Wednesday, August 29, 2007

He Made Me Want To Defend Amin

I stumbled upon this...

Like every African dictator, he was confusion's masterpiece
17/08/2003

Idi Amin, who died on Friday, was not an idiosyncratic murderous buffoon but rather a typical representative of the new African elite that came to power in the wake of decolonisation. His antics, that half appalled and half amused the world, were not by any means unique.

He carried within his breast all the confusions and complexes of humiliated colonised people who both admire and hate those who rule them, and who are suddenly translated, through no virtue of their own, to the pinnacle of power.

Amin's ambivalence towards the British was one of the keys to his character. A semi-literate of cunning but little formal education, he was always aware of the condescension of British approval of him while he was a soldier at their command in the King's African Rifles. He was a "good chap": that is to say, he was obedient, reliable, loyal, strong, unconsciously amusing, but - in the word of one of his commanding officers - a bit short on the grey matter. In summary, he fitted the colonial stereotype of Africans in general: physical giants but mental dwarves.

The natural authority of his British officers impressed him, as did their punctilio, and the spit-and-polish organisation of the army. Amin's favoured uniforms were British, and his love of fruit salad on his chest was but a form of mimicry. Mimicry become satire. His problem was that he admired what he could never be. Admiration and resentment co-existing are very dangerous, especially when you are in a position to act out your ambivalence.

Amin's ambiguous relations with Britain and with all things British (even at the height of his dispute with Britain, he was importing British consumer goods by airlift) were not unique. Mobutu of Zaire wanted the love and admiration of the Belgians, and to teach them a lesson they would never forget.


The Emperor Bokassa of the Central African Republic was utterly loyal to France, but provoked it frequently at the same time. A fierce nationalist like Hastings Banda of Malawi, once imprisoned by the British for his anti-colonial activities, ended up looking like a city gent of the old school.

Many of Idi Amin's antics were ascribed to his lack of education. It is certainly true that he was sensitive on this point: when he addressed the students of Makerere University and they laughed at him for the bumpkin that he was, he took a swift revenge. The university, which had until then been one of the leading universities in Africa, was comprehensively destroyed. Amin taught the students to laugh on the other side of their faces and very soon, many of them were dead.

Amin's sensitivity about his level of education was again by no means unique. Macias Nguema, the first (and democratically elected) president of Equatorial Guinea after independence from Spain in 1968, harboured deep doubts about his own educational achievements and intellectual ability.

He had everyone who wore spectacles murdered: for spectacles equalled short sight, and short sight meant intelligence and having read too much. When Samuel Doe, the semi-literate master sergeant, came to power by coup against a semi-colonial Americo-Liberian government, he lost little time in obtaining an honorary doctorate from South Korea in exchange for some timber concessions. Thereafter, he was always known as Dr Doe in the toadying press and other publications, for how could a man with a doctorate truly be illiterate?

It is not true, however, that Amin's bloodthirstiness, incompetence and idiocy were the consequence of his lack of formal education. Africa has had many educated leaders whose effects upon their countries were just as disastrous as Amin's, and who were every bit as brutal.

Amin's expulsion of the Ugandan Asians was only the putting into practice, in a rather literal-minded way, of ideas that were widely accepted by many development economists of the time. Wealth was regarded as the mirror image of poverty: in other words, the rich were rich because the poor were poor. In Uganda, as in East Africa as a whole, the Asians were rich: it followed that they had enriched themselves by exploitation of Africans, whose poverty was dialectically attributable to the Asians.

The solution to the problem of African poverty in Uganda was obvious: get rid of the "blood-sucking" Asians.

So the Asians were expelled. But Amin only did by brutality what his neighbour, the much-adulated but deeply sanctimonious Julius Nyerere, did by stealth, making it impossible for them to continue to live in Tanzania. But his and Amin's idea of the role of intermediaries in the economy was fundamentally the same: they were dishonest profiteers.

The tragedy of Idi Amin goes far deeper than is often allowed. His behaviour was not the product of tertiary syphilis as was sometimes alleged. He was sanguinary. Amin's tragedy, like that of so many Africans, was to have admired a civilisation whose external trappings he strongly desired, but of whose internal workings he had no idea, while at the same time he was partly enclosed in the mental world of a primitive tribalist.

He was a product of multiculturalism, African-style, able to use relatively advanced methods to achieve brutal, primitive ends. Like every African dictator, he was confusion's masterpiece.

Anthony Daniels is the author of Monrovia Mon Amour and has written extensively about Africa for many years

5 comments:

Elle B said...

Amin, to me, was an enigma. Still is. Some one I love to hate. Occasionally, it hits me that he was as human as anybody else but i still wonder.

The 27th Comrade said...

Iwaya, this thing made you want to defend Amin? It made me defend Amin!
Now, finally, everyone is coming to the realisation that I wasn't just being an extremist. Can you imagine this guy has `written extensively about Africa'? This is the shit them Americans are reading, and thinking they know Africa?
Little wonder they come here to teach us democracy and human rights, believing that, in spite of Guantanamo Bay, racism, the Native American Question, the Final Answer (Reserves, the Nigger Question, the Final Answer (lynch 'em, jail 'em, drug 'em, starve 'em), the Iraq bombings, the imperialist mass murders ... all in America, `Africa is still worse off than we are', so they head here to spread the gospel. They read this anti-African propaganda and believe it. They are misplaced.
Behold, Iwaya, I ask yet: Where Is My Continent?

Duksey said...

Funny for all the tales about Amin,i don't hate him.Actually i just realised that i don't really care.
It's rather annoying that American's take in all such stuff as gospel truth and henceforth know Africa

kissyfur said...

And that was his analysis??? with strong racial slurs like that?

cb said...

ur so on fire, iwaya. but u certainly shared this because it's a beauty; i mean in the way the author picks and uses his words.
but my opinion on the issue, i cannot put it better than 27th comrade.