Idi Amin: Hero or villain?

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IT is not my intention to dignify all figures vilified by Western nations.
However, when evidence that is contrary to the West’s interpretation of historical individuals or events is found, it is our duty and right as Africans to share it.
Ideally, blacks and whites cannot share the same heroes.
Our hero is often an enemy to the West.
Just as in the sport of boxing, one will cheer for his own.
Only blacks, owing to mis-education and Western propaganda, tend to be found cheering or playing for the wrong team.
Rarely do we find whites doing the same.
A good example is Nelson Mandela, who was praised by the whites.
He caused South African blacks, who were on the verge of engaging the settler regime in a fully-fledged liberation war, to disarm and disband.
He chose peace without settling wealth and colonial imbalances.
This is what whites love him for and blacks are expected to do the same.
The vilified among the West include Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, China’s Mao Zedong, Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi; the list goes on.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the list of our leaders who were, and continue to be, vilified by the West is very long.
The likes of DRC’s Patrice Lumumba, Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara and our former leader Comrade Robert Mugabe.
Among the most vilified Africans in the West is Uganda’s Amin.
He has been portrayed by the West as an ugly, bloodthirsty tyrant given to cannibalism.
He is cast as a greedy African leader who hated foreigners to the point of chasing them out of his country and massacring half a million Ugandans.
He is even blamed for the decrease in Uganda’s wildlife.
This is what our generation has been taught, largely through high budget Hollywood films like The last king of Scotland in which Forest Whitaker played the character of Amin.
It turns out the script was fictional and only loosely based on true events.
Yet the most gruesome acts born out of a European mind have been unjustly attached to the legacy of Amin.
An unbiased look into the character and actions of Amin will never place him anywhere near the boogie man image the West tries to make of him.
Amin was a well-educated soldier who initially had good and close relations with the nations of Britain and Israel.
He was not ugly and he almost never frowned.
He was always in a jovial mood and often chuckled when talking.
His English was eloquent and he was very witty and well informed.
Amini was also patriotic and a devout pan-Africanist.
He was principled, disciplined and very courageous.
This earned him respect among his colleagues who looked forward to his speeches during regional and international meetings.
His stay in power from 1971 to 1978, though short, made an impact that put his name and that of Uganda on the world map.
At one point, Amin was called Africa’s most controversial and influential leader.
To fully comprehend the acts of Idi Amin, we have to look at what was happening in Uganda at the time of his rise to presidency.
Uganda, since its independence from Britain in 1962, was under the presidency of Milton Obote.
A decade passed and the nation had not improved.
Businesses were mostly run by foreigners and Ugandans of Asian stock.
The blacks were mostly workers and serfs as was the case in Zimbabwe prior to the Land Reform Programme.
Obote had run the country ineffectively and was infamous for harassing citizens.
In January of 1971, he ordered the arrest of Amin who was a high-ranking soldier.
The tables turned against him.
Amin led a coup and deposed Obote’s regime.
The coup was welcomed by the people and Amin initially said he would put the government back in civilian hands after elections were held.
Eventually, Amin held on to the presidency and began to attend to issues affecting his people.
His main priority was making the indigenous people of Uganda more financially secure and competent in commerce.
To achieve this, Amin had to challenge the existing economic policies and systems.
This would entail stepping on the toes of many foreign stakeholders.
Despite being good friends with the Zionist government, within a year after his ascent to the presidency, he chased away all the Israeli advisors from Uganda.
He had discovered, through study, that their direct participation in the economy would leave the host nation bankrupt and indebted to them.
Idi Amin wanted true independence with blacks participating in key sectors of the economy.
Any allies were to be for resource or technical support and he would not tolerate a master-slave or boss-subordinate relationship that most African countries have with their former colonisers.
He encouraged his people to study and work for themselves and not to accept to be mere serfs in their own country.
There was a strong prejudice against blacks from both whites and Asians; that blacks were lazy or intellectually incompetent.
Amin believed in the nationalisation of the key sectors of the economy.
All these measures were intended to strengthen the Ugandans, but were met with international criticism, particularly from the West.
Amin’s style of economics was identical to that of China and if followed through, it could have been an empowering move for citizens.
Amin was especially hated for his close relationship with Muslims.
He stopped Britain from participating in roles such as financial and military aid.
Instead, he gave this role to Libya under Gaddafi.
The army of Uganda also began receiving artillery supplies from the Soviet Union.
Amin was anti-Zionist and pro-Palestine. He called Zionists criminals and liars who could not be trusted because they did not tell the world the truth.
He said: “Israelis came to Palestine as refugees. By force of arms given to them by Britain and the US, they colonised Palestine.”
He allied himself with the Muslim nations and was engaged in planning ways to liberate the Palestinians.
Also, he believed in the principle of equal rights and justice for all.
The Ugandan leader spoke against oppression and was quoted saying: “London for the Londoners, Scotland for the Scottish, Wales for the Welsh, Uganda for Ugandans, Rhodesia for the Zimbabwean people, not the white minority regime and South Africa and South-west Africa for the black majority. But London can employ any technical expertise from anywhere, but not to dominate the people of England.”
Such was the brilliance of Idi Amin.
Sadly, his vision was ahead of his time.
These measures he prescribed for development caused Libya under Gaddafi to prosper.
He saw that there was great inefficiency in the way government and businesses were run.
He tried to place military officers in nationalised companies and parastatals with the hope of improving efficiency and discipline.
Unfortunately, many of these officers proved inefficient and like politicians, they too became interested in personal gains.
Though deaths resulted during the battles and commotions that were associated with his rule or opposition to his rule, there is no evidence that he was as tyrannical as the West portrays him to be.
He certainly was not a cannibal and was a practicing Muslim who co-lived and worked with Christians.
He began the construction of one of Africa’s largest mosques which was completed in 2008.
Many Ugandans, including Jaffar, his 10th child out of 40 children, have raised red flags to Amin’s overly negative depiction by the West and with good reason.

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