Squeezing it for all it’s worth

Idi Amin and other celebrity accordionists

There still hasn’t been independent confirmation of Idi Amin’s cannibalism, but one of the better-kept secrets of the Last King of Scotland‘s reign of terror was his love of music:

I just play when I feel happy and free after my duties and I have time, sometime I take time to play accordion, well just to refresh myself.

You can find the sound clip from which this quote comes on this intriguing page devoted to celebrity accordionists. Did Amin play duets with Giscard after diplomatic soirées? Did Bokassa provide Giscard with the uranium, diamonds and big-game hunting so desperately needed by the French economy in exchange for accordion lessons? (The question of how someone who enjoyed dining with a man who enjoyed dining on other men ended up framing a constitution ostensibly designed to achieve a more democratic Europe is also one that you may wish to discuss.)

Uganda is a particularly bitter African tragedy. A bureaucratised although illiterate kingdom of a million people when Speke (1862) and Stanley (1875) arrived, it thrived under the British. Post independence, Milton Obote engaged in the tribal-based kleptocracy that was to become the norm, but the systematic slaughter only began when Idi figured that his days were numbered as head of the armed forces and took over. Some progress was made in the late 80s and 90s, but it’s still a deeply dysfunctional state, so here are some more questions:

  • How much sooner would Amin have been kicked out if the Saudis (and the US, and the Brits) hadn’t financed and supplied the slaughterers? Anything to help a fellow-Muslim, said Riyadh, and with oil price-hikes and the Cold War in the air, would it have been possible to have handled things differently?
  • How much lower would UK GDP be if Amin hadn’t driven out the Gujaratis? These were the people who provided the commercial and increasingly the administrative backbone for British rule, and enough survived the maneaters of Tsavo for East African railways to become known as Patel Railways. Socialist Nyerere (his people starved to death) made the same racist miscalculation in Tanzania, but I am told that there is still at least one Gujarati granny in Nairobi who until recently regularly took the BA flight to London with Congolese diamonds hidden in her fanny.
  • What’s going to happen to Nigeria if it doesn’t deliver Charles Taylor to the UN war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone? Why should African states expect to receive development assistance or representation in international fora when, with one marvellous exception a long way south, their politicians continue to make it plain that they regard rampant theft and mass murder as a birthright?

Update 2003/08/17

There’s no reason why the Spanish press should know anything about Africa. After all, the glorious armies of the Catholic monarchs never made it much further than Morocco’s hashish belt, and fact-checking on the internet would be too much like professional journalism. However, La Vanguardia does make at least one striking error this morning. In an editorial on Amin, it pleads for the US and France, who apparently maintain a “concealed and ruthless struggle to consolidate their areas of influence”, to allow the Organisation of African Unity to become “the seed of true independence as opposed to a mere colonial concession”.

My dear provincials, the OAU ceased to exist more than a year ago when, on July 9th, it was replaced by the African Union. The OAU was, in its time, one of the worst symbols of post-colonial (and, bankrolled by Libya, anti-colonial) Africa: despite lobbying from the West, the OAU refused to do anything about Amin, and Tanzania overthrew him in explicit defiance of them. The AU claims to be developing a court of justice that will deal with human rights abuses. However, since its central constitutive act, like that of its predecessor, emphasises the sovereign equality and independence of its member states (and not the individual rights of Africans), it is difficult to see how it will contribute to improving the lives of the grandchildren of the victims of Bokassa and Amin.

update 2003/08/24

There’s a translation by Cinderella Bloggerfeller of an interesting interview by Wojciech Jagielski with Ryszard Kapuscinski here.

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  1. Hi, Cinderella Bloggerfeller, aka J. Cassian, has removed the interview by Jagielski with Kapuscinski from his website and, as a consequnce your link to it is broken. He has however provided the text of his translation of the interview to our Center and permission to post it on our info-poland website where you can find it at the following url http://wings.buffalo.edu/info-poland/classroom/amin.html
    You are invited to substitute it for the currently broken link.

    Sincerely, Peter Gessner, Director
    Polish Academic Information Center at the University at Buffalo

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