Byanyima’s view of Amin: Time to settle the question

British officials take an oath of allegiance before President Idi Amin (2ndL). Around the same time - 1970s - he offered to become king of Scotland.

What you need to know:

In the Sunday Monitor of August 12, the former national chairman of the Democratic Party, Mzeei Boniface Byanyima, made an important statement that went almost unnoticed by the Ugandan media and political class.

Byanyima mentioned that “Amin tried to fight for the truth but later failed because of Nyerere and the Whites who wanted Obote back.” He had been criticising the NRM government and President Yoweri Museveni for its dishonesty, election fraud, altering the Constitution to waive presidential term limits and its destruction of the Ugandan economy.

Had it been any other subject of a media interview, Byanyima’s statement might have been dismissed as just another conspiracy theorist or disgruntled former Amin aide trying to revise Ugandan history. It being Byanyima, we must heed what he said. Uganda has been treated to an endless series of features and retrospectives on the 50th anniversary of independence.

The all-important question is: do we comprehend what we are reading? Do we take the time to sit back and think about the significance of what we are reading?
If a veteran and respected political leader of the stature of Boniface Byanyima can state in an interview in a daily national newspaper that Amin “tried to fight for the truth”, then a lot about what we always assumed about Ugandan history has to undergo a revision or at the very least a re-evaluation.

What if we were in the West?
In Europe and the United States and other countries like Japan and China where history is regarded as a subject of utmost importance, such a statement would have triggered off further probing questions by the interviewer as well as requests for interviews with Byanyima on this, with researchers, historians and journalists descending on Mbarara for clarification.

What is most disheartening about Black Africa, a tendency that cuts across all regions, is a distinct lack of interest in, appetite and discipline for the in depth. The vast majority of the population at all levels of education, social status and economic means lives in the immediate present, usually ranging from a 24-hour cycle to a week at the most distant in the past or future.

Anything that starts looking like a year into the past or future is irrelevant. Events, crises, personalities into the distant past have a certain grip on us, which is why serialised histories and life stories are usually well-received.

However, the distant future is a Black Hole, a period in time and existence that is mysterious to most of us. Our main attitude to the distant and unknown future is fear and apprehension, partly explaining the persistence of witchcraft and sorcery in our societies.

The planning for the future, the concern with preserving the present as a vital tool for helping us navigate the future whenever it finally comes, is an extremely rare attitude. We cannot discuss the 50 years of Uganda’s independence (or what most now feel to be “independence”) without once and for all resolving the question of a man called Idi Amin.

If Uganda was destroyed in the last 50 years, he is the man usually blamed. If Ugandans started to fear death and the government, he and his State Research Bureau, Public Safety Unit and Military Police are to blame. If Uganda gained a negative international reputation in the 1970s from which it has not yet fully recovered, Amin is the hand that brought all this about.

Therefore, Amin’s place in Ugandan history and the facts about him are the central question of the last 50 years. Many Baganda and other Ugandans might point out that Amin was a result not originator of Uganda’s problems, insisting that the real monster of Ugandan history is Milton Obote.

So, what is the truth about Amin? Why was Boniface Byanyima not pressed by the Sunday Monitor reporter [who interviewed the old man] to explain this apparent whitewashing of Amin as a man who tried to work for the truth?

To most people, especially those outside Uganda, Amin was the consummate liar. If Byanyima says Amin in fact tried to fight for the truth, this is one of the most significant statements in recent years. We must investigate it to its conclusion.

Essentially what Byanyima was saying was that most of what we have come to believe about Amin --- and by extension most of what we have been taught or told about Ugandan history since 1962 --- is false.

I’ve noticed that even supposedly well-educated, widely travelled and widely read Ugandans still have this false image of Amin in their mind. No matter how much research is done and new facts are brought to their attention, most “elite” cannot get it out of their minds that what they believe about Amin, about 75 per cent is false.

False liberators
It was in refusing to listen to Amin’s side of the story that many Ugandans in 1979 welcomed false liberators. Within weeks of Amin’s ouster from power in April 1979, a wave of mysterious killings of prominent Ugandans hit Kampala.

We had been told that Amin was the mastermind of the killing of prominent Ugandans from 1971 to 1979. So with Amin out of power, his State Research Bureau disbanded and on the run and in exile, who were these people gunning down such people as Dr Abuden Obace, Kaija Katuramu, Lt. Col. John Ruhinda, Dr Bernard Mayanja, Dr Jack Barlow and others during that terrifying period from 1979 to 1980?

And if, as some still believe, Amin and his henchmen were thieves and who grabbed the properties of the departing Asians in 1972, how come when they had the opportunity to award themselves all the contracts to prepare for the OAU summit in Kampala, Amin, Gen. Mustapha Adrisi, Col. Isaac Maliyamungu, Col. Juma Oris, Brig. Dusman Sabuni, Col. Ali Towelli, Brig. Hussein Marella, Maj. Gen. Isaac Lumago and the other notorious names of the 1970s government did not seize this chance?
How come there is no record, not even among the literature and propaganda material of the anti-Amin exile groups accusing Amin and his aides of stealing money meant for the OAU summit?

What happened to all the embassy properties in America and Europe and in Nairobi and Mombasa that Amin bought for the Uganda government? Who now owns and runs them? How come nobody has carried out a thorough investigation of the forces behind Henry Kyemba, Apollo Lawoko, David Martin, Bishop Festo Kivengere and the others who authored books on Idi Amin’s “reign of terror”?

When are we, the so-called “educated” Ugandans, finally going to come to terms with the Amin years, investigate them fully with all the resources that the Internet and today’s instant communications have made available?

To me the most important question of all is: what was the true role of Yoweri Museveni during the Amin years in exile? When Museveni says he fought Amin, exactly how did he fight Amin? Certainly it was not with a conventional army, and yet Museveni has declared over and over again that he defeated Amin?

The impression Museveni often gives is that he single-handedly played a greater role in the downfall of Amin than even the Tanzanian army in 1978 to 1979. Museveni speaks about that with a conviction that suggests there is more he knows than he is telling us.

Exactly what role did he play? Shouldn’t the media ask him to spell out his claims in more detail than in passing? The answer to what went on in Uganda in the 1970s is one of the most important that Uganda will ever need and must find conclusive answers to before October 9, 2012.


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