Was Amin’s terror exaggerated?
Posted Tuesday, October 2 2012 at 13:00
Tyranny involves centrally-directed force; anarchy entails decentralised violence. The two processes could reinforce each other.
On the other hand, groups which are dissatisfied with the credentials of a government, and are unwilling to concede its legitimacy, could destabilise society as a whole.
The precise balance between tyranny and anarchy in the Third World as a whole varies from country to country. In Amin’s Uganda, the tyrannical factor was by far the more publicised, partly because of the flamboyant personality of Idi Amin and his capacity to attract international notoriety. But in fact, by 1977 Uganda had become as much a case of sheer decentralised violence as one of purposeful tyranny.
The personalistic approach to the study of Uganda’s recent history has been aggravated by the fascination that Amin commanded in the international mass media - a bizarre symphony of shrieks of pain, sighs of despair and thuds of fatal finality.
A related obstacle in the effort to understand what was going on in Uganda was the problem of assessing the reliability of the news which came out of Amin’s Uganda. One item of news in 1976 illustrated this issue dramatically for this writer.
The soldiers did get out of hand and started beating up students, kicking them, injuring them with rifle butts. But nobody was killed. And apparently no girls were raped, let alone mutilated. In short, there was no ‘massacre’ in the sense of killings.
David Martin probably sincerely believed his story. But his first story was datelined Lusaka in Zambia, and his second came from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. He had never been to Uganda since Amin took over power in 1971.Yet one bad story by a sincere but mistaken British journalist captured the attention of much of the world press.