Gadaffi’s plane picks Amin from Arua

Amin walks along Gadaffi in Libya in the 1970s. COURTESY PHOTO

What you need to know:

This year marked 34 years since Idi Amin was overthrown on April 11 by a combined force of Tanzania People’s Defence Forces (TPDF) and Ugandan exiles. In this sixth and last part series on Amin’s last days in power, his son Jaffar Remo Amin, narrates how his father was picked from Arua, his first days in Libya and why eventually Amin moved to Saudi Arabia where he would live until his death in 2003.

All was lost when dad got to Arua. The town was filled with a crescendo of gunfire from soldiers shooting aimlessly. Here he met with senior officers who sought his audience one by one. He was saddened to hear of the death of Governor Odong of the Chope who was apparently killed by a friendly fire – another mystery like that of Col. Godwin Sule in Lukaya.

According to reliable sources, a significant thing happened. Dad finally sought audience with his minister of Education to whom he “handed over the instruments of power” and asked him to become the president of Uganda. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, Brigadier Barnabas Kili was the “interim” president of Uganda after dad was overthrown in 1979 before he handed over the “instruments of power” to the Tanzania Peoples’ Defence Force as a sign of the country having been taken over. It seems dad kept the “marines colours” and the “army colours” but handed over the “police and the national colours”.

Dad continued his impotent broadcasts on the Gilgili Radio Station in Arua. On April 23, 1979, he was still in Arua when a Libyan C-130 Hercules landed at Arua Airstrip right next to his Tanganyika residence to pick him and several of his associates. Thus that fateful day, dad embarked on the outbound journey into exile where he would be reunited with us in Tripoli, Libya.

Mzee Doka Bai, our Ayivu elder (Opi) and neighbour in Arua, was the last person dad talked to before he was driven to the awaiting C130 Hercules on his way to Libya. He had stopped by on a final courtesy call on his neighbour, cousin and childhood friend.

Dad had told him in passing that, “I am going to discuss with the Russians in Libya about my return. However, if they insist on being the Communist overloads like in Ethiopia then I will not agree to sign, but let the Uganda High Command officers know that they are the ones who failed this country.”

Dad then pulled out some money from his pockets – in US dollars for even he was aware that his Second Republic notes were losing value rapidly – and handed over to him; his friend, cousin, and neighbour who used to join him in training when he was still the East African Light Heavy Weight Champion. “Goodbye my brother” Doka Bai had uttered as the C130 Hercules carrying dad disappeared into the skies on its way to Libya.

Mzee Doka remembers standing still and looking towards the northern direction as the C130 took up speed and graciously ascended into the sky with the sound of gunfire around the Jiako area as soldiers kept firing at anything in total disregard of safety or reason as they expended ammunition. It was as though dad was being given a 21-gun salute! Even one of Doka Bai’s brothers shot at some ripe mangos, getting a rebuke from his elder brother.
“Why do you have to shoot at the mangoes using that thing? Behave yourself...”

Over the years, Mzee Doka still recalled the money dad gave him so well. Apparently he used it to relocate his family to the Congo (Zaire). He also recounted this story to me when I brought him some money sent by caring relatives of the Al-Amin family who knew the significance of Mzee Doka Bai to dad.

Without a penny...

I know many Ugandans and dad’s detractors will not believe that dad boarded the Hercules C130 plane to Libya without a penny but the two countries – Libya and Saudi Arabia – were generous to him. I was a witness to the amounts of money he obtained from them.

Dad arrived in Tripoli via Benghazi on April 23, 1979 and begun his long life in exile!
Many of our residences were destroyed after dad’s government was overthrown. As we followed events that unfolded in Uganda during our life in exile, we vividly remember seeing a photograph of one of our residences in Kampala with visible signs of unnecessary destruction. The stone staircase to the kitchen was where Samson, son of Maliyamungu liked to do his Chinese back flips. It was also the scene of my first confrontation with my sister Kidde in 1973, over her Soviet-made bike.

The Ivy plants on the wall were always beautiful to watch. The curved room was where I used to sleep and it was also the scene of Mama Kay and Auntie Penina dancing on New Year’s Day of 1974. This they did while we jumped up and down on the bed for they had woken us up at the “midnight hour” by switching on the gramophone, playing black and white “Let’s Get Together.” The B side had “Listen to Your Leaders, Listen”, by Sonko, a local artiste.

My brother Lumumba used to wing his way down the circular drive in his brand new Soviet made bike. In the picture we saw in exile, the grassy island was strewn with whatever family albums the Uganda National Liberation Army could shred – sad indeed!

Relationship goes sour

In Libya, we were initially placed in a plush residence in downtown Tripoli, which we christened “Palace”. The residence had ornate Mediterranean grapevines in the garden and we would spend endless days claiming cars as they crisscrossed a junction right in front of the “Palace” window. “Yangu Eeh Yangu!!! (Mine Eeh Mine!!!)”, we would scream as the cars sped past the junction. We were then transferred to a beach resort called Madina Sahiyah awaiting dad’s arrival.

I recall that dad arrived in Bengazi on April 23. We had a tearful reunion with dad on April 24, 1979 in Tripoli, Libya. After dad was reunited with us, we were all relocated to a government-owned hotel in Homs, towards the Tunisian border. We were transferred there along with dad’s entourage, which included ministers, diplomats, officers of the armed forces and their families.

In Homs we spent time with dad exploring desert oasis and the famous Roman Coliseum.
While we lived in Libya, a rift developed between dad and Gadaffii following the latter’s close association with Julius Nyerere while trying to gain the Organisation of African Unity (OAU ) seat that year - 1979. Dad viewed Gadaffi’s close association with Nyerere as betrayal. So, in characteristic defiance, he dramatically insisted on walking all the way to Makkah (Mecca) if Gadaffi did not offer him safe passage to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

When dad felt a year’s stay in Libya was long enough for him, he actually walked a distance of almost 5,000-plus metres before he was convinced by his personal bodyguards to gracefully return to the hotel complex in the official car. The car had trailed the former head of state along the whole way.

The great Libyan leader finally relented and placed dad, our family and an entourage of over 80 people on a flight to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. So, in 1980 we relocated to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where dad would live until his death in August 2003.


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