DOUBLE FEATURE THIS POST
The previous post reported whisperings of troubles in Uganda in 1971. A year later they had grown in violence and disruption.
In the months after Pauly’s birth unsettling reports began to flow out of Uganda. There were rumors of ethnic tensions, Idi Amin trying to expel the tribal brothers of ousted President Milton Obote from the armed forces and to staff them with tribal brothers of his own. The worst of the rumors insisted on the violence of these tensions, some victims being killed, others being thrown off bridges into rivers.
How to cover this business? After the murders of Nick Stroh and Bob Siedle, it seemed wise to try to cover them from Nairobi.
I had by this time taken a one-room office in a commercial building in downtown Nairobi. With the activity that a baby generated in the house it was no longer possible to work on the walled-in porch as I had previously done.
One day a young man appeared at the office. He claimed to be the son of a Ugandan general; the guy had fled to Nairobi, seeking safety. He offered to give me solid information about what was happening in Uganda. Since I found myself with virtually no contacts at all, solid information was exactly what I needed.
Of course, I wanted to hear what the fellow had to say. But I was assailed by ethical questions. Could I trust him? What did he want from me? Clearly it was unethical to pay an informant for news tips. He might be working for someone who wanted to twist my copy. He might start giving me tips in order to get money. But I knew my colleagues were way out ahead of me on this story. I needed some place to start.
So I listened to what he had to say, all the time uncertain as to why he would give me news tips that seemed likely to jeopardize his father’s position. Naturally I tried to check out what he told me. Still was I Dr. Faustus lending an ear to Mephisto? Apparently not. My reputation was not sullied. My coverage was enhanced. But I never stopped being nervous.
In early August Amin announced that all Asians would be forced to leave Uganda. “Asians” from India and Pakistan, many resident in East Africa for several generations, some who had taken Ugandan citizenship, would be forced to leave by November 7. Those who did not leave would be put into military transit camps.
The announcement stunned East Africa. Asians made up the shopkeeper community. What would happen to commerce in the region? Where would the Asians go? Many had British commonwealth citizenship. Asians in Kenya wondered if they would also be affected. Some were beginning to send money out of the country.
On Sunday, September 17, dissident troops invaded southwestern Uganda, crossing the border from Tanzania. Many of these troops were Acholi, tribal brothers of ousted president Obote, men who had been driven from the army. I made immediate preparations to fly to Kampala the next day. That evening, however, I received a call from Stan Meisler of the Los Angeles Times. He reported that Andy Torchia of the AP had already gone to Kampala. Ugandan security had picked him up for questioning, lifted his passport and placed him in detention. Marian Torchia was on the phone to the White House, demanding that the American government get her husband out of Idi Amin’s jail. I had a public telex conversation with the Monitor’s assistant foreign news editor David Anable and cancelled the Uganda trip, hoping to cover developments from Nairobi. I wrote a number of dispatches from there. Andy Torchia was eventually released.
The invaders from Tanzania were quickly routed.
Near the time of the November 7 deadline for Asians to leave I went to the Nairobi train station. Because expelled Asians could not leave the Kampala train in Nairobi, I ran up and down the platform, shouting questions to the passengers as I held a recorder microphone to the train windows. All the while the train was in the station, I recorded the Asians’ heartbreaking stories. Then the train left, headed for Mombasa and the ships that would take shopkeepers, mechanics, restaurant owners, their wives and children to homelands they had never seen.
In late November I spent two days in Kampala, talking mainly to diplomats who were willing to provide off-the-record assessments of what the expulsions had done to Uganda, its racial makeup and its economy. I walked around town, observing the extent of closed shops. Africans had already begun to nest in many of them. They gave little evidence of knowing much about making commerce work. The Asian expulsions were popular with Africans; they believed that shopkeepers took advantage of them. My hasty impression was that the damage to Ugandan commercial life would not have much impact on average Africans.
By year’s end the situation in East Africa remained as tense and unsettled as before. It was uncertain whether or not the East African Community, an economic union of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda could survive what was considered to be the “natural catastrophe” of Idi Amin.
