Why Idi Amin went but also stayed

Tuesday April 13 2021
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Author, Nicholas Sengoba. PHOTO/FILE

By Nicholas Sengoba

Forty-two years and two days ago, on the  April 11, 1979, Uganda’s third President,  Idi Amin Dada, was ousted after eight long years in power.

It was a year-long effort by the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF;) a combination of Ugandan armed groups with the backing of the Tanzanian People’s Defence Forces (TPDF) that helped write that note in history.

The story of Amin in various forms of fact, fiction, embellishment and reality all points to one thing; a clueless, uncultured, murderous military man who rose to power by some accident of fate and then lorded it over a people, destroying a country physically and emotionally.

The trouble with this storyline, whatever the veracity, is that it shields a very important aspect of the post-colonial state and how it turned out to be a failed endeavour.

Amin and many other leaders were not accidents. They were a deliberate ploy by the colonialists to help create an environment in which the true motives of colonialism would be achieved -but with the help of the natives.

The Amins were in a sense to act as their ‘envoys.’

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Whatever the stated motives of colonialism (Christianity, commerce and civilization,) put plainly, the ulterior motive of the whole project was similar to that of the devil in the Bible  “the thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy…” (John 10:10)

Grab their land, steal minerals and other natural resources. Kill those who resist and defy bad leadership. Destroy their cultures and way of life so that you rule them regardless

When holding colonies run through the use of governors and other colonial officials appointed in Europe became untenable, because of agitation, especially after World War II, colonialists did not give up on the colonies.

They simply came up with a different strategy to achieve the same motive of stealing, killing and destroying. In modern business speak they resorted to rebranding, downsizing and outsourcing to help cut costs and make the colonial project more manageable and effective by proxy.

To achieve this, they had to carefully head hunt and hand pick the personnel who would in time take over the reins –and perpetuate killing, stealing and destroying. People who had the capacity to be brutal like Amin were prepared, promoted and not punished whenever they were out of line.

The British in Uganda’s case knew very well that the contraption they had put together as the ‘State of Uganda’ was an accident waiting to happen. The reason being that it was a motley collection of independent nations forced together against their will.

Its creation was for the convenience of the colonialist for ease of management and exploitation. It emphasised more on physically putting all the peoples together without paying attention to pinpoint or encourage what would bind them. You ended up with powerful individuals but with a weak state at the centre. When the different nations in Uganda, especially the Baganda felt they were being suffocated in the country called Uganda, in came the 1966 crisis.

What the British had kept as their secret weapon to perpetuate colonialism began to unravel. It came in the form of a military ruler who would force himself on the people against their will or one who had the backing of the military.   Because he did not have legitimacy he would be supported by the British and if he fell out of line in as far as the British interests were concerned he would be replaced by a compliant one. That is how the late Apollo Milton Obote the second President of Uganda overtook Sir Edward Muteesa and then gave way to Amin. Amin had to initially depend on the support of the British who later supported the UNLF and other forces to sabotage and eventually remove him when they realized he was after conquering the British Empire.

The most important aspect here is that like it was in the colonial times, the duty of Amin and all those who came after him (to date,) is that they had to look out and take care of British (Western) interest in order to rule peacefully.  Today you may have to include the interests of the rising Chinese dragon. The longer the stay, the more compliant and vice versa.

The brutal story of Amin overshadows this fact and blurs the significance of colonialism, especially the aspect that for all intents and purposed it never ended in substance. It just changed in form. That is why our economies are governed by policies from the West plus China and for the interests before ours.

Also the part where the ruler of the independent state visits brutality against his people is still alive like it was with Idi Amin.  The Amins of Africa were kicked out of power, went to exile, died there and were buried. But their spirits are alive and kicking because the gods of colonialism that brought them into the life of African politics are still living.

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues

Twitter: @nsengoba

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