Untold Stories

When the Kenyan government deported Obote’s family back to Amin’s hands

On January 25, 1971, at exactly 2:00 am, there were uncoordinated troop movements within Kampala in what seemed to be a developing coup against sitting president Apollo Milton Obote.

Arguably the most Uganda and Kenya relations have been most bruised during the second stint in power for Apollo Milton Obote.

On January 25, 1971, at exactly 2:00 am, there were uncoordinated troop movements within Kampala in what seemed to be a developing coup against sitting president Apollo Milton Obote.

Obote was away in Singapore for a commonwealth conference and he only got to know of the developments through one Chris Ntende who was then the permanent secretary in the ministry of internal affairs.

Obote was in shock because he had left the order in Kampala through Basil Bataraigaya (Ntende’s boss) to have Amin arrested, but the latter scooped them when the order from Obote was leaked to him.

Amin quickly gathered a few of his trusted officers to meet at the home of Juma Ali Rokoni commonly known as Butabika for his impulsive military acts. The meeting took place in Old Kampala.

The meeting resolved that a blood-filled coup take place and Obote’s place should be blown upon arrival at Entebbe Airport to kill whoever sat on it.

The minutes of the meeting were eavesdropped on by Butabika’s wife who tipped the Band Master Ahmad Oduka, her brother-in-law

Oduka by fact that he would be the parade adjutant at the airport given the nature of his office, feared for his life and mostly that of the president and several other ministers and officers who would be present by the time Amin executed his plan.

He called Bataringaya and told him of Amin’s plan. A swift move to arrest Amin by the government was mooted, alas it would be just the wrong card to play

Btaringaya in one of his worst moves called and briefed Oryema, who indeed was one of the coup plotters. Oryema briefed Amin of the impending plan of his arrest.

Amin staged men at the venue where Bataringaya and other officials would be meeting next, and they riddled their cars with bullets as a signal that the time was nigh.

And that marked the beginning of the coup to overthrow Obote, who was by this time airborne from Indonesia, by the time he reached Bombay in India, he was no longer president.

From India, Obote landed in Kenya where the reception was not as expected. They were hastily tucked away in the hotel and told they would not stay longer than a few days.

Obote called Nyerere who sent him two ministers to escort him to Tanzania where he would stay until Amin fell in 1979.

Following the coup by Amin, close family members of Obote led by his wife Miria Kalule Obote and three sons planned an escape to exile.

They succeeded with help of Obote’s colleagues just days after the coup. It is said that Obote’s wife dressed and pretended to be a Congolese woman driving with her children of Kenya.

However, on reaching Kenya they met the same hostility that Obote received days earlier, this is because Kenya had already recognized Amin and was willing to work with him.

While in Nairobi, Obote’s family reported their presence to the authorities.

“On discovering that my family was no longer at the Kololo house, Amin contacted President Kenyatta and requested for their return to Uganda in case they were in Kenya. On finding that my family was in Nairobi and had reported their presence to the Immigration officials, President Kenyatta made Amin promise that no harm would be done to them when they return to Uganda,” Obote notes in one of his interviews.

The news of the deportation of Obote’s family was sneaked to Joseph Nyerere (brother to Julius Nyerere) during an EALA (East African Legislative Assembly) cocktail in Uganda.

The plan was to have Obote’s family brought back to Malaba silently and channeled to Northern Uganda (Lira) where either they would be assassinated or killed in a motor accident.

On hearing this, Joseph Nyerere disappeared from the cocktail and informed his plugs in BBC who shortly broadcast a story and put the matter in the global eye, leaving Amin with very few options.

As Obote would later state that the vow by Amin to keep the family safe was “a promise of a liar and murderer”.

“Amin went to Tororo and himself instructed the Police Commander there to send my family to Lira when they reach Tororo from Kenya. The Police officer had been before 25 January 1971 a member of my escort unit. When the family arrived at Malaba in their vehicle, the Police officer did not tell them that he had been directed that they go to Lira,” Obote adds.

With the help of the police officer, the family proceeded to Kampala instead of where Amin had wanted them to go (Lira). They were paraded in a press conference for the whole world to see they were alive and Amin apparently playing friends with each of them.

“Amin subjected my children, the youngest of whom was only four years old, to a TV Studio interrogation asking them whether they wanted to join their father in exile. Those who saw the TV interrogations will recall that each of the three boys answered the questions without fear that they wanted to be with their father,” Obote said later in an interview.

Indeed, the interview that happened at State House Nakasero showed Amin playing friends with Obote’s family and telling the world that they are very safe.

Miria Obote on her side would later say “I do not feel very safe, I am kind of scared”. At the same time exclaiming she had not heard from her husband.

“I have no idea of my personal future, I am a human being… wouldn’t you be worried?” Miria Obote said while being escorted around by the military on orders of Amin.

It is true that had Obote’s family headed to Lira from Tororo, they would have not reached.

After the family had left Malaba, five armed officers arrived at the premises, they searched all over and besieged the office of the police officer.

When he told them the family had left, they drove to Lira and kicked doors down, in search of Obote’s family. Many of Obote’s relatives were harassed and probed to produce the family.

Obote’s family was handed over to Miria Kalule’s father and they stayed in Kawempe under state surveillance. They however were again able to escape to Kenya silently with all Obote’s children sedated. They sneaked into Kenya from where they were put on a private craft to Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania where they joined Obote.

Obote would later have a very strained relationship with Kenya until his overthrow in 1985.

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