January 14, 2020

1979: The tragic death of the Hand of the Cause Enoch Olinga and his family – by NSA of Canada

The Universal House of justice has shared with us a copy of a letter dated January 11, 1980, from the Hands of the Cause of God residing in the Holy Land to the Hands of the Cause of God throughout the world. We hope this will allay any concerns the friends may have had over the circumstances surrounding the death of our beloved Hand of the Cause, Enoch Olinga.

"In all of these sad events it is some consolation to know that apparently the murder of Mr. Olinga was in no way directly connected with either religion or politics; in other words no one associated Enoch with any political factions and this attack on him was not in the nature of an attack on the Faith itself. Enoch may have been killed just because he was an affluent businessman and well known because of this and as a 'leader' of the Baha’is.

“For some years past in Uganda the elimination of prominent people has been a fixed policy of certain factions and nearly all those who fell into this category fled the country. Mr. Vuyiya, who arrived in Kampala from Nairobi three days after the event, writes ' ... staying in the middle of the town, I had the full effect of the state of near anarchy in Kampala at night. There were shots every night.' He points out that in the nightly curfew no one could tell who was roaming about the streets and that every night brought with it ‘... the news of the murder of yet another family.'

“As nothing worth mentioning, including a large sum of money which was available in Mr. Olinga's desk, seems to have been stolen from the home, some people consider that it was one of the acts being regularly committed by some obscure faction, to create the impression that lawlessness was rampant and thus discredit the efforts of the new Government to maintain law and order. In similar killings these 'thugs' have stated they are not thieves but have come 'only for lives.'

"Now that detailed reports have been received here, we feel we should acquaint you fully with these matters so that the Baha'is, through this report to you, will be properly informed and not attribute his murder to all kinds of things which have no foundation in fact; we notice through meetings with the friends and letters received here that there is a lot of speculation, misinformation and personal interpretation of events going about."

The report then goes on to document, from all available sources, the events surrounding the brutal murder of Mr. Olinga and his family. We regret that we are unable to print the letter in its entirety. Following are extracts from the report:

"We learn from George Olinga, Enoch's eldest son, that from the time the Faith was banned until Idi Amin fell from power his father, on many occasions, stated he would not leave the country or run away. He was not only worried over the morale of the Baha'is but was very much concerned about the Baha'i properties and their protection. That they were safeguarded in the midst of so much turmoil, that precious archive material was removed to a remote spot and nothing happened to it, we owe largely to this fellow Hand of ours, this Enoch we loved so much ...

"Of his father's last days George writes: 'He spent most of his time at Kikaya cutting the grass around the Temple, sweeping the Temple, and the last few days before his tragic death he had reorganized the Baha'i Centre, from washing the floor to allocation of rooms for various functions of the newly appointed Administrative Committee.

“During their first meeting in Kampala I had just arrived from Nairobi and Daddy was overjoyed when I told them that while I was in Kenya I had found the grass mowers for the Temple grounds and that they had been purchased ... So happy was Daddy during these last days of his life that he told some of the friends he is so relieved to have handed over to the Administrative Committee that he was ready to die…’

"It is probably never going to be possible to establish exactly what the terrible course of events was which took place that night; sleeping next to the garage, in a building near the back door, which gave on to the small compound into which, through the gate, the automobile driveway entered the grounds, was a Baha'i garden boy; on either side of the Olinga property were neighbours. In a city where murder for many weeks has stalked the streets in the dark, and the rattle of automatic fire is frequently heard, people keep inside and under cover themselves when they hear guns going off nearby. No doubt this was equally true of those near the Olinga home.

"We are told, however, by the garden boy, that Elizabeth was in the kitchen, at the back of the house preparing dinner with Lennie; Badi was studying in the back bedroom at the end of the inner corridor and Tahirih may have been with him. It is conjectured that there were six armed men, one remained to guard the gate through which they broke into the property, and the other five came to the back door demanding it be opened and firing shots. Whatever exactly took place a trail of blood was found from the kitchen to the room Badi was in and a rough attempt had been made to bandage Lennie's leg where he had been wounded. As this is the room where all except Enoch were murdered, it seems likely they sought refuge there, locked the door and enough time elapsed to try and staunch Lennie's wound before the armed men broke in and evidently lined Elizabeth, Lennie, Badi and Tahirih up against the wall and shot them; two rows of bullet holes showed they were shot both at chest and knee level and the pitiful mangled remains of these four people were found next day on the floor in a pile.

“Exactly what happened to Enoch is not known; George surmises, from accounts of those who were at least in the vicinity, if not actual eye witnesses of what took place in the house, that Enoch was in the sitting room, heard the cries and shots, came out into the compound at the back and was taken in either to see his family shot or see them lying dead and once again came out into the compound for he was heard to be weeping and sobbing out loud; he was then shot from behind in the chest and hips and fell in front of the garage.

“The neighbours stated that they phoned the police five times when all this was happening but were told there were patrol cars in the area; no one came. In the morning, whenever he dared venture forth , the garden boy found Enoch's body and ran to inform a member of the newly appointed Uganda Administrative Committee who immediately went to the home of 'Auntie Claire', the much-loved and esteemed early pioneer to Africa who owns a well -known nursery school..." 
(Baha’i Canada, vol. 2, no. 9, March/April 1980)