On the night of 26 June 1979, Madiya Nantende was executed in the most gruesome of murders.
Nantende was seven months pregnant and her murderers chose to target her pregnancy. Her stomach was ripped open with a panga and the feotus crudely torn out.
The butcherer, holding the foetus upwards to a watchful and bloodthirsty audience, proclaimed in jubilation, “here is Idi Amin, we have him.”
It is needless to add, Nantende died soon after. But even more excruciating, Nantende’s mother watched all this horror and would retell this story to the end of her earthly days. Also queued up for execution in this well-documented blood-bath against Muslims — in a clear case of ethnic cleansing — Nantende’s mother, instinctively jumped into River Rwizi before her turn would come.
Even with her hands tied to her back, she somehow swam and survived. [Maybe fair to say, the waves rolled her to safety].
Two months earlier, the government of Idi Amin had collapsed. But with its end predictable, a bunch of persons mobilising under the guise of Christianity vowed to teach Muslims a lesson for “being favoured” by President Amin.
It is difficult to tell how they turned their hate for Amin against all Muslims – especially against vulnerable folks in the Ugandan countryside. [It would have been understandable for Muslims in government maybe]. It is only fair to add that while the murderers mobilised under claims of Christianity, there was nothing Christian about their ethnic cleansing. But politics.
Because, around the same time, the government in Kampala – the Military Commission -- was wantonly rounding up random Muslims and jailing them. Indeed, more than 400 persons were thrown in jail simply for being Muslims.
Emboldened by the arrests explicitly targeting Muslims in Kampala [as continues to happen nowadays], vigilantes in Bushenyi took matters in their han Edward Rurangaranga, the chief mobiliser of the blood-bath would encourage locals to “cut the branches,” since the “stem had been cut.”
The stem was President Amin. To underscore the non-religious but outright political nature of these murders, Rurangaranga would mobilise, claiming that they had the backing of the then minister of Defence. At the end of the day, 64 Muslims [documented with names and executioners] had been murdered in ways as gruesome as Nantende.
The crimes above were carefully documented by scholars and researchers, most notably, folklorist Abasi Kiyimba, anthropologist, Imam Idi Kasozi, and researcher, Idris Semakula.
The information is contained in a small pamphlet titled, “Is the 1979 Muslim Blood–Bath in Bushenyi History?” There is a PDF online and parts appear in several online outlets. Documentation.
About a month ago, Prof. Kiyimba gave a talk titled “State-inflicted wounds against Muslims in Uganda” where he spent a bit more time on the 1979 massacres in southwestern Uganda. A day after I had listened to the Abasi Kiyimba talk, BBC Africa Eye released its epic documentary, “Three Killings in Kampala.”
Like the 1979 killings, 18-19 Nov. 2020 will remain permanently etched in our history as two gruesome days. I am convinced BBC Africa Eye had problems fitting all the horror and gore in just 30 minutes.
While I watched the story of Shamim Nabirye, whose womb carried three foetuses and UPDF/Uganda Police bullets ripped it apart ending to loss of all of them, I recalled Madiya Nantende whose only foetus was ripped out by a machete.
Nabirye is still alive, but she is partially dead. Most likely will never conceive again. It might come as some sheer coincidence but these murderers have to be by the same people.
See, watching Kamuyat Nangobi, who met her death trying to eke a livelihood for her four children waiting at home, I could not hold my tears seeing her mother resign to grief: “If I ever meet the person who shot Kamuyat, I will ask them to shoot me too.”
Just like Madiya’s mother, Kamuyat’s mother watched the gruesome execution of her daughter. Should it not be instructive that our president, comrade brother Yoweri Museveni was minister of Defence in 1979 under the Military Commission?
I am connecting the 1979 murders to the 2020 murders not as an effort to seek justice under the current government, but rather to emphasise a point that Prof. Kiyimba stressed during his talk.
The same point is made by Kamuyat’s grandfather, Muslimu Musimami when talking about the image of her lifeless granddaughter stretched out on the tarmac.
Asked what weather-beaten Ugandans should do in the face of all these crimes, perpetrated by those who are supposed to protect them [or simply committed in their names], Kiyimba stressed the power of documentation: Looking to the future, Kiyimba argued that a good government will come, and in the face of overwhelming evidence, and bring the perpetrators to justice.
And the victims/ their children stand a chance of finding justice and being compensated. I want to add that since today’s perpetrators of violence also have children and grandchildren, documenting their crimes will (a) deny their children chance to benefit from criminally acquired wealth and power.
(b) criminal parents have to beware that their children and grandchildren will pay for their crimes under a different government.
Documenting then become a potent weapon of an emasculated populace. To rephrase an old Igbo proverb, once the hunters exit the stage where they have been exhibiting power-blessed lies about their crimes on the animals, the animals have to be ready for the platform — exhibit the truth.
The author is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research.