Just after Operation Utah in March 1962, Lokairya Kapello visited Robin Williamson, the District Officer at Lodwar in Turkana and complained to him that he and his fellow tribesmen had been brutally tortured on the orders of Lieutenant Idi Amin while in the custody.
He went on to show the DO his wounds and marks of injury to prove his allegations.
These complaints resulted in Williamson holding a meeting with Amin at Kakuma before later on meeting with Lt Col Hartley, the commanding officer of the 5th (Kenya) Battalion Kings African Rifles on the River Telemouth in the Zingut mountain ranges.
With the number of complaints rising, the government ordered the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Kenya Police to carry out investigation. On April 7, 1962. Hugh Walker, senior assistant commissioner of police (CID) flew to Lopukthe, the scene of the alleged beatings.
While there, he was showed graves in which it was alleged that two Turkanas who were among those beaten to death were buried. A human skull was also found in the Zareba which Amin’s soldiers had used as a makeshift detention centre. Four men who met Walker at Lopukthe to record statements undressed to prove what they had undergone.
“On the buttock of one of the men, Walker saw weal” . The four also revealed that some of their fellow tribesmen had been killed in the Zareba and their bodies handed over to relatives for burial in their Manyatta.
Armed with the information, Walker flew back to Nairobi where he compiled a preliminary report confirming that the brutality claims had substance.
The report revealed that apart from those killed, over 50 had fractured and dislocated wrists, legs and forearms. The revelations triggered panic that resulted into a flurry of phone calls and telegrams between the Governor of Uganda, Sir Walter Coutts and acting Governor of Kenya Sir Eric Griffith Jones, who was determined to have Amin face murder charges.
Griffith Jones, in a secret telegram to Sir Coutts wrote, “I am very sorry to tell you that during the last few days, the Administration and Police in Turkana have received a number of complaints of brutality during operation ‘Utah’ in Kakuma area.
Preliminary CID investigation tends to confirm that these allegations have substance and that beatings may have taken place on a large-scale, and a number of deaths caused in consequence.
Alleged beatings were ordered by Idi Amin, an African officer of 4th K.A.R. “Sir Coutts would later remember also receiving a phone call from the acting Governor of Kenya telling him, “I think I shall have to take criminal proceedings against him (Amin).”
Following the revelations in the preliminary CID report, the acting Governor of Kenya authorised a full CID inquiry to look deeper into the atrocities. It began on April 9, 1962, and involved a team of doctors and detectives being sent to Lopukthe, Kakuma. Among them were Dr Maurice Rogoff, the adviser in forensic to the Kenya Police and Dr Jules de Mello, acting Kenya Police pathologist. Dr Rogoff was to later conduct post-mortem on the body of assassinated politician Tom Mboya at City Mortuary in 1969.
In Turkana, the bodies were subsequently exhumed in the presence of the two doctors for examination but were in a considerable state of petrification and damage by scavenging animals. And indeed, one body been completely destroyed that the remaining skull had to be flown to Nairobi where after further examination it was revealed that the teeth had been knocked out by a blow before death.
In his final opinion, Dr Rogoff said all the bodies he examined had been subjected to violence sufficient to cause death, while Dr de Mello, after examining Turkanas with the most severe injuries, wrote in his report: “They were all victims of severe beatings. These beatings had a similarity of pattern and were consistent with the reported version from tribesmen. They were flogged with a hard and solid stick which left linear bruises and laceration on their back , shoulder, buttocks, thighs, calves, heels and in some cases, on their knees and near above their wrists. Among the cases examined there were callus formation around about the wrist and ankles with ‘crepitus’ which suggested fractures. Some injuries had gone septic.”
Meanwhile, arrangements were made for 16 Turkanas, who claimed they could identify soldiers who beat them, to travel to Uganda where an identification parade was organised at Jinja barracks. Only 11 eventually travelled after others grew cold feet. All this time, detectives continued taking statements from the victims and Ugandan soldiers.
Kenya’s acting Attorney General A.M Webb’s disdain of the Turkana came out at the height of the investigations when he wrote to the Governor of Uganda, “The CID experienced the most appalling difficulty in establishing times and dates with the Turkana whom they interviewed. As Your Excellency knows the Turkana are an extremely backward people, their intelligence is low and their memory negligible. On occasions they even contradicted themselves.”
In July 1962, following the completion of police investigations and medical examination by doctors, Webb forwarded all the evidence to the local magistrate as the law required. It was for the magistrate to decide whether an inquiry was necessary after studying the evidence. Arthur Kneller, Senior Resident Magistrate Kitale, subsequently held an inquest at Lodwar during which 59 witnesses gave their evidence and 66 exhibits were presented betweenSeptember4-12, 1962.
Idi Amin was among those who appeared at the inquest and gave his evidence in Kiswahili. When it was revealed that the beating and restriction of food and water to the detained was on his verbal order, he defended himself saying he had never applied such tactics during his campaigns against the Mau Mau and the cattle raiders at Karamojong. The Turkana witnesses told the inquest that they were treated much better after Amin handed over to Lieutenant Albertino Langoya.
In his ruling at the end of the inquest, the magistrate never recommended any action against individual soldiers or officers, and simply stated, “I am of the opinion that an offence has been committed by some person or persons unknown among members of the 7th platoon, C Company.” It would later emerge that before the inquest, Mr Webb, the acting Attorney General, had met the magistrate and informed him how any ruling he made was likely to affect the political situation in Uganda. In a nut shell, the ruling was a question of political expediency.
This was despite the fact that just after the ruling, Webb telegrammed the colonial office on September 13, 1962 admitting, “The military witnesses were all most unimpressive and were clearly lying since members of the platoon headed by Idi Amin gave an entirely one sided story from that which they had told to the police during the investigation.” He had also told the office that,” the Turkana witnesses turned out to be very much better than expected and their demeanour was generally very good.”
Although the Governor of Uganda was concerned about the torture and killings in Turkana, he thought it would be a political disaster if Amin, who was one of the only two black officers in the Uganda army, was to be put on trial just before the country became independent.
He, therefore, suggested to Ugandan Prime Minister Apollo Milton Obote, that Amin should be dismissed from the military at the very least. Obote, who had just been elected as prime minister, rejected the idea saying a severe reprimand was enough. But Governor Coutt warned him, “This officer could because you trouble in future”.
Obote never heeded the warning, but instead elevated Amin as Uganda army commander and later as Chief of Staff.
Governor Coutt’s warning came to pass in 1971, when Amin overthrew Obote and declared himself president. What followed was a reign of terror laced with buffoonery.
The writer is a London-based Kenyan journalist and researcher