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Why even in death Amin still inspires art

Music. Former president Idi Amin (centre) loved the portable box-shaped instrument, the accordion. FILE PHOTO

Amin loved the portable box-shaped instrument, the accordion, but his relationship with creativity did not stop at that.

During his presidency, Amin was also known to be an avid art collector and supported the creative industry, with a common story told of a day he once heard a band playing at the Cape Town Villas in Munyonyo and fell in love with it. That band was Africa Go Forward, later to transform into an all-time popular Afrigo Band.
At the time, Uganda, then newly independent, was suffering the unrest that many newly independent African countries were going through.

And art, being a tool that had been instrumental in the struggle for independence, again found use in the season of post-independence turbulence. The only difference was though, where the oppressed had a voice in a poet, the oppressors too had an equally loud singer.
By the time Amin was president, playwright Byron Kawadwa had already penned and presented his sharp political erotica Oluyimba Lwa Wankoko while songs such as Twawona Kiviri by Moses Matovu talked about surviving Milton Obote’s regime, came after Amin had overthrown Obote.

While performing at Cape Town Villas on the lakeshore of Lake Victoria in Kampala, Africa Go Forward, and Suicide Revolution Jazz Band, some of Amin’s favourite bands sang songs praising the dictator, asking him to rule on for he had delivered Uganda from the dark days.
But just as Amin loved or associated with the arts and inspired them during presidency, so did he inspire the arts post his leadership.

Music and the man
It has been said that during his presidency, artists were commissioned by the State to compose work that would glorify Amin’s achievements during State celebrations.
Besides Africa Go Forward and Suicide Revolution Jazz Band, choirs and artistes were captured in archived videos performing celebratory tunes to Amin.
The most known songs inspired by Amin were The Collected Broadcasts of Idi Amin, a comedy album that was released in 1975.

Written by Alan Coren and performed by John Bird, the 12-track album parodies the former president in ways that may seem that they (the performers) appreciated his deeds.
Other songs on the album are Costa Uganda, Up Fo’ Grabs, Weather Forecast, and SOS.
In 1977, Trinidad and Tobago vocalist Francisco, alias Mighty Sparrow, on his album NYC Blackout, recorded a song Idi Amin, where he spoke against the regime and denounced Amin for emulating infamous German leader Adolf Hitler.

Other international performers that were inspired by Amin would later include Brazilian rock and calypso singer Raul Seixas in 1979, punk rock band Black Randy and Metrosquad in 1978 and American country singer Blaze Foley’s 2004 posthumous album where Amin is referenced on a song, Springtime in Africa.
After his fall, many Ugandans artistes have continuously referenced Amin in their songs; on his album Exile, Omera John (My Brother John), Geoffrey Oryema sings about his experience as a youth who had to flee the country after losing his father and brother at the hands of Amin.

Writing Amin
After fleeing Uganda in mid-1970s, Amin’s former minister Henry Kyemba is thought to have written one of the first books that depicted Amin’s rule of terror. Titled, A State of Blood: The Inside Story of Idi Amin, the book was received with controversy as some reviews wondered why the author, who had been a minister in the regime, had turned a blind eye to all that was happening.

But Bishop Festo Kivengere’s I Love Idi Amin, has largely been viewed as a book that the cleric used to tell Ugandans about the values of forgiveness. In the book, he states: “I had to face my own attitude towards president Amin and his agents. The Holy Spirit showed me that I was getting hard in my spirit, and that my hard bitterness toward those who were persecuting us could only bring spiritual loss.”
Kivengere was one of the bishops who were summoned the day Janani Luwum was asked to stay behind and many of them waited in vain for him to resurface, but only learnt from government sources that he had reportedly died in mysterious car accident.

