UGANDA: Amin:The Wild Man of Africa

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Of all the places of Africa, none so epitomizes the beauty and mystery of the continent as Uganda. The poet's eye —or the camera's—rarely grasps its lyrical magic. Winston Churchill visited Uganda in 1907 and called it "the pearl of Africa." There, Lake Victoria flows northward to form the White Nile, whose waters boil over the majestic Murchison (now Kabalega) Falls at the start of their long journey to the Mediterranean. The Ruwenzori mountain range, better known as the Mountains of the Moon, rise to the southwest, while herds of game roam the green plains and rolling hills. Elysium was never more heavenly or tranquil.

Only one shadow mars this idyllic land: that of Uganda's porcine President-for-Life, Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada, 49, a man of mercurial personality, who in a short six years has caught the world's attention with his unpredictable and often deadly antics. He is killer and clown, big-hearted buffoon and strutting martinet. He can be as playful as a kitten and as lethal as a lion. He stands 6 ft. 4 in. tall and carries a massive bulk of nearly 300 lbs., and within that girth courses the unharnessed ego of a small child, a craze for attention and reverence. Last week Idi Amin was playing to the hilt the role he loves best: he was standing full-glare in the spotlight, forcing a major power into a state of consternation. He had done it before and in all probability would do it again.

Cuban Delegation. This time, the major power was the U.S. At his press conference earlier in the week, Jimmy Carter had declared that recent events in Uganda—the reported murder of Archbishop Janani Luwum and two of Amin's Cabinet ministers—had "disgusted the entire civilized world." Carter added that he supported a British demand that the U.N. should "go into Uganda to assess the horrible murders that apparently are taking place in that country—the persecution of those who have aroused the ire of Mr. Amin."

That sort of statement tends indeed to arouse the ire of Mr. Amin. He had claimed all along that the three men had died accidentally. Now the President of the U.S., a man whom Amin had publicly welcomed into the exalted ranks of world leadership, was accusing Big Daddy of infamous crimes. Furious, Amin decided to strike back in the way he knows best: bullying. Though there are perhaps no more than 200 or so Americans living in Uganda (missionaries, oil company and airline employees), Amin forbade them to leave the country, and sent his soldiers to round them up—together with their "chickens, goats, pigs or any other animals"—and deliver them to the capital city of Kampala on Monday morning of this week (later postponed to Wednesday).

That the Americans would be safe from harm was widely accepted; Amin kills his own countrymen, rarely foreigners. Still, the man's long history of abnormal behavior worried Washington. "Goddammit," said one White House adviser, "why couldn't our first crisis have been a more dignified one?"

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