The British Empire Library

A Dissolving Dream: A New Zealander In Amin's Uganda

by Heather Benson

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by J.C. Dakin (Uganda Administrative Service 1933-1953)
About 1967 Heather Benson, a strikingly blonde University student, fell in love with Joe, a very personable Ugandan who was studying in Wellington. She was fascinated by his stories of "the Pearl of Africa" as well as by his personality. They married in New Zealand and she followed him to Uganda after he had returned there. The book reveals in vivid and revealing manner the vicissitudes of Heather's relationship with her husband, who is a Muganda. She bore Joe three children during her six years in Uganda, but their romance, which had flourished for three years in New Zealand, gradually fell apart as her husband reverted to the lifestyle of many Ugandan men. He excluded her from much of his social life, spent long evening hours drinking with his cronies, refused to share responsibility for domestic affairs, and eventually took unto himself a mistress.

This account of the undoubted joys and increasing tensions of their personal relationships is accompanied by a close-up and perceptive description of the stormy, and often harrowing, events of the last year of the first Obote regime and the first five years of Amin's reign of terror. The impact of the events of these years upon the life of the couple, the lives of their friends, and the people living around Kampala, is portrayed with poignancy and candour. Some incidents are unforgettable - the warm welcome given to Heather by Joe's family in their home among the plantain groves. Heather arriving one morning at the door of the nursery school, which she ran, to find the body of a man murdered by Amin's soldiery, Heather accompanying her threatened husband to the dread Makindye prison, and her final departure from Uganda with her children under the pretence that she was going to New Zealand only for a holiday.

Heather Benson writes well. The book is well organised and not overloaded with explanatory material. It contains several references back to life in New Zealand, which help to bring out contrasts in lifestyle. The book has been well received in New Zealand, but should appeal to a wider readership and certainly to many who have African experience.

British Empire Book
Heather Benson.
Bridget Williams Books


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