From Rwanda to Sierra Leone, African countries recovering from tyranny and war are facing an impossible dilemma: to overlook past atrocities for the sake of peace or to seek catharsis through tribunals and truth commissions. Uganda chose the path of forgetting: after Idi Amin’s reign was overthrown, the new government opted for amnesty for his henchmen rather than prolonged conflict. Ugandans tried to bury their history, but reminders of the truth were never far from view. A stray clue to the 1972 disappearance of Eliphaz Laki led his son to a shallow grave—and then to three executioners, among them Amin’s chief of staff. Laki’s discovery resulted in a trial that gave voice to a nation’s past: as lawyers argued, tribes clashed, and Laki pressed for justice, the trial offered Ugandans a promise of the reckoning they had been so long denied. For four years, Andrew Rice followed the trial, crossing Uganda to investigate Amin’s legacy and the limits of reconciliation. At once a mystery, a historical accounting, and a portrait of modern Africa, The Teeth May Smile But the Heart Does Not Forget explores how—and whether—the past can be laid to rest.
Andrew Rice has written about Africa for The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, and The Economist, among other publications. His article "The Book of Wilson," published in The Paris Review, received a Pushcart Prize. He spent several years in Uganda as a fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs and currently lives in Brooklyn.
Eliphaz Laki wasn’t coming home. Duncan knew it. Everybody knew it. But hope was an obstinate emotion. It dug into Duncan like a tick, feeding off the doubts his rational mind couldn’t quite extinguish. There were rumors, thirdhand tales told in hushed voices: His father was in hiding, in exile. He’d been sighted in Tanzania. A rebel army was forming there, across the river to the south.