Forty years after Idi Amin Dada’s bloody regime came to an end, Ugandans are divided over how to view their former leader. For older Ugandans, the president’s eight years at the helm evokes nothing but bitter memories of terror, torture and massacres. But many younger Ugandans associate him with more positive qualities, such as that of a builder, a nationalist and a separatist. Our reporters went to Uganda to trace Amin’s footsteps.
When we first began filming this report on the Idi Amin Dada years in Uganda (1971-1979), we expected to hear damning accounts of the brutality that marked the despot’s time in power. But to our surprise, it turned out that only the eldest Ugandans, those who lived through that era of dictatorship – whether they played an active role or were collateral victims – regretted the instability and massacres.
So has it only taken 40 years for Ugandans to forget the 300,000 deaths attributed to Amin’s rule? To overlook the fact that atrocities committed by his men were their daily lot, that people lived in fear, that Ugandans could be kidnapped and tortured to death to confess to a crime they did not commit?
World’s second-youngest country
With 80 percent of its population under the age of 30, Uganda is now the second-youngest country in the world in terms of population age. Few remember the Amin years. The youngest have only ever known the current president, Yoweri Museveni, in power since 1986. Uganda is currently enjoying the longest period of political stability since independence in 1962 and has high hopes for its future oil production. But millions of young people are still looking for a job, while the population's size continues to rise and corruption remains rampant.
In the minds of the youngest, nostalgia for a Uganda that had influence on the international stage, and where "hospitals and roads" were built, has superseded the legacy of the dark chapters of history. Some of the most important infrastructure in the capital, Kampala, was indeed built at that time – a time when Uganda even took the lead in global coffee production. Many politicians still align themselves with this economic legacy today, like pastor Abwed Bwanika, a failed presidential candidate who only granted us a few minutes of interview time.
In this report, we met young people nostalgic for an imaginary and bygone golden age, but also elderly Ugandans who have forgotten nothing. Like Ndawula Seguya who lost his brother and took up arms against Amin. Or Sanjiv Patel, a Ugandan of Indian origin, who had to flee the country when Amin decreed that Indians were stealing Ugandans’ jobs. We even met the dictator’s former personal photographer, Elly Rwakoma. He, too, had to flee – because of a photo that displeased Amin. Despot or hero, Amin remains very much present in the minds of Ugandans today.