The making of a despot
By Binyavanga Wainaina
Between 2 and 4 pm you can find Idi Amin at Nakuru Boxing Club. For years he has been the Nakuru Boxing Champion. He is getting older now, and some young bucks are challenging.
Modesty Blaise Wekea is short. Very short. It is said he once lifted a plough over his head while working as a casual in the wheat fields of Masailand.
He is copper colored to Idi’s black. It is his speed – the unbelievable speed of those bowed legs with thighs the size of a grown man’s waist. But there is something else. When Amin first exploded into the Nakuru boxing scene people saw a future world champion, “Aii Alikuwa kama myama!” he was like an animal: the discipline of the army, added to his natural ferocity to make him unbeatable.
He had no wife: many lovers: soft, yellow Gikuyu women desperately looking for a man with some skills – they complained that Gikuyu men were disdainful of frills – saw sex as a quick efficient drill; wira ni wira –work is work. Idi’s giant physical size, his soft and gentle eyes and wicked smile; his reputation for controlled violence attracted many women.
After his sparring session with a nervous young man with even larger limbs than his; a young man so scared of violence he could probably kill in fear, Idi had a soda with an old friend. Godwin, the only fellow Kakwa in Nakuru.
Godwin Pojulu was a tailor for an Indian family: the Khans. Idi speaks his language badly; he spoke better in Luo and Acholi and Kiswahili, army languages. But when he was six or seven his mother had taken him to Yei town in Sudan – and he had fallen in love with the mango-lined avenues; and the gentle character of his people.
Amin addressing students at city Square, Kampala : he has made as many headlines upon his death as he made during his lifetime (photo: The Ugandan Monitor)
Children were generally a nuisance in the colonial Labour Lines of Arua; in his maternal grandfather’s home, just off Maridi road, five miles from Yei was heaven. He was free to run and play as far as he wanted. Adults would swell to accommodate him – he would eat in the homes of strangers. His grandfather had told him the history of the Pojulu, his clan:
Generations ago, Jubek was posted to a place that came to be known as Juba town. Godwin tells me Jubek does not deserve this privilege. He was a coward, he says. He was reluctant to fight the Dinka, and keep them out of their territory.
The Bari army was divided into six groups. Each bore a secret code-name. The leaders of the group were determined by their abilities, or character. They would determine what action to take.
Eventually a group of frustrated soldiers took it upon themselves to defend Jubek from the North from the Dinka. Mundari was their codename. Mundari means "a hostile force that act without orders.
Paparrara are the descendants of Jubek. This name was shortened to Pari. This became Bari, some time after the arrival of the first Turko-Egyptians in 1820. The letter "P" does not occur in the Arab alphabet. Today, there are six groups of Bari peoples, named after the six groups of the Bari army: Kakwa, Pojulu, Kuku, Mundari, Nyangwara and Bari.
The people of Pisak are Pujulu, named after a great hero. Onyanyari was a leader of one of the six forces. A mild mannered man. Polite. An astute politician. Because of this skill, he was sent to the Zande kingdown in the North-West to try to persuade them to let the Kakwa to penetrate the area. His force was known as Pojulio, which means, Come My Friend. This group of Bari speakers is now called the Pojulu.
Godwin speaks to him about Sudan. About Inyanya 1 – the war. About old heroic days; about rumour and gossip coming from Yei town. Idi loved to hear the stories; would always ask Godwin to repeat stories he had memorized already. Idi has vowed to die in Yei. One day. They would eat soda and mandazi and talk till the sun started to set and Idi made his way to his room to do the ironing.
The only person in the household who threatens Idi’s job is Vishal. Now he has gone. Since Vishal started to sprout whiskers he has been hostile to Idi. After reading Eldridge Cleaver, he took to calling Idi The Supermasculine Menial. He once asked his parents if they did not think that a man as animal as Idi would not one day attack them?
“You need to read VS Naipaul. He understands the black man.” Vishul said to his parents.
As crime has increased in Nakuru, Idi has become more indispensable. Two years ago he cornered three thugs, and beat them all up, and left with a knife-wound in his belly. The Shah’s are fearful – scared of the seething Dark out there.
The presence of a tame Giant Dark is a consolation. Sometimes Idi thinks that Mzee Shah knows what he does with his wife every afternoon. But maybe he does not mind so long as it is secret. Mzee Shah is a man of peace – and Mrs. Gupta Shah has been less bullying, mellower, mewing even sometimes, since she and Idi started fucking.
He had caught her wailing one day in the living room, after Vishal had gone to Oxford. He had tried to slide backwards slowly out of the room; but she had leaped at him and grabbed him and wept on his shoulder, leaving long snail-trails of snot on his khaki shirt. Her mood had changed abruptly, and she attacked him: teeth and nails; her body so incoherent she had come by rubbing herself on his knee.
He likes to see the fear/desire in her eyes; the surprise at his gentleness; when she expects the thrust of a lion; of a legend about Black Men, related among giggles and whispers while samosas are being cooked and Gujarati Aunties are talking raunchy. He likes to ask her questions: see her eyes answer, Yes. You are a man.
He does not mind being a HouseBoy.
He is happy.
(c) Binyavanga Wainaina
Editor's note: You can read Part 1 of this piece here
With many thanks to Binyavanga and MMK for permission to use the story
Binyavanga Wainaina is a Kenyan author, playwright and journalist. He won the Caine Prize in 2002 for his short story, 'Discovering Home'. He edits Kwani, a literary magazine, and he is also the writer-in-resdence at Union College, New York.