Amin Is Dead: Aminism Lives

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During the regime of Dictator Idi Amin, Ugandans opposed to the murderous general were living in fear of being abducted by men wearing dark glasses.

These men roamed the streets of Kampala in white Japanese sedans. They picked their quarry at random, often on the dance floor of Kampala night clubs and on several occasions, from their victims’ own residences. 

Worried relatives quite often paid exorbitant sums of money in vain attempts, not to save the lives of their people, but to be able to know where their dead bodies had been thrown. The majority of the victims of Amin’s regime often died from bullet wounds. Many still died from atrocious torture methods.

The removal of Idi Amin’s regime in 1979 brought fresh hope that Ugandans had learned from past mistakes and that no leader worth his name would repeat what Amin had done. While the outside world joined Ugandans in celebrating Amin’s overthrow, little did they know that his departure would quickly be succeeded by even more ruthless killers!

This correspondent, then with the Nairobi-based Daily Nation, watched as rivalry gangs of so called “liberators� went on rampage, eliminating those they thought had colluded with Amin as well as those they saw as being in their way to power. One thing though was different. While Amin killed and hid his victims, the “new guys on the block� killed and left dead bodies rotting on the streets.

The use of poison as a way of eliminating political opponents is not new in Uganda’s chequered history. One may want to recall the time when Sir Edward Mutesa II, then Kabaka (King) of Buganda was exiled in London in 1966. He survived for just three years and suddenly died a pauper in his South-East London council flat.

What I remember vividly at the time is the widespread talk that the Buganda King had died from poisoning at the orders of then President Milton Obote. It was said that Dr. Obote had used a Muganda girl to befriend the Kabaka. She is said to have later used her close relations with him to spike his drink. To this day, people still point a finger at the girl’s family, almost 40 years since “King Freddie� as he was popularly known in British political circles, died.
Professor Yusuf Lule succeeded Idi Amin in 1979. Internal squabbles within the rebel movements that had forced Amin’s exit saw Lule following in the footsteps of King Freddie. He joined the now expanding Ugandan exiles in London and, once again, was to die mysteriously. There was also widespread talk that he had been poisoned. 

Early this year, I went to cover a story of Ugandan opposition Members of Parliament who were paying a visit to London. At the end of covering their meeting with the Ugandan community in North London suburb, I felt hungry and realized there was a Ugandan-owned restaurant specializing in Ugandan dishes. I quickly went in and ordered a dish of Matooke with beef (the staple diet of most Baganda). While I was enjoying my meal, my cell phone started ringing. I ignored it but it kept going.

Reluctantly I answered it. The voice at the other end told me: “What do you think you are doing? That restaurant where you are having a meal is owned by Museveni’s people. They will poison you. Get out of there fast!� What the caller did not realize is that much as I appreciated his kind message of warning, it had come a little bit too late! I had already eaten and was actually enjoying the food. But this warning startled me. My mind went into a spin. After all these years running away from my enemies or those I thought wanted to hurt me, had they finally caught up with me?

After thinking so hard, I said to myself: these guys had no idea I was coming to dine at their place. How could they have quickly organized to poison me? I started looking around me. There were others eating but all did not look like they were coming from Western Uganda (Museveni’s political base). It was then that I decided to finish my meal and wait for my fate. If I was poisoned that day, it must be a very slow poison. But one must never take chances with one’s fate. I have not been back to that eatery since!

For as long as I have lived in London (20 years) the fear of being poisoned by Ugandan secret agents is very much in the mind of many Ugandan exiles. Many will not accept a drink in a glass. When in night clubs, several Ugandans can be seen holding their beer bottles as if their very lives depended on making sure no one tampered with them. They visit washrooms still holding their drinks.

Brigadier Mayombo is rumoured to have been poisoned. He was a very brilliant and able secret agent. Yet if it is true he was indeed poisoned, who is safe? As head of military intelligence, he is said to have ruthlessly pursued those opposed to Museveni’s regime. Those that managed to come out of his so-called “safe houses,� talk of very poisonous snakes being released into prison cells to make prisoners talk. He was seen as a very close confidante of the Ugandan leader who is now the longest serving Ugandan head of State, with 21 years in office.

Of course another prominent political figure to have died in questionable circumstances was Dr. Andrew Kayiira in 1987.  When he was gunned down after being acquitted on trumped up treason charges, President Museveni was noticeable for the way he never said a word about that assassination.

Instead, he went on a trip to western Uganda where he addressed political rallies. Twenty years later when his very close confidante dies in similar questionable circumstances, Museveni chose to address a rally in support of a local councillor standing in local elections. While his senior army officers were parading their sadness in public, Museveni was nowhere to be seen. Does anything ever change in this country that Winston Churchill once called a land “flowing with milk and honey?� It is shocking how Mayombo’s death is so similar to that of an ex-Russian agent who was poisoned in London towards the end of last year. Who is next?

Gombya, former BBC correspondent writes for The Black Star from London

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