Karl Marx wrote in the Eighteenth Brumaire and in the Scorpion and Felix that memories about the dead hang like a monster on the minds of the living. And it is true; today on my mind hovers the memory of love between the two Makerere University Students, Paul Serwangas and Esther Chesire, which led to their violent death and the death of Teresa Nanziri Bukenya alongside the state-sponsored terrorism on Kenyans living in Uganda during the reign of Idi Amin Dada. My memories of these dark and savagely acts on the humble lives by Ugandan politics of that time derive strength from the celebrated silence about the plight of Kenyans in Uganda under Idi Amin Dada. It is the silence shrewdly calculated to sweep the memories under the carpets but, no, the youth of today in the likes of Taban Amin Dada must be informed of what the political ancestry of Uganda did to the powerless of that time.
This is how it was, Esther Chesire, a Kenyan, was a student at Makerere University. Her boyfriend was Paul Serwangas, a Ugandan. They loved one another in the measure of Anthony and Cleopatra, or Romeo and Juliet, or Princes Diana and Dodi Al Afawyed, or like King Solomon and Queen Sheeba, or Napoleon and Jospehine, or Mugabe and Grace, or Karl Marx and Hellen Demuth his house girl, (by the way, are you aware that Karl Marx impregnated Demuth his house girl and she had a son for him who grew up to be a pogonophiliac bibulous sozzler poorly gifted in the brain, only to live and die at an old age as a thrasonical lorry driver? Kindly read Francis Wheen) or like all the famous affinities of the last two centuries as chronicled by Lynden Orr. This was the time Teresa Nanziri Bukenya was a mathematics teacher at Makerere University, she was in charge of the girls’ dormitory or hall for the girls at Makerere University (all halls for the boys at Makerere Universities have names, eponymous ones like Nkurumah Hall, Nyerere Hall, Patrice Emery Lumumba Hall, and many other names that would come as much as forces of history would produce for Africa politicians with stellar performance) but the hall for girls was not having a name, it was just known as a ‘hall for girls’. Teresa Nanziri Bukenya introduced hot water in the hall as she reckoned it would improve girls’ performance in mathematics. Suddenly, girls became used to a shower at any time, they became smooth and comely to the look, their beauty campaigned without a convoy into the palace of ignorant desire with Esther Chesire at the front row. Then night runners mushroomed at the court-yard and out-skirts of the hall for girls. All types of night runners; those hooting like owls, others cooing like wild pigeons, whistling like hyenas and not mentioning those who mewed like aphrodisiac cats. Most of the night runners were from the military hofrat, the top brass of the council of the military state.
Teresa Nanziri Bukenya was a strict catholic and a pre-feminism feminist. She secretly introduced street lights and security lights at Hall of Girls. One late evening she pressed the button for the lights on, the watching public had their sight swamped with plethora of mooning male cats in mewing mode, the mooning cats ran for their lives at snail speed. They were slow not because they had been made tired by a life dedicated to serial mooning, but because they were all pregnant of glomming tax-payers money, illiteracy, self-congratulation, tribalism, sadism, libertinism, incompetence, impotence, anfractuosities in victimhood to the syndrome of cult of dictatorship. They could not run, they just wobbled under the heavy weight of their bulging stomachs. Was this not a cost-free fulsome optical nutrition to the public? Courtesy of Teresa Nanziri Bukenya Lights at the Makerere Hall of girls.
