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FROM ‘THE MANNING COMMUNITY NEWS’ 16 September 2023
Alex Mitchell has worked in the media for 50 years as a reporter and writer. In 1971 he was the first journalist to interview the then newly-installed self-appointed Uganda dictator, Idi Amin.
This is not a detailed comprehensive tome about the life and times of Amin, but a short albeit powerful 65 pages about an ignorant thug who, with the support of some powerful international “friends”, rose from lowly soldier to head one of the most brutal regimes the world has ever seen.
It is a story derived from Mitchell’s memories and past writings. in the introduction Mitchell says this: “This book is my own account of the unfolding of the Idi Amin story in 1971 and how it has continued, in the course of more than 50 years, to shed light on the covert workings of imperialism.”
Most readers over a certain age will have some recollection of Amin, who began his dictatorship tenure being viewed as somewhat of a hero, then as a buffoon, and finally as the callous butcher that he was.
To the younger reader, by which I mean those under about 70, this book will be a great introduction to a fascinating time in the history of Africa as it was attempting to shake off its colonial past.
Uganda had gained its independence in 1962. But even most older readers are likely to be surprised to learn, and perhaps be shocked, about the way that Amin was supported by Western powers to come to power by staging a coup to depose the elected government of Milton Obote, not that Obote was one of the world’s great democrats.
Mitchell has worked as a “court and crime reporter, war correspondent, news editor, editor, chief of staff, columnist, political editor, sports reporter and London bureau chief.” During the 1980’s he was the State political editor of The Sun Herald and President of the NSW Parliamentary Press Gallery.
In early 1971 Mitchell had just begun working for British TV’s World in Action program, which he tells us was commercial TV’s answer to programs such as Four Corners, when he was sent on his first overseas assignment to Uganda to interview Amin.
He had just arrived and was taking a refreshing swim in the hotel pool when his “laps were interrupted by a giant who dived into the water and started to churn up and down.” The giant turned out to be Amin who challenged Mitchell to a swimming race, which Mitchell had the good sense to lose.
Mitchell doesn’t tell us whether he considered this encounter was just a coincidence, but he got his interview.
It seems that Milton Obote made the mistake of adopting policies which Britain regarded as dangerously “socialist” and inconsistent with British commercial interests. Israel seems to have agreed and the book exposes how both countries were up to their eyeballs in helping Amin’s coup against the Obote government. They both openly welcomed the coup as did other Western nations.
Before travelling to Uganda Mitchell and others had heard another side of the story and were keen to find the truth, and they were able to confirm reports of massacred bodies floating on the Nile River and Lake Victoria – victims of Amin’s brutality. Brutality that continued util 1979 resulting in the torture and death of an estimated 500,000 people.
The resulting documentary that Mitchell and his team made after their Ugandan trip was titled “The Man Who Stole Uganda” and it was promptly roundly criticised by the authorities who had no interest in the truth being outed. However, as time went on and the truth could no longer be hidden, most were forced to change their tune.
This is a disturbing tale which highlights the way that politicians and government officials seem to be able abandon any sense of morality when it comes to international relations and national self-interest when it suits them.
(T’was ever thus? Ed)
An interesting book. Well worth a read.