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`Wonderful things happen in Africa’

By Kavuma-Kaggwa

Former President Idi Amin Dada’s words fit perfectly into the behaviours of African president kicked out of power

African countries started to achieve Independence from European colonialists in 1960 although Ghana, in West Africa gained Independence on March 6, 1957. Many wonderful things have happened in Africa since Independence and how those who were affected reacted is full of humour.

The saying – “many wonderful things happen in Africa” started with former President, Gen. Idi Amin Dada at the OAU Heads of State Summit in 1976 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Amin wanted President Nyerere of Tanzania to shake his hand. Nyerere had refused to talk to Amin since 1971 when he (Amin) overthrew the Milton Obote government in Uganda.

When addressing the summit Amin quickly coined a joke and said – “My fellow African leaders, many things happen in Uganda, trees fall and they stand and we don’t import water”. He actually demonstrated how trees fell. Nyerere was sitting right in front of the podium, and when Amin moved to shake his hand, he burst wildly into laughter and straightaway stood up, and shook Amin’s hand. The entire Conference burst into laughter.

Kwame Nkrumah

On February 24, 1966 Dr Kwame Nkrumah, the late Ghanaian President and the man who fought for that Country’s Independence, was overthrown by the army. He was far away in Peking (now Beijing), China, trying to negotiate for peace in Vietnam. At that time there was war between the former North and South Vietnam. The American troops were in former South Vietnam fighting the “Vietcong” forces of former North Vietnam leader Ho Chi Minh.

While he was talking to former Prime Minister, the late Zhou Enlai, officers of the Foreign Affairs Ministry brought a telegram informing him that the army had taken over in Accra (the capital) and it was in full control. Nkrumah quickly called his Foreign Minister, Alex Quaison-Sackey, and he said – “Alex will you tell those boys to go back to the barracks”. Nkrumah was thousands and thousands of miles away from Accra, and he was telling the army to go back to the barracks. Did he really understand what he was talking and the reality of the matter?

Thank God, way back in 1958 when General Charles de Gaulle declared himself President of France, he told African countries to declare their Independence.

Former Guinean President Ahmed Sekou Toure quickly declared Independence for Guinea on October 2, 1958.

French civil servants were upset and are reported to have raided the Treasury and all files and pins from Government offices. Sekou Toure ran to fellow socialist Kwame Nkrumah who gave him US$10 million free to run the country.

When Sekou Toure heard that Kwame Nkrumah had been overthrown in 1966 he quickly called him to Conakry. Nkrumah flew direct to Conakry and as soon as he arrived Sekou Toure declared him “Co-President of Guinea”. What was amusing was that whenever there was a public function the two Presidents stood next to each other and took the salute.

In the years that followed, Nkrumah died and he was temporarily buried in Conakry until when his remains were taken to Accra where he was accorded a State Funeral.

Milton Obote

Back in Uganda, in 1971 when Milton Obote was attending the Commonwealth Conference in Singapore, the Army led by Idi Amin took over. A soldier who had a funny name – “Maali ya Mungu” moved tanks to the airport at Entebbe to wait for East African Airways plane bringing Obote so that he shoots it. It was said that he shot a Catholic priest for reasons which were not known.

In his book, `1960-1970 Chronicle and Analysis’, Godfrey Mwakikagile describes how then-Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere, Zambia’s Keneth Kaunda, and Uganda’s Milton Obote, at the Commonwealth meeting in Singapore, told then-UK Prime Minister Edward Heath that they would withdrwal from the Commonwealth if Britain continued to sell arms to apartheid South Africa.

It has been reported elsewhere that Obote did not want to go to Singapore but he was persuaded by then-Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere so that they demand Independence for Zimbabwe when it was still Southern Rhodesia and Ian Smith had declared a UDI –“Unilateral Declaration of Independence”.

Edward Heath is said to have retorted: “I wonder how many of you will be allowed to return to your countries after this conference.” Shortly afterwards, officials of the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Singapore took a note to Obote informing him that he had been overthrown by his own army.

Obote is reported to have banged the table and said: “There is no takeover in Uganda. I am still President”. He then flew to Bombay where he connected with East African Airways. While flying over Aden he ordered the Captain to “fly direct to Entebbe”.