My dear reader, have you ever read Love Letter to Satan by Karl Marx? What of Ode to Death by Adolf of Hitler? And what of Oualenem, a drama in poems by Karl Marx? If you have then salute for yourself and if you have not call yourself a village pipkin of Aristophanic proportions. And the Pipkin was an ex-parte military lover in a crush for Esther Chesire before wooing her. And just like Shakespeare asked, ‘How can I love you and you have never wooed me?’ The Army officer wanted to command the love from Esther Chesire without wooing her. She never gave in, like the pre-Juliet lover to Romeo, Chesire was already in love with love, and her love was ear-marked for royal blood from the Buganda Kingdom, the one musaja wa basaja jabasinga Paul Serwangas. This was when the Military Hofrat became sick of mad jealousies under the full spell of Tybalt complex, they chose to kill Serwangas by shooting him and to make Chesire estranged in teen-widowhood, and the army panjandrums thought that perchance pangs of bombazine will make Chesire to come begging for their love, to come but out of despair. But no, just like the way Juliet never loved Tybalt the Murderer of Romeo, Chesire never loved Amin’s army men, the murderers of Paul Serwangas. But because Amin’s men shot Paul Serwangas when he was in the company of Esther Chesire and her fellow Kenyan running mate (‘running mate’ is Kenyan word used to describe a girl that has no lover but usually accompanies other girls going to meet their boyfriends so that she can benefit by enjoying a share in free meals, drinks, club tickets, and car rides offered by the boys to their lovers), they panicked that the girls would reveal their acts of brutality. Thus they demanded that Teresa Nanziri Bukenya accepts to conspire with the Army so that she can produce Esther and her running mate to be killed as a way of removing the evidence. Nanziri Bukenya declined stubbornly. You know what happened? She was kidnapped by the army and taken to the banana field somewhere in Buganda Kingdom. She was shot dead. She was 37and half-way pregnant. Esther Chesire and the running mate were kidnapped and kept at a secret place, possibly raped, and then killed. It was somewhere in June 1976.
These acts of Amin’s state-sponsored brutality on the two young female Kenyan students in Uganda were not out of irrational, impetuous, spontaneous impulsivity. They were rational, proactive, intelligently calculated acts of political revenge on Kenya for having helped the Israeli commandoes to rescue an aero-plane from France that was carrying some Israeli nationals captured and held hostage by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) at Entebbe, Uganda. The ninety minutes of Entebbe raid by Israeli commandos succeeded because of the invincible hand of top government machineries in Kenya. It was a moment of humiliation to Idi Amin and an act of Anti-Jihadism, and hence Amin went for the powerless as the only way of venting out his ire. And Amin’s ire did not only stop with Esther Chesire and her running mate, it went for all Kenyans in Uganda. Idi Amin mobilized all Ugandans into a moment of very strong nationalism that sang one song; ‘Kenyans must go!’ Kenyans working in Uganda were ordered to leave Uganda without carrying any belonging. They left all the money, movable properties and immovable properties they had worked and bought. Most of them came back to Kenya on foot; it was so risky to use a car, a bus or a train. Moreover, most of the Kenyans already had been shot dead by the paramilitary. Those who suffered most are Ugandans with Kenyan ancestry who had settled as peasant farmers in Engombolola ye Ebunambutia (Ebunambutia District) around Yembe town in Eastern Uganda; this region was also known as Entare. The people of Yembe town had their ancestors that came from Western Kenya, they had moved to Uganda generations ago. By Amin’s time they were living as Uganda citizens, speaking the same language as that of Bugisu and Masaba Nation of Mbale district in Eastern Uganda. But Idi Amin did not recognize the naturalized citizenship of the people of Yembe, he looked at them as betrayers, enemies of the state and enemy aliens that helped non-Muslim captives at Entebbe. Idi Amin got full support of the people of Uganda when he unleashed terror on the powerless citizens of Yembe town. They were killed, their wives were raped, their daughters were raided and taken away, their cows were rustled and, left with nothing, they were forced to go back to Kenya at gunpoint; they were made to migrate to a place they never viewed as home. One of the survivors of this brutality on Kenyans and perceived Kenyans is now a watch-repairer in Westland, an up-market neighborhood in Nairobi. When I talked to him in January 2020, he averred that Idi Amin armed the Karamojong militia. He remembers that the Karamojong militia came armed with long guns to vandalize and loot cows and women of the unarmed people of Yembe; he also remembers that as a young boy of around five years he saw the men from Karamojong Militia raping his mother in rounds as his father looked on helplessly. After raping his mother, they forcefully took away his sisters. His father took him and then they walked back to Kenya. They have remained landless and homeless ever since, but he grieves that he has never seen his sisters again.
