Month: July 2017

Duncan LakiThe death of Idi Amin Dada on August 16, 2003,  caused a stir of emotions in Uganda, the country he once ruled with an iron fist.  His name is infamous and the crimes of his regime are endless.  He ranks high among the worst dictators in world history and is a case study of the rampant abuse of power by a malevolent tyrant.  Actor Forest Whitaker brilliantly played the late dictator in the 2006 film The Last King of Scotland.  The film was fictionalized in part, but Whitaker capture the essence of Amin’s character and his performance was nothing short of phenomenal. The real Idi Amin was far worse as we know and there is a chance that the true number of the crimes committed by him and his henchmen will never be known.  The fates of hundreds of Ugandans remain a mystery with no sense of closure in sight. Nearly four decades have passed since Amin fled into exile but he is a permanent part of Ugandan history.   In this book by journalist Andrew Rice, we take a different look at the Amin regime, not through his life but through the lives of those who served him.  The lives and stories intersect around the murder of Eliphaz Laki,  the former county chief of Ibanda, Mbarara.  In 1972, he was apprehended by Amin’s enforcers, led by Yusuf Gowon, assisted and abetted by Nasur Gille and Mohamed Anyure.  His murder was covered up until his son Duncan returned to his native country in a quest to find his father’s killers.   Duncan emigrated to the United States, settling in New Jersey with his wife.  Their union produced four children and Laki supports his family as a lawyer. But the laws of the United States are different from Uganda as we see in the book.   This is his story and a step back into time as we revisit the Protectorate of Uganda under the all watchful eye of Amin.

Before you open this book, I recommend that you remove any pre-conceived notions about Uganda.  Personally, I found that after reading this book, there was much about the African nation that I did not know.  In contrast to the picture of Africa being a land of savages, the truth is that colonialism, tribalism and corruption combined to eliminate any semblance of a properly functioning society.   As Rice follows Duncan on his mission to bring his father’s killers to justice, the complex web of jealousy and suspicion ignited by Amin’s paranoia becomes evidently clear.  Tragically, what could have been a great country, seemed to regress upon finally gaining its independence. In the book, as each character is introduce, Rice retraces their history, explaining in detail why they’re relevant to the current story.   Expectedly,  former leader Milton Obote appears throughout the story as he and Amin end up on a collision course for control of the country.  The book develops into a history lesson on Ugandan politics and is a social study of the issues that continue to plague it today.  It should be pointed out that the book is not a biography of Amin. In fact, as Rice points out, Amin’s early life is highly obscure and his exact date of birth was never been attained.  The focus instead is on Duncan’s investigation with the help of a local investigator, Alfred Orijado.  Their investigation leads them to the three suspects who are arrested and interrogated before signing confessions explaining their role in Eliphaz Laki’s death.   And similar to the former Nazi officials, the Nuremberg defense once again rears its ugly head.

The trial eventually reveals the many flaws in the Uganda system while highlighting the progress that had been made administratively under the direction of former President Yoweri Museveni.  Along with Amin and Milton Obote, Museveni is a permanent fixture in Ugandan history with the distinction of having served thirty-one years as the ruler of Ugandan.  He has been called a dictator and if he should move to change the law to exempt him from retiring at the mandatory age of seventy-five, the accusations will hold more weight.   Nonetheless, he is a walking piece of history at the age of seventy-one, having witnessed Uganda’s darkest times first hand.  His prominence is slowly slipping as younger Ugandans look towards a brighter future with change in a new direction.

Westerners may find it hard to relate to the events in the book.  For those of us lucky enough to have grown up in the United States, a civil war is unknown to us personally and something we have read about in textbooks.  But for immigrants from Uganda who remember Amin’s reign, the terror remains with them every day reminding them of how tragic their lives once were.  And while the ending is not what the reader may expect, the book is invaluable is showing what life was like in Uganda during that era.  In death, Amin has joined the ranks of Hitler, Stalin, Lenin and other dictators whose dark legacies continue to haunt the nations they once ruled.  Uganda continues to heal and the story of Eliphaz and Duncan Laki, is just one of thousands to be told about the maniacal Idi Amin Dada.

ISBN-10: 0312429738
ISBN-13: 978-0312429737

Uncategorized

dead mountainThe Dyatlov Pass incident has reemerged as one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the world.  On January 23, 1959, ten hikers set out on an expedition to Otorten Mountain in the Norther Ural Mountain range. One member of the group turned back and the remaining nine met their deaths at the Kholat Syakhl (Dead Mountain) under mysterious circumstances.  Several theories have been put forth to explain what happened on the night of February 1-2, 1959, but each explanation seems to cast more doubt over the official explanation.   There is a strong possibility that we may never know the truth about the incident but we do have a fairly accurate picture of the hiker’s last trip up until their deaths. Author Keith McCloskey has written several books and takes on the Dyatlov Pass in this investigative account of the mystery that puzzled investigators and sent chills down the spines of those who have studied the case.

