A ride on a boda boda on the bumpy road from the east of Koboko Town to the west paints a grim picture. The road that was graded a while back is now eroded, with huge gullies on it.
As one reaches Amunipi village, they are greeted with a cool ambience created by trees at the home of former president, Idi Amin Dada.
The home, with a clean and wide compound, is principally characterised by grass-thatched houses made of mud and wattle. The grass on the roofs of some of the houses haven’t been changed in a while. Some have been eaten up by termites.
The people who stay at the home are friendly as they cheerfully welcome one to the home of the former president. The compound has no permanent structure, save for one and several incomplete ones.
Mr Juma Akuni, one of Amin’s grandchildren, says: “It is up to the government to think of what to do for us because our grandfather worked for the whole country and gave it his all.”
The family had wanted the home to be turned into a tourist site with health centres, schools and clean water extended to the area.
They depend on a stream and boreholes that were dug several years ago and the village suffers from water shortage, especially during dry seasons.
The home is located in Amunipi ward, Koboko West Division in Koboko Municipality, just a few kilometres from DR Congo. It was the village where Idi Amin grew up from.
On the 68km stretch from Koboko to Arua Town, Amin had established a command post near Arua Airfield. The airfield would have acted as an evacuation point for Amin if the need ever arose.
In memory of Amin
Recently, the Member of Parliament for Obongi County in Moyo District said they were lobbying for funds to establish a military hospital in memory of Idi Amin.
“I am asking the people of West Nile (sub-region) to get land of good location, dimensions and quality to build the proposed Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada memorial military and veterans’ hospital. This will help the people of West Nile, particularly the veterans, who are old and aging without money,” Mr Hassan Kaps Fungaroo says.
At Amin’s home stands incomplete structures, now covered in grass. They were at beam level at the time of Amin’s overthrow in 1979 and have remained that way. Some family members stay in a house that has since been completed.
Mr Richard Atiku, one of the grandsons of the late president, says only their uncle Taban Amin extends help to them occasionally.
Mr Akuni, one of the elders at Amin’s home, says many tourists flock the village throughout the year but they don’t earn anything out of it because the home is not developed and no improvement has been done to help them benefit because they are poor.
Some family members and politicians have been asking government to return the remains of Amin, who died in exile in Saudi Arabia, on August 16, 2003.
During the 2016 campaigns, former presidential candidate Amama Mbabazi paid a visit to Amin’s home.
Mbabazi at that time said: “In order to have full national reconciliation, because we had a discussion, his remains should be brought back if it is the wish of the family so that he is given a decent burial and a monument built in memory of his contribution to Uganda.”
But the deputy director of the Uganda Media Centre, Col Shaban Bantariza, recently told Sunday Monitor in a telephone interview that government cannot turn Amin’s home into a tourist attraction.
“Government cannot turn the home of someone into a tourist attraction. Amin did not leave anything behind, his sons and daughters are respectable senior citizens of this country. It is up to them to turn their home into anything they want. But I know if they did it, even Amin will not be happy in his grave,” Bantariza said.
The home still remains in the same state it was in 1979 when Amin was ousted. In Arua, the municipal council has named a road that was recently tarmacked with funding from the Uganda Support to Municipal Infrastructure Development programme as Idi Amin Road.
Koboko Municipality mayor Wilson Sanya says they are going to develop the home as a tourist site.
“We have recognised that home at Pakayo village as a tourist site because whenever visitors come here, they ask us a lot about that home and we have realised that we will lose a lot of money if we don’t develop it,” Sanya says.
He adds that they will work together with the family of the late president to see the best way to achieve the vision.
Asked whether they support the proposal to return Amin’s remains, Mr Cambodia Mawa de Alim, the former president’s uncle, says: “Religiously, it is not good for us to carry the body out of the grave in Islam, because it is now soil. It is normal to have him buried in Saudi Arabia. Anyone can be buried anywhere in the world. But other family members will have to give an input on this.”
Contributions to West Nile
Idi Amin built the Ombaci earth satellite station with three dishes that were used mainly for military communication and for broadcasting television. He then built a 100-metre tower at Giligili mainly for medium wave radio.
He also upgraded the Arua Airfield that is located next to his home. Amin invited his friend Mobutu Sese Seko (RIP), then president of Zaire, to lay the foundation stone for the upgrade on July 15, 1973.
This was in line with the plan that cargo airplanes would land in Arua, and also for Mobutu to fly from Kinshasa straight to Arua.
Amin had plans to set up the Islamic University in Uganda (IUIU) in Arua where land and documentation had been secured at Enzeva, Vurra County, in 1974. Amin also visited the land to lay a foundation stone together with then Education minister, Brig Barnabas Kili.
However, Amin was overthrown before the plans were implemented. The university was then established in Mbale District. It now has a campus in Arua.
How he is remembered
Jaffar Alekua, who was a teacher when Amin took over government, says: “Amin indigenising the economy by removing it from Asians was a great thing to remember. This is because during Amin’s regime, $1 was equivalent to Shs12. This brought sanity to the economy.”
Alekua says Amin also made sure that the army was manageable and when a soldier left, he was provided with iron sheets and cement to go and build his home. This included police and prison’s officers.
“Amin kept the plans of Obote alive by strengthening the hospitals that he (0bote) had established like Nebbi, Moyo and Yumbe hospitals. He did not destroy them because both of them saw the need to have hospitals every 100kms to handle emergency cases,” he adds.
Hilal Naseem, the county Khadi for Arua Municipality, says Amin was a unifying factor for Muslims as seen when he established the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council.
“He also ensured education for Muslims and people from other religious denominations because many children from this region received scholarships,” Naseem says.
Ahmed Musa Anguyo, the LC3 chairperson for R. Oli Division from 1998 to 2004, says the council named a road in Arua Municipality after Idi Amin because they valued the son of the soil’s contributions to Uganda.
“The council resolved to name the road because Amin elevated Arua from town council to municipality. The council approached businessmen who had shops near the road to allow us expand the road. This road makes the current generation to keep remembering Idi Amin as a president and a son from here,” he says.
Ms Grace Acikule, a resident of Arua Town, says Amin wasn’t perfect, but should still be respected as a former president.
“I only learnt about Idi Amin in history class, but I think some of the killings talked about could have been by the soldiers without Amin’s consent. But, of course, as a leader you take responsibility. Even now there are killings in this regime and people blame the President,” she says.
Messages between Amin, other leaders
From Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus to president Amin appealing for assistance for Cyprus, July 21, 1974:
“Your excellency, it is with deep anxiety that I communicate with you to inform you that Turkey had committed an act of aggression and invaded Cyprus, putting in danger the independence of my country. I am appealing to you for any assistance possible for safeguarding the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Cyprus”
From Amin to JB Bokassa, life president of the Central African Republic informing him of the change in dates about his arrival, December 1, 1973:
“Your excellency and dear brother, hearty compliments. I wish to regretfully inform you that, for the reasons beyond my control, I will not be able to arrive in Central Africa Republic on December 10, 1973, as originally planned. I confirm that I will arrive at Bangui at 5pm your local time on Sunday, December 16, 1973, and will return home on Sunday, December 23, 1973. I will bring with me Uganda traditional dancers to entertain you and our brothers and sisters.”