I'll be glad when he goes, not least because I won't have to write about him any more. But it's been a fine romance. It all began on my parents' verandah in Mbarara, western Uganda. The year was 1990. I had won a creative writing studentship from Cambridge and had ambitions to write a novel about an African dictator. I had invented one called Dipsenza - a very bad man, as George Bush would put it, but he didn't quite work.
Bare feet on the polished floor, I stared out over the rippling green leaves of the banana plantations, my eyes following the road that lead to the Rwandan border. Every evening convoys of lorries took French arms up there, hoping to shore up the government that would undertake the genocide a few years later. Every morning, as my father listened to the BBC Africa service on his Eddystone short-wave, more bad news would slide through the ether.
Africa had seen so many tragedies. How could the half-formed imaginings of a callow Englishman square up to them? It dawned on me that the only way forward was to write about Amin himself. Here was a figure who encompassed tragedy in his own person as well as engendering it. But Amin was not just a figure of tragedy; he was a figure of comedy, too. I would take one of the models for my fictional version of him from the grotesque mixture of these two strains that emerged in Renaissance drama, where the fall of the tyrant was a favourite topic for English playwrights.
I am myself English, by the way. Or half-English, half-Irish. It must be another The Last King of Scotland, written "by the itinerant Scots-African Giles Foden", which is offered on the graduate fiction study course of the University of Missouri, St Louis. No, it was Amin, with his strange affinity with Scotland, who suffered from that particular crisis of identity. And made his fellow countrymen suffer for it, causing the deaths of between 300,000 and half a million.
To understand why, on the cusp of the Ugandan dictator's demise, we have to go back to his birth, which took place in about 1925, in Koboko on the Sudanese border. His father's tribe were Kakwa (a marginal, border people); his mother's were Lugbara, another Sudanic group. Amin's father abandoned him. His mother, reputed by some to have been a witch doctor, became a camp follower in the King's African Rifles.
Amin sold doughnuts by the roadside as a young boy. He later became a Muslim and joined the KAR himself as a private. He would rise, partly thanks to the efforts of certain Scottish officers, to be one of Uganda's first black officers and - over the course of a reign of terror that lasted from 1971 to 1979 - the world 's first colour-TV dictator.
You will hear any number of grim tales about him as news of his death emerges. For one such as myself, who has lived with him in my head so long, 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. "Benevolent but tough," reported British intelligence. "Well-disposed to Britain: perhaps to an extent damaging to him in the African context." 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.
The July after the coup, Britain was preparing for a state visit from Amin. Personality notes were written for the prime minister, Edward Heath. They comment on Amin's size ("he'll need a special bed") and warn of his "muddled political philosophy". They confirm that Amin "clearly attaches great importance to the approval and support of the British government". Surely this could be encouraged by granting his wishes to see the Queen, visit Scotland and bathe in the sea.
The request to visit Scotland goes to the heart of the matter. 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.
In the interim, he still craved recognition from Westminster. He was perplexed that it ceased to be forthcoming, that it did not flow as easily as it had from the Scottish officers who had drunk beer with him and played rugby with him (hitting him on the head with a hammer before matches to get him fired up).
Wanting to be noticed is a natural enough urge. We find it all the time in families and at work. Philosophers have theorised our need for it. In the chapter of his Phenomenology entitled Lordship and Bondage, Hegel writes that human beings exist "only in being acknowledged". All well and good if you are, sad if you are not. But how much more than sad if the fit of pique thrown when recognition is denied puts your country in turmoil for 20 years, causing (in the civil wars which followed his regime) the deaths of millions.
How could such material be the subject of comedy in the hands of a writer? Only when there is a mismatch of perception. "I am the greatest politician in the world. I have shaken the British so much I deserve a degree in philosophy." Like Monsieur Jourdain in Moliere's Bourgeois Gentilhomme, Amin had ideas above his station, seeing himself differently from the way others did. It was this veil between Amin and reality that made him entertaining. But Amin himself called the jokes sometimes. The hardest thing to understand about him is how he could be adroit and a buffoon at the same time.
It was this sense of partially controlled confusion that I tried to convey in my novel. For six years I struggled with Uganda's former boxing champion, getting up at 5.30am and writing before going to work at the Times Literary Supplement, resuming when I got back.
Was Amin mad? "This proves I'm not mad," he said to foreign secretary Jim Callaghan in 1974, introducing him to the hostage, Denis Hills, whom Callaghan had come to rescue. Maybe so, but as Callaghan told me in conversation, once Hills's release was secured, Amin took the soon-to-be British prime minister for a terrifying spin in his jeep through Kampala.
Things got worse. More people were killed, the economic crisis deepened. The prime minister that Callaghan replaced, Harold Wilson, was presented with a plan to assassinate Amin but rejected it.
The dictator survived into exile, to go fishing in Jeddah and drive round in his Chevy Caprice. In time, Amin would become fodder for TV series about dictators, taking his place alongside Bokassa, Pinochet and Stalin. He is also often compared to Saddam Hussein, but it's a fanciful comparison. Amin couldn't even get his own cult of personality together, which Saddam did very efficiently. He was too simple and too brutal even to manage that "brutal simplicity" which the historian Jacob Burckhardt has identified as a characteristic of the modern tyrant.
Another element of the tyrant which was important in writing Last King is his capacity for consumption. For this I used the model of Rabelais' glutton Gargantua. His name is ironically gifted to the book's doctor narrator, Nicholas Garrigan, the thin vessel whom Amin's mythic power overwhelms. Like Gargantua, Amin was a man of gigantic appetites. Once handsome, he swelled to colossal proportions: becoming an animated gullet was another aspect of his tragic fall.
