Tag Archives: Ugandan army coup; Idi Amin; child soldiers

A Coup in Progress

Idi’s Diamonds

 I was going home from Makerere University to Port Bell where my family lived. It was customary to check one’s post at any time of the day or night. The only thing that I was not aware of was that a full scale army coup was in progress.  I was coming out of the post office parking area with my post in my hand when a large truck with soldiers drove uphill on the road which connected the main street to the cluster of hotels. About a dozen soldiers jumped out of the truck and ran towards various positions around the building. Three came with bayonets held at the height of my chest and one of them knocked me over. Then another asked me what I was doing there while I was trying to secure my glasses. It was just past midnight and I said that I was taking post home. Without any notice, one of them turned his bayonet away and gave a loud whack in the small of my back with his rifle butt. I felt dizzy and crashed to the floor. Another or maybe the same man kicked me several times in my bottom. By that time more soldiers had arrived as I heard a type of siren; it could have been the loud horn of those large trucks driven by the military police. I think I was at kicked six times in the small of my back but fortunately not on my spine. I collected my post and my turban from the ground  and went home, feeling utterly dejected and almost in tears.

Two years later when driving a tiny Mini Clubman near the Blackwall Tunnel in East London I stopped at a zebra crossing only to realise that a huge truck had hit me in the back. My car was crushed almost into half but as I was young and adventurous, I came out of the car, hugely shaken and after much confusion decided to get the car towed away and taken to a garage. It was during the evening I realised that I had blurred vision. The consultant at East Ham hospital told me that my “previous back injury” had become aggravated. I started to lose the vision in my left eye and after many weeks of dilation, they decided to stop the medication to allow the eye to return to normal. Money was extremely tight and I could not afford a change of glasses every few weeks while the chart showing my eyesight was going up and down like data showing stock market collapse just before the banking crash in 2007.

I decided to get the bog standard National Health Service glasses, those worn mostly by pensioners and poor people. A few friends even had a laugh. The following week I had to go to the job interview when my confidence was at a low ebb indeed. I got the job! Perhaps the people on the other side of the table had become so used to my NHS specs and thought that it was simply a style statement.

Unknown to Idi Amin’s henchmen and those young soldiers, I did smuggle something very invaluable out of their country. It was my sore and swollen back and my left eye which was creating the sensation as if I had a inserted a heavy golf ball into my eye socket. I can promise that there was no outsized diamond in it. But the soldiers who gave me that pasting probably did much worse than me.  They were only ten or so years older than me. How did they survive their lives? Did they ever overcome the ferocity of their master’s voice? Yes, the good old dog listening to his master’s voice (HMV) comes to mind. Was it just the dog who described millions of circles on the top of gramophone records?  Give a thought to hundreds and thousands of child soldiers who were later ‘recruited’ by African armies. Worse still, think of the parents who never see their children again once they are abducted by armies and militias, even today.  My little mishap at the general post office was insignificant by comparison. I still have the glint in my eye.

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