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Listening to Malcolm X: Idi Amin and the journalist’s role as historian

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing” Malcolm X

The Black revolutionary did not hate the media. On the contrary, it is unlikely Malcolm would have had the huge influence he gained in America and across the globe without the extensive media coverage he enjoyed at home and abroad.

However, his criticism of the media – which has proven true every time – is merely to point out that the media is amenable to manipulation by the wielders of power. He urges caution, healthy scepticism.

It is no longer contested that who pays the piper calls the tune. Media ownership and the agendas of the high and mighty often colour media portrayals of reality.

It is important that journalists and their audiences are aware of this fact, or they would be misled to think the media is free of pervasive narrow interests that are contrary to the overall public good.

August 16 marked the 17th anniversary of the death of Idi Amin Dada. A military officer, Amin overthrew the government of Uganda’s independence leader Milton Obote in 1971. He was in power until 1979 when Ugandan exiles with support of the socialist government of Tanzania under Julius Nyerere seized Kampala and deposed him.

For eight years, Amin’s reign of terror massacred at least 300,000 people, earning him the moniker “Butcher of Uganda”.

On the anniversary of his death, Uganda’s New Vision newspaper, tweeted:

“TODAY IN HISTORY: AMIN DIES IN EXILE. Former Uganda president Idi Amin Dada passed away in a Saudi hospital on morning of August 16, 2003. We remember the sportsman, army man, statesman and family man he was.”

Attached to the tweet was a video clip showing the flamboyant strongman in his heyday.

“On March 10, 1974, the general announced, with the help of friendly countries, Uganda was going to arm to the teeth to reach international combat level,” the narrator says.

“In 1972 after a dream, General Amin declared the economic war, which meant on one hand giving 90 days to the Asians to leave the country taking with them a strict minimum, and on the other hand distributing their businesses to Ugandans.”

Great statesman? Nothing about the mass theft, economic collapse and horrific massacres that turned the Nile red with innocent human blood. Not a word about the semi-illiterate dictator who ruined a country.

In Kenya, The Sunday Standard on August 16 remained faithful to the historical record (p.17):

“2003: Idi Amin, Ugandan dictator (1971-1979), who killed an estimated 100,000 to 500,000 people, dies of kidney failure aged between 75 and 80.”

Malcolm X was right. Beware of media that sanitises thieves and murderers.

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