By Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net)
KIGALI, RWANDA (ANS – June 16, 2018) — After more than 70 years under British rule, Uganda gained its independence on October 9, 1962, and Milton Obote became the nation’s first prime minister.
By 1964, Obote had forged an alliance with Idi Amin Dada, who helped expand the size and power of the Ugandan Army. In February 1966, following accusations that the pair was responsible for smuggling gold and ivory from Congo that were subsequently traded for arms, Obote suspended the constitution and proclaimed himself executive president. Shortly thereafter, Obote sent Amin to dethrone King Mutesa II, also known as “King Freddie,” who ruled the powerful kingdom of Buganda in south-central Uganda.
A few years and two failed—but unidentified—assassination attempts later, Obote began to question Amin’s loyalty and ordered his arrest while en route to Singapore for a Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference. During his absence, Amin took the offensive and staged a coup on January 25, 1971, seizing control of the government and forcing Obote into exile.
In 1971, General Idi Amin overthrew the elected government of Milton Obote and declared himself president of Uganda, launching a ruthless eight-year regime in which an estimated 300,000 civilians were massacred. His expulsion of all Indian and Pakistani citizens in 1972—along with increasing military expenditures—brought about the country’s economic decline, the impact of which lasted decades.
Amin’s Regime of Terror
Once in power, Amin began mass executions upon the Acholi and Lango, Christian tribes that had been loyal to Obote and therefore perceived as a threat. He also began terrorizing the general public through the various internal security forces he organized, such as the State Research Bureau (SRB) and Public Safety Unity (PSU), whose main purpose was to eliminate those who opposed his regime. During his time in the army, Amin became the light heavyweight boxing champion of Uganda, a title he held for nine years between 1951 and 1960.
In 1972, Amin expelled Uganda’s Asian population, which numbered between 50,000 and 70,000, resulting in a collapse of the economy as manufacturing, agriculture and commerce came to a screeching halt without the appropriate resources to support them.
When the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked an Air France flight from Israel to Paris on June 27, 1976, Idi Amin welcomed the terrorists and supplied them with troops and weapons, but was humiliated when Israeli commandos subsequently rescued the hostages in a surprise raid on the Entebbe airport. In the aftermath, Amin ordered the execution of several airport personnel, hundreds of Kenyans whom were believed to have conspired with Israel and an elderly British hostage who had previously been escorted to a nearby hospital.
Throughout his oppressive rule, Amin was estimated to have been responsible for the deaths of roughly 300,000 civilians.
Amin Loses Control and Enters Exile
Over time, the number of Amin’s intimate allies dwindled and formerly loyal troops began to mutiny. When some fled across the border into Tanzania, Amin accused Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere of instigating the unrest and retaliated by annexing the Kagera Salient, a strip of territory north of the Kagera River, in November 1978. Two weeks later, Nyerere mobilized a counter-offensive to recapture the land, and drove the Ugandan Army out with the help of Ugandan exiles. The battle raged into Uganda, and on April 11, 1979, Amin’s reign of terror came to an end and he was forced to flee when the capital Kampala was captured, as Ugandan exiles and Tanzanians took control of the city. Although he originally sought refuge in Libya, he later moved to Saudi Arabia. He was never brought to justice for his heinous crimes and lived comfortably in Saudi Arabia until his death of multiple organ failure in 2003.
One of Amin’s Captives Recalls his Imprisonment
In 1966, Daniel Kazmiri became a born again believer in Jesus Christ while serving in the Ugandan army. He began preaching the Gospel during this time. When Idi Amin came into power in 1972, he resigned from the army and was ordained into the ministry. Bishop Kazimiri, who is Rwandese, was just one of many tens of thousands either killed or imprisoned by Amin. He told his story to Brian Gustafson, a missionary currently working in the region with Hope For The Nations and C.L.I.M.B. (Christian Leadership Institute of Minnesota and Beyond) Bible School www.climbschool.com which educates and trains African pastors.
