Duns man reveals how he risked his life for Uganda

Cass Cassidy MBE with workers from the Gaba water treatment plant in Uganda
Cass Cassidy MBE with workers from the Gaba water treatment plant in Uganda

UGANDA in the early 1980s, just after the overthrow of the brutal dictaor Idi Amin, was a dangerous place to be as Duns man Cass Cassidy discovered within five minutes of arriving at Entebbe airport in the middle of yet another coup.

In fact his plane hadn’t even landed before he became aware of shots being fired at it.

Kathleen and Cass Cassidy MBE from Duns, with a copy of his book 'Gaba Road' detailing their time in Uganda

Kathleen and Cass Cassidy MBE from Duns, with a copy of his book 'Gaba Road' detailing their time in Uganda

On his way from the airport into Kampala he was held up at gun point after being mistaken for a mercenary by Ugandan troops as he tried to make his way to the Gaba water treatment works where he had been employed as a technician to repair the National Water & Sewerage Corporation’s broken infrastructure. And over the following days things didn’t get any better.

“I wanted to get out but the aiports were closed,” said Cass.

Despite the extreme danger, corruption, chaotic organisation and frustration with funding and workers Cass stuck it out for four years - receiving an MBE in 1984 for his efforts in helping the country recover from eight years of a brutal regime.

Wanting to tell his children just what life was like for ordinary Ugandans Cass started writing down his memories of that period of his life and the end result has been the publication of his book ‘Gaba Road’.

While he was working for the EEC in Uganda neither Cass nor his wife Kathleen discussed the reality of life there with anyone, not even their children.

“We never mentioned the soldiers, the looting and killing, the pillage and raping or the bodies and the fearful times. How could one explain living in such an existence,” said Cass.

In Uganda to get the Gaba water treatment works back in working order Cass admits to being “totally immersed in the Gaba project” and doggedly stuck at it even when the project became a hostage of the warring factions struggling for control of the country. But at one stage when the Gaba plant was occupied by Tanzanian soldiers he had to accept that he “couldn’t continue to supervise the rehabilitation project. The EEC had been helping to fund the project and when they threatened to withdraw from it unless the military presence was properly administered, the occupying soldiers were pulled out of Gaba and Cass and his team were able to continue.

Cass’s first impression of Gaba water treatment works was positive: the drive magnificent; the view of Lake Victoria breathtaking. But the water works themselves were like a graveyard - an analogy that was to prove all too accurate because when he investigated why the flow of water from Lake Victoria was restricted he made the gruesome discovery that it was dead bodies that were blocking the intake chamber.

The 30 water treatment employees who were supposed to be working with Cass proved elusive in the beginning – perhaps understandably as they hadn’t been paid for over a year.

Not long after Cass had arrived in Uganda the director of NW&SC, Kasozi Kaya, told him: “We still have people vanishing every day, especially in the evening. The Tanzanian soldiers control our entire country; they are our army, police force and our only means of security.

“We, Uganda are bankrupt. Our people are running around the world with begging bowls in order to try to pay and feed these thousands of soldiers and our own people.

“For the first time in years we have an opportunity to improve the status of our country and its people. Very soon we will be in a position to elect new leaders, to lead our country and its people to standards that they rightly deserve. Until then, we have little choice, we are at the mercy of the people that liberated us, the Tanzanian army.”

Cass and his wife Kathleen have lived and worked in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Ghana, Belize (Central America), Northern Cyprus, Botswana, South Africa, Ecuador and Bangladesh as he worked on water engineering projects - but Uganda is the only country he has had to leave because his life was threatened. Not long after Cass refused to follow a Ugandan minister’s order that EEC funded spares should be transferreed to Entebbe he was told his life was now in danger. The end had come.

Copies of ‘Gaba Road’ are available from Nairns Newsagent and Gift Shop, Duns, £10, or for £12.99.