September 06, 2008

General Idi Amin Dada

A film made in the early seventies followed Idi Amin. The journalist responsible allowed Amin complete control over the message, she added references to Amin's atrocities- but there are only two really. Apart from that this is the film that Amin wanted to make- the way that Amin wanted to present himself to the world. Perhaps the most astonishing thing about it is that this is the way that Amin wanted the world to see him- and that tells you enough about the man- his wounds are visible all the way through the film, his sense of greivance against the British and his complete ignorance of economics and of war. This is a character study- it is not about politics for it is directed by a man who did not understand that he was a vicious tyrant- politics as we have already noted stops at the edge of tyranny. Each tyranny though is governed by the whim and personality of its ruler- the depression of a Tiberius or a Domitian no less than the exuberance of a Nero or Commodus creates a political regime and a particular type of terror.

Amin overrated his own importance in the world- 'the whole worlds are looking at the future of Uganda and General Amin' he says at first- of course the fact is that the world paid attention to Amin as a curiosity but not as a factor within international politics of any significance nor as an ideological bellweather. His third way between Communism and Capitalism was a disaster. But then so much of what Amin says in this film is a fantasy- he tells us that he always speaks the truth to the people which is why he cannot tell us the strength of his army. He rose to power on the back of a military career, influenced by the fact that after the British left, he was lucky enough to be one of the few African commissioned officers in Uganda. He has charisma- he has the ability to make you like him- despite the fact that what he says is bizarre and often unpleasant. That does not make him unique amongst human beings (a quick stroll around the blogging world will show many people whose rancour exceeds their wisdom by a considerable factor)- what made him unique was the power he had to effect his beliefs.

We see a cabinet meeting which lays bare the extent to which Amin had no idea of how to run a country- he sits at the head of a meeting and berates his cabinet ministers for not ensuring that there are more than four female hotel managers and for not controlling the minutiae of the administration. He attacks the foreign minister- significantly the foreign minister was found two weeks later in a river, dead. Amin governs through anger- through noticing something he doesn't like and shouting at the person responsible- assuming that the system is irrelevant to how it is performing. Amin believed that his own fiat could create and destroy. Not merely that, but he believed that when he came across obstacles they must be the result of global conspiracy- the Jews, the Bilderberg, the New World Order- all the paraphenalia of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. All bizarre, all wrong, all used in this case to justify genocide and excuse Hitler, not to mention to drive out the Ugandan Asians. The truly terrifying thing is not that Amin is crazy- several people in the world are crazy- but that noone could stop him in Uganda and no-one could tell him that he was crazy without ending up in a river, naked with a hole through the head.

Ultimately the fact about Amin was that he was driven by resentment and a confused idea that if the world did not work, it must be because of the nefarious conspiracies abroad and incompetence at home. You can see him visibly struggling with the reality of a confusing, complex world and trying to reduce it into his categories of conspiracy and calumny. This psyche became the psyche of a whole country though- Amin immitated the attack he hoped to launch on Isreal, using real tanks and planes. He ranted at cabinet ministers, not friends down a pub, or readers of a blog. He sent insulting joky letters not to insignificant friends but to the President of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere. Amin was mad- but he was in government. Politics in this case became personality and throughout the film one can see that for Amin those two entities are not distinct. That all the science and art applied to politics over the centuries became as nothing in the hands of a man with a gun.

Amin emerges from his own film as the classic tyrant. He is incapable of understanding the virtue of meekness and kindness- incapable of understanding the world as a place of confusion and complication not conspiracy- incapable of acting without cruelty and brutality. What is so interesting is of course he presents us this picture- whilst beleiving it is entirely to his own credit- what that exposes is that tyranny not merely creates great suffering, it destroys the tyrant. The tyrant becomes unable to see what is true and what is false- he makes his own reality and that reality does not map to the reality of the world. The darkness gathers and the shrouds of suspicion haunt the head that wears the crown- the throne is a dangerous place- and as Roman Emperors found the illusions created by power are the first step from the throne to the place of execution. Amin was overthrown within five years- after inflicting great damage upon Uganda, historically one of the richest countries in Africa, after Amin it was one of the poorest.

This is a fascinating film- a fascinating insight into the brutality of tyranny and into the mind of the tyrant. It made me think of that classic British TV drama I Claudius- as directed by Caligula!


Political Umpire said...

Sounds a fascinating film, I will have to look out for it. I was frustrated by The Last King of Scotland as the true parts were so much more interesting than the fictional ones, but the latter dominated. Why not just make a film about Bob Astles?

Gracchi said...

Yeah its a fascinating film- I haven't seen last king of scotland- I just didn't get round to it at the time or since to be honest. But this is well worth seeing and deserves to be better known.