Bishop Kazmiri said: “In 1978, while holding a service, the church building was surrounded by about 30 of Amin’s men, in the middle of a service. Three commanders entered the building, at which point we stopped the worship service. They began questioning the worship team asking, ‘Who told you, that you could pray?’ In fear, the worship leader denied he was even part of the church, saying he was only a guest who had been invited to sing. Each member of the team followed, denying being part of the church, and that they were only invited guests. The commander questioning them then turned to the congregation asking, ‘Who are your leaders?’ They pointed to the platform and Bishop Kazimiri, his three associate pastors, and the three guest pastors.”
At this point everyone but the seven pastors was released, the bishop said.
Bishop Kazmiri continued: “The pastors were commanded to kneel down on the ground, lift their hands and surrender, as their hands were tied behind their backs. We were then punched, kicked, and beaten with the butt of the rifles of the men. Bruised and bloody, we were now ordered out of the building to two waiting vehicles. Our feet were tied and we then were stuffed into the trunks of the cars.”
They were taken to a location in Kampala not far from the parliament building.
“There we were taken out the vehicles and ordered into a cave in the side of a hill. About twenty five feet ahead of us was a hole going down into the ground with a ladder sticking out. We were told to climb down the ladder into the darkness. The ladder went down about thirty five feet to a tunnel which sloped to the side another fifteen feet again to another hole going down with a ladder. The soldier provided some light from flashlights but each step down became darker and darker as sunlight now was a faint glow from above our heads.”
Imprisoned below ground
Bishop Kazmiri said below them they could hear hushed voices of people scurrying around as though trying to avoid the entrance of what was below. “It felt like we were entering the pit of hell or some terrible torture chamber. The smell coming up from below was horrendous, it nearly knocked us off the rungs of the ladder. It was enough to make you gasp for air and sick to the stomach.”
A door was opened below and Kazmiri and the others could hear men screaming and shoving each other trying to get clear from the entrance to this dungeon. “The officer’s light revealed a tunnel about 6-7 feet wide and about 7-8 feet high crammed full men. It looked to be about 75 feet long. Most of the men looked very weak, frail, sickly, and dirty. They stared with horror as the officers entered with the new prisoners into these already-overcrowded conditions.
Some of the men had fallen to the ground, and it was difficult not to trip over them as the seven pastors were now pushed into this dungeon.
“You could tell when the night came as the faint glow that could be seen by the door would fade into black. The darkness was so deep you could feel it, you had to feel the walls with your hands and along the floor with your feet to move anywhere. People were everywhere, on the ground, along the walls, and crowded into corners. We found there was a designated area in the pit to use as a toilet, but we found excrement could be anywhere. On the first day before the soldiers left, three men died from trampling and asphyxiation and were hauled out of the pit. Before their bodies were taken, in view of the prisoners (by flashlight) the heads were removed and their blood was drained into a basin. The bodies, heads, and blood were then removed by the soldiers for who knows what purpose.”
The bishop said every day someone seemed to die, some from starvation, some from asphyxiation, most from just being beheaded by Amin’s men. “There were only three days that someone was not killed or had died by other means. When we had first entered the prison we found there were 121 men in the pit. Most were accused of being rebels to the government, some were religious leaders who had not stopped practicing their worship services after Amin had commanded them to do so in 1978. As Amin was Muslim, only those who followed Islam, were Catholic, or Anglican could continue holding services. All born-again and Pentecostal services were barred in the country.”
“Simba hungry, needs to eat!”
About a week after the pastors were placed in the dungeon, the soldiers came down again as usual. “This time there was a huge man with them who looked like a giant gorilla with hair all over his body. Hair was even growing on his forehead down to the eye brows. With his very short neck and wide powerful frame you almost thought he was a gorilla. When he entered the tunnel the prisoners screamed and ran back in terror. Some fell on the ground in shock as he approached them. The men could hardly breathe as they pressed against each other trying to get away from this monster. He called himself ‘Simba.’
The bishop said that as Simba looked around at the men, he grabbed one that had fallen to the floor and picked him up saying, “Simba is hungry, Simba eat.”
