Separate fact from fiction in Amin stories
By Billie O'Kadameri

September 1, 2003

According to BBC journalist Paul Martin, former president Amin renamed Lake Victoria "Idi Amin Dada Sea" and it was "on its shores at Cape Town Villas, that Amin would often relax as he was served tea and gargantuan meals by another of his security chiefs, Major Bob Astles..."


This information is currently available on the BBC African Service website where Paul Martin writes extravagantly about his encounter with the former dictator in a 1978 interview in Kampala.

Where did this 'Idi Amin Dada Sea' story come from? If Amin did rename Lake Victoria, I must have missed one of the greatest events of his era.

The death of Amin brought out a lot of disinformation and sheer ignorance, that a keen observer would wonder whether a section of the reputable western media were just unprepared for his obituary, or were simply shameless as to pass fiction as fact about Idi Amin.

On the day of Amin's death BBC world television ran a file picture showing `Idi Amin on May Day 1979', dancing with fellow Ugandans, when you and me knew that by May Day (May 1, 1979), Amin was no longer president of Uganda, let alone being in Uganda.

Then CNN had its Atlanta-based newsman saying that in 1976 Amin allowed Palestinian terrorists land a hijacked an Air France airliner in Uganda and the whole hijack episode started and ended "within a day with Israeli commandos rescuing the hostages". Now we all know that the hijack saga took four days.

The African media took on the shameless lies as well, when they should know better. You remember that joke about Idi Amin speaking after a state dinner at Buckingham Palace and saying "Sir, mister queen, horrible guests, before I undress you, let me put down my testicles...etc"? Kenya's Daily Nation carried that on its Amin obituary special.

One day Radio Simba in Kampala put the picture of The New Vision's Kenya correspondent Reuben Olita on its website, saying it was Idi Amin. Olita as you know, played the character Idi Amin in the film 'The Rise and the Fall of Idi Amin'. I called a Kampala newspaper editor and shared a laugh about it, who called one of the Radio Simba bosses to correct the mistake.

What about Ugandan writers on Amin. According to researcher Fred Guweddeko, Amin "was born on May 17, 1928 at about 4.00 a.m. in a police barracks at the present International Conference Centre in Kampala". No problem with that, except that neither Amin nor any of his close relatives seemed to remember the exact date or year of his birth.

Guweddeko then tells us that Amin's "father was initially Andreas Nyabire, a Catholic who converted to Islam in 1910 and became Amin Dada". This according to Guweddeko, is how the former president got the name Idi Amin Dada. Guweddeko is a very passionate researcher but if he had cared to spread his tentacles further, he would have learnt that Amin got his nickname of 'Dada' from the army units he served in Kenya.

One of those who gave Amin the name is none other than Kenya's former Chief of General Staff, General Jackson Mulinge, who served with the former president in the same unit. They called him 'Dada' because of his knack for smuggling girls into the soldiers' quarters against existing regulations. Whenever he would be caught with a woman in his place, Amin would claim she was "dada yangu".

The incidents became so many the soldiers gave Amin the nickname 'dada' and whenever beautiful women passed near the barracks, soldiers would make jokes that "hawu ni wa dada ya Amin" (those are Amin's sisters).

Because Amin never wrote his biography nor authorized one to be written, much of what commentators and researchers write about him and his time as a soldier in Uganda and as president, tend to form the backbone of future historical references on him and on Uganda. That is why researchers must be very careful where they fit fact and hearsay that could turn out to be naked fiction.

Guweddeko tells us that Amin had a brother and a sister who died in 1932. So what about Amin's brother Amule who currently lives in West Nile? And, surprise, surprise, what about Amin's younger brother Ramadhan Amin (note there is no Dada at the end of his name because Dada was a nickname and not a family name), who died early this year in Kampala. Ramadhan Amin was indeed my neighbour in Kampala and the only man I know who resembles Idi Amin.

Ramadhan Amin's family currently live in Bwaise, Kampala, and would be easy to trace to help with the piecing together of the facts.

Listen to this, according to Guweddeko: "On January 24, 1971, Idi Amin fled Kampala to avoid arrest. Soldiers led by Sergeant Major Moses Ali received a misinterpreted message from a signaler and they resisted preparations to arrest Amin. Power was seized in Kampala and Idi Amin was sought to take over. Idi Amin appeared just as Capt. Charles Arube was volunteering to become president. Amin accepted to become president on January 25, 1971". Just like that!

Could Guweddeko explain how a man who never knew about the coup and was only thrust into things by circumstances, was able to have his fellow dark-skinned ethnic henchmen and supporters transferred into Masindi barracks one week to the coup?

And could he explain how by January 24, 1971, only certain soldiers had weapons while nearly all the Acholi, Langi and Teso soldiers had no weapons at their disposal, having been ordered to return them to the armoury? Could he also explain the arrest and execution of Acholi, Langi and Teso officers and men that started on the night of January 24, in the full view of children and women in Masindi barracks? Could he also explain how a certain Sgt. Abiriga happened to tip some of his Lango and Acholi friends in the barracks to escape, more than 36 hours before the coup?

These to me do not seem like the making of an impulsive coup d'etat. To claim otherwise would be to distort history as well as the memory and the legacy of those who died or were slaughtered on the nights of January 24 and 25, 1971. The theory of Amin's impulsive bloodless coup, as initially expounded by the western media, never held then, and would never hold now. Fred Guweddeko might want to know how I knew some of these. I also did some research and indeed, I was there in Masindi barracks as a son of a junior army officer, when it all happened.

Since Fred has "threatened" to unleash a 400-page story on Amin's speeches and his times as head of state, we eagerly await its release but I hope that it passes the test of accuracy, from a man who after all, is one our very best researchers available.

The writer is a Ugandan working in Paris, France.


2003 The Monitor Publications




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