Adrisi: Tribute to a man who dared the Last King of Scotland

Sunday August 4 2013

The remains of Adrisi in Parliament l

The remains of Adrisi in Parliament last week. photo by Geoffrey Sseruyange 

By Yasiin Mugerwa

Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Gen Mustapha Adrisi was a decent person, although he was in the military government of Idi Amin which made a lot of mistakes. They tried to kill him and up to now he has been limping. I have been working with him very well since he returned from exile - President Museveni.

In religious teachings, the fundamental principle of human dignity – a constitutional right in most countries– includes not only the dignity of a person when alive, but also the dignity following his or her death. In fact, in our African ways, it is considered an abomination to admonish the dead.
Having said that, we will deal with the Thursday chaos in Parliament that forced Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah to flee the chamber next week. Today, let’s pay homage to a man, who was one of Idi Amin’s closest associates. His story retold at a special sitting of the House on Tuesday that painted the image of a ‘saint’ who served a ‘petrifying king’ in the mediaeval years of our post-independence drama - the reign of terror.

Gen Mustapha Abataki Adrisi, 91, died last week after a long battle with diabetes, hypertension and a fissured leg. He was vice president of Uganda during Idi Amin’s regime. The man Gen Adrisi worked for may be ostracised as a disgrace to the nation, but to some people, the man in the Last King of Scotland, a fictionalised political thriller was like any other leader in spite of the allegations that he terrorised people.

We will not go into the details of Amin’s caricature, but if you read Christopher Columbus’s book: The Other Side of Amin, you will see the attempts to dispel this narrative.

Amin deeds
Amin is accused of presiding over a reign of terror in Uganda, during which an estimated 300,000 people died. The disputed narrative is that Amin, who died in exile in Saudi Arabia in 2003, grabbed power in 1971 and condemned Uganda to eight years of trepidation. His rule ended only when he was toppled by Ugandan exiles assisted by Wakombozi from Tanzania.
But addressing Teso leaders in August 2003, President Museveni castigated Amin as a ‘murderer’ and vowed never to touch his body, even if it meant using a long stick.
“He thought dying in Mecca would make a difference. What will Amin be remembered for? When he was killing people, did he think he was immortal?” He added: “I even heard that our people at the embassy in Saudi Arabia went to see him in hospital. What is wrong with some people? See Amin for what?”
The President said he had refused to listen to his government officials who wanted him to accord Amin a State funeral or a burial in Uganda [on account of his contribution to the development of Uganda] and in order to “trap votes from West Nile (Amin’s home region)”. “I don’t need that support at all from ‘political malayas’. Those are political prostitutes. People must have principles,” Museveni said.

Chief Justice Benedicto Kiwanuka, for example, “disappeared” - presumably killed on the orders of Amin. According to Museveni, all those who supported Amin were partly guilty of his crimes. “It was not the fault of Amin alone. He was not the main problem. The main problem was the people like Dan Nabudere, Boniface Byanyima [and others] who supported him,” the President said.
Although Museveni’s view was that all those who supported Amin were partly guilty of his crimes, 10 years later, when he came to Parliament to pay tribute to Gen Adrisi, he sounded magnanimous. The President told us (Parliament Journalists) in a brief “fluked interview” with him on Tuesday, that Gen Adrisi, a member of Amin’s inner circle, was a “decent man” who didn’t believe in killing people.
The President’s tone had considerably changed, this time, he said: “The UPC government had a wrong line of saying that all the people who worked for Amin were bad, but our line - the NRM - was different. Some individuals can be bad but the whole group cannot be bad.”

The emotional debate in Parliament also re-echoed the President’s acclamations for a man who worked for a former leader he once disparaged as “swine” in spite of his contribution to the development of Uganda. One wonders whether the man people usually sneer as a “mad dog of East Africa” and at times called a “dictator” who revered killing, did only bad things for Uganda.
Amin could have made indefensible mistakes but we will be misrepresenting historical facts if we attempted to assert that whatever Amin did was “very bad” for Uganda. But in the shadow of Amin’s excesses, Gen Adrisi stood out. He was accorded a State burial on account of his audacity.

The members, especially from West Nile who managed to eulogise Gen Adrisi, said many good things about him. But the people who told the real story of a “saint” who dined with a “sinner” if we are to go by President Museveni’s insinuations, were Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, Gen Moses Ali, Hassan Kaps Fungaroo and the Opposition Chief Whip Winnie Kiiza. Ms Kiiza in particular described Gen Adrisi as a brave man, a patriot, a peacemaker, a decent man.

Exceptionally, Ms Kiiza took cognizance of Gen Adrisi’s audacity in reference to his daring acts, especially when he defied Amin in 1976 and ordered the release of Makerere University students, including the then Guild President Olara Otunnu, from Makindye Military barracks. Otunnu had been incarcerated for allegedly instigating a demonstration against Amin’s excesses.
In a snipe, Ms Kiiza asked the new breed of our ministers: “Among you [the ministers], who can do that?” As usual, the people on the front bench, obsessed by the so-called ‘big man” syndrome, simply curled in disgrace.

Police get warning
Again, this fair scrutiny of a General who dared the man in The Last King of Scotland, provoked Ms Alice Alaso, to warn all the uniformed officers (police and army) and whoever is occupying a public office that when God finally calls them home, each of them will be asked to account individually.

He reminded them that Gen Adrisi received a state funeral because of his courage to tell the king that he is naked. In asking the uniformed men and women to stop hiding behind “collective responsibility”, Ms Alaso was addressing the need to put the country first. Gen Adrisi’s audacity reminds our leaders to distinguish between “collective responsibility” and “collective irresponsibility”.

Gen Adrisi lived a self-effacing life and as Gen Moses Ali, the former Finance minister in Amin’s cabinet, puts it, he was not “ambitious” and in the end he accomplished the victory over himself.
Therefore, the key lesson from Gen Adrisi’s death is that every day, we have got to make conscience decisions to feed the good wolf — to give energy and strength to the saint in our souls. With this, we will be remembered as daring saints, as opposed to ambitious wolves.