books pt. 2

State of Blood: The Inside Story of Idi Amin by Henry Kyemba

Henry Kyemba, one of Idi Amin’s right hand men, wrote this book while in exile – a year before Amin’s regime collapsed in 1978. Kyemba, a career bureaucrat, describes the havoc Amin wreaked upon Uganda with sober, straightforward accounts of his atrocities, corruption, and uniquely sociopathic personality.

Kyemba recounts Amin’s direct role in the executions of any and all perceived political enemies, including two American journalists investigating a prison massacre; the Ugandan Archbishop and two highly-ranked Ministers; and countless other prominent members of the professional and bureaucratic class. Particularly chilling is how flagrant – even smirking – Amin was in covering up the crimes. His propaganda radio and television machine would broadcast multiple conflicting explanations for the disappearances or “accidental” deaths of particular officials, embellished with self-aggrandizing praise for Amin and thunderous admonishments towards the dead.

Kyemba portrays a sadist with literal bloodlust who orders the brutal beating of his wife and the murder of a wounded elderly woman (the Israeli hostage, Dora Bloch), and mutilates, tampers, and even consumes the corpses of his victims. The grotesque details would be too sensationalistic were Kyemba’s tone not so measured, and his exploration of complex historical, political details not so thorough.

Kyemba describes how post-indepedence, Imperialism’s haphazard at best, nefarious at worst, drawing of boundaries disenfranchised the Southern Sudanese and Nubians, and set the stage for Amin’s exploitation of them as his mercenary army. Bribed with luxury goods (think Housewives of OC//MTV Cribs in terms of decadence), they controlled the state security apparatus and were installed in in the civilian government, robbing, murdering, and raping with impunity, and carrying out the tyrant’s destructive policies, including “Ugandisation” – the de facto deportation of all Asians and the seizure of their businesses and property, which left the economy in shambles.

Throughout the book, Kyemba makes a persuasive argument for the international community’s complicity in perpetuating Amin’s regime. He blames the US for supplying and servicing Amin’s planes; USSR for providing arms; Britain for importing coffee from Amin and fueling his unimaginably corrupt economy; Israel for supplying arms (until Amin alienated them out of economic opportunism); Libya and Saudi Arabia (who later harbored Amin until his death in 2003) and the Arab world in general for backing him with steadfastness. He also has harsh words for American Blacks, who misinterpreted Amin’s unhinged antagonism towards former Imperial powers as bold leadership and pan-Africanism. That other African countries responded to Amin more with detached irony than outraged condemnation, Kyemba sadly argues, is evidence of their own Amin-like tyrants and tactics – and lack of moral standing.

Aside from humanitarian concerns, attempts by foreign powers to exploit him for ideological purposes were futile. Amin lacked the vocabulary and basic understanding of government that necessitates patriotism, Marxism, pan-Africanism, Islamization, capitalism, democracy – all ideologies he has cynically co-opted at various times to bribe foreign powers.

A State of Blood is a valuable first-hand account of Amin’s violence against both people and state, and admirably functions as a then-urgent plea for international intervention. Though hardly a mea culpa, the book mitigates Kyemba’s moral culpability in the crimes against humanity he witnessed and participated in by providing devastating information that necessitates action. Ultimately, it was the Ugandan people (with the help of the Tanzanians) who deposed Amin during his disastrous border dispute against Tanzania. Though the Pearl of Africa has recovered reasonably well economically and politically, its violator was never brought to justice; he lived the rest of his life in luxury and leisure first in Libya with his friend Gaddafi, and then in Saudi Arabia, who harbored him til his death in 2003.

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