Idi Amin died in exile in Saudi Arabia on 16 August 2003 (a day like today).
When we shared an alleged speech Idi Amin reportedly planned to deliver at a sumptuous luncheon hosted by Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain (he was not invited anyway), we got mixed reactions from readers.
Amin allegedly starts his address as “My majesty Mr. Queen Sir, horrible ministers and members of parliament, invented Guests, ladies under gentlemen”.
He continues: “…I wish to invitation you Mr. Queen, to become home to Uganda so that we can also revenge on you…blah blah”.
Readers concluded that these were myths made up to allude to Amin’s lacking education background (Amin joined an Islamic school in Bombo in 1941 and left with only a fourth-grade English-language education) to join the British colonial army.
They, however, pointed out that Amin’s poor command of English did not prevent him from achieving quite enough as third president of Uganda in only 8 years (1971 to 1979).
Amin is known worldwide for mass killings estimated at 400,000 and expulsion of Asians which is believed to have crashed the Ugandan economy.
Yet local industrialist, Christopher Colombus Sembuya of Semble Steel Mills, in his book: ‘The Other Side of Idi Amin’ looks at whether the Uganda government might not after all have a few lessons to learn from a man best known for outlandish barbarism.
After taking power, Amin embarked on a programme to hand the economy over to indigenous Ugandans (unfortunately the economic war backfired) but atleast he never sold his country to the highest bidder.
Writing in Daily Monitor on July 18, 2010, Afande Chama, a die-hard NRM supporter in his article: “Attaining Idi Amin’s greatest achievements of 35 years ago” quotes a one Bert Kagoro, monarchist and opposition supporter, saying Amin was the first to host African heads of state in 1975 with a clear agenda on how to liberate South Africa from apartheid, not for mere recognition.
The Uganda State House website in the section of “past presidents” writes: “Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada… a bulk head figure standing at more than six feet, was no easy President. He shook the world in different ways through his antics and was at one time one of the most ‘feared’ dictators in the world”.
“In between soldiering, he enjoyed different sports activities, including boxing in which he rose to the level of a National Heavy Weight Champion, he tried out athletics as a sprinter and played rugby.”
State House says he released all political prisoners who had been imprisoned by Obote, appointed an all-inclusive cabinet, full of professionals and experts, crashed the economy, caught up with religious extremism and had shifted from being a ‘darling’ of the Western world- UK, to the East, especially Russia, embarked on building his army as one of the best in Africa at the time, with fighter planes MIGs from Russia, tanks among others.
“In 1974, he got an international respite when he held the OAU conference in Kampala. Notable developments at the time included the construction of both Nile Hotel and Nile Mansions to host the conference,” State House writes.
According to Ugandans at Heart, Amin provided morale and financial support to sports: In 1972, John Akii Bua won a 400m hurdles gold medal in the Munich Olympics held in Germany the only Gold Uganda has won at the games history.
The exchange rate of the shilling to the dollar remained steady between 7shs and 7.50shs between 1971 and 1979 and on the black market it was 16shs.
Amin is remembered for the constructing, purchasing and maintaining national assets in foreign lands: Prominent among these was Uganda House in New York, Uganda House in United Kingdom on Trafalgar square and Diplomatic properties in Geneva, Brussels, Nairobi, Mogadishu and coffee marketing board property and storage facilities in Mombasa.
He donated to the construction of Church House, a Church of Uganda project in 1977.
Amin also takes credit for uniting’s once fractious Muslims under the banner of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council and Lira mosque.
He is also credited with the initiative that finally culminated in today’s Islamic University in Uganda at Mbale.
Credit goes to President Idi Amin Dada for the Creation of Uganda’s first and only national flag carrier, the Uganda Airlines Corporation.
Under Amin, Uganda had 65 air force planes. These included L-29 trainers, Twin Otters, MIG-17 and MiG-21, etc.
Early 1970, according to National Housing Statistics, NHCC built flats, marionettes and bungalows in top class residential areas of Bugolobi, Bukoto, Kololo, Nakasero, Wandegeya etc.
