Peter Nazareth's Military Dictator

John Otim
John Otim, a nature enthusiast, composer, poet, writer and journalist. Studied literature at Makerere University, went to graduate school at Indiana University and taught at Ahmadu Bello University in Northern Nigeria. Favorite line – I pick no flower that wins the bee





The General and the Doctor

Peter Nazareth

Once he had his own men proclaim him King of Scotland. The ruler of a small and backward country, he had no means to enforce such claims. But in the eyes of his men his claim gave him the appearance of a strong and fearless leader. With the General appearance was everything. No one understood the art of propaganda better.

The move played well in the international arena. Suddenly the media was filled with news and features about him. Most were negative but the more negative the reports the more the General prospered. In the eyes of millions in Nigeria and elsewhere across Africa he was the champion of Africa, he was the king. In the years ahead Hollywood would celebrate him in a blockbuster movie.

            His enemies identified, his mind made, with the lightening speed of a cobra, the General moved. Blow delivered he slides back to his manhole at State House, as though nothing had happen. A bunch of beauties, carefully chosen from among the tribes waited for him.

            None of the legendary joviality and affability that had made him the darling of the Western press in the days he first took power seemed touched by the atrocities he committed as a matter of routine. Openly he flirts with the girls, a perfect Prince Charming. Like a kid with his toys, soon he tired of them and turned to a game of poker with his new friend, the dashing young Scottish doctor. As King of Scotland he had a Scot for a personal physician as a matter of course.

            The Scotsman knew his man and allowed himself defeat in game after game he could easily have won. The General beams and smiles genially. Heavy paws hit the doctor on the back. His authority undisputed the General invites the doctor to make his own pick from among the harem.

            The General was by nature a generous man. He could be magnanimous and he truly liked the doctor. In the doctor’s young and easy going company he forgot the torments of state power. On his part the doctor was thrilled by proximity to power and the privileges it brought, especially in an economy wrecked and plagued with scarcities and shortages.

            On the other side of town, business was winding down for the day at the Goan Institute. Members were driving home after a game of tennis and booze. A young man steps out into the cold damp night. As he moved along the tree lined residential district of this lakeside town he was hit by a burst of music. The lyrics touched a cord within him. He walked till he was one with the spirit of the song. We’re caught in a trap, can’t get out.

Caught in a trap
From the moment he heard the broadcast Ronald knew he had a story. Ronald was a Dambian Goan [read Ugandan]. In the local parlance that meant he was an East Indian. Dambia is a country in central Africa once ruled by the British. It had a significant affluent and visible East Indian minority. But race relations were easy here, even friendly.

            To end the news here is a summary of the news. His Excellency the General has decided, following a directive from God that all East Indians must leave Dambia. They have thirty days to get out.

Ronald or David [read Peter Nazareth], had predicted in a novel he wrote and published a year ago that this was going to happen. Calamity would descend. The good life would disappear. But none took him seriously. People laughed him off. Imagine him thinking such things. Dam it. Too much book does make a man mad.

            Dambia was an African country. But life was good in Dambia. People regardless of who they were just wanted to have fun. Ronald walked through the deepening darkness, framed only by street lamps and flashes of lights coming from the houses he was passing that were still awake. We’re caught in a trap, can’t get out, because I love you so much more. He marched to the beat of modern pop.

The brutality and the dictatorship           
The music drifted from a house he was passing. The source, a popular late night show aired from the state run radio, The King of rock and roll laying bare his soul in the magic of the African night. Minutes before the same radio had calmly announced the expulsion.

The clouds were darkening and Dambia was entering a period of brutal dictatorship not unlike those long ago under Emperor Caligula.  A few years down the line from now, the makers of The last king of Scotland will turn this epochal misery into a soap opera. People would flock in their numbers to savoir it. In Kampala, scenes of some of the worst atrocities, the movie became a great hit.

Young ones shouldn’t be afraid
One cool afternoon students from the prestigious local university [read Makerere] had a shock coming their way. At the orders of the General they were frog marched and paraded through town. At the city square, where the press of the world waited, the General stood before them. All six foot three of him, an impressive black figure in military fatigues, and addressed them. This was his way of demonstrating publically that students love and support him. See they were attending his rallies.

             On their part the students could comprehend. Before the coup these young people were movie stars, heroes in a garden neo-colonial city, adored by city babes. The girls among them were little angels pampered throughout the land. Now their lot was worse than slaves.

             Face with common danger, young Dambians and young East Indians responded in the same manner. They felt the same forebodings. In their opposition to tyranny they employed the same idioms and ran the same risks.  They drowned their sorrows booze and in the sounds of modern pop. Help me if you can I’m feeling down. Help me get my feet back on the ground.

Who wrote the story?
Peter Nazareth, the Iowa professor of English wrote the novel, this we know. But it was Ronald that wrote the story, the story as told in Nazareth’s novel, The General is up. Ronald wrote the story but it could have been David. David was the man with the eyes for details, he was the analytical mind. At the club everyone converged around him and stories gushed out of him like the fast flowing waters of the Nile into which the General dumped victims of his cruelties.

"so much beauty witness to so much pain"

David and Ronald were never the less two distinct personas. But at times in the novel, the two appear as though they were rolled into one persona; so similar in taste, talents and outlook.

Ronald in exile
Years later when we meet up with him again, after everyone had been scattered, as Dambia still reeled, we find Ronald now himself an exile, a much matured a citizen of the World. Of the new Diaspora he says simply. They are the same as before, but they are worse than before. Ronald means the ex Dambians now residing mostly in Europe and North America have become part of their new world. Ronald means. There is no place like home. No one has the right to take it away from you.

George Kapa, the young Dambian, could well have written the story.  As a Dambian and a highly placed civil servant he was well positioned. He was a friend of David. They had studied together at the university. And he had completed his journey away from parochialism that made him uncritically embrace the General at the time of the coup.

The great cover up
Under David’s presidency at the Institute when the place was still Goan, George had been vice president. Together the two labored to give the Institute a new image that would be national, Dambian and African. They and others like them, mostly young people from across race and ethnic lines, shared a common dream. The sudden appearance of the General was a terrible blow. The international press with the help of Al Kamene at the local university, worked to cover up the enormity of the crimes that had been committed.

           The crisis flung all of Dambia into a mess. Out of the mess sprang a new bond between young Dambian Africans and young Dambians of East Indian origins. Both understood and saw the problem in the same way.  At the farewell when the last of the East Indians were leaving, Gorge talked movingly about an intruder who like all intruders is eventually ejected. This was a brave thing to say. This was a new George. David, who was now leaving told the story of a man who once tried to rule without the wishes of the people and appeared at first to succeed, but was in the end defeated. Slowly in the minds of the young people, a solution for their county’s woes was taking shape. But the journey ahead won’t be easy.