Thursday, November 04, 2010

'Other Truths'

This is going to be a long one! 

A few books I would like to read (or reread)-

  •  The Mustard Seed by Yoweri Kaguta Museveni 

  • Uganda's Revolution 1979-1986: How I Saw It by Pecos Kutesa

  • Museveni's Uganda: Paradoxes of Power in a Hybrid Regime by Aili Mari Tripp

  • The Rise of Fall of Idi Amin from the Pages of DRUM Magazine

  • State of Blood: The Inside Story of Idi Amin by Henry Kyemba

  • On Uganda's Terms: A Journal by an American Nurse-Midwife Working for Change in Uganda, East Africa During Idi Amin's Regime  by Mary M. Hale

  • Uganda Since Independence: A Story of Unfulfilled Hopes by Phares Mukasa Mutibwa

  • Kakungulu & Creation Of Uganda: 1868-1928 by Michael Twaddle

The truth? No one owns the truth. 

Idi Amin's legacy is much contested

Obviously nothing is ever what it seems, in Uganda more so than most places, where politics and life intersect so closely. You may pretend your life is not affected or touched by the political goings on but you would only be pretending to yourself. It is crucial to have a grasp of Uganda’s politics and its political past to have any sense of what Ugandans are about. 

You don’t even have to hark back so far, to centuries before 20th, to before the ‘white man’ crossed the Nile but the ‘swarthy Arab’ was already here. You need only consider how we looked at the 1971-1979 era of Uganda’s history in 1990 and how it is viewed now. In 1990, you would have found very few Ugandans who dared express anything other than horrified contempt for the 1971-1979 era when Idi Amin was at the helm, ‘that mad man, the butcher comedian of Africa’ being some of the ‘kinder’ descriptions of what his reign wrought. 

Today, in 2010, there has been a steady periscope change of view of President Idi Amin, his government and his reign. Not only has he got apologists, questions have even began to be asked if he and his government killed as many Ugandans as the ‘victor-historians’ had all along wanted us to believe. Was the State Research Bureau really such a bumbling organisation of incompetents and yet simultaneously such an efficient terror network for all Amin opponents? We begin to hear ‘stories’ of how that once dreaded organisation was not really run by ‘illiterate Kakwa’ but that it has hundreds of Rwandese nationals and ‘Ugandan westerners’ in some prominent policy positions in it. 

The turn-around in how the Ugandan on the street is beginning to view the first 50 years of ‘Ugandan nationhood’ is breathtaking. Now we know ‘our history’ is not exactly what we were always led to believe. 

It reminds me of how there is always another truth, the other side of the story that sometimes is obscured, but stubbornly refuses to be hidden, and if you look, and wait, it will rear itself. Bringing all sorts of contradictions that refuse to fit in a previously neat symmetry. 

Like the famed 1963 March on Washington where American Civil Rights Dr. Martin Luther King made his ‘I Have a Dream Speech.’ For the longest time I viewed I thought of it as one of the proudest moments of the black civil rights struggle in the USA, that speech an alternative declaration of independence from the shackles of an old racist segregated USA. 

Until I stumbled upon another view by that malcontent Malcolm X in his autobiography compellingly penned by Alex Haley... 

                                                                  ....Page 385....

...Not long ago, the black man in America was fed a dose of another form of the weakening, lulling and deluding effects of so called ‘integration’. It was the ‘Farce on Washington’, I call it. 

The idea of a mass of blacks marching on Washington was originally the brainchild of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters A. Philip Randolph. For twenty or more years the March on Washington idea had floated around among Negroes. And, spontaneously, suddenly now, that idea caught on. 

Overcalled rural Southern Negroes, small town Negroes, Northern ghetto Negroes, even thousands of previously Uncle Tom Negroes began talking ‘March!’ 

Nothing since Joe Louis had so coalesced the masses of Negroes. Groups of Negroes were talking of getting to Washington anyway they could- in rickety old cars, on buses, hitch-hiking,-walking, even, if they had to. They envisioned thousands of black brothers converging together upon Washington-to lie down in the streets, on airport runways, on government lawns-demanding of the Congress and the White House some concrete civil rights action. 

This was a national bitterness; militant, unorganised and leaderless. Predominantly, it was young Negroes, defiant of whatever consequences, sick and tired of the black man’s neck under the white man’s heel. 

The white man had plenty of good reasons for nervous worry. The right spark-some unpredictable emotional chemistry-could set off a black uprising. The government knew that thousands of milling, angry blacks not only could completely disrupt Washington-but they could erupt in Washington. 

The White House speedily invited in the major civil rights Negro ‘leaders’. They were asked to stop the planned March. They truthfully said they hadn’t begun it, they had no control over it-the idea was national, spontaneous, unorganised, and leaderless. In other words, it was a black powder keg. 

Any student of how ‘integration’ can weaken the black man’s movement was about to observe a master lesson. 

