GHOSTS OF KAMPALA: The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin by George Ivan Smith

GHOSTS OF KAMPALA: The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Smith, an Australian with 30 years experience as a UN troubleshooter in Africa, returned to Uganda with the Tanzanian liberation forces in 1979; and from interviews, hidden documents, and high-level contacts, he has written the first book on Amin to focus not so much on the horrors of his regime as on the mesh of external and internal circumstances that brought it about and, for eight years, sustained it. For the average American reader, too much knowledge of East Africa is presumed, and too much of Smith's material is raw material. But he has interesting and important things to say. He tackles Amin's background fully--his identity as a member of the Kakwa tribe, nominal Muslims from the northwest (with kinsmen across the borders in the southern Sudan and Zaire) and the rootless, oversize son of a practicing witch and soldier's doxy. He follows him into the King's African Rifles, where his brawn and desire to please elevated him--despite his virtual illiteracy, his bare ability to speak English--to the rank of colonel by the time the British left. He lays out Israeli involvement in post-independence Ugandan affairs (through their support of the southern Sudanese against the Arab Muslims of the north) and prints ex-president Milton Obote's charge that the Israelis, thwarted by Obote, helped Amin seize power. He himself suggests that the British had a hand: Obote looked to be another socialist like Tanzania's Nyerere. But he acknowledges Obote's domestic, chiefly tribal problems and Amin's initial popularity. Then, in startling detail, he traces Amin's erratic path from a search for oil to alliance with Libya's extremist president Qadaffi. The quid pro quo: massive Libyan assistance in exchange for making Uganda (six percent Muslim) ""a Muslim state""! Good-bye to the israelis; and, soon, to Uganda's mercantile East Asians--on Qadaffi's advice to Amin to take control of the economy. But, with no trained Africans to replace them, Uganda began to come apart . . . Smith carries the crazy, tragic story through Nyerere's reluctant push into Uganda--with harsh words for those who might have checked Amin early on. Vigorous and, as of now, the last word.

Pub Date: Dec. 5th, 1980
Publisher: St. Martin's