We think we know Ugandan history but far from knowing it, we know nothing. I have been reading excerpts from a document titled How to stage a Military Coup by David Hebditch and Ken Connor that has led me to believe that if we are ever going to have any sort of proper history of Uganda written down, we are going to have to admit some more characters into our history. Because until I read this document, I had no idea of some names like Beverley Gayer Barnard and Bruce Mackenzie, though no doubt the Kenyans were well aware of that last name. He was their Agricultural minister once, during the reign of Jomo Kenyatta. Many Ugandan businessmen from the 1960s to 1970s too should have been aware of him, especially if they were in the business of selling cars. It was Mackenzie under his Cooper Motors distributorship who played a huge part in flooding Uganda with Volkswagen beetles, British Leyland trucks and that beloved of Uganda’s undeveloped road networks, the Land Rover. This document actually calls him, “The most influential white man in East Africa in 1970.” (Who is today’s, I wonder!)
- First to Beverly Barnard. A history of Beverly’s activities reads like John Perkins Confessions of an Economic Hitman without the redeeming ending of that ‘confession.’ Wherever conflict was about to break out, Barnard was bound to have been there a couple of months earlier. The tormented Middle East of the 1960s and 1970s, whose effects continue to echo even today, was in part because of the M16 sponsored activities of Barnard who became quite adept at quickly rustling up rebel groups and aiding coups. When Barnard suddenly camped in northern Uganda, grief was not far in the offing for us.
- I had no idea that an M16 officer Beverly Gayer Barnard took put in the 1971 coup that saw Amin come to power. Barnard actually personally trained five hundred mercenary soldiers recruited mostly from Southern Sudan to aid Amin in his moves to take over from Obote. It was these troops that Amin may have used to grab all the ‘important’ Uganda Army commanders and leaders of the rank and file soldiers. Those mercenaries were in Uganda to ensure that a government favourable to the now South Sudan cause was in power in Kampala.
- This had not been Barnard’s first effort to ‘do in’ Obote. In another document, British Intelligence and Covert Action Africa, Middle East and Europe since 1945 by Jonathan Bloch and Patrick Fitzgerald, the authors claim that Barnard is the guy who organised the assassination attempt on Milton Obote in 1969. The assassination attempt that came agonisingly close to succeeding, when Obote was coming from a Uganda People’s Congress conference.
- It is alleged that while fighting against the Mau Mau in Kenya in the 1950s Idi Amin had the nickname ‘The Strangler.’ Reason. Because of his superior body size, it is said that Amin’s favourite amusement trick was to grab a Mau Mau prisoner by the throat and yank him in the air off his feet. How true is this? No idea. Probably the same guys who spread the embellished rumour that one time Amin ran down a street stark naked after he was caught having sex with another man’s wife. Do the two side by side make sense? A big man who could lift an ordinary man up in the air by the throat suddenly running out of another man’s house, a man he could probably have overpowered if it came to a fight?
- The document continues to perpetuate the false impression that Idi Amin, according to Barnard, was “a little short on the gray matter.” I say false because a simple YouTube video check on Idi Amin talking immediately contradicts the ‘daftness of Amin’ angle we have been sold for many years. You can laugh at the man’s ‘broken’ English, but you can hardly claim he had no sense.
- But neither is Amin the ‘selfless nationalist and Pan-Africanist’ some writers and commentators on Uganda’s history like Timothy Kalyegira would like us to believe. The man had his literal skeletons in the closet. There are things Amin did in Kenya in the 1950s, in the Congo in the 1960s and in Sudan that weigh down Amin’s much contested legacy into the negatives. I had no idea that Amin supported Britain selling weapons to the apartheid regime in South Africa in return for being installed in Kampala as President.
- Another little bit of information I had no idea about but that is significant. This document claims that not only did the British M16 and government actively play a role in ousting Milton Obote in 1971; they actually played an equally big part in his return to power in 1979! The British even went ahead to compensate the Tanzanian government for the costs of the 1979 Tanzanian invasion of Uganda. Compensate!
- I had little idea that at some point Idi Amin, during his years of exile may have been Saddam Hussein’s guest in Iraqi.
- Our history, it seems to the British and much of the ‘Western’ World does not begin until they colonised the area they call Uganda. It seems it is beyond their imagination that anything worthwhile could have been going on in Uganda pre 1860 and much of what has gone on post 1962 is viewed with disapproval.