“While forcing the men to watch, he began to cut the unconscious man’s abdomen open removing his heart. While blood was running from his mouth and down his chest he would laugh and began to eat. It was worse than you could ever imagine hell to be like watching this demon-possessed beast. We understood later he would remove heart, kidneys, and the liver from each of those he killed, believing that in doing so he would eliminate their spirits from tormenting him in the future.”
Simba paid a visit four or five more times during the time the pastors faced certain torture and death.
“After 22 days, only ten remained alive. Having no food, water, sanitation, or light, God miraculously spared us. Perhaps it was because we were the last prisoners sentenced to this hell-hole or the grace of God keeping us to this point. It had now been twenty-two days. The three others who remained were a Catholic, an Anglican, and a Muslim. All knowing they had no chance of survival unless God had mercy on them.”
Prayer for Deliverance
The seven pastors knew their only chance was unceasing prayer — not even allowing sleep to their eyelids until either they died or were somehow delivered.
“The other three men prayed as well. The Muslim would do his customary prayers bowing on the ground, the Anglican and Catholic prayed, but all watched and listened as the born-again pastors prayed. No one came down for three days. While crying out to God we said, ‘Lord, do not let us die as the pagans do down here. Instead let us die in Your hands. If it is not our time to die, please save us as You saved Daniel out of the lion’s den.’ From the 22nd day until the 25th day, we cried out and wept before the Lord continuously without sleep. Then on the 25th day something happened.
“The room grew full of light, every corner was illuminated from this light that came from what appeared to be a pillar that came into the middle of the tunnel. While watching this phenomenon, out of the midst of the pillar of light, came someone. He was like the angel of God. He said, ‘Fear not, fear not, fear not! Your prayers have been heard. You are not going to die. Tomorrow morning, President Amin is going to release you as I have softened his heart. His regime is about to end and you will be released to preach the true Gospel again in boldness and power, not religion.’
“We all clapped, jumped, and shouted for joy at this visitation yelling out, ‘We are going to be released!’ The other three prisoners saw and heard the angel as well and came to us afterwards saying, ‘We now know you serve the only true God that is good and we want to serve Him as well!’ At this point they got down on their knees and gave their lives to Jesus while we prayed for them.”
“You’re going to see the President!”
Bishop Kazmiri said that at about 8AM the next day, the sound of someone coming down the ladders was heard. “Then a voice called out, ’You people of God, are you still alive?’ It was just like King Darius calling out to Daniel in the lion’s den. The men yelled out in response, “We’re still alive!” Upon hearing them he said, ‘You have a God, as President Amin is ordering your release and you will not die down there.’ From this he came the rest of the way down the ladder and opened the door of the prison. It was the captain. He was alone and armed only with a pistol and flashlight.”
As he released the pastors and 3 others on this now 26th day, Pastor Kazimiri and the others found supernatural strength to climb all the way up the ladders to the cave entrance.
There were six armed soldiers waiting above and a large van for prisoner transport. The commander had all of the men pile into the van while he sat in front with the driver. A military vehicle followed with the all the other soldiers.
“The captain said, ‘You are going to see President Amin today, but first you must be cleaned up, shaven, and given some proper clothing.’ As all were now quite filthy, unshaven, smelling badly, and wearing dirty and torn clothing, the prisoners were first taken to the nearby Speke Hotel in Nakasero (near the state house) to take baths. After this we were each given Kanzu’s (a long gown for men used in pre-wedding celebrations).”
All were loaded back into the van and then taken to a salon for a shave and haircuts. From there the prisoners were taken to one of the best clothing retailers in downtown Kampala. Here they were given their own changing room and outfitted with all new clothing; suits, shirts, ties, shoes, stockings, etc. The captain said, “We couldn’t have you go before President Amin looking and smelling like you did.”
From there they again were loaded into the van and taken to the gate of the state house. At this point they were ordered to get out of the van and were handed over to other soldiers at the gate who escorted the men into the state house building. Each were seated in a reception area and served a cup of tea. The men sat there looking at each other as though they were in a dream.
“At this point we realized what the angel had told us was true, especially the three new converts. Having sat for around 20-30 minutes, they wondered what was to happen next.”
Then another captain came to escort the men to see the President. The captain was a relative, a cousin of bishop Kazimiri, who was serving in Amin’s army.
