’s bad English!) a DNA test needs to be made to confirm if Hussein Lumumba Amin is truly the son of former president Idi Amin Dada,” commented a senior journalist Gawaya Tegulle. “The boy has come out strongly to condemn the Museveni administration for the widespread State-inspired violence: the killings with impunity, the kidnappings by State operatives…with people turning up dead or disappearing permanently – virtues which for many years were branded as a monopoly of Idi Amin’s regime.”

Is this really a case of Deja vu? Has Aminism returned to Uganda? In 1975, when explaining why he’d defected from Gen. Amin’s regime, Andrew Wakhweya, a finance minister, remarked: “The government is a one-man show. Impossible decisions are taken by General Amin which ministers are expected to implement. The decisions bear no relationship to the country’s available resources.”

Museveni has been accused of running a monocracy, or one-man government. Recently, the he ordered the shutdown of the biggest governance donor fund in Uganda, the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF).  He said the shutdown of DGF would be in effect until his cabinet works out an agreeable oversight role over the $136.5 million fund. He cites the fund as a possible Trojan horse for possible or actual “subversion” by foreign entities.  

Many Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) involved in governance are going to be affected following the fund’s closure. This follows other attacks by government that have been directed towards CSOs in their effort to stand for justice in Uganda. It's very clear that this is a politically motivated crackdown on DGF and it will affect governance advocacy greatly. 

But, more ominously Gen. Museveni’s actions have shades of 1972. In August of that year, Gen. Amin ordered Asians with British nationality to leave the country within three months. The shops, the businesses, the property that the Asians were forced to leave behind, even their personal possessions, were seized as spoils by Amin’s cronies. 50,000 Asians left in all and with their abrupt departure government revenue declined by nearly 40%.

Museveni’s shutdown of DGF and his attempted emasculation of CSOs will only benefit his regime as Ugandans suffer at the dark hand of his increasingly despotic actions. Amin’s rule left Uganda ravaged, lawless and bankrupt, with a death toll estimated at 250,000 people. 

Museveni’s reign may go down this thorny road. If you count the body counts in Luwero Triangle during the 1980-1986 war by Museveni to depose President Milton Obote, and the invasions of Rwanda and Congo, Museveni will surpass Amin in notoriety.

Museveni was once dubbed as part of a “new breed of African leaders”, much in the same way as Amin was called “a model of decorum and generosity” by Henry Kyemba, the cabinet secretary. Museveni’s regime has degenerated into deadly farce. 

With a spate of abductions in the land, we might find corpses dumped in the Nile as they once were during Amin’s era. Back then, three notorious sites were used: one was just above Owen Falls Dam at Jinja; another at Bujagali Falls near the army shooting range; and, a third at Karuma Falls near Murchison Falls. 

The intention was for the bodies to be eaten by crocodiles. Maybe the recent victims of abductions have already been eaten by crocodiles, and that’s why Gen. Odongo cannot trace them. 

We pray that this is not the case. 

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