Henry Kyemba could be precisely one of the luckiest Ugandan men alive today. Listening to his story would make one keep gabbing; Oh my God!
Kyemba was handpicked as Presidential Press Secretary for President Apollo Milton Obote, a position he was again appointed to on phone while abroad by the man who overthrew Obote- Idi Amin Dada.
He also served as minister in Amin’s regime in 1972, before being appointed minister again in Yoweri Museveni’s government.
However, the story of Kyemba becoming minister during Amin’s regime is both interesting and completely unbelievable.
How it started
Kyemba had been the Permanent Secretary in the ministry of culture and development, when on 4th November 1972, his boss Yokosfati Engur was fired just a few minutes to a major function.
According to Kyemba, the ministry had been preparing a graduation ceremony at an institute attached to it in Nsamizi, near Entebbe State House.
Kyemba as the Permanent Secretary had written a very nice speech for his boss Engur, and now armed with it, he jumped into the car at the ministry offices on Nkurumah Road (which later would become Jean Bokasa Road) to head for the function.
While at Kajansi, an announcement came on through the only credible and available radio by then- Radio Uganda.
“It was in the 1:00 o’clock news. Amin had fired four ministers including my Minister (Yekosfati Engur). He said these had been fired for being slow and ineffective. I didn’t find the firing of Engur a unique one because him being the only remaining Langi in the cabinet- which in the wake of Obote’s overthrow had been reason enough for him to be fired,” Kyemba narrates.
He says that after the announcement, he decided to proceed to the function, may be it is then that he will find out who his new boss is. There was none!
“While at the function, I telephone Amin’s personal secretary to find out who the new minister was so he could come and officiate the function as we were getting late. She told me Amin was in a meeting but would pass on my message. I left my number and asked that she calls me back as soon as there was an answer.”
Later, I called a few friends including; Kibedi (Wanume), the Minister of Foreign Affairs to find out if they knew anything that could help, but none of them was aware.
The crowd had gathered, the media had set up for a live coverage of the function, people from every nook and cranny of Uganda had turned up for the event and indeed, the graduands were excited, but Kyemba was in trouble.
There was no way he would cancel the function, there was no way he would start it either- In what capacity?
The Function Starts
Kyemba says that after several thought, he decided to officiate the function, pulling the speech from the file, throwing on his academic gown and leading an academic procession into the main hall.
The function started and went on an interrupted for over 40 minutes with “students coming up to the platform to receive their graduation scrolls from me.’
While at it, Kyemba was summoned off his chair by a police officer, much to the shock and freight of the audience, graduands and everyone present.
The room now was filled with a loud murmur of uneasiness then a sudden silence, and as he followed the police officer, there was a great fear that was the last everyone was seeing of him.
The police officer led him out and handed him a telephone to speak to a caller on the other end, it was the President;
“Hello,” Kyemba tries to recreate the conversation
“Hello, is this Kyemba? Where are you?” Amin asked.
Kyemba told the president that he was at the function but there was no minister to officiate, explaining his predicament that there was no way he would cancel, while he kept explaining… Amin interrupted him.
“Kyemba, (he called him loudly), but you are the minister!” instructing him to go and finish up the ceremony and later meet him at the command post.
He returned to the function and was greeted with cheers, ululation and thunderous clapping. To the audience, it was a relief that the man they thought was headed to the ‘missing list’ had returned but it played just right, they were welcoming a newly appointed minister of culture anyway.
The writer is a private contributor to Nile Post