What you need to know:
African summit. Exactly 40 years ago, the 13th summit of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) closed at Nile Conference Centre (Serena Conference Centre) in 1975. Alphonse Oseku, the chief protocol officer during the summit, narrates his experience to Henry Lubega
I joined civil service in 1966, working with the Foreign Affairs ministry until my retirement in 1993. I spent seven years as chief of protocol at the ministry. The summit preparation was an interesting experience. I was the chief of protocol for the summit in 1975.
Initially, president Apollo Milton Obote requested to host the summit in Kampala before 1975 but following the 1971 Amin coup, it could not take place. Besides, the Nile Conference Center, now Serena Conference Centre, the only facility where such a function could be hosted at the time, was not yet complete. President Idi Amin hosted the summit in 1975.
We asked all the attending countries to avail us with their national anthems, which we passed on to the police and the army bands to practice. We also asked them for their national flags, which we passed on to the prisons service to replicate.
Due to bad publicity, a number of countries were opposed to Kampala hosting the event. But the outgoing OAU chairman at the time, Nigerian president General Yakubu Gowan, who was to hand over to Amin, appealed to his fellow heads of state to come and give support to their “African brother”. Gowon was a very calm man. When the coup to topple him was announced during the summit in Kampala, it was Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda and I who told him what had happened back home. He responded by appealing to Nigerians not to spill blood.
President Amin directly involved himself in organising transport for the delegates. I reported to Etiang, who was the chief of protocol in the president’s office. He reported to Amin and back to me on what was to be done. I went to Spear Motors and met proprietor Gordon Wavamunno and someone from Stuttgart, the makers of Mercedes Benz. I told them we wanted 75 Benzes, because in our arrangement, each head of state was to have two vehicles in case one broke down. Besides the Benzes, we also bought about 68 Fiat Premiori for other delegates. The other delegates, for instance ministers, were given one car each.
One of the conditions I gave the car suppliers was that the vehicles had to come with two technicians, one to be stationed at Entebbe and another in Kampala. Could there be a breakdown along the way, the nearest technician would be called upon. They complied with the condition and we got the cars. Fortunately, none of the vehicles broke down.
After all the procurement conditions had been fulfilled, Bank of Uganda paid them. I never got to know exactly how much they were paid but all I know is that they were paid in foreign currency. The vehicles were delivered on time, and after the conference, they became property of the government, though some were later sold to individuals.
Nile Hotel (Serena Kampala Hotel) was strictly for the heads of states and heads of delegations. The rest of the officials stayed in other hotels, including Apollo Hotel, now Sheraton Hotel in Kampala. Admittedly, we did not have as many hotels like today but we managed. With the exception of South Africa and Morocco, all other heads of state of independent states attended. Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere did not come because he had issues with Amin.
I recall him saying: “The problem with that brother of mine is that he thinks he has a direct telephone line to God.”
When a head of state is visiting, the hosting country has to liaise with the visiting head of state’s embassy to know what kind of accommodation the visitor wants. The delegates would have their lunch and other meals in their suites. During lunch breaks, they would go back to their suites for a rest.
The conference was on from July 28 to August 1. All the delagates were here strictly for business so there was nothing like going out to have fun. The conference was successful with no incident.