Amin expanded the Uganda Railways Corporation and ensured that electricity reached remote areas such as Arua and Kyaggwe.
The textile sector was another area which Amin Dada took special care to nurture and expand his intention was to make Uganda the biggest manufacturer of cloth and other related items in Eastern Africa.
Amin is also remembered for linking Uganda to the rest of the world by putting up earth satellite at Mpoma in Mukono and at Ombaci in his home region of West Nile.
Amin returned the body of Sir Edward Muteesa II for a state funeral with full honors: Muteesa who was Uganda’s first President had died in London on 19th November 1969.
Amin appointed Elizabeth Bagaya as Africa’s first female Foreign Minister in 1972, before Britain and most of Europe had female Foreign Ministers or woman Prime Ministers like Margaret Thatcher.
So what does this have to do with speaking better English?
A radical Senegalese historian, Chiekh Anta Diop quotes Montessequi Rousseau, a French philosopher who asserted that, “unless a conquered people has not lost its language, it can still hope.” (82).
Kihura Nkuba, a Ugandan social critic, says that we must learn our local languages before being awarded degrees for speaking a foreign language.
Ngugi Wa Thiongo says, “…equally important for our cultural renaissance is the teaching and study of African languages…language after all is a carrier of values fashioned by a people over a period of time…that a study of own languages is important for a meaningful self-image is increasingly being realized…increased study of African languages will inevitably make more Africans want to write in their mother tongues and through open new avenues for our creative imagination…”(Homecoming). How then will our all-knowing white experts judge us?
Back at university, I had a friend who did not know anything in his father’s language but was busy attending corresponding Latin, German, French and Spanish lessons. I don’t blame him, the same way I don’t blame myself for my inability to accurately read or write in my mother language.
Chinua Achebe (1975: 61) observes, “The price a world language must be prepared to pay is submission to many kinds of use. The African writer should not aim to use English in a way that its value as a medium of international exchange will be lost. He should aim at fashioning a form of English that is at once universal and able to carry his peculiar experience.”
What does Achebe mean by “universal English”? Perhaps diluting the original language of the coloniser so that we forge our own “Africanized English” through which we can express our views? Maybe, maybe not, since the dilution itself requires sophistication first in that language, the Cyprian Ekwensi way, because you cannot dilute something you have no mastery over.
“Adopting another person’s language means that on the part of the adopter, one ends up getting a diluted version of what the new language offers; never being quite able to master it and internalize the gist of the new language.” (Nkuba: When the African Wakes p84).
Whose fault is it then? Our parents, teachers, curriculum developers and planners? When I was in primary three, our progressive and highly reputed school would not permit any utterances in the mother language. Several punishments were devised for those who spoke vernacular.
We would be made to wear boards, plastic coins or manilas with the words “I am stupid” inscribed upon them. I did not understand what the word “vernacular” meant at that stage but I came to associate it with something evil and abominable. Those who would produce a few ungrammatical phrases or half-sentences were praised and given prizes.
Ngugi Wa Thiongo in his book, Decolonizing the Mind (1990), writes, “…in Kenya, English became more than a language; it was the language and all others had to bow before it in deference…thus children were turned into witch hunters and in the process were being taught the lucrative value of being a traitor to one’s immediate community…English became the main determinant of a child’s progress up the ladder of formal education…English was the official vehicle and the magic formula to colonial elitedom…” As matters stand now, Chinese is soon taking over this legacy!
Local languages were totally abolished. How then would I have mastered my mother tongue? That is why it is difficult for an individual to weigh his/her personality before accurately predicting the neighbors. We come from a conspiratorial background where self-analysis is completely out of the question.
It is always; the whites do it or say it like this or that. We even aspire to speak like them when they never even dream of ever speaking like us. The whole education of the black child is a struggle to indoctrinate and force foreign languages on him/her.
Then culture of course follows when the language has already been mastered. “Afrikan people who dedicated themselves to studying Afrikan languages find it easy to learn and are struck by the apparent similarities.” (Nkuba 83).
At the university still, we reached a point where we were being asked to write oral stories from our cultures in our local languages and translate them to English later. You cannot believe the hubbub that followed as we flocked the Institute of Languages hunting for translators of our own mother tongues!
