I refused to loot Asians property

Edward Ochwo was on the verification and property distribution committees that oversaw the distribution of Asian properties. Photo by Henry Lubega

In 1972, then Uganda president Idi Amin had a dream in which he said Allah had told him to liberate Ugandans from economic slavery by expelling all non-Ugandans who were ‘milking’ the country.

He started by having all Asians verify their citizenship. When the 90-day deadline for non-Ugandans to leave expired, their properties were distributed to Ugandans. Edward Ochwo was one of those who sat on the verification and property distribution committees and was against the move.

I was appointed to the citizen verification committee to check whether those with Ugandan citizenship papers were actually Ugandans.

The committee sitting at the Conference centre (Serena Conference Centre) was tricking them because all documents they handed in for verification were never returned.

It was a government directive to confiscate the documents, to dispose them of their identity and render them stateless.

I felt so sickened by what we were doing. Many of the committee members were intelligence officers save for Katamba Lujjo who was the under secretary in the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

I looked for excuses to leave the committee saying I had other responsibilities assigned to me by the president since he had already made me the overall manager of the Conference centre. After my departure, Katamba also left the committee.
It was very sickening to see these Indians many of whom were known to me for a long time, crying before the committee.

After the 90 days expired, many of them had to leave the country. People like Narendah Patel, the former Speaker of Parliament before the fall of government, asked me to go to Mbale and take his Mustang car but I could not see myself doing so.

It was a painful experience to some of us. Later, one of my Nubian staff at Parliament went for the car and allocated the house to his Nubian relative. This later became a cause for rivalry in which many people lost their lives.

When they left another committee to oversee the distribution of their wealth, Maliyamungu and I were on it. Towards the end of the exercise he asked me, “what’s wrong with you, how come you have not got anything for yourself”.

There was no order of the distribution of the properties. Someone would wake up very early and stand on the property they wanted and that’s how Nasser Ssebagala ended up getting Bandali Jaffer and Sons shop on Kampala Road where Cairo Bank stands today. It was the best shop with silk material in the whole country at the time.

All one needed was to prove they are Ugandan and what they wanted would be given to them. This exercise went on for about three months. Kampala had its own committee and so did other places.

But those who were in positions of authority took what they wanted from anywhere. Maliyamungu took Uganda Grain Milling in Jinja and he renamed it Kazimingi. He challenged me to get something as well.

Sharing the loot
I told him since we are farmers you can allocate me and my wife something along those lines. He said all sugarcane plantations have been taken and what was left was a tea estate in Mukono. He promised that that would be given to me. But before we went to Mukono to be given the estate, Amin issued an order stopping the distribution of properties.
After the suspension, changes in the committees were made and this affected Maliyamungu detaching him from the exercise. It saved me the guilt of knowing I have someone’s property against their will.

It was as though God was telling us not to rush into sharing the loot because many people died as a result of property allocation.

The first lot of people who looted and had no connection with soldiers lost their lives. Those with no soldiers backing them or those coming from West Nile were only lucky enough to survive.
Amin has been accused of having killed many people which I believe is not accurate. Many people were killed because of business rivalry.

During that time, the Nubians believed it was their time and they felt everything was theirs and whoever they were not happy with and was not part of them they made sure they eliminated and repossessed their properties.

Besides the Nubians, the other people who were safe and were given big properties were the Muslims. People who were disciplined enough not to rush and go for free things at the time they were being distributed, survived.


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