Reflections: The birth of my survival skills!

If you ever lived in Uganda, you might be feeling that your cord of attachment is fast thinning. Even then, however, I am sure the mention of Idi Amin Dada will invariably arouse in you a pang of dread.

If you ever lived in Uganda, you might be feeling that your cord of attachment is fast thinning. Even then, however, I am sure the mention of Idi Amin Dada will invariably arouse in you a pang of dread.

I have been following the serialisation of the Amin days by his bizarrely avowed admirer, the maverick Timothy Kalyegira, and it is as if I am reliving last night’s nightmares.

In Uganda during Amin’s time, I waded through so many nightmares that devising tricks of extricating myself out of them became second nature to me.

Those thirty odd years ago, I was of course younger and could dispense with a lie without thinking twice, but even today those fibs have come in handy on several occasions.

Like when I encounter our hawkish, unbribable traffic policeman, you’d expect me to meekly say “Yes, son, I erred, take my logbook!” right?

Wrong, because my mantra tells me I should never give the expected answer. Like, for example, last time, when I was caught doing a hundred and twenty, just after crossing the small bridge and turning as you drive up the Musha hill, on your way to Rwamagana.

When the policeman caught me red-handed and flagged me down, I quickly got my identity card from the ‘glove compartment’ (which has never seen any gloves!) and handed it to him.

The policeman looked at the ID and, in confusion, turned to me and said: “Muze, bring your driving licence, you were overspeed —”

Before he could finish the sentence, I had pulled him along with me, back the way I had come and was telling him earnestly: “Come, come, son, I will show you something!”

Once we were at the corner, I pointed up the hill where a herd of cattle were grazing: “You see that fierce bull up there? It was bounding down towards us!”

Then, slowly getting my ID out of his hands, I exclaimed: “Sorry, in my confusion I gave you my ID instead of my driving licence!”

With that, I walked back with him to the car but, instead of giving him my driving licence, I got into the car as I continued to laugh sheepishly and, thanking him repeatedly, I started the car and drove off.

As I drove contentedly, I could picture him wondering exactly what the story was about the bull, and if there was any bull at all in that herd!

And so, you must be wondering, how did a situation like this arise during Amin’s time? Well, for instance, there was this time at Makerere University, in 1976, when Amin’s secret agents (known as State Research Bureau operatives) killed a fellow student.

The following morning, at a rally, our student leader extolled the good qualities of the dead student and fired us up with: “Our comrade has died, dead! Let’s march in his honour!”

In unison, we all thundered back: “Let’s march in his honour!” And so we marched, down Wandegeya, Kampla Road, Jinja Road, up Nsambya and right to his parents’ house.

There, we presented our condolences to the parents and then resumed our procession back to campus, suspiciously without a hitch.

As we uneasily prepared for sleep that evening, however, doors started to crack and then we heard the screams of the students: soldiers had arrived!

My roommate and I were cringing in our room, huddled in one corner and listening to cracks of doors and screams of students, when the door of our room flew right off its hinges and out through the window.

A stern face entered behind the muzzle of a gun and harshly shouted: “Nyinyi Nyankole, lala chini!” Instead of throwing myself onto the floor like my Munyankole roommate, I got up and walked towards the fierce soldier, my hand confidently outstretched!

Standing straight in front of him with my outstretched hand, I shouted: “Yambo, Afendi! Miye si Nyankole, nayifunza hapa lakini miye Mutwa kutoka Zaïre!”

After hearing that I was only a Mutwa from Zaïre, studying here, the soldier visibly softened, and then shook my hand. Then he went on to explain how he was a Kakwa, and how they were also a minority in Uganda just like the Batwa in Zaïre, and we struck up an instant friendship!

After that he asked me to join them in harassing the students, but I declined, giving some lame excuse that he, luckily, accepted.

The next time, how did I escape by the skin of my teeth?  ………  Next Sunday!