January 25, 1971, was the day Gen Idi Amin “Dada” took over power as president of Uganda and ruled for nine years until April 24, 1979. He was the third president out of nine this country has had since Independence. He was one of the five who came to power with “gunfire” behind them and one of the five who went out of power unceremoniously with “gunfire” behind them.
The others who took power with “gunfire” behind them were: Milton Obote in May 1966, Prof Yusuf Lule April 1979, Gen Okello Lutwa July 1985 and GenYoweri Museveni January 1986, who is still President. The others who went out of power unceremoniously with “gunfire” behind them were: Sir Edward Mutesa II in May 1966, Milton Obote I in January 1971, Milton Obote II in July 1985, Gen Okello Lutwa January 1986.
When Amin staged a successful military coup-d’état, he was the Army Commander. It was said in some circles of the bataka in Buganda that they requested him to remove Obote from power because he (Obote) had dismantled the Buganda Kingdom in May 1966 forcing Kabaka Sir Edward Mutesa II into exile in London where he died.
When we look at people who have lived through the history of our time, we definitely cannot leave out Gen Amin.
Throughout the time of his presidency, he did many good and bad things. Among the good things he did was the building of the Satellite Earth Station at Mpoma on Bugerere Road in Kyaggwe, Mukono District. He built the famous International Conference Centre and Nile Hotel (now Serena Hotel) in 1975 in preparation for the OAU Conference and he completed the modern Entebbe Airport.
He founded Uganda Airlines in 1977. Uganda would be doing extremely well in the aviation industry now (like Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa) if we had not swallowed wholly the policy of privatisation. I am confident that future governments will change the privatisation policy and revive the national airline. His most popular achievement as president was the launching of the economic war to enrich all the black people in Uganda and eradicate poverty and unemployment.
In 1972, he announced an economic war to put the economy of this country in the hands of Africans. He called it “mafuta mingi” which literally meant “money and wealth for everybody”. Some people did not support it because it had difficulties at the beginning but the firm economic foundation was laid and it is bearing fruits now. Initial difficulties are normal in every venture.
Before Amin declared the economic war, all the retail and wholesale trade in Kampala and other towns, were controlled by Asians and the Africans were at the periphery of Kampala. There was no factory or industry of any nature (as it is today) owned by Africans.
I came to Kampala in 1956 after my education at Namilyango College and I started practising journalism with Uganda Eyogera and Uganda Post in Katwe which was the centre of Africans.
From that time up to 1972, you would hear an African retail shop owner saying “I am waiting for my Muyindi who went to Mombasa to bring goods”. Africans did not know the language of foreign exchange, invoice, nonrevocable letter of credit, credit facilities, money transfer, bank overdraft, overdraw and the rest. I remember the late Everest Kizito of Nansana opened Kizito Bakery in Kampala and Kayondo opened a shoe factory.
Today, Ugandans do not wait for the Muyindi who has gone to Mombasa. Africans now go direct to Japan, China, India, Europe and USA and elsewhere to transact business on their own. Before Amin’s economic war, there was no faculty of commerce at Makerere. Asians used to send their sons/daughters to UK and India to study commerce. As soon as Amin declared the economic war, Makerere University started the faculty of commerce and today it is an independent University at Nakawa.
We have many Africans now who own and manage huge enterprises under “franchise” from European countries.
If Amin had not declared the economic war, theUgandans would not have had the opportunity to own plots of land in Kampala as well as running the City Council.
Africans everywhere in Uganda have now built schools, universities, hospitals, hotels, lodges, and resorts on the lakes, small and big shops, commercial buildings, supermarkets, factories and industries, good and permanent living houses in the villages, towns and social centres as a result of Amin’s economic war.
God created people in such a way that each person makes a contribution in his own way to the economic development of his country. People who saw what happened in Uganda before the economic war and those who see what we have achieved now after the war, say that God had to bring what they call a “mad military man” to declare the economic war, something which ordinary politicians or leaders could not do.
Mr Kaggwa is an elder from Kyaggwe, Mukono District.