PBS has just concluded its series “The Dictator’s Playbook” with an episode on Idi Amin (circa 1923-2003), the murderous buffoon who ruled Uganda from 1971 to ’78. The program might’ve been amusing were it not so chilling — and so prescient.
Amin was famous for telling Queen Elizabeth II not to get her knickers in a twist. He also murdered hundreds of thousands of people. But then, he was always good at the so-called performative aspect of leadership, in which you entertain the mob to distract from the fact that you are doing nothing of value for the people while harming masses of them.
Amin also promulgated an us-against-them mentality, singling out “foreigners” — that is Asian Ugandans who had immigrated to the country — for deportation.
Unfortunately for Uganda, the Asian Ugandans ran many businesses. With those businesses now in the hands of people who had no knowledge and/or experience of them, the economy quickly collapsed and Amin was forced to create a distraction: He invaded neighboring Tanzania, which replied in effect, “What the hell? You invade us. We’re invading you.” Forced to flee the chaos he created, Amin went to Saudi Arabia where he played the “devout Muslim” card and lived out his days.
His life, however, continues to offer a cautionary tale for societies that would be taken in by seeming entertaining types who create crises they cannot solve, demonizing others in the process.
Happy President’s Day.