Suncolor's Blog

General Amin King of Scots

Posted on: November 4, 2010

Story of an African Dictator
by john otim

The General and the Doctor
The military man he was his targets were carefully chosen. With him everything had a purpose. Once at a military parade in what looked like a stupid act he had his own men proclaim him King of Scotland. In years to come media men would call him the Last King of Scotland. Now he had no means to enforce such claims. But in the eyes of his men this simple act gave him the appearance of a strong and fearless leader. With the General appearance was everything. No one understood the art of propaganda better than he did.

          The move played well in the international media. Suddenly the networks were filled with news and features about him. Pictures of his ebullient face filled the screens and the tabloids. Most were negative but the more negative the reports the more the General prospered. In the eyes of millions in Nigeria and elsewhere across Africa he was the champ, he was the king. Forget Nyerere.

            So now his enemies identified, his mind made, with the lightening speed of a cobra the General strikes. Blow delivered he slides slowly back to his manhole at State House, as though nothing at all had happen. Waiting for him were a bunch of State House beauties, carefully chosen from among the tribes. A habit he invented as army commander before he took power. Now that he was in power it served him perfectly. He had a brother in law in every nook and corner of the country and beyond, his eyes and his ears.

            None of his legendary joviality and affability that had made him a darling of the world press in the days he first took power seemed touched by the atrocities, the cruelties, and the violence he committed as a matter of routine. Openly he flirts with the girls now. Never was there a more perfect prince charming. The girls young and comely as you please thought the world of him. But like a kid with his toys, soon he tired of them and turned instead to a game of poker with his new friend, the dashing young Scottish doctor. As King of Scotland he had to have a Scot for a personal physician.

"Princess Elizabeth of Toro"

Elizabeth of Toro

            Cleverly the Scotsman allows himself defeat in two straight games he could easily have won. The General beams and smiles genially. The doctor gets his rewards but they nearly knock him out. Heavy paws hit on the back, well that was the pat. His authority established the General invites the doctor to make his own pick from among the harem.

            The General was by nature a generous man and he could be magnanimous. Besides he truly liked the doctor. In the doctor’s young and easy company he forgot the torments of state power. He forgot that he was a man scaling fifty rather than going forty. On his part the doctor was thrilled by the nearness to power and the privileges it brought, especially in an economy wrecked by the General himself now plagued with scarcities and shortages of all kinds. How sweet to be young and carefree. Forget the politics. Who cares!

            On the other side of town, a world a way from the trappings of State House, business was winding down for the day at the Goan Institute. Members were driving home after a game of tennis and plenty of booze. A young man steps out into the cold damp night. As he moved along the tree lined residential district of this lakeside town he was hit by a burst of music. The lyrics touched a cord within him. He walked till he was one with the spirit of the song. We’re caught in a trap, can’t get out.

Caught in a trap
From the moment he heard the broadcast Ronald knew he had a story. Ronald was a Dambian Goan [read Ugandan]. In the local parlance that meant he was an East Indian. Dambia is a country in central Africa once ruled by the British. It had a significant affluent and quite visible East Indian minority. But race relations were easy here, even friendly in this temperate and resource rich country, nothing like the Congo or Kenya.

            To end the news here is a summary of the news. His Excellency the General has decided, following a directive from God Almighty that all East Indians will have to leave Dambia.
The General was giving the East Indians, hundreds of thousands of them, little more than a couple of weeks to get cracking and get moving. Ronald or David [read Peter Nazareth], both Dambian Goans, had predicted in a novel he wrote and published a year ago that this was going to happen. The nation will be plunged into calamity. The good life would disappear. But none took him seriously. Nervously people laughed it off. Imagine him thinking such things. This is our land and we love it. Dam it. Too much book does make a man mad. Drink and be merry.

            Dambia was an African country. But life was good in Dambia. People regardless of who they were just wanted to enjoy themselves. No one wanted to think such things. Ronald walked through the deepening darkness, framed only by street lamps and flashes of lights coming from the houses he was passing that were still awake. We’re caught in a trap, can’t get out, because I love you so much more. He marched to the beat of modern pop.