On our travels in Africa we pause now and then to meet some of the people. This post reflects an encounter with a Hutu refugee from Burundi, living in Rwanda, met on a roadside. Ethnic rivalry is the subtext of the post; in Burundi that subtext was just the opposite of the rivalry that flared into such violence in Rwanda in the 1990s.
Haruna is a refugee. He is one of thousands of Hutu tribesmen who fled to Rwanda in the wake of savage tribal massacres in neighboring Burundi.
These massacres, instituted by the ruling Tutsi minority, cost an estimated 100,000 lives. To protect their position, the Tutsis, who compose less than 15 percent of the Burundi population, systematically liquidated or chased into exile virtually all Hutus with secondary education or leadership potential.
Leaving behind his wife and children, his house, his car, and his job, Haruna slipped across the border into Zaire. Later he entered Rwanda, where a Hutu majority has held political dominance over the Tutsis since 1959.
Haruna is safe here. In fact, he is well off, not only as a refugee, but by almost any yardstick in this ethnically complex, impoverished country.
It is late afternoon. Haruna is sitting beside the unpaved national road in sunlight filtering through eucalyptus leaves. He is listening to his portable radio – the radio itself a sign that he is more affluent than many of the other 75,000 Hutu refugees in Rwanda, Zaire and Tanzania.
With savings his wife was able to get out of Burundi, Haruna has acquired a house and a car which he rents complete with chauffeur to visitors. His wife and children have rejoined him.
And so it is in a relatively calm, if not happy, setting that he can spend his leisure time away from his executive job at the Commercial Bank of Rwanda headquarters in Kigali, listening to a soccer game on the radio.
Soccer is the passion of Haruna’s life. Before last year’s massacres, he coached and played center with Dynamique, one of Burundi’s best soccer clubs. He even served as an assistant coach of Burundi’s national team.
As he sits in the tall grass beneath the trees, he is listening to a match between Dynamique and the Congo’s Eglo of Brazzaville. It is an important match in Africa Cup play. Having already lost once to Eglo, Dynamique must win to stay in the tournament.
Haruna places the radio right beside his ear. His expression is intense. “Two goals apiece!” he shouts to whoever wants to hear.
The game inevitably draws Haruna’s thoughts back to Burundi, where perhaps also listening is the Tutsi President, Col. Michel Micombere – occasionally a soccer player himself. “Oh, yes, we used to play on the same teams,” says Haruna, indicating the degree of apparent integration in Burundi before the massacres. “Micombere even played sometimes after he became President.”
But things have changed, and Dynamique entered this tournament with a disadvantage. During Burundi’s liquidation of prominent Hutus, four of the national team’s star Hutu players (some of them also members of the Dynamique club) were arrested by Tutsi police. Despite their German coach’s protests to President Micombere that they had no interest in politics, the athletes were killed. Such was the strength of the ethnic identification. The loss of these players and of those, like Haruna, who fled, has weakened Dynamique.
As the final minutes are played out, Haruna listens grimly. “Two goals apiece,” he announces, turning off the radio. Having failed to win, Dynamique is out of the tournament. “It would have been different with last year’s team,” he comments.
Haruna says little more. The silence speaks for him. He has left Burundi, but the yearning for Burundi has not left him. He would like to return. He says that Hutu refugees are plotting a new invasion. Even though there are opportunities for educated, enterprising Hutus like Haruna here. Rwanda is not without its own ethnic struggle. Some Hutus, probably members of the ruling Parmehutu party’s militant wing, have been intimidating Rwandan Tutsis out of their jobs to improve their own positions.
Haruna is not optimistic over how the Hutu-Tutsi rivalry will play itself out. He expects it to be much tougher than any soccer match.
Next post: Romeo and Juliet have an impact on teenagers in Nairobi.
Already wondering about books as holiday gifts? How about JOSS The Ambassador’s Wife or ABE AND MOLLY: The Lincoln Courtship? Check on them at www.FredericHunter.com.
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