Wednesday, June 27, 2007


As Uganda celebrates Heroe's Day today, let me tell you something. I've passionately read everything I've come across on former Ugandan leader Idi Amin Dada, and have perhaps watched every movie there is about him. And I've been repulsed and fascinated by all.In one of the films I watched as a young boy, I'll never forget that giant of a man feeding on raw human flesh. And in The Last King of Scotland, I grimace every time I think of Dr. Galligan's haunting screams as heavy metal hooks are pushed through his chest as Amin watches.These scenes paint a gruesome Amin as he has been presented over time. He's said to have employed barbaric means to hound his enemies. By the time he fled to exile in 1979, he allegedly had killed 3,000,000 people and fed their bodies to crocodiles. These figures have since been strongly disputed.But the worst accusation remains the 1977 assassination of the then Archbishop of the Church of Uganda Jonan Luwum. Apparently, he had refused to sign a document confessing the church's plot to dethrone the miltary leader. Amin himself, it is alleged, fired seven bullets into Luwum's hapless body using his American cowboy revolver.Tellingly, there are few works of literature that project Amin as an honest and hardworking man who defied the odds to become the "Lord of the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea and conqueror of the British Empire in general and Uganda in particular".Few seem to want to emphasize that the Kakwa boy had little in formal education because he was born in poverty. That he was happy working in a sugarcane plantation until he was forced into the army and served in the Kings African Rifles, a British colonial regiment, where he rose to become Effendi, the highest possible rank for an African.For his outstanding performance and integrity, he was promoted to Army Chief of Staff by Milton Obote. And when he seized power, he encouraged Ugandans to work with determination. Uganda was praised for having more women managers than no other African country.He wanted Africa for Africans. His telegram to Kenyan founding President Jomo Kenyatta (1973) in which he acknowledged that "until the economic control of newly independent states is achieved by its rightful citizens, political independence can be rendered meaningless by neo-colonialist machinations", is testimony to this.Many army officers early in his career were Scottish. He performed in the Highlanders band in the 1950s and loved Scottish military music. This has something to do why he was called "The Last King of Scotland" (someone educate me).He called Richard Nixon "my dear brother" and wished him well during the Watergate scandal. He sent a telegram to Julius Nyerere that said, "I want to assure you that I love you very much, that if you were a woman I would have considered marrying you". Long after his death (2003), Uganda continues to reap big from his friendship with Libyan leader Muammad Gaddafi.Further, he gave full economic independence to the people of Uganda after expelling 80.000 Asians. His attempted Islamisation of the country was aimed at uniting a citizenry that are known to tear each other on religious grounds.Without doubt, Amin was larger than life. Uganda enjoyed sporting glory in his time. "Big Daddy", as he was fondly known, was himself an envied rally driver, swimmer, basketball player, wrestler and a boxer who advised national boxers to "do everything possible to win by a knockout" to avoid being cheated in the ring.The documentary, General Idi Amin: A Self Portrait (1974), shows him as a true revolutionary who wanted to unite Arabs and Asians and the world. His dream was to see African Americans ruling America because they wereforcefully taken there. He wanted Swahili, French and Arabic as the languages of the world.He was brutally honest: "Spy is a criminal. To be spy is very bad. And your case is death," he once told his cabinet. "Your duty is not to be very weak. If I see a minister is a coward I kick him out completely. This I must completely make clear. A minister is a person who can make decisions completely not to wait for Gen. Amin."Jolly, he was. He played his accordion and bopped to Kakwa traditional music like everybody. He loved his wives, children and nature. He used to visit Kabalega Falls National Park to have good times with crocodiles, elephants and hippos. Reflect: would Amin have thought of giving part of the national forest to investors to plant sugarcane?Although he has been put in the same league with Adolf Hilter as one of the most evil leaders of out time, I feel he possessed some very good attributes for which he must be remembered, on Heroes Day today.

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