The brutality and the dictatorship
Ronald had a knack for weaving common occurrences into compelling tales. When the burst of music hit him on that cold Dambian night his brains started to work. He pondered now. This great piece of Americana originated among black people. Look how they found themselves, spirited out of Africa, enslaved! Now their sweet sounds were returning to Africa reconfigured. Now in Dambia the music was a galvanizing and unifying force. Young East Indians and young Dambians love it. We’re caught in a trap, can’t get out, because I love you so much more. In ways that they could not yet comprehend the music defined their own situation perfectly. Caught in a trap, can’t get out.

            The music drifted from a house he was passing. The source, a popular late night show aired from the state run radio, The King of rock and roll laying bare his soul in the magic of the African night. Just minutes before the same radio had calmly announced the expulsion. Now it was back to its usual fun time.
But the clouds were darkening and Dambia was entering a period of brutal dictatorship not unlike those centuries ago under Emperor Caligula. Though none knew it, even worse time still lay ahead for Dambia. A few years down the line from now, the makers of The last king of Scotland will turn this epochal misery into a soap opera. People would flock in their numbers to see it. In Kampala, scenes of some of the most gruesome atrocities, and where now they shot the action, the movie became a blockbuster. We’re caught in a trap, can’t get out.

Young ones shouldn’t be afraid
One cool afternoon students from the prestigious local university [read Makerere] had a shock coming their way. At the orders of the General students were forcefully marched and paraded through town. At the city square, where were gathered the press of the world, the General stood before them. All six foot three of him, an impressive black figure in military fatigues, and addressed them. This was his idea. I will demonstrate to the imperialists that my people still love me. It is the truth. Can’t you see?

             The students were uncomprehending. Before the coup these young people were movie stars, virtual heroes in a garden neo-colonial city, adored by city babes. The girls among them were little angels pampered throughout the land. Now their lot was worse than slaves. Was it greed? Was it power? Why should a grown man like the General do such things? We are caught in the grips of an incomprehensible demon. It is a dreadful nightmare.

             Face with common danger, young Dambians and young East Indians responded in the same manner. They felt the same forebodings. In their opposition to tyranny they employed the same idioms and ran the same risks. They felt: we’re caught in a trap, can’t get out. They drowned their sorrows in the sounds of modern pop. Help me if you can I’m feeling down. Help me get my feet back on the ground. The Beatle movie, Help, was again playing in town that week.

Who wrote the story?
Peter Nazareth, the Iowa professor of English wrote the novel, this we know. But which persona in the novel wrote the story? It is a close call. But in the end it was Ronald that wrote the story, the story as told in the novel, The General is up.
Within the close plot of Peter Nazareth’s novel Ronald wrote the story but it could well have been David. David was the man with the eyes for details, he was the analytical mind. Stories gushed out of him like the great river into which the General in real life dumped bodies.

 "River Nile at Kruma Uganda"
so much beauty witness to so much pains

            David and Ronald were never the less two distinct personas. But at times it appeared they were two people rolled into one. Both love music. Both love Dambia, their country and land of birth. Both have good rapport with their black compatriots and are friends with them, a fact which brings them into conflict with older East Indians who loved to stick to the old colonial ways with its racial prejudices. The kind of prejudice the General now himself deploys.

The racial census
The order went out from State House. All persons of East Indian ancestry must turn up and be counted. It was a hostile decree, clearly preparation for the expulsion though none could guess at the time. But they turned up.
Lines of people in the heat of noon, the General turning up just at that moment in his armored jeep, its top rolled back. The people must see him. His motorcade proceeded slowly, menace and mischief written all over his face. He moved slowly so that the world may see that he was not afraid. See that he was free in his country and had no need for Presidential guards. But in fact the land swarmed with all manner of security personnel and undercover agents and the General was among the most guarded men in the world.

             David could have written the story, a compelling follow up to the prophecy contained in Peter Nazareth’s first novel: In a brown mantle, now damningly coming true. But Ronald in fact wrote the second novel, The General is up. Ronald was the information man. He was a dreamer. An exempted man Ronald stayed on after the expulsion. David did not.

