How to reward winning sportsmen, the Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada way
Posted Friday, August 31 2012 at 21:51
- Amin's nine-year reign of terror belongs to the annals of historical infamy, often mentioned in the same breath as Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot
- However, there was a section of Ugandans who found themselves the object of his extravagant generosity and keen patronage not because they were his political supporters but because of simply who they were; the best young men and women Uganda could offer
- Partly because he identified with them as kindred spirits, partly because he had the absolute power to do it and partly because he was cunning enough to recognize their political value, he rewarded their exploits handsomely
Perhaps because he was one, the late Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin Dada, spared no expense in treating his winning sportsmen.
Amin, (full official title - His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Alhaji Dr. Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, CBE), was the Ugandan light heavyweight boxing champion between 1951 and 1960. He was also a good swimmer.
His long military career took him to the very top of the Ugandan armed forces as Army Commander. It was from that position that he staged a successful bloody coup in 1971, deposing his benefactor, the Independence president Milton Obote.
His nine-year reign of terror belongs to the annals of historical infamy, often mentioned in the same breath as Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot.
Yet there was a section of Ugandans who found themselves the object of his extravagant generosity and keen patronage not because they were his political supporters – they almost always are apolitical – but because of simply who they were; the best young men and women Uganda could offer.
Partly because he identified with them as kindred spirits, partly because he had the absolute power to do it and partly because he was cunning enough to recognize their political value, he rewarded their exploits handsomely, sometimes even outrageously, and made sure the rest of the country saw it.
These were the sportsmen. And Abbey Nasur Odero was one of them.
Nasur was the inspirational Maragoli (later Imara) and Gor Mahia striker of the early 1980s. He had also been the Uganda Cranes right winger from 1972 to 1979 and was a member of the legendary team that narrowly lost the Africa Nations Cup final to Ghana in Accra in 1978.
Born of a Kenyan mother and a Ugandan father in Kampala in 1952, Nasur is equally at home in Kibera, Nairobi and Naguru, Kampala. His Kenyan and Ugandan football career, his accent-free Luganda and Kiswahili and his family - born, raised and working in both countries - are a fine study in the dual heritage of a man in the afternoon of his life who is still trying to figure out what it all means.
In 1976 Cranes team
In 1976, Nasur was in the Cranes team that won the Cecafa senior Challenge in Zanzibar, a tournament that Amin was following with keen interest.
“In the evening,” Nasur remembers, “word came through that Amin was sending us a plane to take us home. When we boarded, we discovered that it was packed with all manner of exotic food and drinks. Amin’s instructions to the pilot were that he should not fly directly to Entebbe from Zanzibar, a journey of a mere one hour or so; instead he said we should fly all over the skies, so that we can enjoy a big party up there. He said he himself would give the signal to land.”
Amin’s wishes being law, that is actually what happened. On arrival in Entebbe and after a day to recover from the party, it was announced on Radio Uganda that the President would be hosting the Cranes for lunch at Cape Town, an exotic island in Lake Victoria.
(During the 1975 Organization of African Unity Summit which crowned him chairman, Amin took a new bride in a surprise ceremony after which he took awed guests on a tour of the island and had his Mig 21 jets stage bomb runs in the lake to demonstrate how Uganda was ready to tackle apartheid South Africa. But that’s a story for another day)
The exuberant Cranes (with many players hungover) met the President for lunch, accompanied by one of his wives. Amin asked the players what they wanted.
Nasur continued: “I remember it was David Otti who spoke up first. He was a member of the technical staff. Otti told the President that the players wanted to do some shopping. They couldn’t do that in Zanzibar because ‘there was nothing there.’ At that point Amin asked us where in the world we wanted to go shopping. He said he was going to facilitate that at once.”
“A brief exchange took place. Somebody said we go to Europe but another, I think it was Otti still, who pointed out that Europe was too cold then. It was November and it was winter. It was then that somebody made the inspired suggestion of Libya.
“Amin became very excited and told us that Muammar Gaddafi, the late Libyan leader, was his great friend. There and then it was agreed that Libya was the place to go. Amin announced that he would call his friend Gaddafi at once to host us.”