28 May, 2007

Obote and Amin Together

Time: 1968. Place: Lira, Uganda, near the golf course and air strip. The then President of Uganda - Apolo Obote was visiting Lira. I was then about ten and studying at Lira Primary school; my school choir, had been one of the schools chosen to sing for the President.

By 2.00 PM, I and the rest of my fellow choir members, were already near the residence where Obote was to be entertained. Around 3.00 PM, plates of local cuisine of various kinds, were laid on a long stretch of tables covered with white cloth. At around 4.00 PM, Obote and his wife Miriam, several other people in his entourage and a few soldiers, appeared. I had seen Obote many times before at close range, during his visits around Lira and Lango; but as always - I was very interested in seeing him again and was, as always, awed by the protocol and merry that accompanied him.

A small crowd of people had gathered, and who, like me, wanted to have a glimpse of the President. I and the rest of my school mates, were close to where Obote was. In his usual style, the President was neat, composed and smiling. Immediately after arrival, he went around shaking hands and waving at people; and then proceeded to taste the various dishes laid on the tables. It was at this moment, that my attention, just as of most of those around - was diverted. A helicopter was landing not far from where we were.

A number of people, all in military uniforms, came out of the chopper; but one man stood out. Very impressively stood out. He was tall, very tall; was heavily built but not fat, and was dressed in grayish, khaki colored military uniform with a dark cap on his head. He, briskly, went straight ahead to where Obote was, and shook hands with several people. All along, he had this very charming smile. I was completely mesmerised by the big man.

In Uganda, then, many of us children were fascinated by the military - and many of us dreamed of one day may be joining the force. There was some thing about the military, then, that seemed so attractive. Maybe it was the guns and uniforms. And that day, not only had I the luck of seeing a helicopter at such close range, but seeing the military too; the impressive big man, most of all. A man who towered over all around. As I stood there spellbound by him, gradually my attention returned to Obote, but not for long.

After the President finished with the food, traditional dancers and musicians started entertaining him. As the dancing continued and became more vigorous, the big man joined the dancers. He too, danced vigorously, at times - even more so; all that time, he had a broad smile. He completely towered over the 'short' local girl he was dancing with. At one time, he was only about five meters from where I stood. I have no doubt now, that most people around, just like me then - were too, fascinated by the big man.

I and my choir mates, never had the chance of singing for the President; but, we all went home that late evening very happy. We had much to talk about. What a day it was. For us children then, it was a most rare occasion. Not only had we seen the President and the festivity; but we had seen a helicopter at close range! And who of us could have forgotten the big man?

Little did we know then, that - a few years after that occasion, the big man would topple Obote and would rule Uganda for eight years. Little did we know then, that - the big man would not only completely change the history of Uganda but that of most Ugandans. Including mine. For me, then, little did I know that, Obote and the big man would be the two leaders who would have the most effect on my life and the direction it has taken ever since. And little would I know that, many books would be written about the big man I saw that day (indeed, he was impressive); and many films would be made in relation to or about him; one of which would win an Oscar and many awards.

After that day, I still saw Obote several times before he was ousted by the big man. After, I saw the big man's pictures very many times on the TV and in papers. But, that once - was the only time I ever saw and would ever see, in person, His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, CBE: Idi Amin Dada.

Photo: The Eastafrican

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