UGANDA: Amin:The Wild Man of Africa

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Uganda, in short, would be stone broke if it did not receive occasional Arab aid. The currency notes, all of which bear Amin's bejowled and bemedaled portrait, have always been worthless outside the country and now count for nothing inside because people do not want them. Instead, they would rather have scarce butter or a slab of meat or a bottle of waragi, a potent, banana-base liquor. Money is worthless because there is so little to buy with it. The rare visitor from Kenya who brings in Kenya currency, and risks arrest or worse in so doing, can get five shillings for one, even though the two shilling currencies remain officially on a par.

But what worries Ugandans more than economic chaos is the post-midnight knock on the door or the tap on the shoulder in broad daylight. It can come from any of three organizations, and it is hard to say which one is the worst.

Goon Squad. Perhaps the best that one can expect is to be picked up by the Public Safety Unit (P.S.U.), which is charged with tracking down ordinary criminals. This strong-arm squad usually drags the victim off to Makindye prison and beats him blue around the genitals, then extorts money or property before letting him go. The power of the paramilitary agents is theoretically limited, but Amin pays little attention to their behavior, so they are free to beat, extort and even kill.

A second source of mistreatment is the army, usually a bunch of freebooters who roam at will, breaking into houses, looting the contents, and, depending on the degree of their drunkenness and ugliness of mood, either let it go at that or work over the occupants with rifle butts or bayonets. Again, theoretically there should be restraints on this freelance terrorizing, but in practice there is not.

The worst fate is to be taken in by Amin's personal goon squad, the oddly named State Research Bureau (S.R.B.), a sadistic crew of sports-shirted killers who wear dark glasses even at night and seem to have carte blanche to kill. They will flag down a car in broad daylight in downtown Kampala and drag the terrified driver out and lock him in the car trunk, then drive the car away, all in full view of passive onlookers who know better than to protest or intervene. Not a single person bundled off in this manner has ever been seen alive again. A day or two later, the body, badly bloated and mutilated by fish and crocodiles, turns up floating in the Nile or Lake Victoria. Some of the corpses are dragged up on shore by hyenas and further savaged.

The prevailing sense of horror is perhaps best described by the apocryphal tale of a freezer in Amin's house that contains the heads of his most distinguished victims, including the former Chief Justice; from time to time, the story goes, Amin walks over to the freezer to lecture his frozen audience about the evils of their ways. A former Amin aide who escaped to Kenya last year described Ugandan life to TIME Correspondent William McWhirter last week: "You are walking, and any creature making a step on the dry grass behind you might be an Amin man. Whenever you hear a car speeding down the street, you think it might suddenly come to a stop—for you. I finally fled, not because I was in trouble or because of anything I did, but out of sheer fear. People disappear. When they disappear, it means they are dead.

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