While researching the book, McCloskey visited the Ural region and reviewed old case files and reports from other strange occurrences in the Ural region.  There is no “smoking gun” here but where the book excels is the exploration of the theories that exists about their final moments.  He leaves nothing to chance and considers everything in the effort to put together the most accurate picture of what really happened. And the result is a good look at the incident that is as equally well-researched and written as Donnie Eichar’s Dead Mountain: The Untold Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident , released in October, 2013. Eichar also traveled to the former Soviet Union, befriending Yuri Kuntsevich, the head of the Dyatlov Foundation.   Eichar does not present a “smoking gun” either but touches more on the personal side of the hikers. In fact, he met with Igor Dyatlov’s younger and only surviving sister and spoke to the tenth hiker, Yuri Yudin in person.  Sadly, as McCloskey reports, Yudin died on April 27, 2013 and his final resting place is with his old friends.

Conspiracy theorist will be tempted to get caught up in the boundless theories that persist about the case. But McCloskey does a good job of separating actual possibilities from ideas that are nothing short of ridiculous.   He addresses the concept of infrasound and one story in particular stands out,  the “revelation” by Shimon Davidenko, who claims to have been the tenth hiker in the group.   He claimed other things as well but it is highly unlikely that he is being completely truthful as the book reveals.  When thinking about the incident, the word strange comes to mind quickly but is actually an understatement.  Many bizarre events took place following the deaths of the hikers that have never been fully explained. And with many of the individuals involved in the search and subsequent investigation now being deceased, many of their beliefs and possible secrets are gone forever.  Lead investigator Lev Ivanov, went to his grave convinced of a paranormal event.  Was he correct or suffering from an overactive imagination? Perhaps we will never know. McCloskey and Eichar have done a great service to the memory of the hikers in preserving their memories through these two excellent books on a real life haunting. And as time goes on, I believe that the case will draw more interest and possibly result in classified Soviet files being released at some point.  If you love a good mystery and have an interest in Soviet history, this is a great read to add to your library.

ISBN-10: 0752491482
ISBN-13: 978-0752491486

 

 

Investigative Report

dead_mountainOn January 23, 1959, Igor Dyatlov (1936-1959) and several of his classmates at the Ural Polytechnic Institute in the City of Sverdlosky, board a train as they commence their hiking expedition to the Otorten Mountain in the Northern Urals in Siberia.  On February 12, they are expected to return from their trip but there is no sing of the explorers, some of whom are as young as twenty years of age.  Eight days later, a formal search team is put together to find the missing hikers. Over the next several weeks, their remains are found and returned back home. Lev Ivanov is assigned to investigate their deaths and to this day, the official explanation is that they died due to some “unknown force”. The incident that has become known as the Dyatlov Pass, remains one of history’s darkest mysteries.  Donnie Eichar, a film producer and author revisits the incident in this chilling look into a mind-boggling event that is nothing short of surreal.

As part of his research, Eichar traveled to Russia and re-traced the hikers route with the help of several knowledgeable individuals such as Yuri Kuntsevich, the leader of the Dyatlov Foundation.  Leaving his girlfriend and infant son behind, Eichar exhausted his savings and pushed his body to the limit in the Siberian extreme as he searched for answers to a historical event that gains a greater aura of mystique as the years continue to go by.  At first glance, some readers may be tempted to think that the book contains a smoking gun. In fact, it does not and nowhere in the book does Eichar insinuate such.  What is contained in the book is a timeline of the events and a reconstruction of each day according to their journals and what investigators learned after their deaths.   Towards the end of the book, he does put forth a plausible explanation as to what could have happened to them on February 2.

Rumors have surrounded the case for decades. And due to the puzzling locations at which the bodies were found and the post-mortem examinations, many trouble facts arose that caused more confusion for even seasoned investigators.  Eichar lays out all of the most exclaimed theories behind their deaths, refuting each one with the evidence on hand.  And through his own work he brings our attention to the concept of infrasound or low-frequency sound. The phenomenon can be caused by environmental factors such as wind, storms and even earthquakes.  The revelation that some of the hikers had suffered internal blunt force trauma and had been exposed to high levels of radiation compounds the difficulty in solving the case.  The theory is not an official explanation but is highly plausible and puts the event in a whole new light.

We may never know what happened to those nine hikers on the night of February 2, 1959, but today, many years later, we have enough evidence and testimony to know what whatever did cause their deaths, was something they were completely unprepared for. Eichar has done his part to bring the truth about their deaths closer to light.  This is an interesting read about an even more interesting unsolved mystery.

ISBN-10: 1452140030
ISBN-13: 978-1452140032

Investigative Report