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TITLEA Sacrifice to Fidelity: The senseless, brutal slayings of Enoch Olinga, his wife and children
ABSTRACTAn account of the murder of Enoch Olinga in 1980.
NOTES These extracts are from 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, and published in the May 1980 Bahá’í News.

See other bios of Olinga at francis_olinga_biography and memoriam_bw_18.

TAGSEnoch Olinga; Uganda
CONTENT 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 Bahá'ís. 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 Bahá'ís, 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. Hence the details contained in this letter, most of which you already know.

There is no doubt that the fidelity of Enoch to the Bahá'í community and its interests in Uganda, and in particular to the Mother Temple for Africa, was not only outstanding and most touching but, on more than one occasion the respect in which he was held by many prominent non-Bahá'ís enabled him to safeguard the House of Worship and the adjacent National Headquarters, at a time when meetings were forbidden and the country itself in a very dangerous condition. For almost two years (due to the banning of the Faith in Uganda along with twenty-six other religious organizations in September 1977) Enoch and the two Ugandan members of the Continental Board of Counsellors for Central and East Africa, Oloro Epyeru and Kolonario Oule, had been made responsible, by the Universal House of Justice, for the protection and guidance of the Faith there. At last conditions had begun to change and our Supreme Body was able to appoint a Uganda Administrative Committee to take over the administrative work, pending such time as the re-election of the National Spiritual Assembly could be held. This important new Committee held its first meeting in the National Haziratu'I-Quds on the Bahá'í Temple property on August 25, 1979. Enoch was present and invited to chair it. He was radiantly happy and distributed to the Committee members present "a well worked out and soul stirring devotional programme," handing each one a new prayer book with passages marked. They all went to the Temple for this most moving devotional inauguration of their work and from there visited the grave of the Hand of the Cause of God Musa Banani and after praying there returned to the National Centre to start their meeting, which they opened with the Tablet of Ahmad. Enoch then presented each one with one of the prayer books as a gift and he and the others all signed each book — truly a precious memento of an historic occasion which constituted the "resurrection" of the Ugandan Bahá'í community.

According to the minutes of that meeting: "the beloved Hand of the Cause of God presented the appointment letter from the Universal House of Justice to the Committee. He observed that this Committee was an arm of the Universal House of Justice stretched over Uganda" and assured them this appointment conferred the capacity and worthiness to do their work and therefore they should rely on the power of the Holy Spirit at all times. The Committee then decided to draft a cable to the Universal House of Justice signifying their acceptance of their appointment and desire to serve worthily. This entire meeting was a "joy-laden" occasion and ended with singing Bahá'í songs.

The following day Enoch again acted as Chairman at the second meeting and set before its members a clear picture of the needs of both the Faith throughout the country and the many things requiring to be done at the Temple property owing to the depredations caused by the conditions inside Uganda and the war — telephone connection, water supply, office equipment, lawn mowers were all gone; the Universal House of Justice had provided a budget for restoring the property and the National Centre to a condition where it could be kept up and the administrative work function; the property also urgently needed personnel to stay on Kikaaya Hill and protect it. Many duties were outlined and discussed and a plan made to hold a National Briefing Conference during October. This was later called the "Re-Birth Conference."

The next meeting of this Committee took place on September 15th — the day before Enoch's murder. He was not present but the Counsellor Kolonario Oule had specially come to Kampala to meet with it and discuss the work in his area. His arrival at this moment, when the black cloud of catastrophe was already drawing near, was truly providential. As both Ugandan Counsellors — Kolonario Oule and Oloro Epyeru — live about 300 kilometers north-east of Kampala, communication and travel were not easy and Oule apologized for both his and Epyeru's absence, due to illness, from the first meeting. He paid glowing tribute to not only Enoch's services but his "matchless courage" during the most difficult period the Cause had passed through.

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 Bahá'ís but was very much concerned about the Bahá'í 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.

In April 1979 Enoch was injured and very narrowly escaped death in a serious car accident, the cause of which was suspicious; he told George he considered it providential as otherwise he would have gone to his home in Teso and he had learned later that his name was on a list for "liquidation" there. As he was recovering from this accident and living up at the Temple site during the chaotic period of looting in Kampala, his presence there was undoubtedly the reason the Bahá'í properties — particularly the precious Mother Temple of Africa — were not also looted. Generally speaking the looters passed over places which were occupied, especially if a strong personality stood up to them. During this period, however, Enoch's own home was looted completely bare. He went down one day from Kikaaya Hill to his house and found this going on; for some moments his own life was in acute danger as he was accused at gun point of being a soldier of Amin; when he succeeded in convincing them he was not, his life was spared. He and his family, who for safety's sake he had sent to their home in Teso, then had to set about the complete restoration and refurnishing of their house.

