Before Idi Amin travelled to Kenya to attend Kenyatta’s funeral he invited a team of Western expatriates to join his delegation.
“His Excellency is inviting you to be a member of the presidential delegation to the funeral of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. You will be informed of the arrangements”, read the invitation sent out to those selected.
Isolated by the West, Amin was keen to capitalise on Kenyatta’s high profile funeral to show that he was friendly to Britain and America despite what was being written in Western press.
As a result, In addition to the main Uganda government delegation , there was a presidential one that was made up of six expatriates, British and American, who were to be tangible evidence of the friendly relations that existed between Uganda and those two countries
In the event it was five-to-one in favour of the British, there being only one American who qualified, the managing director of Caltex oil Uganda .
On the day of the funeral, 31 August 1978, they converged in the house of Amin’s security advisor Major Bob Astle at Kololo at four in the morning. From there they were to be driven to state House Entebbe to meet Amin at 07.00 in the morning.
They left Astle’s residence exactly at 06.00 to begin their journey to Entebbe. However the journey took twice as long as usual as they were driven round Kampala three times before heading to Entebbe. According to Astle’s explanation, this was to outmanoeuvre any enemy who was planning an ambush.
After meeting Amin the expatriates were joined by two Uganda ministers and together they boarded the presidential Cessna plane to Kenya.
Amin occupied the swivel chair at the front which enabled him to turn to face those onboard. He talked freely. “Why does the BBC trouble me?” he asked at one point. “They make false accusations about me. They even say I have Cubans to run my country.”
He also said how he was looking forward to meeting Dr Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia at Kenyatta’s funeral.
“I have brought him some new handkerchiefs; he cries too much and has to wave them around for them to dry. His people think he waves at them,” he said with a hearty laughter.
When they landed in Nairobi, there was no question on who the media was really interested in . Other heads of state were also arriving but Amin’s plane attracted by far the most attention.
The six expatriates and Bob Astles were ushered by the protocol people into waiting cars. By this time Amin, his son and the two ministers had already sped off towards Hilton Hotel, which was to be Ugandan base for the day. The delegation was to occupy a suite on the 16th floor of the hotel.
But there was a problem. Despite Amin leaving the airport before everyone else to head to Hilton, he was nowhere to be found.
20 minutes earlier he had been seen entering the lift accompanied by his little son Moses, the two ministers, his private secretary, and an American general manager of Hilton Hotel.
Along the circular corridors of Hilton, security men ran up and down as though they were on a race track. One shouted at the expatriates, “Please go straight to the suite and stay there: we can’t find the President!”
In the suite the expatriates were ordered by Bob Astle not to close the door, ‘for security reasons’, as he too went out to join the search for Amin.
It turned out that the lift had jammed between the fourth and fifth floors. Instead of waiting to be rescued Amin prisised open the doors himself, and forced himself outside, followed by those who had been stuck with him. Fortunately the floor level was chest-high
They then walked up eleven floors’ worth of spiral staircase to reach the 16th floor. As they made their way to the suite, Amin displayed little more than bemusement at his companions who were struggling to climb the stairs. “These people, they are not fit like me. They never like to play basketball and swim. Look at them, they nearly die!” he joked.
“Time for your breakfast,” he said, “you people must eat before we go for the funeral. I am hungry too, but it is Ramadhan.”
Soon Bob Astle reminded everyone, “We must be in the foyer by 10.30 .The cars will pick us up at 10.45.”
Amin gazed at him and asked “What for?” Astle replied, “Your Excellency, it starts at eleven.” Amin immediately got to his feet and announced “We will walk! We go now!” .
Thus this was how Amin and members of his delegation ended up walking from Hilton to Parliament Buildings for the funeral of Jomo Kenyatta . “This is how my friend would have come to my funeral,” said Amin as the delegation set off from Hilton.
After the funeral a crowd stayed outside Hilton , cheering Amin “Simba, Simba!” (`Lion, Lion!’). The American who was in the delegation would later tell him , “Mr President, if they’d been electing their noo man today, they’d have elected you!”
As the delegation prepared to return to Uganda, Amin came aboard very furious about what he heard from the BBC. The BBC had claimed that Prince Charles had snubbed him during Kenyatta’s funeral.
“This BBC!” he exclaimed. “Do you know what they say about me now? They say Prince Charles refused to shake my hand and turned his back on me! Why? I was never near him, you know that. You can tell them they lie about him just like me. I like the look of that young man — he is clean.”
Once the plane was airborne and the seat- belts off, Amin disappeared into the cockpit to make some phone calls to Uganda. Ten minutes later he returned, smiling broadly.
“I have spoken to Bombo and Masindi barracks” he announced. “The country is quiet, so we can go to Entebbe.”
Pointing to the black briefcase his private secretary was holding, he told members of the delegation not to worry. “If there was a problem we could have had a nice weekend in Libya with my friend Gaddafi. Plenty dollars in this case!”
(The article was originally published by Historian Levin Odhiambo Opiyo.)