Ironically, of all Uganda's presidents Idi Amin was the most accessible. Amin was known to drive around Kampala in his open roof car that looked like a Jeep wrangler. There was a time that he dropped off his kids at our school like a regular Dad and a time he came to swim at the International Hotel when we were in the water but this time we were chased out for the big man.
The first time I saw his tall towering figure was in the early 70s when he declared war against all forms of imperialism leading to the title CBE or conqueror of the British Empire. His war included many activities including being transported in a made-for-purpose chair on the shoulders of four Caucasian men.
I saw him on the day he renamed Kampala's streets dropping all names with English or colonial connotations and renaming them to honor African Heroes and Statesmen. I lived on Queens Road until that morning when the Field Marshall decided to rename it Lumumba Avenue. And to mark the auspicious occasion, Idi Amin decided to take a stroll from one end of the Road at the roundabout behind the High Court to the end where Lumumba Avenue runs into Kyadondo Rd. All residents were expected to be outside to greet the President as he passed by. We lined the Road and waited. Sure enough at the appointed time the towering figure in military uniform approached No. 56 Lumumba Avenue. He extended his hand to residents greeting and waved and continued past our home.
I do not recall if my father came out to see him that particular time instead what I remember clearly is the time my father refused to come out on the President's orders. The economy was in ruins, essential commodities were hard to come by and civil servants were no longer earning enough. The new elite were the 'mafutamingi' or business men who run stores in the towns. Kampala City Council no longer collected garbage and we dug pits in our compounds to heap trash and burn it.
So one day Amin declared war against garbage with the slogan 'Keep your City Clean.' All able bodied men, women and children were to go on their street and sweep, clean the garbage. Oversight of this exercise was to be managed by the army. Now if you lived in Kampala in those days, you knew that there was a Governor called Nassur a military officer who enforced city regulations ruthlessly. One time he banned wearing rubber slippers in the city and those who flouted the rule were caught and made to eat their slippers.
So when my Dad declared that he would not participate in 'Keep your City Clean,' my mother was a nervous wreck. She begged him to come out but my Dad decided to take this small act of rebellion seriously - probably the only time I knew him to rebel for any reason. He turned on his radio and stayed in the house while the rest of us went to fight the war against garbage. The day past without incident and my Dad had his small victory against dictatorship.
At 50 I know that growing under a dictatorship has defined my world outlook and given me an exaggerated sensitivity to human
rights abuse and bad governance