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Kenyan cook reminisces about working for Uganda's most brutal leader

Kenyan cook reminisces about working for Uganda's most brutal leader

Uganda

Shopping for groceries at a market in Kisumu, western Kenya brings back memories for Odera Otonde from the days when he whipped up meals at State House Uganda.

He likes to think his dishes may have influenced political decisions that later shaped Africa’s history.
The son of a farmer in rural Asembo, a town on the shores of Lake Victoria, Otonde came from a humble background and never went to school.

“Obote was diplomatic but Amin seemed to push things, so Amin was a person who appeared to be generous but whenever someone told him something he would react immediately. If you told him so and so want to kill you he would say go and kill him so he can die first,“Otonde said.

Obote was diplomatic but Amin seemed to push things, so Amin was a person who appeared to be generous but whenever someone told him something he would react immediately.

While in Uganda, Otonde first worked as a waiter and later on as a cook, learning a variety of culinary skills.

And then ended up at State House Uganda, when his friend recommended him for president Milton Obote.
At the time, Idi Amin who would later overthrow Obote, served in the army and visited often.

Amin was known to be a complex character lurching between being warm and fun-loving to being a sadistic monster.
The autocratic ruler was rumoured to keep severed heads of rivals in his refrigerator and once placed some on his dining table to warn guests that he was not to be crossed.

But Otonde said he never saw body parts in the kitchen while he worked for Amin.

“President Nyerere, Kenyatta, would dine there, Habyarimana would dine there. Kaunda, Mobutu Sese Seko dined there. There others too, I can’t remember their names but those are the ones I saw often,” he added.

Otonde worked for Amin until 1986 when President Yoweri Museveni sent him on compulsory leave. He says he never received his terminal pay.

In 2014 he appealed to the Kenyan government to help him get his benefits but he is still waiting.

Even at then he said he regretted nothing. Preparing meals for various African leaders who dined at presidential lunches and dinners are memories worth having.

When he went back home to Kenya Otonde found a job as a driver at a local church. He retired in Asembo where he lives with his family.

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