            Only Ronald had the chance to complete the story in the form we have it. Only he had that snap shot on Al Kamene, the brain man on hire scorned in the end by the master he championed and helped nurse to power. But did Al in the end write the script for The Last King of Scotland? That scandal hailed by hailed by the world as a masterpiece. Was it Al’s way of getting even? Giles Foden for sure wrote the novel but Al Kamene must have written the script. Of course the script is straight out of the novel.

Ronald in exile
When we meet up with him again through the urbane Lebanese American somewhere in the vast reaches of America, we find Ronald much matured. Ronald is now truly a global man. Of the Diaspora he says simply. They are the same as before, but they are worse than before. Ronald means the ex Dambians now residing mostly in Europe and North America have become part of their new world. Ronald means. There is no place like home. No one has the right to take it away from you.
George Kapa, the young Dambian, could well have written the story. His would be a different story of course. George had a journey to make away from his initial fuzzy response to the General, and the catastrophe that was unfolding. His was a popular response at the time, the kind that helped the General weather the storms, consolidate his grips and stay in power. But George’s story would still be the same story. As a Dambian and a highly placed civil servant he was well positioned. He was a friend of David. They had studied together at the university. And he had completed his journey away from parochialism.

The great cover up
Under David’s presidency at the Institute when the place was still Goan, George had been vice president. Together the two labored to give the Institute a new image that would be national, Dambian and African. They and others like them, mostly young people from across race and ethnic lines, shared a common dream. The sudden appearance of the General was a terrible blow. The international press with the help of Al Kamene at the local university, worked to cover up the enormity of the crimes that had been committed. The people must not be allowed to see their loss. The people must be prevented from regrouping. The Last King of Scotland is in reality a continuation of these maneuvers. It is part of an elaborate trap which in the troubled mind of Ronald the Elvis love lyrics gives expressions to. Caught in a trap, can’t get out.

           The crisis flung all of Dambia into a mess. Out of the mess sprang a new bond between young Dambian Africans and young Dambians of East Indian origins. Both understood and saw the problem in the same way. Both saw the way out in unity and struggle. It is the case of the long and winding road. That leads me to your door. The long and winding road … I have seen that road before.

            At the farewell when the last of the East Indians were leaving, Gorge talked movingly about an intruder who like all intruders is eventually ejected. This was a brave thing to say. This was a new George. David, who was now leaving, spoke calmly. He told a story, about a man who tried to rule without the wishes of the people and appeared at first successful, but only for a while. In the end the wishes of the people were important. Slowly in the minds of the young people, the way out for their country was emerging. But it won’t be easy. New pitfalls will emerge and would have to be overcome.

The men of the new Diaspora
The American was struck by the quality of the man. The man was dark and tall. There was about the man nothing of the cheep imported labor that abounds in America. The man appeared ethereal; such that if you shot at him the bullet might miss entirely. There was an air of confidence even arrogance about the man. He was totally a brain man.

            Here was a man of the new Diaspora that the General or the Last King of Scotland had flung across the world. From this new man out of the new Diaspora, came the sublime response of a non violent man to a world grown incomprehensibly violent.

            As they both walk a way from the dead dog their car had accidentally run over. The sight the American dreaded to see and had wanted to run away from. The American heard him say. No life, however insignificant, should pass away at least without a notice. The American was amazed. Here is a loony, he thought, but not for long.

The General and the Pisi
It is difficult not to contemplate the very last line of the second novel, the line that is said to be a quote. History is sometimes changed by an idiot. It is difficult not to remember the university students that were humiliated through town and then paraded before the international press as supporters of the man that was humiliating them.

            It is difficult not to remember the pisi. The word pisi means cook in Swahili. They think we don’t see. They think we don’t know. Where would the Mugoa [expelled Indians] go? The pisi is the original simple goodness of the human heart, the heart that made possible the human community. The General too, is simplicity, the simplicity of insanity that threatens community.

          Listen to the voice of the General, none but Idi Amin himself, recorded by Nazareth towards the end of the novel. I do not want any politics. I do not want any quarrels. I do not want any useless talk. I do not want criticism. … … No politics. … … As for those people who were only interested in politics where are they?
John otim
suncolor consultancy


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