The Observer (Kampala)

20 November 2012

Uganda: Book Review - Uganda's Presidents - Who Are These Men?

Book: Uganda's Presidents: An Illustrated Biography

Editors: James Tumusiime, Charles Bichachi

Publishers: Fountain Publishers, Kampala

Volume: 380 pages

Reviewer: Yusuf Serunkuma

Available: All leading bookstores With all that we have been allowed to know about President Idi Amin, it is hard to imagine he had refused to take office as president after the 1971 coup. It could even be doubted whether the coup was actually his work!

And that it took one junior officer, Juma Oka - nicknamed Butabika - to put Amin at gunpoint for him to accept the presidency. Of course, the transformation that he underwent thereafter is amazing - and has been sumptuously recorded.

One of the greatest resources a country can have is a good record of its history, specifically, political history. In the spirit of the 50-year independence celebrations, Fountain Publishers has produced relatively balanced and more comprehensive biographies of Uganda's heads of state - in one volume: Uganda's Presidents: An illustrated Biography.

Uganda has had eight heads of state from the time of independence: Mutesa II, Milton Obote, Idi Amin, Yusuf Lule, Godfrey Binaisa, Paul Muwanga, Tito Okello and Yoweri Museveni, besides Benedicto Kiwanuka, who held the position of Chief Minister between 1961-1962.

The book unveils a great deal of hitherto unknown history, and debunks much gossip that has circulated over the years. Researched and edited by renowned journalists and writers, James Tumusiime, Charles Bichachi, Timothy Kalyegira and Frederick Guweddeko, it is text premised between a critique and a plane expose - providing a relatively reflective and balanced narrative.

It would be hard stringing a narrative that runs through these men, who by the way, all claim being distinct from the other. But, this book has shown us that majority, if not all, Uganda's heads of state have been informed by a common history and common pursuit: making the anti-colonial dreams possible.

They thereby have common fears, common ambitions (with varied projects, of course), and might all leave behind a common trail. Away from the presidents' lives with power, the book narrates their family backgrounds, their education, and happenstances in love and marriage - many of them fleeting and predatory!

So the trite could be true, "power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely" - with the exception of a few, majority of Uganda's presidents have been carried away, not only with power, but even in the face of the softer sex.

Many books claim good timing, but for Uganda's Presidents: An Illustrated Biography, this cannot be overemphasized. At 50, it is a reminder of how leaders' lives are often forcefully linked with the country's policies.

There would not have been any better time to reminisce over the years of breathtaking political drama, often wandering between comedy and tragedy. As history (sadly) becomes more contemporary, it is important to have records reviewed and narratives straightened especially for those individuals whose lives were and are first in the shaping of our history.

Of course, many readers will query the style and amount of detail told about President Museveni - the sitting head. Compared to the level of candor and steadiness exhibited in researching the lives of the earlier and dead presidents (it is only President Museveni still living of all Uganda's presidents since independence), the authors are quite timid and sloppy here; they contradict and backtrack, sometimes.

Although, this would be a lame query for they are excusable on grounds of national security and sensibility. Rendered in both text and pictures, the book is attractive to the eye, and is written with a style that has the potential to entertain and inform at the same time.

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