Calm Outside; Death Inside

It is years since Late President Idi Amin and his underlings ruled Uganda, but the torture chambers are a living testimony of wrath; a satisfier to those who lived the dark days; those who have heard the horrible stories of darkness and evil. The chambers are nestled underneath the Western wing of Buganda’s Lubiri Palace making them hard to notice for the casual eye. The safe house was used in Amin’s regime (1971-79) and was maintained by the Obote II (1981-86) for the same purpose. Every turn inside the dark hideout is decorated with verses of animosity cursing the two sadists. They were splattered over the walls with blood and coal; all dismally-written, spelling pain, and anger.

Blood on the Wall

Set up in 1971 by then President His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Haji Dr. VC. DSO. MC. CBE Amin Dada with help of Israeli architects, the chambers are located at Lubiri Palace in Mengo.  It verandas just beneath the entrance building that doubles as some sort of museum. The primary purpose for these chambers was to ensure better storage of gunpowder. Unfortunately, things went south and the chambers garnered another use. There are plenty of things to check out, among which an original copy of the 1900 agreement. At a fee of UGX 5,000 we were set rolling with an effective guide Mukyala Damalie.

Amin’s torture operators would first blindfold the victim, then walk or drive them around ring road from hours to get them confused with regard to where they were going. This was done to make culprits feel they were taken to a very detached place, inculcating fear of escape.

Chambers of Death

The trek down the five cells of the chambers then started: visitors would put away their fear as the place still looks bloodcurdling. The entrance was electrified and the entire chambers filled with water during the torture days – to enable electrocution. Though the water has since dried up and the cement is partly wearing out, the writings still stand so one can read the message.

Women and men were put together but not allowed to have carnal knowledge. Anyways, who could have sexual desire and/or relations amidst such pain? The culprits were starved, butchered into unrecognizable pieces, while others were electrocuted to death. Damalie emphasized that none of the thousands of victims brought here ever escaped death. 

Victims’ Blood on Walls

The writings on the wall make you wish to see at least one of Amin’s torture operators, to ask them if they were born to women and breastfed like you and I. The most noticeable writing is at the entrance of the second room, which reads ‘Obote now that you have killed my husband, who will look after my children?’ Such and other writings that littered the walls are so touching and emotional that one may have to wipe a few tears during the tour.

The downward slope ends in a narrow cement tunnel comprised of four rooms that were deliberately situated on a platform to prevent escape. At the lower section, hundreds of victims were piled in a 10 by 10 foot room and had to select from electro-induced death or other options, Mukyala Damalie explains. The last room is still as dark as the grave although the first parts of the chambers have been lit up a little. This part of the chamber was the most tragic and by the time suspects were taken to this segment, they were to be killed within the first.

If you are visiting Uganda, you could check out these torture chambers. There is a lot of energy in those rooms: they reek of fear but also of history.

Editor’s Note: Purple M. Kisakye contributed to this article.