In August 1971, a few months after President Idi Amin Dada took power from Milton Obote through a coup, several Ugandan soldiers while on duty at the borderlines of Tanzania crossed into President Julius Nyerere’s territory.
It is not news that Uganda and Tanzania were not in the best relations by that time, citing that Nyerere had refused to acknowledge Amin’s regime, insisting that Obote was valid president of Uganda.
Hence a group of officers under Col Abdu Kisuule had been dispatched on August 23rd to camp at Kikagate to watch any strange movements of enemy forces from Tanzania.
While they prepared their stay that night, they realized they would need water and other rations to keep through, so Col Kisuule sent a handful of men to collect the same.
The men could have overstepped the boundaries literally in their search for water and wandered into the Tanzania territory in Mutukula, consequently leading to their arrest.
Gripped by fear of the unknown scenario in case the men were reported missing to his Commander in Chief, Col Kisuule and the remaining army personnel regrouped and crossed into Tanzania to pursue their missing colleagues.
While on their rescue mission, the Ugandan contingent spotted Tanzania’s senior police officer Bwana Hans Poppe, a senior Assistant Police Commissioner dashing to pick his radio call and summon reinforcements.
Time check, 11:00 am on 24th August, Poppe never made it to the radio call as he was shot several times in the right thigh.
Poppe’s designated driver was also shot in the leg and shoulder and the two men were approached as they begged for mercy.
One of the witnesses Ndugu Abdallah Kabongo, a government official at the time claims to have heard Poppe making pleas to the Ugandan crew as they yanked him and threw him onto their waiting Land Rovers.
Poppe was brought back to Uganda with the crew and it is believed that they held him captive for the next 13 months until September 21st, 1972 when he died on their hands.
The Body of Poppe was dumped at Mulago’s anatomy department amidst tight security from Amin’s soldiers and the doctors there told it was from a Chinese man.
Doctors present included the Mulago Hospital Superintendent Dr. James Makumbi and a technician in the Anatomy Department identified as Cyprian Nkemero.
Also attached to the department of anatomy was Professor Tumwine.
In several accounts to different media, the Ugandan doctors confirm they were able to tell Poppe was a Tanzania officer and not Chinese because of the uniform and pips on it.
It was then that they decided to embalm the body for at least 30 years instead of treating it for a short time and letting it decompose.
“It was a very difficult and long process to embalm Poppe’s body because of the cuts and bruises. For embalming involves administering chemicals to the body through the arteries until it becomes saturated,” Prof Tumwine is quoted in a tribute to Poppe.
“Because of the cuts, the chemicals were oozing out of the body as they were being administered by pressure”. Nevertheless, we managed to embalm it so that it could survive more than thirty years irrespective of the condition when received”, Professor Tumwine explained.
A few days later, Amin’s soldier came and confiscated the body, they drove it to Kololo for an exhibition of sorts and later returned it.
Two years later, Amin discovered the body still existed and had never decomposed, he ordered the army to capture the body and take it to an unknown location and bury it.
The army broke into the hospital and disappeared with the body.
However, the very evening at about 5:00 pm, the body miraculously reappeared at Mulago, staff found it dumped on the floor outside the offices of the department of Anatomy.
This is when the doctors in the department decided to hide the body from everyone but three people who were initially present during the embalming.
The body, therefore, remained hidden from everyone for the time until May 24th, 1979 when it was handed over to Tanzania Authorities for burial.
The body was handed over by Ugandan Foreign Affairs Minister Otema Allimadi to Tanzania’s Benjamin Mkapa, then a Foreign Affairs Minister.
Poppe was finally laid to rest at his ancestral town on Mukanyigio, Iringa, and Uganda was represented at the burial by Senior Police Commissioner Okoth Ogola.