Of Mwalimu Nyerere, Idi Amin and others this side of Heaven!

Karl Lyimo

IT was 18 years ago that Tanzanians – and the world at large – were shocked by the news that Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere (1922-1999) had died of leukemia in a London Hospital on October 14, 1999!

It was most unfortunate that the man didn’t live to celebrate the new (21st) century as it fatefully dawned upon us this side of Heaven 78 days post-his arguably ‘untimely’ demise… Seventy-eight days, did I say? What a magic number… While Mwalimu lived that number of years short of one, the former Ugandan Dictator Idi Amin lived exactly that number: 78 years!

Oh, I don’t know… But, the crudity of it all’s that the two never saw eye-to-eye with each other, despite being Heads of State in two contiguous nation-states within a regional integration movement in the name and style of ‘East African Community…’ But, I jump the gun here, crudely rushing matters.

Allow me, o’esteemed readers, to start from the beginning… It was a little more than 40 years ago that the ‘first’ (for lack of a better term) East African Community (EAC-I) collapsed, doing so June 30, 1977, the last day of the 1975/76 financial year.

The immediate cause was failure by the EAC-I Summit comprising Heads of State to meet and approve the EAC-I budget for the next financial year (FY-1976/77) – and the Community ignominiously imploded upon itself at midnight that fateful day! EAC-I constituted three nation-states – a number that has grown to six today, after the politically-troubled Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan scrambled aboard the integration bandwagon, the second edition of the Community (EAC-II) as statutorily established on Nov. 30, 1999.

The original three (with their Heads of State at the time shown in brackets)–were: Kenya (President Jomo ‘Johnstone Kamau wa Ngengi’ Kenyatta); Tanzania (Mwalimu Julius ‘The K’ Nyerere), and Uganda (the self-styled ‘Field-Marshall’ Idi ‘Dada’ Amin).

Jomo Kenyatta (1891-1978) was arguably nearing the end of his tether at the time– in terms of health. In due course of time and interventions by the Sisters of Fate, Kenyatta died in his sleep at the Mombasa State House on August 22, 1978, thirteen months after the EAC-I collapsed!

On the other hand, Mwalimu Nyerere (1922-99) and Idi Amin (1925-2003) never saw eye-to-eye with each other any and every which way! While Nyerere (the holder of a Master’s Degree in Economics & History from the Edinburgh University, Class of 1952) was widely acknowledged as being erudite, Idi Amin (reportedly credited with a measly four years of primary school education somewhere in the Ugandan backwoods) was described as ‘a buffoon,’ ‘Black Nero’ and a ‘Village Tyrant’ by British Author Denis Cecil Hills in his 1976 book ‘The White Pumpkin!’ When Amin violently assumed the Uganda Presidency after toppling the President Milton Obote Government in a military coup on January 25, 1971, it just as soon became clear that Amin Dada and Tanzania President Nyerere weren’t made for each other; there was no goodwill, friendliness, favour, friendship, benevolence or whatever lost between them, so to speak! Whichever way you look at the two – especially in the leadership stakes – the two were as alike as chalk and cheese! You don’t get it?

Well, chalk is a soft white rock which can be used to write and draw with, while cheese is solid food made from milk, usually white or yellow in colour… You don’t eat chalk – and can’t draw/write with cheese! You still don’t get it? Well, put very bluntly: even as Uganda President, Amin reportedly described fellow President Nyerere of Tanzania as ‘a coward, an old woman and a prostitute’ – and added insult to injury, going viral that he ‘loved Mr.

Nyerere, and would’ve married him if he’d been a woman!’ [For Heaven’s sake, see ‘Idi Amin, Murderous and Erratic Ruler of Uganda in the ’70s, Dies in Exile’ By Michael T. Kaufman, <http://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/17/>].

Oh, I don’t know…But, perhaps what ‘names’ Mwalimu could’ve called Idi Amin were taken up by Denis Hills (1913-2004), a Briton who was himself quite a character, arguably in Idi Amin’s league!

Hills moved to Uganda in 1963 to teach at Makerere University. Lambasting the Amin Regime in his book ‘The White Pumpkin’ saw to Hills being convicted of ‘espionage’ and ‘sedition’ in 1975 – and sentenced to death by a firing squad by Amin’s Courts.

However, he was saved from execution at the last moment following intercession by the Second Edition of Her Britannic Majesty Queen Bess (QE-II) – and was plucked to safety out of Amin’s clutches in Kampala by UK Foreign Secretary (Minister) James Callaghan in person… Boy!

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