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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 11:29 GMT 12:29 UK
Relatives want Idi Amin home
A former aide of Idi Amin shows the family burial ground in Arua
"If Amin dies here he'll rest in the family burial ground"
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By the BBC's Ishbel Matheson
Arua, north-western Uganda
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Under the shade of mango trees, the Amin family mourns. They have gathered in the small town of Arua, at the family home, for the funeral of their oldest brother, 85-year-old Ramadhan.


He has done nothing. My father is completely innocent

Hajji Ali, Amin's son
As they sit, gossip, and pray, thoughts turn to the man who made their name famous, but who has not lived in his homeland for over two decades.

His younger brother, Amule, indicates the burial plot reserved for Idi Amin. "If he dies here, he will be buried here, because this is his father's place."

Asked whether he would like the ex-dictator to come home, Amule nods: "I call him my brother. I would like him to come back."

Memories

Idi Amin - once known as the "Butcher of Uganda" - has lived quietly in Saudi Arabia since his overthrow in 1979.

Idi Amin Dada in 1978
Idi Amin in his heyday
His relatives and friends have been trickling back to Uganda over the past decade. They feel the time is right for Idi Amin to make a similar journey home.

His son, Hajji Ali, says, "He has done nothing. My father is completely innocent."

The 38-year-old says he can remember growing up in the presidential palace in Kampala. His memory is vaguer about the atrocities committed by his father.

Remarkably, he insists: "We should talk about something where there is evidence, but the evidence is just not there."

Relishing death

Like other members of Amin's large family, Hajji Ali seems to be in denial about his father's crimes. In the West, 'Big Daddy' - as he was called - was caricatured as a mad buffoon.

But for the eight years of Idi Amin's rule, ordinary Ugandans had nothing to laugh about.


Many then did not die in their beds. Why should we be so humane towards (Idi Amin) dying at home?

Bazana Kabwegyere
Tens of thousands met with cruel deaths. Some were crushed alive by tanks, others disembowelled. Political prisoners were forced to beat the brains out of fellow inmates, before being killed in a similar manner themselves.

Idi Amin was reputed to relish death.

"Those who were beheaded on his orders, the heads would be brought to him to talk to", says Bazana Kabwegyere, an MP with the ruling party.

Public holiday

Professor Kabwegyere went into exile during the Amin years. But some of his friends and colleagues did not, and died as a result. The professor is bitter about suggestions that the ageing Amin should be allowed home.

Idi Amin's son Hajji Ali
Hajji Ali wants his father back
"There were many then who did not die at home in their beds. Why should we be so humane towards him dying at home? People didn't even bury their dead in that time."

Ugandans are still coming to terms with their dark past. On 11 April, the overthrow of Amin will be commemorated for the first time in 23 years.

The government's decision to mark the day, has sparked a debate. Some Ugandans complain that there are already too many public holidays in a year.

But Professor Kabwegyere, who is organising the commemoration events, defends the decision.

"It's how you use the occasion that matters. If we use it to strengthen our resolve against dictatorship, then it will be worthwhile."

History lessons

Some survivors fear that, as time passes, the full horror of Amin's deeds will be forgotten.

The ex-dictator's friends and family are certainly keen on re-writing history. In Arua, neighbour Juma Sabuni thinks the uneducated Amin was a "brilliant" man.

Sabuni walks through the ruin of the former presidential residence. It is hard to imagine Amin at home with his several wives, or entertaining his numerous girlfriends.

A few chipped white tiles, cling to a piece of wall where the kitchen was once. Weeds spring up through the floors.

When the conquering Tanzanian forces swept through the country in 1979, the house was bombed to rubble. But Sabuni thinks it should be re-built, in preparation for Idi Amin's return home. He says present-day Uganda could use some input from the former leader.

But down the road, in Arua Primary School, head teacher Onzima Swalleh Ishaq is intent on teaching young Ugandans the correct version of history.

"It can erupt again", he says, referring to the brutality of Amin's regime. "But once we teach children these things, they will begin to understand that this is not the way to rule."

The head teacher is responsible for the education of hundreds of children. He does not have much in the way of resources, money or textbooks.

But he does have truth on his side.


Talking PointTALKING POINT
Idi AminIdi Amin
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See also:

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