The cousin did not realize Kazmiri had been one of the prisoners. He wanted to give some advice by saying, “Whatever Idi Amin says to you, you must answer, ‘Yes sir.'” This caused great concern as he also mentioned that the Anglican archbishop was recently shot here in the same state house by Amin. The archbishop had begun to disagree with Amin while being questioned by him. Then Kazimiris’ cousin mentioned that Amin then said to the archbishop, ‘You must be hungry’and placed his revolver in the Archbishop’s mouth and shot him dead in front of me.” On that same day he had ten of my fellow Anglican prisoners executed who had been in the dungeon.
‘Before governors and Kings’
While being tempted to fear, Matthew 10:18-19 came to the bishop, “You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you will speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak.” This encouraged him. Then his cousin told him and the others to follow. They went up some steps to the main door to where the Cabinet met. His cousin knocked at the door and a soldier opened. The captain said, “Sir, I have brought the men you have asked for.” Upon this the entire Cabinet and President Amin stood to their feet and began to clap. As the prisoners entered following Kazimiris’ cousin, they passed between tables facing each other where the Cabinet and Ministers stood. In front of them was Amin standing with his cabinet to the left and empty chairs to his right. Kazimiri was ushered to a seat next to President Amin with the others men to his left.
Bishop Kazmiri said: “Amin motioned all to sit. At this point he began to ask questions.”
He asked, “Are you Daniel Kasimil?” The bishop responded, “Yes sir.” He asked, “Are you the leader of these men?” Again he said, “Yes sir.” Then he asked, “Are you one who rebelled against my command, when I told every other religion to stop praying?” Kazimiri replied, “No sir, we didn’t know you stopped us as we are not connected to America nor Israel, as all we have are Ugandans in our meetings.” Amin then asked, “What type of book do you read?” Bishop Kazmiri replied, “We read the Bible sir.” The president then commented, “Don’t you know that book is from America and Israel, and those people are enemies to this country? I am going to give you some advice, from this day you must read the Koran!”
Bishop Daniel then responded, “Your Excellency, your book is written in Arabic, and I don’t know Arabic. How can I read in a language I do not know?” Amin then said, “Can I bring you a Sheik to teach you Arabic and read for you the Koran?” This was asked three times by Amin. By now Daniel was getting concerned and prayed, asking the Lord to show him what to do. Then Amin got in his face and said, “Do you understand who I am? Do you know who the man is asking these questions right now?”
Amin picked up his pistol. Bishop Kazmiri then responded to Amin’s questions, “You are his excellency, the life president of the Republic of Uganda. You are the VC, DSO, MC, conqueror of the British Empire, a man who subdued all the European nations, the greatest leader in Africa, you are Idi Amin Dada.” At this, Amin put the pistol down and lifted his hands in the air as all the Cabinet Members and Ministers clapped and cheered. At the same time, the prisoners also clapped for the Bishop’s answer.
Amin then said, “You know me very well.” Then he said, “You know the people out there say I kill people of God. I don’t kill people, you know my titles. I am releasing you to allow you to go out and pray.” The Bishop then said, “Now that you are releasing us, I as a man of God cannot go out without praying a blessing over you, because you have been a blessing to us. Your Excellency, I have heard you say many times that you do not fear man, only God. Now when I am praying to God we must respect Him by kneeling down.” Amin said, “That is a very simple thing to do.” So he knelt down, and all those in the Cabinet — leaders, ministers, and pastors — did as well while Bishop Kazimiri remained standing to pray. Nearly all closed their eyes except President Amin and a few of the others.
As Bishop Daniel lifted his hands to pray he remembered Romans 12:14 “Bless those who curse you, bless and curse not.” So he prayed a blessing over President Amin saying, “Let those who curse you be cursed, let those who bless you be blessed. Let your enemies that fight against you not prevail. Let you have long life. I believe you have heard my prayer. I pray this all in the mighty name of Jesus Christ the Son of the living God.” At this, Amin and everyone stood up and began clapping their hands. Amin then gave Bishop Kazimiri a big hug, followed by hugs from many of the Cabinet Ministers as well. Amin said, “You have prayed for me very well. I am very happy.” He then said, “You know my ‘Benz’ (his personal Mercedes), they are going to put you in that car and take you to your home. All your men will be placed in government vehicles and escorted with a presidential escort.”
