On January 25, 1971, army commander Idi Amin took over State power in a military coup. His military regime was as fast in creating enemies here and abroad as it was in grabbing power. Ugandan troops crossed into Tanzania in August 1971, seven months after the coup.
Col Abdu Kisuule, the commander of the troops that crossed into Tanzania, said he was going to rescue his soldiers who had been abducted by the Tanzanian forces after straying into Tanzania looking for water.
“We had come from Kikagati the previous night and in the morning I asked some of them to look for water to make tea. In the process of searching for water they ended up captives in Tanzania. I was not going to report to headquarters that I lost men to foreign forces. I had to go and rescue them,” recalls Kisuule, now a retired colonel.
During that rescue mission, the Ugandan squad killed Hans Poppe, Tanzania’s senior assistant commissioner of police commanding the West Lake region. Poppe’s body was brought to Kampala and put on display at Kololo airstrip. His capture became a major political publicity stunt for Amin, claiming Tanzania had acquired Chinese mercenaries to help them invade Uganda.
After a three-day parading of the body at the airstrip, it was dumped at Mulago hospital’s Medical School. The body had been earlier treated at the hospital before the public display at Kololo.
So when the body was returned to Mulago, a technician at the department of anatomy informed the hospital superintendent after consulting the head of department, Prof S. E. G. Tumwine. They decided to keep the body at the department where it stayed for the next eight years. It was a daring act. It was a high risk to their lives if Amin or his security machinery had found out.
‘Not a Chinese national’
According to Dr James Makumbi, who was then the hospital superintendent, they decided to keep the body because they had received information that the deceased was a Tanzanian, not a Chinese national as had been claimed by the Amin government.
“Tanzanians had intelligence and knew all that was happening in Mulago. That is how we got to know that the body on display was for a Tanzanian police officer killed in Kagera. So we decided to keep the body hoping that one day sanity would prevail and the relatives would come looking for their dead person,” Dr Makumbi told Sunday Monitor.
Though both Col Kisuule and Dr Makumbi corroborate the August period as the time the two incidents of the attack and the display of the body happened, the Tanzanian press present it differently. The Tanzanian weekend newspaper Sunday News of May 27, 1979, reports that, “Senior assistant commissioner of police Hans Poppe was murdered between September 19 and 21 in 1972, aged 54, and not on August 24, 1971, as it has always been reported.”
The paper went on to say, “However, there is irrefutable evidence that the late Poppe, who was captured by Amin’s troops on August 24, 1971, at Mutukula, was kept alive for about 13 months.”
Returning the body
Poppe’s body was preserved at Mulago until 1979 when Amin’s regime collapsed under the offensive by the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF), a combined force of Ugandan exiles and Tanzanian army.
Although the Tanzanian Sunday News of May 27, 1979, reported that Poppe was murdered between 19 and 21 September 1972 and not on August 24, 1971, as had been reported, the Uganda Times newspaper of May 24, 1979, quoted the Foreign Affairs minister in the post-Amin interim government, Otema Allimadi, confirming both Dr Makumbi’s and Kisuule’s statements on the timing of the Tanzanian police officer’s death.
This was contained in the story by the Uganda Times reporting the Uganda government handover of Poppe’s body to the Tanzanian government. At the hand over at Entebbe airport, Allimadi was accompanied the deputy Internal Affairs minister, Dr Lutakome Kayiira, and Inspector General of Police David Barlow.
“We are sad and dismayed by the death of our dear brother who lost his life at the hands of the evil dictatorship of Idi Amin. He was killed by Amin’s forces while making his contribution in the process of liberating Uganda,” Allimadi told a sombre gathering of mourners, who included two sons of the deceased who were part of the liberation forces against Amin.
“Amin labelled him a Chinese mercenary and humiliated him even after death by displaying his body at Kololo airstrip in Kampala. For us, we know Hans Poppe was neither Chinese nor mercenary. We are happy the truth has surfaced and we are today able to give credit where it is due and to pay our heartfelt tribute to a hero,” Allimadi added.
Speaking on behalf of the Tanzanian government while receiving the body at Entebbe airport, Tanzanian minister and later president, Benjamin Mkapa, on behalf of Tanzania thanked the Uganda government for the decision to hand over Poppe’s body.