There is also comedy here, though, in the sense that we become comic when we are most mechanical. In Walter Benjamin's One Way Street, Gargantua appears as an automaton at a fair: "In front of a plate he shovels them into his mouth with both hands, alternately lifting his left arm and his right. Each holds a fork on which a dumpling is impaled."
Was Amin simply the puppet of Britain gone out of control? This is what would make him truly tragic. It's not quite that simple. He had some volition, and successive political leaders from different countries tried to manipulate him. In the end it was King Faisal of Saudi Arabia who won, an irrevocable invitation by that monarch (father of the present king) explaining why Amin would spend his final decades in Jeddah.
Before that lucky retirement, Amin was like one of the adult psychopaths described in the work of psychotherapist DW Winnicott and his followers. A "frozen child", he developed a warped attitude to the outside world into which his unstable beginnings and lack of education had jettisoned him ill-prepared. He merged with his environment, losing boundaries to the extent that he believed himself omnipotent, chosen by God, protected by spells. Unable to make proper object relations, he simply broke the object, ordering killed those who opposed him, or whom he thought opposed him.
People describe him as evil. It's a view encouraged by his never-proven cannibalism and well-documented dabbling in ritual magic. Once, writing a murder scene in The Last King of Scotland late at night, I had a feeling of occult presence, a breath of evil at my neck as I tap-tap-tapped away in my Islington flat. It was probably just the breeze. Yet I still feel about the book that Amin's miraculous tongue - those amazing sayings, always falling into farce by missing truth so narrowly - put me under an obligation to him. Never was a novel more dictated.
If he felt the same, he never said so. Yet a few years after the book was published, there was a communication of sorts. A Scottish businessman who worked for the Saudi royal family rang me up and said: "I've got a message for you." It was from Idi, the mysterious caller said. Amin had been read a Swahili transcript of the novel and he had some views. "Too much of it is fiction. And the cover, it makes me look like an overfed monkey!"
· The Last King of Scotland and Giles Foden's most recent novel, Zanzibar, are available in paperback from Faber and Faber. To order either, call the Guardian book service on 0870 066 7979.
The world according to Idi Amin
In communist countries you do not feel free to talk, there is one spy for every three people. Not here. No one is afraid here. It's like Uganda girls. I tell them to be proud, not shy. It's no good taking a girl to bed if she is shy. Do you get my point?
Ugandan women should not carry on with white men. Black men are stronger than whites. This is why white girls run after black men.
To Nixon after cuts in US aid to Uganda
My dear brother, it is quite true that you have enough problems on your plate, and it is surprising you have the zeal to add fresh ones. At this moment you are uncomfortably sandwiched in that uncomfortable affair [Watergate], I ask almighty God to solve your problems. We Ugandans hope that the great United States of America does not continue to use its enormous resources, especially its military might, to destroy human life on earth.
On gender and productivity
Women should not sleep while men are working. Even prostitutes can do some work, reporting subversives.
To Lord Snowdon after his split with Princess Margaret
Your experience will be a lesson to all of us men to be careful not to marry ladies in high positions.
On Middle Eastern affairs
Arab victory in the war with Israel is inevitable and prime minister of Israel Mrs Golda Meir's only recourse is to tuck up her knickers and run away in the direction of New York and Washington.
On security and development
Don't disturb the people of Uganda at night by running about shooting. Uganda is going at supersonic speed and the people must not unnecessarily be made to panic.
Idi Amin's Rule In Uganda Essay
Idi Amin’s Rule in Uganda
A Term Paper by the Critically Acclaimed Researcher; Connor Arndell.
Although Idi Amin promised to end political corruption, and bring stability to Uganda; during his decade long rule, he did neither. Instead, he destroyed the newly independent country’s economy, and drove Uganda into a state of political disarray. While in office, Amin used Uganda’s budget to live a lavish lifestyle, buying expensive foreign cars for his favorite political associates and building an obscenely large mansion for his family. Amin’s promises of peace were merely facades used to cover up the murders of nearly 500,000 Ugandans.
Idi Amin was born in 1925 in northwest Uganda, near a town called Koboko. Amin took after his father, and decided at a young age to become a devout Muslim. During his service in the military, the British colonial officers considered Amin to be uneducated and unintelligent, however there is evidence that Amin received a religious education up to the 5th grade. There is very little known about Amin’s childhood. He claimed that he helped herd goats and that he plowed fields, to help his family earn money. These claims are not widely accepted as the truth, because Amin would often lie about things if he thought he would be able to do so in a way which would contribute to his popularity. Since a good portion of Uganda’s population at the time Amin took power were primarily poor farmers, supporting Amin would appeal to them much more knowing he had had a childhood similar to theirs.
Uganda was ruled by Britain from 1894 to 1962. The British did not take “total control” of Uganda in the way that they did with some of the other African countries. The chiefs of Uganda’s tribes were very interested in maintaining Uganda as a self governing entity, this British agreed to this as long as the chiefs agreed to give up approximately half of their land. The British worked mainly with Uganda’s Buganda tribe, they designated them as the leaders of tribal affairs, and gave them important roles in the government which were not offered to members of other tribes.
Uganda was granted independence from Britain in 1962. Milton Obote, was Uganda’s first prime minister. Obote attended a university on Buganda land, and was therefore far more educated than most Ugandans of that time. After his time at the University he returned to his hometown and began work in politics. He joined Uganda’s National Congress (UNC), and was elected to the legislative council. In order to make a real impact he knew that he had to be where the most important political changes were taking place. He moved to Kampala, Uganda’s capital. The people in Uganda were becoming unhappy with the Buganda-dominated government, and there was dissent between three of the parties which made up the UNC. In 1959 the UNC broke up into three factions, one of which was headed by Obote. The factions clashed for political dominance, and in 1960 Obote had the great idea of joining up...
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