My surprise is that I have tried to read books, magazines and Journals of History, politics and culture from Uganda as much I can, but none has ever mentioned Idi Amin’s brutality on the people of Yembe. I have read Mahmood Mamdani, Susan Nalugwa Kiguli, Peter Kagai, Goreti Kyomuhendo, Nasumbuga Makumbi, Austin Bukenya, Timothy Wangusa, Jane and Juliane Okot P’Bitek, John Ruganda, Okot Benge and Beverly Nyambozo, Yoweri Museveni, Janet Museveni, and General Muhozi. All these are writers with a focus on human rights, freedom, human dignity and democratic freedom, but unfortunately, none of them have ever mentioned the plight of the people of Yembe town under Idi Amini Dada.
Last year, Dr. Susan Nalugwa Kiguli was to read a poem on the plight of Asians in Uganda under Idi Amin at the 2019 East African Cultural and Literary Studies Conference held at Lalibela University in Ethiopia. I only wondered why Dr. Kiguli did not think of coming up with a poem on the plight of Kenyans in Uganda under Idi Amin. The logic behind this argument is that the life of Asians in Uganda under Idi Amin have already been chronicled by Mahmood Mamdani in Politics of Class Formation in Uganda, From Citizen to a Refugee and also in Bad Muslim, Good Muslim. Why Ugandan scholars talk about Luwero triangle but often avoid talking about the political brutality perpetrated by Idi Amin on the peasants of Yembe town can be attributed to the collective psychology of strong Kenya-phobia among the people of Uganda or unconscious auto-racism among most of African intellectuals who happen to think that they can get to enjoy an internationalized intellectual stature by discussing the plight of Asians in Uganda but not that of Kenyans.
However, good judgment can rationalize away all of Idi Amin’s time as the bad times of Africa, the times which Ali A. Mazrui was detained, Okello Oculli was detained and banished, Okot P’ Bitek was dismissed from his job and then the reading community lost him to mysterious death, a tragic eventuality which makes those times not to be saluted with silence in the history of East Africa. Like the silence I witnessed among the thousand plus men and women attending the 2019 East African Communication Association Conference (EACA) at Movenpick Hotel in Nairobi, the silence that engulfed the room like a powerful cloud of mute darkness when I mentioned that the academic community and the Media in East Africa must work together and demand President Museveni to release Dr. Stella Nyanzi from prison. I tell you my dear reader, a hall which was filled up to the brim with over a thousand people from all over East Africa remained mute, I thought I was addressing the society of the hearing impaired. In my heart I remembered a line in Dante’s poetry; ‘Those who remain aloof when injustice is perpetrated will occupy the hottest place in hell.’
Let not intellectual snobbery and bourgeoisie trappings make us to nurture and culture ourselves into a self-defeating sub-culture of silence when Dr. Stella Nyanzi is languishing in prison, let us join hands with other Mauverick organizations like the Pen International to call for fair forgiveness of Dr Stella Nyanzi. Let us not blame her for being a self-appointed martyr and being vulgar. Being a self-appointed martyr was one time described by Wole Mamdani as Kamikaze, a martyriological front to oppression. Intellectual vulgarity is not mis-civilisation; it is useful strategy in resisting tyrannical politics. It keeps the enemy busy, it keeps the enemy restless. Dr. Nyanzi’s vulgarity was done in good faith as part of the intellectual struggle for the education of a girl-child, collective freedom, fair governance and dignity of a woman. These are some of the virtues that Teresa Nanziri Bukenya died for. If we remain silent by remaining aloof through backing off from such like crusaders of human rights when they are brutalized by the state, then we are only leaving them to languish in the gaping jaws of the yawning black inhumanity. It is so sorry that our reward for this type of cowardice will be nothing else other than earning ourselves the hottest place in Dante’s inferno.
(From Lodwar, Kenya)
Alexander Ernesto Khamala Namugugu Islam Opicho is a Kenyan essayist, poet, short story writer and feminist – human rights crusader living and working in Kenya. His work has appeared in the BUWA journal’s sixth edition on women and Migration, Queer Africa 2, Awaaz Magazine, Nairobi Law Monthly, Management Magazine, the Bombay Review, the East African, the Daily Nation, East African Standard, the Monitor, Pambazuka Magazine, Sahara reporters African Literature Today (ALT 37), African HAIKU, and the Kalahari Review. His research and writings are focused on multidisciplinary approach to protection of fundamental human rights. He is guided by a philosophy that human diversity is a praxis that derives strength from freedom of thought and expression.
This entry appeared in The Memory Issue