The book adopts a Christian approach, and preaches perseverance in the face of persecution and terror.
In 2012, Madanjeet Singh, a former Indian ambassador to Uganda, released the emotional Culture of the Sepulchre, a book that retold the horrors of living as an Indian in Uganda during the regime but gives especial attention to what many of the Asian families went through when they were forced to leave.
Other books released after or during the regime include Ghosts of Kampala, Hitler in Africa, General Amin, Confessions of Idi Amin, and Impassioned for Freedom by Eriya Kategaya.

Besides the biographies and memoirs, Amin has also been a protagonist in novels, The General is Up by Peter Nazareth, and journalist and English author Giles Foden’s 1998 novel, Last King of Scotland. Foden drew a lot from his years as a journalist to write the novel, though he partly based his protagonist on Bob Astles, a close associate of Amin.

Rumours as well as myths surrounding Amin attracted media, parody and sketch comedy even when he was still president.
During his presidency, actor and comedian Garrett Morris played Amin various times for comedy show Saturday Night Live. In the years that followed Amin was portrayed by Richard Pryor and Chris Rock on the show.
Then there was the Entebbe hostage situation that involved largely Israeli passengers of Air France Flight 139 in June 1976.

Before that year ended, at least two films had been scripted about the incident and the rescue mission; films Victory at Entebbe, and Raid on Entebbe, were both released for TV and later distributed and showcased in cinemas.
Actor Yaphet Kotto played Amin in the Raid on Entebbe, while Julius Harris took over the role of Amin, after another actor Godfrey Cambridge, who was meant for the role, died on set, a day before production started.

It is said Amin remarked that Cambridge’s death was a divine punishment from God.
Operation Thunderbolt became the third film released within a year after the events that had inspired it. The 1977 thriller focuses on the mission proper, featuring actor Mark Heath as Amin.

Another film on the raid, aptly titled Entebbe was released in 2018. Directed by Jose Padhila, it is the only one among the four that almost came to Uganda for production. But after efforts by the producers to get tax waivers and other benefits failed, a better deal from Malta saw Entebbe being produced at an airport in the country.
Nonso Anozie, a British Nigerian actor, played Amin in the poorly received film that starred Rasamund Pike and Daniel Bruhl.

In a 2016 interview with Daily Monitor, Hussein Lumumba Amin disputed a common narrative that Amin backed the hijackers or had knowledge of the deed before it happened.
“Had Amin taken sides, the hostages would have probably been taken to Uganda’s Luzira Maximum Security Prison or possibly to the much dreaded State Research Bureau where chances for an escape would be almost zero,” he said.

But the biggest Amin films have probably been the biographies, Rise and Fall of Idi Amin, staring Kenyan actor Joseph Olita and the fiction adaptation of Foden’s book, The Last King of Scotland, set in Uganda and brought to life by American actor Forest Whitaker.
Whitaker won multiple awards for the role, including a Best Actor academy award in 2006. In fact, the Ugandan premiere of the film happened two days before the win.

Michael Wawuyo, experiencing and acting Amin

Actor Michael Wawuyo has had a unique connection with former president Amin for a long time. He says at the time Indians were expelled, he was 14 and remembers what many Asians went through when they were asked to leave Uganda.
“At that time, Uganda had the best economy in East Africa and Amin chasing Asians changed the face of our economy,” he says.
Wawuyo says before the events, Ugandans had gone through tough times with Asians discriminating against Ugandans, but says their expulsion by Amin was a measure of correcting the situation, although by inappropriate means.
In Mississippi Masala, Wawuyo acts as a soldier who intercepts a bus at a roadblock at the time Indians had been asked to leave Uganda.

“Many of the things people see in these films actually happened, we experienced them,” he says.
“We had to move with a national ID and in it, you would fix a shilling, in case a soldier asked for it.”
In 2005, when production of The Last King of Scotland commenced, he was one of the local actors that were cast alongside Forest Whitaker, Kerry Washington, and David Oyelowo. Here, he was cast as Brig Gweddeko, an air force commander.
Ironically, Wawuyo says Brig Gweddeko is the man who worked with Amin and assassinated his father, Brig Pierino Okoya.

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