The eight-year regime of Idi Amin in Uganda will go down in history as one of the 20th-century's horrors that could have been prevented. From Stalin's Russia, Hitler's Germany, Pol Pot's Cambodia, Macias Nguema's Equatorial Guinea, the outside world was excluded, and was therefore relatively impotent and ignorant. That was not true of Uganda. Amin strutted on the world stage: he went to the United Nations, made official visits to West Germany and Israel, was received by the Queen, and was still getting rounds of applause from African crowds as late as September 1978 (at Kenyatta's funeral) and from African heads of state, in the summer of the same year, at the Organisation of African Unity summit in Khartoum. To Britain's disgrace, as George Ivan Smith points out, it will be remembered that Uganda Airlines flights to Stansted, where Amin bought the Western luxury goods that kept his inner circle loyal, went on until 4 March 1979, when the Tanzanian Army was on the point of ousting him. With the honourable exceptions of the Presidents of Tanzania, Zambia and Botswana, the world did not care enough about Amin's butcheries to impose against him an economic blockade and a refusal to buy Ugandan coffee. This would have turned his bought army against him, probably within months. The United States closed its embassy in 1973, Britain in 1976. In neither case was it because of Amin's murderous rule.
LRB 21 August 1980 | PDF Download