He paid special tribute to the superintendent of Mulago hospital, Dr Makumbi, the head of the Anatomy Department, Prof Tumwine, and the technicians for preserving the body.
“Hans Poppe died in battle, in defence of his country’s freedom, its people and its territorial integrity. He fought against an enemy of that freedom, an enemy of the people of Tanzania. He fought against the forces of aggression, of plunder, of aggrandizement, of evil, of death — forces of Idi Amin. So he is a martyr, for freedom, for unity, for law, for neighbourliness, for the rule of law, for African brotherhood and African unity,” Mkapa said.
As the body was flown back home, then senior assistant commissioner of police Okoth Ogola led a six-man Ugandan delegation to Tanzania to attend the burial. The delegation included Prof Tumwine, Dr Makumbi and a technician in the anatomy department, Cyprian Nkemero.
Poppe’s body was preserved at Mulago until 1979 when Amin’s regime collapsed under the offensive by the Uganda National Liberation Army.
Above: Former Tanzanian regional police commander of West Lake region Hans Poppe (centre, front) inspecting a guard of honour. Right: Poppe (right) at a social function. He was killed by Amin’s forces.
Poppe’s final moments
During his burial at the Makanyigio Cemetery in Iringa Town in Tanzania, Col G. B. Kusiga, one of the people who witnessed the deceased’s capture, recounted how he heard his last pleas asking for mercy from his captors and later killers.
“He was shot in the right thigh at 11 in the morning on that fateful day during an attempt to reach a radio receiver to warn of Amin’s invasion of Tanzania after he had seen two Ugandan military tanks rambling into the country,” Kusiga said.
“He dropped down after he was shot. His driver who tried going around the Land Rover to rescue him was also shot in the leg. Another bullet was lodged in the driver’s shoulder as he attempted to pick up a gun. The Ugandan soldiers approached the two victims but they seemed more interested in Hans Poppe.”
“Do not kill me please. Do not kill me,’ Poppe appealed to his captors,” Col Kusiga recalled.
“After the incident, we thought he was dead but we never saw his body after the Ugandan soldiers had retreated, only much later to hear his body was being displayed in Uganda.”
During the mourning period in Tanzania, Prof Tumwine gave an interview to Tanzania’s Sunday News in which he said: “The body was brought to us in the morning by Amin’s soldiers. They told us to keep the body. We did not ask whose body it was or where it came from. We carried the body into the department.”
“But judging from the tattered uniform and the pips, we realised the body was that of a high ranking Tanzanian police officer. Upon observation we found that the body was covered with deep stab wounds all over and bullet holes on the upper part of the left arm and another on the pelvic girdle, which was very fresh.”
“During the process we established that due to the freshness of the body and the wounds we thought that Poppe must have died within the past 24 to 48 hours from the time the body was brought to us.”
Prof Tumwine narrated that besides the deep wounds and bullet holes, the body had several bruises, suggesting he was tortured before he was shot dead.
“We decided to embalm the body believing that one day during our lifetime or after, the relatives, friends and people from Tanzania might trace the body and find it well preserved,” he continued.
“Embalming Poppe’s body was long and a tedious process because of the cuts and bruises. Embalming involves administering chemicals to the body through the arteries until it becomes saturated. Due to the cuts on the body, the chemicals administered to the body were oozing out. But nevertheless we managed to embalm it so that it could survive more than 30 years irrespective of the condition when received.”
On behalf of the Uganda government, commissioner Ogoola who led the Ugandan delegation said: “The good relationship between Uganda and Tanzania has been reborn, hence the return home of the remains within only six weeks of liberation. It also demonstrates the good relationship between our two countries. Our physical attendance on the funeral proves our committal and aim to maintain our relationship in the future.”
Highest ranking security officer
At the burial, the Tanzanian government was represented by junior ministers of Home Affairs and Defence and National Service, Mr Ali Mchumo and Col Moses Nyauyi respectively.
Nyauyi said Poppe was the highest ranking security officer that the Tanzania government lost in the war against Amin.
PHOTOs courtesy of henry lubega
SOURCE: Daily Monitor