The Captain quickly communicated with the late Wilson Lutara who was the Director-General of the former East African Airways and sought permission to fly direct to Entebbe under the circumstances.

Wilson Lutara ordered the Captain to fly to Nairobi. It was reported that he told the pilot to disregard Obote’s wishes: “That is East African Community property therefore you must fly to Nairobi”.

Obote flew to Nairobi where a very interesting story developed.

He found then Vice-President Daniel arap Moi (who later became President for 24 years) at the airport. Moi telephoned President Jomo Kenyatta in Mombasa. He was reported to have said – “Your Excellency this man Obote is here; what do we do?”

Kenyatta reportedly replied: “I cannot meet that man because the East African Authority of the three Presidents is now not there”. He is said to have continued – “huyu mtu mushenzi saana, alifukuuza watu wangu kutooka Uganda. Hapana pereka yeye State House, pereka yeye Pan African Hostel”.

Obote was taken to the Pan African Hostel where he found the Luos whom he had chased away from Uganda in 1970. Obote had a good policy of “Ugandanisation of the civil service” and in 1970 he chased away so many Luos who were working in the former Uganda Hotels and in different places in Jinja.

They jokingly asked him – “Mzee what do you want to eat? And he replied – “Just give me water”. Nyerere flew to Mombasa and begged Kenyatta to allow Obote to drive to Kampala. Kenyatta refused and he ordered security to block the road to Malaba/Busia and patrol the lake in Kisumu area.

Nyerere flew back to Dar es Salaam with his friend Obote. In Dar es Salaam Obote was accorded presidential treatment and he stayed in Masasani Village – west of the city in a house owned by the late Oscar Kambona. Kambona was in exile in London after falling out with Nyerere over the socialism and “Ujamaa” policy which Kambona refused to accept in 1967 when Nyerere introduced it in Arusha under what he called the “Arusha Declaration”. Later in the 1970s Nyerere apologised to people of Tanzania that he had a bad economic system which did not benefit “wanainchi”.

Mengistu Haile Mariam

In 1991 former Ethiopian “strongman” Mengistu Haile Mariam, who ruled that country for 17 years with an “iron hand”, fled as rebel forces advanced on Addis Ababa. During his reign he fitted very well in the English saying that “when you laugh the whole world laughs with you but when you cry you cry alone”.

After enduring terrible suffering under Mengitsu, the people of Ethiopia and now Eritrea organised the EPLF (the Ethiopia People’s Liberation Front and the Oromo people organised the Oromo Liberation Front).

They fought his Government for some time but when they were closing in on him, he fled. It is said that one morning Mengitsu told a pilot to take him to Southern Ethiopia to see the troops there. The two of them flew in a small plane. After flying for some time, the pilot asked, “Where are we landing?” and Mengitsu replied, “Continue flying”.

Later on the pilot said, “We have covered half of Ethiopian Airspace, where are we landing?” Mengitsu replied, “Continue flying”. They continued flying and they approached Mt. Kenya, the pilot again asked, “We have reached Mountain Kenya, where are we landing”?? He again replied, “Continue flying and seek permission to land”. According to international regulations of ICAO (The International Civil Aviation Organisation) when it is about twenty minutes to land at the next airport the pilot seeks “permission to land”. The pilot communicated with Nairobi Air Control and said, “I am bringing Ethiopian President. Seeking permission to land”.

He repeated this communication three times, according to international regulations. Nairobi Airport replied – “Permission granted” and this communication is repeated three times so that each side understands the other very well.

Mengitsu landed at Nairobi Airport, where he stayed for some hours and later flew to Harare, Zimbabwe in an aircraft which was sent by his friend President Gabriel Robert Mugabe.

Back in Ethiopia the new Government headed by the late Meles Zenawi Asres, tried him in absentia for “crimes against humanity”. He was sentenced to death. They tried to request President Mugabe to repatriate Mengitsu but Mugabe refused.

Now it is anybody’s guess as to what will happen in future when President Mugabe will retire from active politics.


KAVUMA-KAGGWA is an elder from Kyaggwe, Mukono district.

Tel: 0772-584423

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