International Intrigues, Africa, and the Age of Impunity

John Otim

John ​Otim studied at Makerere University, at Indiana University, and at Lougborough University; taught creative writing at Ahmadu Bello University, and is the Editor of Nile Journal




Following the armed seizure of power in the Mountain Capital (read Uganda) strange things occurred. The International Press and some Diplomats in the Capital appeared festive. The Press competed for headlines and fought for scoops. Whatever they got they hurled with the fury of Ogun, the ancient Yoruba god of iron. Death and destruction spread like wild fire.

An orgy, the networks said. Age old tribal animosities bound to boil over once White control was lifted, well fed well heeled correspondents carefully articulated.

The ebullient General (read Idi Amin) was beside himself with the sense of what he had done of what he had achieved. No seaman but a simple soldier sprung from the ranks he appeared in a naval officer’s outfit. Well over six foot tall, he was a figure to look at. Naive and totally a novice, he reveled in the media blitz that accompanied and heralded his coup. When newsmen called him Strongman of Africa, and hailed him Big Daddy, he was ecstatic. He took to their words; none of which was meant. He loved the sound of his name on White lips. He wished his old mother were alive. When he was younger and a Sergeant in the Army she loved the sight of him saluting White officers on parade grounds.

Rumors were ripe in the Capital that White people had planned and organized the coup and eased the General into power. Weeks later the Queen laid out a banquet for him at Buckingham Palace. On his way back from London a red carpet and a 21 gun salute awaited him at Tel Aviv.

With Premier Golda Mea

Now at State House, at ease in the midst of some of the choicest women in the City, women who once despised him, he watched himself on BBC and on CNN. Wherever he turned he saw his own face and heard his own voice and his own name repeated over and over. Suddenly as if bored, he stood up and burst out. Who knew Nyerere? Who knows General Al Bashir, Anwar Sadat or Gamal Abdul Nasser? Who knows them? See me Lakayana with my Spear! To the alarm of his aids and the company around him the General grabbed the ceremonial spear, a gift from the Emperor of Ethiopia, and danced the war dance of his own people; a furious and vigorous dance.

Sweating and panting for he was out of breath, at last he put down the spear, to the great relief of course of everyone. But he wasn’t done. Who knows that good for nothing lot? See me! My name and face are everywhere, he boasted. But it was true. The media was filled with his name and his image. The broad outlines of his massive face filled the screens. That week, Newsweek and Time Magazine had him on the cover. It was a feat he shared only with the likes of Mao Stung, President Kennedy and later John Lennon. There now his moon face beamed. It was a face to charm a babe in arms.

Face to Charm a Babe in Arms

From the capital of the World came the icon of modern learning. The National Geographic arrived in a flurry, in its own jet plane, camera blazing. It lost no time but headed straight for State House in a convoy heralded by sirens. Its endorsement of the new regime carried live on evening news, when everything was still in a state of flux, gave the new regime a shot in the arms. I get by with a little help from my friends

Of the illiterate General whose atrocities were written all over his own face, the erudite Editors of the Magazine wrote: Here is a great African Reformer! They splashed colorful pictorials of naked tribesmen across the exclusive pages of their expensive publication and affirmed that the General was going put tribesmen into trousers and end millennia of human nudity. This was the great age of Hippies and nudists’ colonies existed in Europe and North America.

Africa watched dumbfounded. A grand conspiracy to remove one by one, all progressive African leaders from the scene and replace them withm alleable former army Sergeants, accustomed to service under Empire seemed well underway. A process the CIA commenced in the Congo with Joseph Mbutu, later Mbutu Sese Seko, in 1961. By the middle of the decade through to the seventies not a year passed without a single African Government falling. Each fall cast a shadow across the vast continent. Each fall was hailed in Western Capitals. It was like that when Nkrumah fell, when Olympio fell and Ben Bella fell.

Addicted to White Rule

In the learned journals of Europe and North America neocolonial scholars framed a brand new theory of African politics. Stage one, the African country achieves independence. Stage two, the country replaces White army Commanders with Black army Commanders. Stage three, the new African led army overthrows the Government. The theory sounded like a borrowed leaf from the old love song; Three Steps to Heaven. Some African Presidents seemed to get the message and kept their armies tightly under White control and grew more autocratic. In the decades ahead the attitude and the practice were taken over and perfected by later leaders, now camouflaged under fake elections riddled with corruption, violence and impunity.

Now from the old Empire hurried a Baroness of the old lines. She too headed straight for State House in armed convoys heralded by sirens. As soon as she saw him she fell in love with him. Despite her age despite her looks Her Royal Highness was a woman of great passions and charms. In the General she found a man of endless desires. It was a match made in heaven. Muhammad Ali roll over. There was never a better rumble in the jungle.

The Baroness was a woman of great learning. In between her African Safaris she wrote a biography of the General. It was a labor of love. A great African leader, Othello the Moor, Alexander the Great, Ganges Khan, the epitaphs were endless. International adulations brought results. Out of the blues one cool evening the General went public with his fresh mint doctrine that for good measure he called the Great Lakes Doctrine. Not for nothing did his beautiful country, once called the Pearl of Africa, border the great lakes.

But there were rumors making the rounds in the Country that the irrepressible and World renowned Professor of African Studies at the prestigious Great Lakes University had crafted the document. When the final product went on air all doubts dissolved. The evening's broadcast at prime time was in the General's own uneducated voice. But the broadcast bore all the signs of the Professor's flamboyance and bombast. He was young then.

We will divert the mighty waters of the Nile and let it flow into the Indian Ocean. We will blow up Mount Kilimanjaro. The rubble from the Mount we will fill the valleys of the Rift.

The next morning the headlines on the International Press were on fire. The great Powers could not believe what they heard. Good heavens! Is the fellow insane? What in hell is the matter with him? Statesmen of the World fumed and rebuked the General. But from London to Paris to Washington, their action contradicted every word they spoke. When the General would have run out when his regime would have collapsed they kept him supplied even as body counts of victims of the atrocities daily mounted.

Weapons to subdue Natives

Whisky and electronics to keep the boys satisfied; tanks, armored patrol jeeps fitted with tear gas and automatic weapons to keep the people in check, technicians and advisors to keep the system oiled. What do I do when lightning strikes me?