The portraits of former Presidents Idi Amin Dada and Apollo Milton Obote, so loathed and demonized by many, are gaining popularity on the streets of Kampala.
Obote led Uganda to independence in 1962 but fell out with especially the Baganda after he deposed then president and titular head of state Frederick Mutesa II, also the Kabaka of Buganda, only to be deposed by his army commander Idi Amin Dada in 1971.
Amin’s eight-year reign is considered a turbulent one, with sections of the country dubbing him a dictator. After his overthrow in 1979, Obote returned to power in 1980 after winning a disputed general election.
The Obote II government faced a guerrilla war in the so-called Luwero Triangle in central Uganda that alienated his government further from sections of mainly the Baganda, till he was overthrown again in 1985 by Tito Okello Lutwa, who six months later was also toppled by Yoweri Museveni.
Consequently, the Museveni government, especially, has painted both Amin and Obote in negative light, blaming Uganda’s problems on them.
For years, the president would not make a speech, in any event, without making negative references to the two former presidents, regularly calling them swine.
In public, especially in the southern half of Uganda, the names Amin and Obote, let alone their portraits, were like an unforgivable sin, and used to deepen North and South divide, since both presidents came from the North.
Opinions are divided on whether presidents Amin and Obote were as bad as they have been framed, considering that things they have been accused of, like corruption, nepotism and extra-judicial killings, are ever present, and in some instances even more intense.
But that seems to be changing, considering that comparisons and contrasts are now being made between the reigns of both Amin and Obote on the one hand and that of Museveni, who had been in power for 32 years now.
For once, portraits of Amin and Obote are not being produced and sold openly on the streets of Kampala, and they are selling like hotcake.
Bright Wafula, an artist on Nasser Road, who makes portraits of famous and prominent people, says he had been making portraits of President Museveni and royals like Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi, his wife Nnabagereka Sylvia Nnaginda and Tooro King Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukidi IV but some customers kept asking for the portraits of former presidents, especially Amin and Obote.
In order to avoid bias, Wafula says he decided to make the portraits of all seven former presidents namely Obote, Amin, Muteesa II, Godfrey Binaisa, Yusuf Lule, Paulo Muwanga and Tito Okello Lutwa.
Wafula says of all the portraits of the former presidents, that of Museveni, the sitting president, is the best-selling.
Wafula says of all the former presidents, the portraits of Amin and Obote are the most attractive, with some buyers taking up to eight copies at one go.
Wafula says the major challenge he faces is that some customers want the portraits in full colour and not black and white.
According to Wafula, other popular portraits are those of personalities like Omukama Iguru II of Bunyoro, Kyabazinga Gabula Nadiope II of Busoga, opposition leaders Kiiza Besigye and Robert Sentamu Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine.
Prominent religious leaders on display include Dr Cyprian Lwanga, the Archbishop of Kampala Archdiocese, Mufti Shaban Mubajje of Uganda Muslim Supreme Council and Stanley Ntagali, the Archbishop of Church of Uganda.
The prices of the portraits range from 30,000 shillings to 70,000 shillings depending on the size.