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The real Idi Amin

By Vision Reporter

Added 4th October 2012 01:53 PM

Thirty three years have passed since he was driven out of Uganda by a mixed force of Tanzanian soldiers and Ugandan exiles and most Ugandans alive today have no recollection of what the country was like under Amin.

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Thirty three years have passed since he was driven out of Uganda by a mixed force of Tanzanian soldiers and Ugandan exiles and most Ugandans alive today have no recollection of what the country was like under Amin.

By Kalungi Kabuye

Thirty three years have passed since he was driven out of Uganda by a mixed force of Tanzanian soldiers and Ugandan exiles and most Ugandans alive today have no recollection of what the country was like under Amin.

Apologists are questioning whether he actually did what he is accused to have done and blaming everybody else for what happened. But the real question is, what kind of man was he? What kind of man, barely able to read and unable to write, but nevertheless rose from abject poverty to rule Uganda for eight years?

In his book, Dungeons of Nakasero (2005), one-time senior manager of the defunct Radio Uganda, Wod Okello Lawoko, recounts meeting Amin for the fi rst time, long before independence.

He also recounts several incidences, which might have warned the whole world what it was in for when he eventually became president. Lawoko was working at the then Radio Uganda and one afternoon Sergeant Major Amin more or less gate-crashed an afternoon gathering at his (Lawoko’s) home. He brought with him beers and whiskey, so the amiable soldier was welcomed.

Later, after several drinks shared in different places around Kampala, Amin brought a young lady he wanted to be given a job at the radio.

Her name was Kay Adora. She got the job and Amin would pick her up in the evenings after work. One time, he invited Adora, her friends and Lawoko to his home, where the first wife, Malyamu, waited on them. For some reason, Adora never came and Amin himself turned up much later.

The next day Adora told Lawoko that Amin had beaten her up badly. She warned Lawoko to stay away from Amin or he would get hurt. Sometime later, Amin stormed Radio Uganda premises, demanding to see his wife, Adora, who was presenting a live programme.

He promptly punched and knocked out the studio manager, who tried to stop him from entering the studio. He burst into the studio, yelling madly and dragged Adora out by the collar to his vehicle and drove away. Lawoko, henceforth, tried to keep his distance from Amin.

Apart from quitting his job, he was very much part of the national fabric of the country, Radio Uganda being the only radio station in the country. Eventually, Lawoko would fall afoul of the country’s only Life President’s paranoia, and end up in the dungeons of the State Research Bureau building in Nakasero.

The book tells of the horrors he witnessed while interred there for over six months, before facing the notorious Military Tribunal on charges of treason. By a strange twist of fate, Lawoko was declared not guilty by the illiterate head of the tribunal, Juma Ali Butabika, and set free.

Although he was re-arrested soon afterwards, he was confi ned in the Fairway Hotel, from where he escaped the night he was supposed to be killed. Twelve of the people facing the same tribunal were executed by fi ring squad and the rest ‘quietly’ disappeared.

This extract based on Lawoko’s book probably shows most of the personality traits of Amin, who ruled Uganda for eight years, but whose lasting infl uence and impact on this country are still being felt. The extract also indicates that Uganda’s third president may have had some kind of a psychopathic disorder.

More specifi cally, ‘grandiosity’, which is often associated with a ‘narcissistic personality disorder’. The Collins dictionary defi nes psychopathic disorder as ‘a persistent disorder or disability of mind, which results in abnormally aggressive or seriously irresponsible conduct on the part of the person concerned’.

Was president Amin mad?

People having this disorder often have tremendous amounts of superficial charm, have a grandiose sense of self-worth, are pathological liars and cunning and manipulative.

To people who knew him personally, Amin was all of those things, and more. He is also described as a bully, extremely insecure and one who never forgot a thing or let it go, and would brutally pay it back whenever he got the chance.

But he was also a genius, as his former health minister Henry Kyemba, was to write in his book, State of Blood (1977). Kyemba (whose elder brother was married to Amin’s first wife sister, thus making them some sort on in-laws, first dealt extensively with Amin during the Belgian Congo civil war, where Obote supported the rebels then fighting the government. The rebels, who were desperate for arms and ammunition, didn’t have money, but plenty of gold and ivory.

Amin, as Obote’s point man, sold the gold and bought them guns. “He was always charming and easy to work with,” Kyemba writes, “but he also displayed a ruthless practicality, individuality and enterprise. I saw the effects of his particular intelligence, which enabled him to snatch any advantage and turn it to his own benefit.”

In 1970, at the height of the tensions between Amin and Obote, the former went to Cairo for a long visit. Obote was determined to outwit him, formally accuse him of the murder of Brigadier Peirino Okoya (who was killed with his wife in Gulu after differences between him and Amin), and have him arrested on his return.

In fact, Obote extended Amin’s stay in Cairo, but he came back to Uganda unannounced and quietly, surprising Obote. As the two continued to play the cat–and–mouse game, Obote, who was relying heavily on the army commander as his (Obote’s) popularity waned after the Buganda crisis, had few cards to play.

Amin had quietly brought in Nubians and men from South Sudan and distributed them throughout the Uganda Army. Obote, on the other hand, depended on the General Services Unit (GSU), headed by his cousin Akena Adoko.

