According to the news agencies, Idi Amin, a.k.a. "Big Daddy" or, more formally "His Excellency President for Life Field Marshal Al Hadj Doctor Idi Amin Dada, 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" has died on August 15.
Amin's name was synonymous with tyranny during his presidency of Uganda, from 1971-79. Amin's career took him from illiterate national boxing champion to chief of staff, "doctor" to military dictator, mass murderer to chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). In the nearly 25 years since his rule ended, has the behavior of African regimes or outside observers and aid donors changed?
"Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are," the saying goes. Amin's friends included the communist Red Brigades and Palestinian terrorists he aided in their 1976 hijacking of an Air France airliner to Entebbe. The Jewish passengers being held on the plane (who were rescued in the spectacular Israeli raid that ended the hijacking) had been carefully selected: Amin, who publicly praised Hitler for murdering Jews, had become an admirer of the Fuhrer after Israel, which he visited, refused to provide him with modern weapons.
Idi Amin was a declared racist. He confiscated the wealth and expelled from Uganda all Asians, whose crime was being hard working, and Asian. (Neither India nor Pakistan would receive them: it was the United Kingdom that gave them asylum and another chance to use their talents and get rich again.)
But the West's blind eye toward Amin was such that, as the U.S. ambassador to Uganda at the time, Thomas Melady, recently noted, the human rights-oriented administration of future Nobel Peace laureate Jimmy Carter refused to impose even the most minimal sanctions (such as on Ugandan coffee) on Amin's regime. And this was an administration that unhesitatingly penalized Argentina for human rights abuses against educated, middle-class Marxist terrorists.
That Amin was a member of Uganda's small Muslim community allowed him ultimately, after sometime in Libya, to reach safe and comfortable asylum in Saudi Arabia. He was granted asylum, thereby avoiding a trial in his own country for the 100,000 to 300,000 murders committed by his regime, in the name of umma (worldwide Muslim community) solidarity. Reporters describe the Saudi-funded exile's life in Jeddah as one of a comfortable suburban home, driving Cadillacs, BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes, lunching at the Meridien, having tea at the Sofitel, and swimming and taking massages at the Intercontinental..
The UN (which, interestingly, has been less vocal about Amin than it has been about Milosevic or Mladic), and the human rights NGOs were all disturbingly mute about Amin's comfortable asylum. Because Amin has enjoyed exile as a Muslim, the world must tolerate it, fearful as the West is of holding Muslims to the same human rights standard as others are held to.
Indeed, while 1979 was a bad year for African dictators-cannibalistic Jean Bedel Bokassa, the "Emperor" of Central Africa, was overthrown by his erstwhile French protectors; sadistic Macias Nguema of Equatorial Guinea was shot by a Moroccan squad (locals did not believe he could be killed, considering his voodoo talents)-Amin at least survived, no matter how many of his countrymen he fed to the crocodiles. Interesting for those who still believe, or claim to believe, in "international law," Bokassa, a recent convert to Islam, was removed by a perfectly illegal French Foreign Legion intervention; Moroccans tied up Equatorial Guinea after Nguema, and it was an illegal Tanzanian invasion that liberated Uganda from Amin.
After becoming chairman of the OAU in 1975, Amin was able to use that platform to rant about Israeli "racism" and other causes. At the time Amin became chairman, chairmanship of the OAU--which has since been renamed the African Union (AU)--was a matter of rotation. The chairman's values were assumed to be "African" because he was president of a member state. The Libyan-backed AU does not seem troubled by its history of glorifying mass murderers such as Amin, Bokassa, or Nguema. Old habits are hard to break, and the AU continues to preclude discussion of this by labeling it "racism" to question Africa or an African leader.
"African solidarity," a racialist term if ever there was one, remains the AU's approach to the rest of the world. Amin may have been a criminal, but non-Africans have no right to say so. The same AU nations that judge other nations' pasts harshly (Europeans, for instance, were "slave-owning criminals") is mute about Amin (and Bokassa, Nguema. etc.). But that was in the past, some would say - wrongly. Today Amin's successors, Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Taylor in Liberia, are still protected by their African colleagues. Mugabe is still in power (and harboring fellow murderer and former Ethiopian version of Stalin, Mengistu Haile Mariam) and still ruining what was once one of Africa's prosperous countries, simply because South Africa does not want him out. Nigeria, which vies with South Africa for African leadership, has long allowed Taylor to stay in power and create havoc throughout the region, and now has given him asylum - despite his indictment by a UN court in Sierra Leone.
And then there is Central Africa, a bloody mess the size of Western Europe. In 1994 the majority Hutus in Rwanda murdered at least half a million Tutsis, in a mass frenzy of genocidal proportions. What did "Africa" and its Western supporters , or enablers, do? Blame the West for not stopping Africans from butchering Africans, and have the UN establish a court to try the perpetrators. That court, in Tanzania, has managed to convict 15 persons in seven years at the cost of sixty million dollars…Meanwhile in neighboring Burundi the Hutus are trying hard to come to power - with the potential of a Rwanda repeat.
As for the Democratic Republic of Congo (!!!) , the continent's second largest "country", it is a huge sore on the map, robbed blind by "friends" like Angola and Zimbabwe, with large areas under Ugandan or Rwandan control, a political fiction but a much too real tragedy. After Mugabe and the Angolans stole enough and left (just as the Nigerians did in Liberia a few years back), it was left to…the French to establish temporary order in a small region.
Collapse in Sierra Leone ? Call the British. Collapse in Côte d'Ivoire? Call the French. Collapse in Liberia? Call the Marines. Where is the African Union, so aggressive in condemning colonialism and slavery (but only the European part in it) and demanding universal respect and "a voice" in world affairs? Well, the AU did take a position on Zimbabwe - it elected Mugabe as one of its vice presidents.
There are, of course, notable and decent exceptions - Senegal, Botswana and… Senegal and Botswana. Uganda itself has recovered from Amin's reign of destruction and is now doing better than most. But all in all it does not seem that "Africa", or at least its self - proclaimed spokesmen have internalized the lessons of Idi Amin's rule. He may be dying but the evil he represented still haunts the continent.