Monday, August 31, 2015


One way or another all dictators are mad. Some in the Neronic manner of Niyazov of Turkmenistan, others in the Macbethian manner of a Hitler or a Stalin. And then there are the Caligulas of the world, who take great delight in evil for the simple reason – insofar as anyone can tell – that they can, they enjoy it, and so they do. Caligula insisted, for example, that his horse Incitatus had his oats mixed with gold flake, appointed him a consul, and had the horse invite important dignitaries to his stable for dinner parties; their wives in the meanwhile providing brothel-service for the Emperor and his guests - though many of these tales may well be legendary rather than historical.

Not so with Idi Amin Dada, or “His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal al-Haji Dr. Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, CBE" as Radio Uganda customarily introduced his Castro-like rants from the microphone, who ruled Uganda from 1971, when he ousted Milton Obote in a coup, until 1979, when he fled to Libya, and then Saudi Arabia, after the failure of a war with Tanzania. Amin was not only the President; he was also Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, of the Army and of Air Staff; having suspended most of the Constitution he was also the unofficial speaker of Parliament, leader of both the government and the opposition, and the head of the State Research Bureau, a body put in place after he disbanded the intelligence services, though what exactly it was researching was not always obvious – the number of ways a man could think of to torture and murder people seems to have been its principal activity, and the Bureau came up with several that certainly never occurred to Caligula or Macbeth, being devoured by crocodiles among them. He also headed the military police, and the wonderfully named Public Safety Unit, whose methodologies for ensuring public safety you can try to work out for yourself, though you will only succeed if you have the sort of demented imagination of an Idi Amin. Included in the list of those removed to ensure public safety were virtually all religious leaders, journalists, artists, senior bureaucrats, judges, lawyers, students and intellectuals, as well of course as those suspected of committing crimes, and that most evil of all human sub-categories, foreigners (mostly people of Asian origin who had come under the British to help build the country, and now fled in droves to Britain). Estimates vary as to how many were disappeared – to use the verb favoured in South America – but not less than 80,000, and probably more like 300,000, though it may even have been as much as 500,000, if you believe Amnesty International, which sadly no one ever does.

My own favourite Amin story is the tale of the Air France passenger plane that was hijacked to Entebbe in 1976 by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, with a little bit of help from two members of the German Baader-Meinhoff gang. Amin went to the airport to “welcome” the 83 Jewish/Israeli hostages who were being held (all but 20 of the remaining 176 non-Jewish/Israeli passengers were quickly flown to safety; the 20 insisted on remaining, including the entire crew), and then flew off to Nairobi for a conference. With help from the Kenyans, Israeli commandos conducted the first ever attempt to refuel a plane in mid-air (the very verb, letadlek, had to be invented for the occasion), but only after they had landed at Entebbe airport, and driven a Rolls Royce identical to Amin’s to the terminal, with a "double" in the front seat in case anyone looked through binoculars to check, flanked in the darkness by rifle-toting soldiers, so that guards genuinely thought Amin had returned early, and the kidnappers were dead and the hostages freed before a shot was fired to prevent them. Two deaths on the Jewish/Israeli side as well. The first was Dora Bloch, an elderly English woman who had fallen ill and been taken to hospital; she was murdered there in retaliation afterwards. The other was the leader of the commandos, one Yoni Netanyu, the elder brother of the current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

After Amin, Obote returned to power, and if he was less eccentric he was no less murderous – somewhere in the region of half a million people were murdered during his Presidency, which ended in 1986. His successor, Yoweri Museveni, who took power in yet another coup (he overthrew Tita Okello, just six months after Okello overthrew Obote), improved matters to some degree, though he also banned multi-party politics (he restored them in 2005).

For some years Uganda was embroiled in a civil war with the Lord’s Resistance Army, a particularly unpleasant gang of barbarians who used child slavery and mass murder as you and I use cups for drinking coffee
: just another everyday utensil. The LRA were kicked out of Uganda in 2006, but simply moved into the Democratic Republic of Congo instead, and Uganda has continued to fight them, in partnership with the DRC. Museveni is still in power today, though his 2011 election victory was probably not authentic, and autocratic tendencies have become more and more evident with each passing year.

Marks for: 0

Marks against: millions, alas, all dead before their time

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
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The Argaman Press

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