Shortly before the conquest of Kampala had taken place, which preceded the above incident, Enoch's son Badi was hijacked with his pickup by Amin's soldiers and disappeared for over a week. The anguish of worry over his whereabouts and fear for his life was acute and George states that in his father's many prayers he asked Bahá’u’lláh to accept Badi as a sacrifice for His Cause. When Badi was finally released by Amin's soldiers, who had impounded his car for transportation, the relief of the Olinga family was great, but it had been a terrible experience for his young sister Tahirih who suffered severe depression as a result. Indeed, it was partly to cheer her up that the large family reunion was planned for Sunday, September 16th, which was her birthday.

Of his father's last days George writes: "He spent most of his time at Kikaaya cutting the grass around the Temple, sweeping the Temple, and the last few days before his tragic death he had reorganized the Bahá’í 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."

Even on that fate-laden Sunday, September 16th, Enoch and his wife and the children who were in Kampala had been up at the Temple, as George states that on that day his father "was in a happy mood and spent most of the time in Kikaaya."

As the regular nightly curfew began at 8 p.m. we assume well before that hour the Olingas returned to their home — the former historic home of the Hand of the Cause Musa Banani, which Enoch had bought when Mrs. Banani could no longer live there alone because of the steady increase of robbery and violence inside Kampala, in spite of the fact that the house was in a very good residential district inside the city; Enoch had added to the property a high barbed wire fence and a gate to ensure greater protection.

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 Bahá’í garden boy; on either side of the Olinga property were neighbors. 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 a 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 eyewitnesses 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 neighbors 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 to 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. During all the warfare and troubles in Uganda and in Kampala, Claire Gung, in spite of her 79 years and very poor health, had remained at her post. Now, at the time of this grievous crisis, despite her own shock and heartbreak, she placed many phone calls, trying to contact George in Kenya and let him know what had happened, seeking to inform the World Centre and receive guidance from the Universal House of Justice, telephoning as far afield as England in case other channels should not prove effective. The solicitude of the Universal House of Justice for Miss Gung's welfare — in the midst of all its own shock, grief and pressing duties at that time — was most touching and was reflected in the constant communications from Haifa regarding the funeral and other matters in which messages of appreciation, assurance of prayers and admonitions to take care of her health were included.

It will be remembered that Sunday, the 16th of September, was to have been a family reunion for all the Olinga children in East Africa; George, his wife and two children were coming back from a visit to a Bahá'í on the coast of Kenya; Patrick was due back in Kampala from a trip to Teso to sell coffee for his father; Godwin, who was in Fort Portal, decided to wait until George arrived and then come in to Kampala. By such tenuous threads are the lives of people suspended! George was delayed because he could not get the right' tires for his car, Patrick decided to wait until Monday and see how much the coffee was sold for, Godwin just waited . . .

At length the frantic telephone calls of Claire Gung succeeded in conveying the terrible news to both the Continental Board of Counsellors' Office in Nairobi and the Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of Kenya. The Counsellor, Peter Vuyiya, was fortunately in Nairobi, staying at the National Center, and was able to telephone the Universal House of Justice, which was in session when this terrible news was broken to it. From then on the guidance of the House was with the heartbroken friends and family responsible for making all decisions for the funeral, for the burial, for publicity and so on. On that same day, Monday the 17th, George and his wife and children left for Kampala, spending a night en route at Kisumu. Peter Vuyiya decided to not get involved with air travel and left early the 18th, arriving, by a process of many changes from one communal taxi to another, in Kampala before curfew fell.

While all these events were taking place Enoch and his family were still lying Monday morning where their murderers had left them. Two of the devoted African Bahá'ís had immediately gone to the Olinga home and were there when the police made their investigations.

In reading over a great many pages of reports one is deeply impressed by the fact that the people on the spot, the victims of civil war, terrorism, looting, constant crimes and dangers, acted with astonishing presence of mind, courage and capability. Their calmness, faith and fortitude shine through the horrible tale of violent death and all its degrading details. We all acutely realize the loss of Enoch and the wanton murder of his wife and children. What we do not perhaps appreciate is the defenseless state of the dead in a city devoid of facilities, still mostly without any law enforcement, in hot weather, in a country depleted of almost every commodity. Yet the three Counsellors, Oloro Epyeru, Kolonario Oule, and Peter Vuyiya, with the members of the very recently appointed Administrative Committee, together with members of Enoch's family and a handful of friends, lifted — like veritable giants — the manifold burdens of this unheard-of situation and carried their work forward to a beautiful and dignified conclusion when the bodies were finally interred on Tuesday, September 25th, in the Bahá'í cemetery.

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