21 June 2005

Uganda: Major General Taban Amin Eyes Arua Municipality Seat

Kampala — TABAN Amin has a lot in common with his late father, once the President of Uganda, Idi Amin Dada. Taban is a giant and is good at cracking serious jokes. He is a jolly man and has a passion for music.

Like his father, Taban is a huge man towering over six feet. He has a big protruding belly, a big nose and a piercing gaze.

When he returned from exile in 2003, many thought he would live a quiet life. But he has since been active on the political scene. He does not mince words. After threatening to follow Kony to the bushes of Sudan to kill him, he has declared his intention to vie for Member of Parliament (MP).

"I came back to develop my country. All the youth of Arua, women and all petty traders want me to stand. I will stand for the Arua Municipality parliamentary seat," Taban says.

He is a good leader. Taban's magnetic personality and leadership skills attracted the Movement eye. Upon his return from exile, the President assigned him special duties. He has a large following of his popular Congolese band fans, former rebels and ordinary Ugandans. Taban wears dark shades and spots a clean-shaven moustache.

All his activities are geared towards 2006. He has repeatedly said he is ready to accompany president Yoweri Museveni on his campaign tours if he stands for re-election with his Congolese band in tow.

But his first attempt to join the August house next year may be bogged by the mystery surrounding his academic qualifications.

"There is no evidence about his academic qualifications right from O' level to university. Everything including his military qualification are just covered in mystery He is not competent enough to lead people There is no one competent enough to wrestle me I will stand again in 2006," Saidi Okuti Nasur, incumbent MP Arua Municipality and competitor for the MP post, says.

However, Col Sam Strong Walaka, Taban's spokesperson says Taban studied with him in Sudan in 1982 at Yei secondary school and qualified with an A' level certificate.

"He did additional mathematics and physics at Yei Secondary School. He also has a Higher Diploma in flying, which he obtained from the Soviet Union," Walaka says.

Reacting to issues about his academic background, Taban rubbishes his critics. In a deep elaborate tone, the Soviet Union trained fighter pilot says, "There are people who have studied more than the president, but they are not presidents. There are people who studied more than the King, but they are not kings. If I managed to organise and lead a rebel group of 6,000 fighters, why should any one question my competence. You can't be a pilot without sound academic qualifications. I am for West Nile and the people love me. It should be the people to decide on who can lead them," Taban says.

At Makerere University where Taban reportedly went for his university education, records show he never studied there. "His name appeared on the original tentative list of admissions for Statistics students with a question mark (?) against it. But on the final list of the admissions, his name does not appear. Our records show he never studied here," Hellen Kawesa, the University spokesperson, said.

Sources close to Taban describe him as a daredevil and caring man. He recruited members of his band to better their lives. While in exile, where he lived for 24 years, he was an all-round man. He was loved by his soldiers and engaged in business to sustain his group when the going was tough.

"When the going was tough, he ventured into the mineral business. He had a heart for his soldiers. That is why his call to abandon the rebellion was not resisted by us. We regarded him a father," a former fighter says.

We are happy Taban can mobilise these people to come home. The government wants all Ugandans to come home instead of living fruitless exile lives," Army spokesman Shaban Bantariza said in December 2003 upon the arrival of Taban's former fighters. Even after resettlement, the former fighters are in close contact with their 'commander'. "We were given transport and sh200,000 to go back home. The facilitation is inadequate, but Tata (Taban) has promised to keep raising our concerns with the authorities," remarked a former fighter.

Taban Amin, now a Major General and the deputy director general for special operations in the Internal Security Organisation, allegedly led hordes of soldiers and the police to break a demonstration at Makerere University on the orders of his father in 1976.

"Eh Hmmm . but who are those People should not bring issues of 1970s to 2005," Taban reacts to the allegations about the black Tuesday mayhem. Taban came with a group of soldiers holding a pistol and shouting... But the real cause of the problem was the death of a student, Paul Sserwanga, who was shot dead by soldiers," says Elly Tumwine, a senior UPDF officer, who was then an undergraduate of Fine Art residing in Lumumba hall.

The Public Safety Unit personnel shot Sserwanga at the University Hall after a futile attempt to rape his girlfriend. The Police has no records about the incident.

"Ah most of the past records could have found themselves down town in Owino market to wrap Mandazi (doughnuts) some were eaten by rats we have shifted very many times so you can't find such information now. But if any one has information to open up a case, we are willing to investigate," Asumani Mugenyi, the Police spokesperson, comments.

In the State of Blood, a book written by Henry Kyemba, once minister of health in Amin's government, he says Taban was thrown out of Moscow, where he had been sent for training after Idi Amin accused the Soviet Ambassador in Uganda of being drunk.

"Amin wanted his son to study engineering at Makerere. Taban was a happy-go-lucky 18-year-old with a lifestyle far beyond that of other students. He had a car, a lecturer's apartment, food, bodyguards and other luxuries from state house. He always carried a pistol. His fellow students openly condemned him," Kyemba writes.

Coupled with a history of oppression by the state and Amin wanting his son to join Makerere University, prompted the students to demonstrate on August 3, 1976. Calls by Brigadier Barnabas Kili, the Minister of Education then, to calm the dissenting students were futile. "Students were beaten and women were raped by the police and the army," 64-year-old Professor Syed Abidi says. Syed was the director of school of Librarianship and Information Science at the time.

He says the threatening speech by the Vice-President, Mustafa Adris, could not save the situation. "You have to come to your senses. If you don't, I will bring my boys and they will kill you and crush you with bulldozers," Mustafa is alleged to have told the staff and students.

Taban returned to Uganda in October 2003. At one point it was reported in the media, Taban had taken over the Ugandan embassy in Kinshasa and was organising a rebel group to attack Museveni's government. He was living in exile in the Sudan and the Republic of Congo. Upon arrival, Museveni promised to support him.

Taban is the eldest of Amin's 43 children, many of whom reside in the US and Europe. His father had 13 wives. Taban's mother, Maama Helen, lives a quiet life in Apac.

Taban attended Mbuya Army barracks School before joining East Kololo Primary School. He did some stints at Jinja Army Political School. He attended Busoga College Mwiri before joining Makerere University for a course he has never disclosed. He is married with six children. Four are biological and the two are adopted.

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