Last week Wednesday in Kampala, the Ugandan capital city witnessed the elaborate opening ceremony of Africa’s largest mosque whose construction dated back to 1972 when late Idi Amin Dada was playing Nebuchadnezer. Over thirty years ago the huge edifice project was begun with a financial grant Amin got from Saudi Arabia (where he, Biblically, like King Nebu of yore, ‘ate’ his own grass in the wilderness and died) but after Amin was overthrown the project became a white elephant abandoned by the successive governments including the present one of Yoweri Museveni.
Nine visiting African leaders were in attendance; Presidents from Libya, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Mali, Somalia, Sudan and Djibouti. And the Prime Minister of Guinea-Conakry Lansana Kouyate was also there. Muammar Ghaddafi, the Libyan strongman who bankrolled the completion of the large mosque came in with his traditional retinue of unruly bodyguards made up of mostly women.
As is usual with this megalomaniac character Ghaddafi flew into Kampala days before the D-Day with his horde of bodyguards as a special guest who was billed to declare the mosque open with Yoweri Museveni.
As the colourful ceremony was underway a free-for-all combat by presidential guards culminated in several people sustaining varying degrees of injury. According to reports no African leader was hurt though some were shoved aside like the host President Museveni who remains a bush war veteran! But presidential lives were put in serious danger as the physical combat lasted! Throwing caution to the wind for reasons best known to them the executive guards punched, kicked and occasionally drew guns at each other in the melee.
Reports had it that Ghaddafi’s guards, ever so predictable for their roughness and toughness, provoked the fight that lasted more than five minutes when contrary to protocol demands they sought to push away their counterparts from other countries at the entrance to the huge Mosque. The Ugandan presidential guards professionally resisted attempts by the overbearing Libyans to dictate to them how to do their job or relegate them to the background clashing with them on many occasions prior to the mosque opening ceremony itself.
The Ugandan presidential guards reacted with fury to the move to sideline them, engaging the predominantly Arab guards in a fight that saw President Museveni momentarily losing his balance as he was pushed to the wall by a hefty Libyan guard. Talk of a President momentarily reduced to a common spectator in a show of muscles in his own ‘kingdom’!
In the midst of the brawl was Rwandan President Paul Kagame, lanky and fragile-looking, whose guards joined the melee when a group of Ugandan and Libyan guards fought towards his direction. Guards to the remaining visiting Presidents and Prime Ministers shielded their respective bosses, sometimes drawing their guns, as they looked on in disbelief. At the end of the over five-minute fight that left about a dozen presidential guards bleeding from their wounds, Libyan and Ugandan protocol officials traded bitter accusations of disrespect and racism.
“What are your people up to? Do you want to kill our leader? Why are you trying all the time to stop guards to our leader?” queried a Libyan protocol official. In an equally angry response, a Ugandan official countered: “Why do you think you’re superior? What makes you think Uganda has any ill intention against Gadhafi? You should know that the host country is largely responsible for security of any visiting head of state and certainly the security organs are just doing their job. Anyone who stops or blocks them in any way will be dealt with accordingly.”
Ghaddafi likes to be seen playing the crucial role of a continental godfather in sub-saharan Africa. With a mixture of supreme arrogance and obvious Arabic exuberance he struts around. Wherever and whenever there is a problem money can solve (especially Islamic-related) Ghaddafi is solicited and like a benevolent dictator he is, he responds favourably and generously. But in doing so this power-drunk tyrant expects the absolute loyalty from the beneficiaries or receiving governments — a loyalty which could include the mortgaging of sovereignty and the acceptance of Arabic superiority.
The protocol madness exhibited by the Ghaddafi and Museveni guards in Kampala added to the litany of breaches in protocol and sovereignty violations by the Libyans across Africa. Last Wednesday the goons that swore to protect Ghaddafi’s bloody life really went wild and that was bad enough for diplomacy.
Having effortlessly locked up the political space in Libya for decades (with solution to his one-man dictatorship neither here nor there) Muammar Ghaddafi seeks to impress many Africans at home and elsewhere. Perhaps his charitable benevolence could have behind it a desperate desire to be selected as the African Union Utopian President, a pan-African doomed project he is a leading hypocritical campaigner.
What happened few days to Good Friday (the day our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ of Nazareth suffered humiliating crucifixion) in ‘Aminland’ was a shameless presidential no-hold-barred brawl which resulted in broken ribs, ankles and heads. But heads may never roll because those involved, the well-fed slaves involved, knew exactly what they were doing: saving the heads of their masters, masters of sophisticated tyranny, slave masters they are ever-ready to spill blood for and die for.
Though Idi Amin in his time demonstrated how a man could be a barbarian in power the mosque and its eventual completion represented an evergreen legacy he left behind. Like the late Nigerian despot Gen. Sani Abacha whose PTF projects are still seen and remembered today (in sharp contrast to Olusegun Obasanjo’s 8-year presidential perfidy) Idi Amin brought out the beast in an African leader. What happened in Kampala penultimate week, was, therefore, in memory of Idi Amin Dada, a master of primitive dictatorship, and his monumental mosque @ 36!