During his presidency, Idi Amin very much wanted to show off the military strength of the Ugandan army, and how it was going to bomb Cape Town in South Africa to teach the apartheid regime of Pieter Botha a lesson.
During the 1975 Organisation of African Unity (OAU) summit in Kampala, the guests were treated to a demonstration on how Cape Town was going to be demolished by the Uganda Air Force. Bulingugwe Island on Lake Victoria represented Cape Town at the occasion.
But also at Bulingugwe was Amin’s secret, an escape boat. Unfortunately, the boat never got to sail. It sunk on its inauguration. Bulingugwe Island is about 30 minutes by boat from Cape Villa, Amin’s former base in Munyonyo on the outskirts of Kampala.
Daisy Mukasa, the Muluka chief for Buganda Kingdom in charge of Mutuba Gumu Buziga, says: “The Island [measuring more than seven square miles] was given to Ham Mukasa by Kabaka Mwanga. When Amin took power, he took it over and since it had no residents he started using it as a military demonstration area.”
Ms Mukasa says it was not until around 1977 when Amin started feeling insecure that he decided to have a personalised escape boat constructed.
“He wanted a strong boat and so he used concrete, cement, sand and iron bars. It was built according to his specification,” she says, adding that it took about a year to build it. “Some time in 1978, the boat was towed towards the waters but it just sunk instead of floating.”
Mike Lwanga has been operating an outboard boat on the lake for the past nine years who says Amin’s boat has been vandalised over time.
“This thing [boat] was very huge with compartments, but people came and started vandalising it to take the iron bars and wire mesh. I have been on this lake for a long time... but I have never seen anything like a concrete boat on the lake,” he says.
From the exposed part and how it slants in the water, it is possible that the larger part of the boat is still submerged in the water. The stone-grey boat has some small holes in it, with its inside exposing iron bars and what could have been compartments.
Lwanga says despite the boat having been around for a long time, few people known about it. “All we know is that it was built on Bulingugwe Island, where Amin demonstrated how to bomb South Africa. What we have never known are the people who built the boat. How could they think that a boat made of concrete could float on the lake?”
According to Lwanga, the boat had a communication mast and a strong room which he suspects could have been for Amin’s safety while on the water.
The three countries that share Lake Victoria, on which the boat was to sail, had a frosty relationship with Uganda at the time it sunk. What is not known is which direction the escape boat was to take.