Closeup/Uganda

Lovin’Idi

No, you would not want him to marry your sister

November 28 1977
Closeup/Uganda

Lovin’Idi

No, you would not want him to marry your sister

November 28 1977

Lovin’Idi

Closeup/Uganda

No, you would not want him to marry your sister

Until his escape from Uganda, Henry Kyemba was Idi Amin’s health minister. This excerpt is from Kyemba’s book, A State Of Blood (Ace Books).

The story of Idi Amin and his women is by turns bizarre, comic and brutal. To have five beautiful wives is peculiar enough but to have 30 or so mistresses—and about 34 children (the figure varies, even officially)—is even more extraordinary. Certainly in Amin’s behavior toward women his maniacal personality is most clearly distilled.

The first of his wives was the statuesque six-footer Malyamu. Although Amin had several children by her, he did not formally marry Malyamu until 1966, the year he

stormed the Kabaka’s palace and became a national figure. There never was a wedding in the ordinary sense; Amin simply paid the bride price and marriage was recognized. It took Amin 13 years to acknowledge Malyamu and by this time he was quite ready to look for the customary junior wife. He wanted one from his own tribal area and Kay Adroa, a clergyman’s daughter who was both intelligent and beautiful, was a natural choice. Amin knew her family well and in February, 1966, when parliament demanded Amin’s suspension over a scandal, he took Kay into hiding with him. Thus, while he was formalizing his marriage to Malyamu, he was planning his second wedding. This

ceremony was conducted in a registry office and Kay wore a white Western-style bridal gown. It was followed by a reception which I attended.

Within a year, Amin had acquired his third wife, Nora, a Langi from former prime minister Obote’s home area. It was a political union meant to reassure Obote that their tribal differences were insignificant. Wife number four was Medina, a dancer from Buganda with the Heartbeat of Africa Troupe. I first noticed her within a few days of the coup. Indeed it would have been impossible not to notice the stunning Medina. Amin could hardly take his eyes off the slim-hipped ferociously agile dancer. I remember leaving Amin’s room late one night after he had climbed into bed. As I went out, one of Amin’s bodyguards ushered Medina in. Their marriage was announced in September. 1972, the same month as the invasion by Obote’s ill-fated force from Tanzania. People were tensely listening to radios to hear news of the operations at the front only to hear that Amin had taken a fourth wife.

Then, on March 26, 1974, with no warning to the public, the government or his wives, Amin divorced Malyamu, Kay and Nora. It was done Moslem style, by simply stating, “I divorce thee. I divorce thee. I divorce thee.” Amin announced that he intended to remain monogamously with Medina. He accused Malyamu and Nora of maintaining businesses. (This was true—Amin himself had given them both textile shops in 1973 when Asian property was redistributed.) He said Kay was a cousin and that he was complying with complaints he had received saying that their kinship was too close to sustain the marriage.

I later learned that there was yet another reason for his sudden action. Amin’s first three wives eventually took lovers, and the day before the divorce announcement the three women—united in their hatred of their husband—threw a party for their lovers. Amin was told and he phoned threatening to come over directly and throw them out. The women, who had all been drinking, told him he could keep

Medina and go to hell. Less than a month after her dismissal, Malyamu was arrested near Tororo on the Kenyan border, allegedly for smuggling a bolt of fabric into Kenya. The arrest could only have been made on Amin’s orders. On April 30 she was taken to court, fined and released. She then retired into private life. The following year she was involved in a car accident outside Kampala. (I later learned that her car was rammed by Amin’s bodyguards.) Amin saw Malyamu and in the presence of his journalists and the hospital medical staff he quarreled with her and insulted her. It was a callous performance by Amin and a degrading experience for Malyamu.

She later left the country for further treatment and never returned.

In early August, 1974, Kay was arrested, allegedly for being in possession of a pistol and ammunition. Amin visited her and they quarreled through the bars of the cell. She shouted: “You can’t get me arrested for keeping a pistol and ammunition which you yourself left in my house.” Amin loudly called her a whore and said she deserved her punishment. The following morning the magistrate simply cautioned her and she was released. Not long after this Kay died—an obscure and horrific death. Early August 14 I was told that one of my doctors. Dr. Mbalu-Mukasa

(Kay’s lover), had died of an overdose of sleeping pills. The same evening the dismembered body of Kay Amin was discovered. Strangely enough, the dissection of arms and legs had been done neatly; no bones were broken; the ligaments in the joints were carefully cut; there had been no tearing. I drove back to Nakasero Lodge and told Amin. He expressed no surprise at all but, later the same night, he asked me to arrange for the limbs to be sewn back on by morning so he could bring Kay’s children to view the body. Amin appeared in front of the television cameras and reviled his former wife and humiliated her family. “Your mother was a bad

woman,” he shouted at the children, “See what has happened to her!” He never mentioned her to me again.

There has never been an explanation of what really happened but I’ve come up with a plausible theory. In March, 1974, a pregnant Kay was thrown out of the Amin household. In July she turned to her lover, Dr. Mbalu-Mukasa, for help. She was by now more than four months pregnant, well past the time considered safe for abortions. During the operation Kay died. The doctor and his assistant dismembered the body planning to dispose of all evidence during the night and then to flee. But Dr. MbaluMukasa realized the futility of the scheme

and took no action except the huge overdose of sleeping pills. The assistant was arrested, told the story and disappeared. I do not believe, as I first did, that Amin had a direct hand in Kay’s death; he would never have ordered such a complicated ritual.

Of the three divorced wives, Nora was the luckiest. Like Malyamu, she was dismissed for running a business. She has simply continued with it ever since, and is now in her forties. With three of his four wives out of the way, Amin was left with the delectable Medina. Their relationship has always been passionate with frequent and violent fights. One occurred after an assassination attempt in early 1975 when one of Amin’s cars was forced off the road on the outskirts of Kampala. Amin was

convinced that somebody on his staff tipped off the would-be assassins. He suspected Medina and beat her so thoroughly that he fractured the base of his own wrist. Although Amin loves Medina, his attitude to her is affected by those around them. For example, the failure of Sarah Kyolaba (his fifth wife) to produce a child made life miserable. She was previously a go-go dancer who at 18, when Amin noticed her, was living with a young man. On Christmas Day, 1974, Amin announced that the President had a baby born to him on Christmas day. He told me the mother’s name was Sarah but her name was not mentioned in the announcement. Thereafter Sarah was brought to him periodically, and when her boyfriend objected, he vanished. On August 2, at the OAU summit, for which occasion he had promoted himself Field Marshal, Amin married Sarah in a mixed Moslem/Western-style televised ceremony. Since then Sarah has been mysteriously barren. She has told

doctors that she dreams of her husband’s murder and is so frightened of Amin that she can never enjoy sexual relations with him.

Besides his five wives Amin has had countless other women, many of whom have borne him children. His reputation for sexual performance is so startling that women often deliberately make themselves available, no matter color or nationality. There are at least 10 unofficial wives, two of whom work in his private office as secretaries. One frightening aspect of his sex life is his readiness to kill to achieve his sexual ends. I have come across at least three cases, besides Sarah’s, in which a

woman had been taken as a mistress after her man was killed.

At any one time, Amin must have a harem of perhaps 30 women on which he can draw. While they are away from him they dare not go out with other men. Amin’s sex life and his working life are two sides of the same coin. An energy that is expressed in sex as well as politics infuses both his days and nights. His treatment of women has its counterpart in his treatment of the country. His urge to dominate by force, his vindictiveness, his peacock flamboyance all suggest that he has seized and ravaged the country as he has possessed his scores of women. 17