Africa, Headlines

POLITICS: Ugandans Seem Ready to Forgive Amin for Mass Murders

Evelyn Kiapi Matsamura

KAMPALA, Jul 24 2003 (IPS) - Carolyne Nakazibwe, 28, has never known fatherly love. She was only two when her father ‘disappeared’. He walked out of the house one morning and never returned. Nobody saw, or heard from, him again.

Investigations revealed that he had been murdered, allegedly by former military ruler Idi Amin, who thought her father was trading arms with rebels to overthrow him.

When Nakazibwe grew older, her mother and siblings, born before her, told her how her father died. Although Amin’s name evokes sad memories, Nakazibwe has no hard feelings. ”I really do not care about what happens to Idi Amin anymore,” she says. ”I forgive him.”

But, underneath, she remains bitter. ”My father was not a politician. He was a medical doctor. Why did he have to be murdered?” she wonders.

Nakazibwe is not alone. Children born after Amin’s rule also talk about atrocities committed by the former dictator.

The school syllabi teach children about Amin and his eight-year rule. ”Idi Amin was a dictator. It was he who took this country through a reign of murder and terror,” says Isaac, a 13-year-old primary student in Kampala, the capital of Uganda.

More than 300,000 Ugandans were murdered or disappeared between 1971 and 1979 during Amin’s reign, according to human rights groups.

Among them were Uganda’s first Chief Justice Benedicto Kiwanuka and Anglican Archbishop Janan Luwum who died under mysterious circumstances.

The debate about Amin has been sparked by his illness in Saudi Arabia, where he has been a refugee since fleeing Uganda in 1979. Amin briefly stayed in Libya and Iraq before settling in Saudi Arabia.

Uganda’s Sunday Monitor, a privately-owned newspaper, which broke the news Jul. 20, said the former President was ill and in a coma. Amin, 80, has been admitted at King Fahad Hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

One of his wives, Madina Amin, says her husband is suffering from high blood pressure.

Madina requested President Yoweri Museveni to allow her husband to return and ‘die home’. But the government turned down Madina’s request, on the grounds that the former President has to answer for human rights abuses committed during his eight-year rule.

But many Ugandans, fed up of similar atrocities committed by post-Amin governments, think otherwise.

Since the news of his illness became public, local dailies have been inundated by letters demanding the government to allow Amin to return home.

”Amin should be allowed to return. All leaders come and commit atrocities. But that does not mean he should be denied a right to his homeland,” Kassim Semakula, 48, a trader in Kampala, told IPS on Thursday.

”All leaders have records, good and bad. Let us forget the past. He is already paying for his sins,” says William Eritu 34, an electrician in Kampala.

”Let Amin come back home. There are so many good things he did for Uganda. Why do we always look at bad things that a person has done?” asks Clementia Nakabugo, 50, a midwife.

There is also the argument that much as Amin allowed the body of the Buganda King Sir Fredrick Muteesa II, who died in London in 1969, to be returned and reburied in Uganda, the government should reciprocate and not deny Amin a state funeral.

Muteesa was exiled by former President Apollo Milton Obote, following a bloody power struggle, in 1967.

Amin’s former governor of central province, Abdulla Nasur, who spent 22 years in prison until Sep. 2001, could not hold his emotions at the news of an ailing Amin. ”Everybody makes mistakes. Do not punish Amin. We should leave the judgment to God,’ a teary Nasur said on national television on Jul. 22.

Opposition groups, too, have appealed to government to allow Amin to return home. Former president Obote, who is in exile in Zambia, after being deposed twice – in 1971 (by Amin) and 1985 (by Gen. Tito Okello) – said Ugandans should be lenient with Amin.

”Should Amin’s condition worsen, the people of Uganda should be magnanimous enough to accept his proper burial in Uganda despite the fact that he was a dictator,” he said in a statement distributed to journalists on Jul. 21.

The Reform Agenda, a pressure group, based in Kampala, says the current amnesty, declared by Museveni, does not cover Amin. It only covers those who have rebelled against the government of Museveni from 1986.

”Our stand is that as a citizen, Amin has a right to return to Uganda. This is based on the constitution of Uganda that any Ugandan has the right to leave and return to the country,’ says Aliro Omara of the Uganda Human Rights commission.

”There is a guarantee of fair trials if he returns in his sane mind,” he told IPS.

Earlier the government said it would not allow Amin to return home. ”No sensible government would bring back Amin’s body. His record is known internationally and I do not think Saudi Arabia would attempt to do so,” one government official said.

Government also denied Amin a state burial at the Heroes Grounds in Kololo where former President Yusuf Lule and freedom fighter Ignatius Musaazi have been buried.

”We shall not give (Amin) state honours. He will be buried like any other ordinary Ugandan,” Museveni was quoted by the New Vision, a state-owned daily, as saying on Wednesday.

He said if Amin came back alive, he would be arrested ”because he committed crimes” in Uganda.

Museveni also said the government had facilitated the family members to travel to Jeddah to be with Amin.

Amin toppled President Obote in 1971. In 1979 he was ousted from power by a group of Ugandan rebels, backed by Tanzanian soldiers.

Amin is also remembered for expelling Asians from Uganda and distributing their business to indigenous Ugandans.

Not everybody is happy, though about Amin’s return. ”Amin should not be allowed to return home. He should not be forgiven. I hear he killed many people. He is a murderer. We do not want to bring back sad memories,’ says Betty Nantumbwe, 40, a housewife in Kampala.

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