Ironically, the translators too have their own fix. Nama (1989) discusses the dilemma an African translator always faces “From a nationalistic standpoint, there is a tinge of artistic and cultural betrayal in conveying the experiences of a particular society in the oppressor’s tongue….” (22).
The dilemma an African graduate faces can be clearly explained by Albert Einstein (1934) who believes: The greater part of our knowledge and beliefs has been communicated to us by other people through the medium of a language which others have created.
Without language our mental capacities would be poor indeed, comparable to those of the higher animals; we have, therefore, to admit that we owe our principal advantage over the beasts to the fact of living in human society. The individual, if left alone from birth, would remain primitive and beastlike in his thoughts and feelings to a degree that we can hardly conceive.
“Speaking a language also brings forward the whole question of thinking in another language and seeing the world and reporting it through the eyes of other people.” (Nkuba: 83).
From Einstein’s comments, it appears to me that the African will get to a point of reading about African languages as a history stored in national museums. Where does this leave the African who no longer has a language to call his own? It is only after we have learnt our mother dialects and mastering them fully, that we can go ahead and study foreign ones.
In Peter Abrahams’ Mine Boy (1946), a novel that traces the evils of apartheid policy in South Africa, a white boss, Paddy O’shea, tells his boss boy, Xuma, to “act, think, reason and feel” like a man first and then later as a black man. But have we been given this opportunity?
The moment we are born, our immediate destiny is Kindergarten or Nursery school. There, we are brainwashed and filled with strange ideas that are totally inapplicable to our setting and world. We are forced to read stories about snow and ice, things most of us die without ever practically seeing face to face.
They blur and completely kill our imagination because we cannot think of another world but ice and snow. And since there is no ice and snow to experiment with, then we cannot create. No wonder, at that age, we haven’t mastered the workings of a white man’s language and without that magic language, we cannot write anything.
Our academics have joined the conspiracy. According to Leopold Sedar Senghor, Senegalese poet and president, “…in our languages (ie African languages) the halo that surrounds the words is by nature merely that of sap and blood; French words send out thousands of rays like diamonds…” Our fate is yet to be decided.
We need foreign languages for easy international communication, trade, academic interactions and diplomatic-oriented discussions. Germans learn French, the British learn Russian and vice versa, not as a forced curriculum-driven initiative but as a gesture for easy interaction if not political reasons.
When the black man uses English in works of fiction, is it a curtsey or a prerequisite? This work will first be judged internationally by white critics before being considered worth reading.
Perhaps this explains why African books rarely appear on the syllabus! Like Ndeye Touti in Ousmane Sembene’s God’s Bits of Wood (1960), our curriculum designers also concur with her belief that, “African authors have nothing to teach.”
In a space of 8 years, Amin put Uganda on the world map without going through university education or speaking the English of the BBC.
His son Hussein Lumumba Amin, in a tribute writes: “My late father fought neo-colonialism and foreign exploitation. He tried to help fellow Africans and others who suffered segregation in their own countries. He empowered Ugandans. He built Uganda. He ensured that government services, including hospitals and education institutions, functioned as designed. Teachers, doctors and civil servants promptly paid. Agricultural support with modern equipment for all districts. Acquired advanced telecommunications and modern public transportation assets. Infrastructure was well maintained. Upgrades were implemented. He went to the international arena a proud African, ready to defend Africa, ready to fight Apartheid, ready to kick colonialism from the continent, ready to liberate the suffering and constantly bombed Palestinian people. He protected the country.”
“A country where we now need to work together, live together, and strive together for a brighter future. A country where we shouldn’t allow corruption and bribery to become our gospel. Where the corrupt are considered smart, and the hardworking are called fools. Where irresponsible politicians deceive the people to get to office (or to remain there), then engage in public theft, emptying state coffers dry, and are subsequently protected from prosecution. We need to curtail this shameful, unflattering corruption, plunder and lies behavior in leadership.”
(Adapted from Swallowing a Bitter Pill by Rogers Atukunda)