The Corner

Annals of HR Problems

In the Times (of London) today, there is a curious report:

An Italian journalist has resigned after the son of a man he ordered to be murdered was named editor of his newspaper.

Adriano Sofri, 73, said he was stepping down from La Repubblica hours after news emerged of the appointment of Mario Calabresi, whose father, Luigi, was shot dead by leftwing extremists in Milan in 1972.

I met an interesting person when I was writing my new book, Children of Monsters: An Inquiry into the Sons and Daughters of Dictators. I did not meet him in the flesh, but I learned about him. His name is Conrad Nkutu, and in the mid-2000s he was directing a radio station in his native Uganda, KFM.

His staff interviewed a number of people for a particular job, and they were nervous when they presented to Nkutu the best candidate: for the best candidate was the son of the man who had killed his father — Nkutu’s father. The candidate was Hussein Amin, or “Hussein Lumumba,” as he was calling himself at the time. (I could explain.) Hussein is a son of Idi Amin, dictator of Uganda in the 1970s. Nkutu’s father was Shaban Nkutu, an important government minister before Amin came to power (and, incidentally, the uncle of one of Amin’s wives).

Conrad Nkutu “gently chastised” his staff — his words — for being nervous about bringing Hussein’s application to him. He would not visit the sins of the father on the son. Moreover, he issued strict instructions to those around him: They were not to breathe a word about his father, the murdered Shaban Nkutu, to Amin’s son.

Hussein Amin, or Hussein Lumumba, had no idea. He had no idea that his father had killed Nkutu’s father. He was hired at KFM and worked happily and well.

One day, the newspapers carried a report: Retired gravediggers had revealed the site of a mass grave, among whose corpses was Shaban Nkutu’s. The papers described the murder of Nkutu, which was grotesque and horrifying, in the Amin fashion.

Hussein Amin reeled from this news. I will turn to Conrad Nkutu himself to relate what happened next:

Soon after the [staff] meeting ended that morning, KFM’s controller, Peter Kabba, came to my office and reported with a shaky voice that Hussein Lumumba Amin had read the newspaper story in shock and collapsed in Kabba’s office.

Kabba sought guidance on what to do as Lumumba had somewhat recovered but was weeping inconsolably and all the KFM staff were discussing the matter after realising that Lumumba was Amin’s son, and that I had knowingly employed the son of my father’s killer.

Lumumba had asked Kabba if I was willing to see him in my office to enable him to express regrets for what had happened to my Dad. I consented and he walked into my office trembling and weeping uncontrollably, supported to stand upright by Peter Kabba, and, if I recall well, Joseph Beyanga, the station’s Head of Production. Lumumba attempted to say something to me and mumbled a vague “I’m so sorry . . .” but had lost his voice and was inaudible as well as pretty incoherent.

I got the sense that while he had obviously grown up surrounded by press reports describing his late father as a killer, he was living in denial and had possibly never been confronted with a detailed murder case involving his father as the orchestrator. He was in a very bad emotional state and we were all very sorry for him. I asked Peter to get a company car to take him home and later asked Martha [the human-resources manager] to assure him that I held no grudge against him and he could take a few days off to recover from the shock then return to work.

Unfortunately, but perhaps understandably, Hussein Lumumba Amin did not return to work at KFM and did not send in a resignation letter. We understood his dilemma and did not pursue him though we remained sorry for how he had found out, and KFM missed his good work.

There is a man, Conrad Nkutu. There is a man. Could you and I have been so magnanimous? Maybe better not to contemplate the question …


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