What you need to know:
- To them, my father’s collision course with Amin, when he made a comfortable living, was stupid.
A few years ago, I asked my mother what it was like living under Idi Amin from 1971 to 1976, the latter being the year we went into exile. Her reply, at the time, I found rather absurd.
“It was okay,” she said. “Only people kept disappearing.”
The paradox of using “okay” and “disappearing” (a euphemism for kidnappings and killings) in the same sentence, without any attempt at irony, left me confused.
Then, on Tuesday, a day before NRM day, novelist-activist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija was “kidnapped” at Kitalya prison.
According to eyewitnesses, Kakwenza was grabbed and then whisked away in a tinted double-cabin pick-up almost as soon as he was granted bail.
Sure, he was eventually released. But my mind instantly rolled back to what my late father told me about life under Amin.
By the time Amin went completely rogue, circa 1976, we lived in a university home which sat atop a brief climb from Mitchell Hall.
Those days, I was told, it was a detached house of moderate size surrounded by a tiny manicured lawn.
My father, being in-charge of the magazine and periodicals section of the library, had a run-in with then university chancellor, Amin.
By making available literature deemed to have an agitatory effect on the students, Amin said he was spreading ‘political gonorrhoea’.
Marked for death, my father was summoned by Amin himself.
When Amin sent Obote packing in 1971, he changed the name of Nakasero State Lodge to Government House and allocated part of it mainly to the villainous State Research Bureau.
During his tenancy in State House, Amin stayed in Government House and State House, Entebbe.
In 1976, after the Israeli raid on Entebbe airport, Amin began staying in private residences around Kololo (command post) and near Ggaba. It was to one of these locations that my father was taken.
He was hustled into a boardroom.
A boat-shaped conference table with a mahogany veneer stretched the length of the room. On either side of the table sat frightened sweaty men exchanging feral glances.
Something was wrong.
A hulking, bear of a man sat scowling at the head of the table. He was dressed to the nines in military duds complete with gold braid and decorative trimmings.
He was barking mad.
As soon as he set eyes on my father, he flew into a murderous tirade; mangling consonants as he vowed to ‘choot’ all those who opposed him.
Gesticulating widely, his hard-hitting words glanced off the smooth surface of the conference table and ricocheted off the walls, heightening the fear factor in the room.
My father stood limply, like a solitary flower wilting on the vine.
However, as fast as he had erupted, Amin cooled down and sent my father away.
Psychopaths, they say, can go from extreme calm to incredible rage. Or go from intense annoyance to your happy-go-lucky best friend. Amin didn’t disappoint on that score.
He was psychopathic.
When my father returned to Makerere, people thought he was a ghost and ran away from him.
When they finally realised he was not a ghost, they still shunned him since, in their eyes, he was a fool.
My father’s colleagues were dour civil servants who talked about pay cheque and bank balances instead of checks and balances in government.
To them, my father’s collision course with Amin, when he made a comfortable living, was stupid.
This is what the average workaday Ugandan will call you today, when you oppose the NRM.
That’s because today’s Uganda fits the description of how my mother described Amin’s era: everything is okay, but keep people “disappearing”.
Mr Matogo is a professional copywriter