umm Abdillah, Radio Islam Programming – 2014.09.19 | 24 Dhul Qada 1435
Hadrian’s Wall and the Vikings, Macbeth to Angus cattle and Shetland ponies, unicorns, the Greenwich Mean Time time zone, the Lochness Monster, gin and tonic, even being the motherland of golf – all hail Scotland. They even had an African King. They did? In light of the Scottish Referendum seeking independence from the United Kingdom, umm Abdillah recalls the last King of Scotland with similar aspirations.
Idi Amin Dada, or the 'Butcher of Uganda' is possibly the most notorious of all Africa's post-independence dictators. He seized power in a military coup in 1971 and ruled over Uganda for 8 years. Estimates for the number of his opponents who were killed, tortured, or imprisoned vary from 100,000 to half a million. He was ousted in 1979, after which he fled into exile in Saudi Arabia where he died in 2003. He referred to himself as The King of Scotland because of his deep affection for Scottish culture and his respect and sympathy for Scotland's previous struggles against the British. He also granted himself the title "His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.”
Giles Foden, journalist and author of The Last King of Scotland, a 1998 novel on the rise of Ugandan President Idi Amin and his reign as the memoir of a fictional Scottish doctor in Amin's employ writes:
“It's more interesting to speculate about the mental roots of his behaviour. In writing The Last King of Scotland, I realised they were in part the psychological byproduct of his Oedipal relationship with the former colonial power. Idi Amin Dada craved approval from British officials and seemed to have won the prize when they gave tacit approval to the coup of January 1971 which put him in power. Now he could show his lords and masters he was worthy. Concluding that Amin was in need of their help, the Foreign Office recommended the sale of arms to him. “He was one of ours, not likely to kick up about Rhodesia or South Africa, and keen to stem the communist drift of neighbouring states.” However when Britain dropped Amin, his behaviour embarrassing his former sponsor, it was Scotland that provided him with an umbilical link back to the colonial mothership. He could sing Scotland's praises and support its self-determination, while hating and hoping to split the UK.”
Israel and India
In August 1972, Amin declared what he called an "economic war", a set of policies that included the expropriation of properties owned by Asians and Europeans. 80 000 Asians born in Uganda, their ancestors having come to Uganda when the country was still a British colony, owned businesses which formed the backbone of the Ugandan economy. Amin issued a decree ordering the expulsion of the 60 000 Asians who were not Ugandan citizens (most of them held British passports). Amin disastrously expropriated businesses and properties belonging to them and handed them over to his supporters. The businesses were mismanaged, and industries collapsed from lack of maintenance.
“The spectacle of Asian women and young girls being teased, taunted and molested by his (Amin’s) African officers seemed to give him particular pleasure.” – [Idi Amin: Lion of Africa by Manzoor Moghal]
Following the expulsion of Ugandan Asians in 1972, most who were of Indian descent, India severed diplomatic relations with Uganda.
Israel on the other hand, was a long supporter of Idi Amin, supplying him with arms to hoist his butchery. Then, during his years in power, Amin shifted in allegiance from being a pro-Western ruler enjoying considerable Israeli support to “butcher”. It was only after he turned to Gaddafi and the Soviet Union for support that he was termed "racist, erratic and unpredictable, brutal, inept, bellicose, irrational, ridiculous, and militaristic". In fact commentators have long suggested that Amin’s eccentric reputation in the foreign media as an easily parodied buffoon was to diffuse international concerns over his administration of Uganda.
The counter narrative
In a 2010 book, Idi Amin: Lion of Africa, Manzoor Moghal offers a reappraisal of Idi Amin’s time in office. It’s not an outright defence of Amin’s rule, it is rather an attempt to recast the man, and offer a more positive narrative of his politics. He implicitly argues that the majority of stories about Amin are told without context, making it difficult to understand the man and his actions.
When he came into power after having engineered a military coup against Obote, the nemesis of Britain, he was the darling of the West. But when he began to make demands on Britain to discharge its aid commitments to Uganda, the British chose to ridicule him for his ‘buffoonery’. He turned to Libya for his immediate financial needs and Israelis became the first group he forced to leave Uganda. Many have speculated that Idi Amin’s behaviour was either the result of long-term syphilis of the brain or possibly undiagnosed and untreated bipolar disorder. The universal truth is that the UK and US support dictators, brutality and bloodshed of innocents. Gaddafi, King Abdullah, Hosni Mubarak and Assad are just the tip of the iceberg. When Idi Amin took over Uganda in 1971, he was naturally not nostalgic about the country's colonial past, hence his fascination with the history of Scotland, which had rebelled against British rule centuries earlier. Amin even went so far as to create a Scottish band, sending men to learn the bagpipes and having them dress in kilts and Scottish regalia for official events.
As Manzoor writes about his book:
Read it so as not to be comfortable with the depiction of Amin as an unintelligent, blood-thirsty buffoon, rather the context. He had made the mistake of trying to take land from a country (Tanzania) with a bigger and more cohesive military than his own and this was the eventual reason for him having to step down from power and flee. He made scapegoats of the Asians of Uganda, blaming them for all the ills of the country, and ultimately he was uneducated but a deeply cunning and calculating man. He was able to disarm his enemies and then catch them unawares. Though he ran his administration with the help of civil servants it was by his animal instincts that he kept himself in power. Sounds like Julius Malema, - not the last king of Scotland, but of the Argentine, Che ala beret.
Image Credit: Scotland may have decided no, but 1.6 million votes for independence will sure reshape the UK alliance.