When Boston College defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka was a third-grader in 1991, his parents decided to take him and his brother and sister to Uganda, the country his mother and father fled nearly two decades earlier because of political unrest.
Before leaving Indianapolis for the east African country, Kiwanuka's mother took her children to a candy store and gave each of them $100. "Go buy candy," she told them.
"As a third-grader, that was heaven for me," Kiwanuka said, as he retold the story in August during the preseason ACC news conference. "Then we went home, and she took the candy. I didn't see it again until we got off the plane in Uganda, and she started handing out candy to all these kids. The first thing I thought was, 'That's my candy.' But that all changed when I saw how happy the kids were."
Kiwanuka also learned how important his family is in Uganda. Growing up, Kiwanuka heard stories about the great leader his grandfather, former Ugandan prime minister Benedicto Kiwanuka, was and how he pushed for education, women's rights and higher minimum wages and crop prices for the working class. Kiwanuka also knew his grandfather was brutally tortured and then assassinated by political opponents more than 10 years before he was born.
"From an early age, my parents told me bits and pieces about it," Kiwanuka said this week. "But it took a while for me to realize the magnitude of it all."
After studying law in South Africa and then London, Benedicto Kiwanuka returned to Uganda in 1956 and became a successful attorney in his homeland and was politically active. In 1958, Kiwanuka was elected president general of Uganda's Democratic Party and three years later won the country's general election and became its first prime minister. Under his leadership, the country gained its independence from Britain on Oct. 9, 1962.
But Kiwanuka's party was defeated by an alliance of Uganda People's Congress and Kabaka Yekka in 1964, paving the way for A. Milton Obote to become the country's second president. Obote imprisoned Kiwanuka in 1969, and he remained jailed until Idi Amin overthrew Obote's government two years later.
Amin, hoping to win the popularity of the country's working class and acceptance from the international community, installed Kiwanuka as chief justice of Uganda. But Kiwanuka quickly became a dissident and wouldn't overlook the atrocities committed by Amin's brutal regime.
Amin sent soldiers to Kiwanuka's chambers and arrested him. When foreign governments demanded the judge's release, Amin tried to claim rebels kidnapped Kiwanuka and his troops had rescued him.
Amin tried to force Kiwanuka to sign documents claiming as much, and when the judge refused, Amin told him, "Don't you know I can kill you?"
"I do," Kiwanuka responded, according to the 1996 biography, "Benedicto Kiwanuka: The Man and His Politics," by Albert Bade. "But I can not deceive the world."
Amin's troops tortured and killed Kiwanuka on Sept. 22, 1972. Amin remained in power in Uganda until he was overthrown by Tanzanian forces in 1979. He and his troops were blamed for the deaths of nearly a half-million people.
"My grandfather was a very revered man who changed a lot of people's lives," Mathias Kiwanuka said. "He was a champion for education and women's rights. His death was something that's still hard for my parents to talk about."
Kiwanuka's father, Emmanuel Kiwanuka, fled Uganda shortly after his father was assassinated. His mother, Deodata, the daughter of poor school teachers, arrived in the United States around the same time. Kiwanuka's father was studying to be a priest; his mother was going to be a nun. Instead, they married and raised three children in Indianapolis.
Emmanuel and Deodata Kiwanuka divorced when Mathias was in sixth grade, and he has been estranged from his father since. After the divorce, his mother quit her job as a nurse and started a cleaning business.
After Kiwanuka's father left, the family briefly lived in a hotel before moving into an apartment and then a house. Deodata Kiwanuka often worked 20 hours per day to ensure her children could attend a private Catholic school in Indianapolis. Kiwanuka's sister, Mary, was a graduate student at George Washington and a law student at Catholic University.
Deodata Kiwanuka remarried three years ago and runs a commercial cleaning business with her husband.
"When I make it to the NFL, she's going to take a vacation," Kiwanuka said.
There is little doubt Kiwanuka will be playing in the NFL soon. He might have been a first-round selection in April's NFL draft, but decided to return to Boston College for his senior season. He was named the ACC preseason player of the year and has 31/2 sacks entering tomorrow's game against Virginia at Alumni Stadium. In last week's 38-0 victory over Ball State, Kiwanuka broke the school record with 311/2 career sacks.
"He's really quick off the edge and is a great pass rusher," Virginia Coach Al Groh said. "He's very tall. He's very rangy. He's a little lean and runs way beyond the norm for his position."
Wherever football takes him, Kiwanuka certainly won't forget where he and his family started. A red, yellow and black Ugandan flag has hung in his Boston College dormitory room since he and his sister found it in a store in the District four years ago. On July 4, 2004, Kiwanuka got a five-inch tattoo of the Ugandan presidential seal on his back as a tribute to the grandfather he never met.
"People back in Uganda would just come up and shake my hand, saying, 'I have a tremendous amount of respect for your grandfather,' " Kiwanuka said. "People appreciate honest, genuine individuals. From my standpoint, it motivated me not necessarily to aspire to be a big political figure, but if you can change one person's life that dramatically, so that a couple of decades later people want to shake your grandchild's hand, that's something that is unmatched."