Amin said, “Before they take you home, I am sending you to one of the best hotels to have lunch (The Cape Town View Hotel near Gaba). You will be there eating and drinking from noon until 3 PM.” With this the prisoners were loaded into the van, the captain and a driver into the Benz with Bishop Kazmiri seated where the president usually sits, and 3 other vehicles with troops. When they arrived at the hotel, everything was ready for them. Even a band was stationed outside, playing music. As they entered the restaurant, the band followed them playing. The soldiers feasted with them, but the prisoners could not eat very much. Near the end of the celebration, the captain came to Bishop Daniel asking for prayer with about ten other officers.
Riding in Style
The bishop stated: “When they boarded the vehicles at 3pm, the presidential flag remained revealed (as though the President was in the car). When the people saw the vehicle and flag revealed they ran in fear thinking it was Amin. The vehicles arrived at the Bishops house, and people stayed at a distance as they were afraid to come near. During this entire event the Press had been doing live coverage over TV (including the ten men meeting the Cabinet and President.
“While being released, all the soldiers came and had hugged and shook hands with me and the other now free men.”
After the soldiers left, all the people ran forward cheering and lifting Bishop Kazimiri and the others off the ground in great joy. They said, “How can you still be alive?”
The bishop concluded: “Many people saw the coverage on TV that day and great rejoicing took place in the nation that day. Because of this release, l was able to continue church services. The church grew from 200 in attendance to 800 – 900 within a very short time.”
Bishop Kazmiri now lives outside of Kigali, the capital and largest city in Rwanda.
Ray Barnett, Founder of Friends in the West, and ASSIST News Service founder, Dan Wooding, international author, broadcaster, and journalist, wrote the book “Uganda Holocaust” https://www.amazon.com/Uganda-Holocaust-Ray-Barnett-ebook/dp/B01E50U4RO/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1529093485&sr=1-1&keywords=Uganda+Holocaust about their visit to Uganda after Amin was removed from power.
When Barnett and Wooding set out to capture the story of Ugandan Christians who suffered unthinkable persecution, torture and death under dictator Idi Amin’s eight-year reign of terror, they hoped that by documenting the horrific events that unfolded, they could raise awareness that would help prevent such atrocities in the future.
But more than three decades later, the extreme persecution against Christians has reached a global crisis point. Hundreds of thousands of Christians in Nigeria, Sudan and other parts of the Middle East—particularly in the ISIS-controlled regions of Syria and Iraq—have been forced to leave everything behind and flee their countries. They are now refugees fighting daily to survive. Some have had their loved ones kidnapped and murdered, and beheadings of Christians by ISIS have become commonplace.
Though first published more than thirty years ago, Uganda Holocaust is a timely story that mirrors the atrocities currently being committed against Christians in regions throughout Africa and the Middle East, and is a story that must be shared far and wide.
Read this book to understand what Christians then and now are facing because of their faith—and to be inspired by their steadfast faith in the face of unthinkable terror and death. Most of all, read this book to ignite an internal flame that compels you to do everything you can through prayer, outreach, and other practical support to help Christians who are suffering because of their faith.
Photo Captions: 1) Missionary Brian Gustafson and his wife flank Bishop Kazmiri (wearing jacket, center). 2) Idi Amin. 3) Milton Obote, whom Amin overthrew in a military coup. 4) Cover artwork for UGANDA HOLOCAUST. 5) Journalist Michael Ireland.
About the Writer: Michael Ireland is a volunteer internet journalist serving as Chief Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as an Ordained Minister, and an award-winning local cable-TV program host/producer who has served with ASSIST Ministries and written for ANS since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. You may follow Michael on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MichaelIrelandMediaMissionary, and on Twitter at @Michael_ASSIST. Please consider helping Michael cover his expenses in bringing news of the Persecuted Church, by logging-on to: https://actintl.givingfuel.com/ireland-michael