E. Otema Allimadi and Alice Allimadi, who feared the family would end up in exile again.
[Tribute To A Father]
Yesterday Feb. 11, E. Otema Allimadi, Uganda’s late prime minister would have celebrated his 90th birthday.
Today corruption is rampant beginning with Uganda’s top leadership who bribed by foreign entities. I mark our father’s birthdate by paying tribute to his incorruptibility.
I remember during family dinner in the 1980s our beloved mother asking our dear father why he didn’t own private businesses abroad. After all, some of his colleagues in government owned overseas businesses. Our father loved kwon kal, which is a thick millet bread. He’d deftly roll it in the palm of his hand than use his right thump to create a dimple; then he’d dip it into the meat stew or boo vegetables flavored with peanut sauce. That evening, our father paused, holding on to the piece of kwon.
“Why would I want to own a hotel overseas?” he asked our mother, Alice Allimadi.
“In case we ever have to flee into exile again. Don’t you remember the poverty we endured in Tanzania?”
Our father was silent for several long seconds. Then he erupted in sustained laughter; so loudly that he had to wipe the tears from the corners of his eyes.
“Milton,” he said, between the laughter, “did you hear that? Your mother thinks one day we might live in exile again. As refugees again.”
Well it’s been said a million times that women are more practical. They imagine that the worst can always happen. At the time of that dinner at home in Kampala, around 1980, our father was foreign minister in the transitional government created by the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) after the Tanzanian army helped overthrow Gen. Idi Amin. The dictator made the mistake of invading Tanzania in 1978. Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s scholar-president taught Amin a lesson. He sent the Tanzania People’s Defense Force (TPDF) to rout Amin’s army.
Uganda went on to have disputed elections in 1980. Milton Obote returned as president. Our father entered Parliament and became prime minister. The economy began to stabilize and recover. Yoweri Museveni performed poorly in the 1980 vote. Sam Kutesa, who is today Uganda’s notoriously corrupt foreign minister, beat him for the Parliamentary seat in their constituency. Museveni launched an armed insurgency.
By 1984, following the controversial appointment of a less-capable and distinguished officer named Smith Opon Acak to succeed Gen. David Ojok Oyite as military chief of staff after Oyite perished in a helicopter crash, the army command was divided. The soldiers were also worn down by the war. In July 1985 the army overthrew Obote and Gen. Tito Okello was installed as president. I was a student at Syracuse University when I heard of the coup.
Gen. Okello’s junta then negotiated with Museveni’s National Resistance Army/Movement (NRA/M) a power-sharing deal; the Nairobi Peace Accord. Museveni never took up his post as Vice President. His NRA seized power in January 1986 and Museveni has ruled since then.
My mother’s fears about exile had been justified. Our father and mother and my siblings took up refuge in the United Kingdom. Our father had never started that overseas hotel or business. The financial struggles on the margins resumed. Eventually our father negotiated a peace deal with Museveni and returned to live out the rest of his life in Uganda.
It must have been a great disappointed to him that there was still armed conflict toward the end of his life. Yet, he tried to set an example by being incorruptible and generous. Even when the family lived in relative poverty in Tanzania, he would give his last shilling to whomever he thought was needier, often to the chagrin of our mother.
To him political office was never a means of being in a position to embezzle public funds or to accept bribes from international corporations. To the late E. Otema Allimadi the rewards of politics was truly to serve the people. He lived an honored and honorable life.
Uganda could use more people with such qualities. We honor his exemplary life on this his 90th birthday.