The White House, with a fanfare of international publicity, ‘approved’, and ‘welcomed’ a March on Washington. The big civil rights organisation right at this time had been squabbling about donations. The New York Times had broken the story.  The N.A.A.C.P had charged that other agencies’ demonstrations, highly publicized, had attracted a major part of the civil rights donations-while the N.A.A.C.P got left holding the bag, supplying costly bail and legal talent for the other organisations’ jailed demonstrators. 

It was like a movie. The next scene was the ‘big six’ civil rights Negro ‘leaders’ meeting in New York City with the white head of a big philanthropic agency. They were told that their money wrangling in public was damaging their image. And a reported $800,000 was donated to a United Civil Rights Leadership council that was quickly organised by the ‘big six.’ 

Now, what had instantly achieved black unity? The white man’s money. What string was attached to the money? Advice. Not only was there this donation, but another comparable sum was promised, for sometime later on, after the March...obviously if it all went all. 

That original ‘angry’ March on Washington was now about to be entirely changed. 

Massive international publicity projected the ‘big six’ as March on Washington leaders. It was news to those angry grass-roots Negroes steadily adding steam to their March plans. They probably assumed that now those famous ‘leaders’ were endorsing and joining them. 

Invited next to join the March were four famous white public figures: one Catholic, one Jew, one Protestant, and one labor boss. 

The massive publicity now gently hinted that the ‘big ten’ would ‘supervise’ the March on Washington’s ‘mood’, and its ‘direction.’ 

The four white figures began nodding. The word spread fast among so called ‘liberal’ Catholics, Jews, Protestants and labourites: it was ‘democratic’ to join this black March. And suddenly, the previously March-nervous whites began announcing they were going. 

It was as if electric current shot through the ranks of bourgeois Negroes- the so called ‘middle-class’ and ‘upper-class’ who had earlier been deploring the March on Washington talk by grass-roots Negroes. 

But white people, now, were going to march. 

Why, some downtrodden, jobless, hungry Negro might have gotten trampled. Those ‘integration’ mad Negroes practically ran over each other trying to find out where to sign up. The ‘angry blacks’ March suddenly had been made chic. Suddenly it had a Kentucky Derby image. For the status-seeker, it was a status symbol. ‘Were you there?’ You can hear that right today.

It had become an outing, a picnic. 

The morning of the March, any rickety carloads of angry, dusty, sweating small-town Negroes would have gotten lost among the chartered jet-planes, railroad cars, and air conditioned buses. What originally was planned to be an angry riptide, one English newspaper aptly described now as ‘the gentle flood.’ 

Talk about ‘integrated’! It was like salt and pepper. And, by now, there wasn’t a single logistics aspect uncontrolled. 

The marchers had been instructed to bring no signs-signs were provided. They had been told to sing one song: ‘We shall Overcome.’ They had been told how to arrive, when, where to arrive, where to assemble, when to start marching, the route to march. First-aid stations were strategically located-even where to faint

Yes, I was there. I observed that circus. Who ever heard of angry revolutionists all harmonizing ‘We Shall Overcome...Suuum Day...’ while tripping and swaying along arm-in-arm with the very people they were supposed to be angrily revolting against? Who ever heard of angry revolutionists swinging their bare feet together with their oppressor in lilypad park pools, with gospels and guitars and ‘I Have a Dream’ speeches? 

These ‘angry revolutionists’ even followed their final instructions: to leave early. With all those thousands upon thousands of ‘angry revolutionists’, so few stayed over that the next morning the Washington hotel association reported a costly loss in empty rooms. 

Hollywood couldn’t have topped it. 

....the very fact that millions, black and white, believed in this monumental farce is another example of how much this country goes in for the surface glossing over, the escape ruse, surfaces, instead of truly dealing with its deep-rooted problems...."

                              -----Passage from The Autobiography of Malcolm X Ends------

After writing this post, it suddenly occurred to me that not only is Idi Amin's legacy much contested, no Ugandan President evokes as much emotion as he does. Coming second would probably be President Milton Obote and then President Yoweri Museveni. Rather surprisingly (really?) of all former Ugandan Presidents, it is Idi Amin's children who seem to have turned out prolifically literary-attempting to write down their side of the story, as they saw historical events unfold.


Edward Echwalu said...

Deep deep deep. Well, i got interested in Amin after reading this post. Just like always, Amin's history is one of contention. The good/bad, everybody has a side to this man.

Iwaya said...

If you ever get a chance, listen to clips of Idi Amin speaking, he was far from the buffoon we grew up being taught he was. As he a good man/president, the jury is still out on that...

petesmama said...

Hmmm... much food for thought. A good one, Iwaya.

Iwaya said...

Thanks, Petesmama! Glad to know you were here.

normzo said...

You should also read "Amin Dada- The Other Side"- By Sembuya. forget his other name, but one of the guys behind the defunct Sembule Mills