French philosopher Albert Camus once observed that we live in an absurd world, a world where we are lost of memories of the past and are uncertain of the Promised Land to come. Uganda has seen these times. Two books under the title Looking Back; one subtitled Tragedies of Ugandan Women and Children 1970-2000, and the other; Personal Memories of Uganda’s Troubled Past 1970-2000, narrate the unimaginable atrocities suffered by this country — not out of natural disaster, not out the scramble for territories by colonists, nor through ritual killings by stone-age kings, but by greedy and men at war.
Looking Back is a collection of narratives that were submitted to the publisher when he placed an advert in the local media asking witnesses, survivors and relatives of victims to share their stories from Uganda’s political past.
Many of the submissions show people living a life of absurdity, fear and loss. The presentations are raw, hard and brutal. The stories and accompanying pictures read like a script for horror movie.
What readers get are personal accounts by men and women who escaped the turbulent times of Apollo Milton Obote, Idi Amin Dada, and the protracted wars between the current government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels in Northern Uganda.
Some of the stories are far too excruciating to bear. We are told about women being widowed and left to fend for their orphaned children; men being hunted and killed for their wealth, their wives or even their friends; bodies dismembered and dumped into forest reserves. We learn about a ghastly incident where soldiers gang rape a woman, after which one of them then turns on the woman’s young daughter, and with a machete, widens her under-body to allow entry of his manhood.
Beyond the shock value, Looking Back has important lessons to tell about how far a country can sink when institutions fail, and paranoia, selfishness, corruption and tribalism are left to take over. And the hallmarks of this tragedy start along familiar lines —the government becoming the president and the president the government. Future generations, not just in Uganda but elsewhere in the world, would do well to learn from this book.