But Amin had also placed some of his men in the GSU and so had superior intelligence. When Obote, during the 1971 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Singapore, eventually decided to arrest Amin, information got to the latter before the arrest could be carried out and he took over power. Amin, the charming but illiterate soldier (apparently no evidence exists of any letter or note written by Amin), had overthrown the smart and intelligent Apollo Milton Obote. Having outwitted Obote, Amin then started consolidating his power.

To him, that meant eliminating anybody who was seen as a threat to that power and position. That was when the other aspects of his personality disorder manifested themselves. First of all, according to Kyemba, Amin was incapable of detailed administrative duties, although he still wanted to run the government himself.

Very often cabinet ministers would learn what they were supposed to do from either newspapers or the radio and never from the cabinet meetings. Some ministers learnt they had been reshuffled or sacked from radio announcements.

Amin’s brutality had already been evident; first when he was stationed in Kenya during the Mau Mau rebellion, but the British chose to ignore that because Amin was a “tremendous chap to have around”. In any case, it was a matter of ‘black-on-black’ atrocities and the British didn’t care, especially since the Mau Mau fighters were also committing all kinds of atrocities themselves.

Then he was said to have massacred several dozen Karimojong when he was sent there in an attempt to stem cattle rustling. The British did not want to prosecute one of the only two black officers in the army (the other was Shaban Opolot) so close to independence.

So, the decision was left to Obote, who chose not to prosecute Amin. When Amin took over power, thekillings were at first restricted to the army. He was determined to get rid of all the Langi and Acholi soldiers. His paranoia made him believe he was not safe until all opponents, then seen mostly as Acholi and Langi, had been eliminated.

He soon gave his soldiers orders to ‘shoot on sight’ anybody they suspected to be about to commit an offence. Kyemba claims to have heard Amin personally order the killing of many people, using such euphemisms as “Give him the ‘VIP’ treatment”, “take him to Malire”, or ‘kalasi’, Nubian for death.

He recounts the story of a Police bandmaster, who had fled to Mombasa, but was told it was safe to return. He was actually welcomed by Amin on his return, but after he left, Amin ordered that he ‘be taken to Malire’, where his head was smashed with a club.

Amin’s full paranoia was released after the botched September, 1972 invasion by Ugandan guerrillas based in Tanzania. Outnumbered and outgunned, they were simply massacred. After that, it was open season for Amin’s killers, and anybody and everybody were targets.

Amin’s grandiosity was to be a recurring aspect of his rule. Many times he would go on radio and announce how he had a dream in which important matters of state were revealed to him.

On August 4, 1972, he announced that God, in a dream the previous night, had told him to expel all Asians out of Ugandan within 90 days. This started the breakdown of Uganda’s economy, which the country did not start to recover from until the 1990s. Kyemba writes that Amin had absolutely no concept of running an economy, and would not be bothered by matters of finance; as long the Government could print money, he was alright.

None of his finance ministers dared to tell him the truth, and he used the Central Bank as his personal checking account. He is said to have loved having pocketfuls of dollars with him, which he would dish out to whoever caught his fancy. Megalomania is another form of grandiosity, except that the person so affected ‘wishes to be powerful rather than charming, and seeks to be feared rather than loved’.

Amin showed great signs of this, especially in the later days of his rule. But, as Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher, mathematician and social critic put it, most of the greatest men in history (and lunatics) were megalomaniacs of one sort or another.

Megalomania is characterised by delusional fantasies of power, relevance, or/and omnipotence. Sounds familiar? Amin thought he would live for ever, and declared himself ‘life president of Uganda’, just like his idol, Adolf Hitler, fantasised about the 1,000 year Reich. And the titles came thick and fast – Life President, Field Marshal, Al Haji, Dr. Idi Amin Dada, VC (Victoria Cross), MC (Military Cross), DSO (Distinguished Service Order) and CBE (Conqueror of the British Empire).

People with psychopathic disorder are often charming, and Amin is said to have had lots of it. His love of women is said to be legendary, and no one knows for sure just how many children he had from his five wives and countless mistresses. Every so often, somebody shows up with a striking resemblance to the late dictator, and it eventually comes out they are Amin’s offspring.

Amin’s first wife was Malyamu Kibedi, a daughter of a primary school headmaster. It was a testament of Amin’s charm that she would go against her family’s wishes and go off with an illiterate soldier from West Nile, with almost no prospects. Even after years of abuse, a public and humiliating divorce and an attempt to kill her, Malyamu still swore by Amin.

Amin was with Malyamu for 14 years before he married her at around the same time he married his second wife, Adora, who warned Lawoko to stay away from the dictator.

But it seemed she could not stay away from him, was divorced at the same time with Malyamu and died a horrible death, with her dismembered body found in the trunk of a car. Amin’s other wives included the dancer Medina, who used to be sneaked into his bedroom after she performed for diplomats and dignitaries; and Sarah, whose boyfriend is supposed to have been killed so Amin could have her.

So, was Amin mad? Like Russell wrote, most great men in history had some madness in them, which drove them to achieve greater heights. Amin never achieved any height to speak of, but rather just drove the country into depths it took decades to recover from. History will probably not judge him positively, but his eight years reign had a disproportionate impact on Uganda.

The Real Idi Amin

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