Idi Amin, the Ugandan leader with nine lives and a thousand and one enemies, is approaching his political demise.
After fleeing his capital of Kampala earlier last week, the former president-for-life was reported on the run today in northwest Uganda. His family has fled to Iraq. His senior aides, including Foreign Minister Bashir Jumaa, have escaped to Juba, in southern Sudan, according to the Sudan news agency. And the new Ugandan government, which has been recognized by several countries, including Britain, claimed hundreds of Amin soldiers are surrendering.
But it is unclear what has been going on in the eastern and northern parts of Uganda that are not yet subdued by the Tanzanian-Ugandan invasion force that captured Kampala Last Wednesday. While some reports describe the area as in total chaos, other maintained that units loyal to Amin were preparing for a last-ditch stand.
By all indications, Amin's rule is over, although he may well live on in African mythology-possibly as a folk hero, possibly as a villain.
His hugh, 250-pound, 6-foot-3 inch bulk cast a long shadow across this continent and he became the symbol of many African contradictions during the eight years of his increasingly blood-soaked regime.
In the West, Amin confirmed every prejudice many whites harbor about black Africa. He was the cruel, uneducated savage just down from the trees and living proof of why Africans should never have been given their independence.
He was portrayed in the Western press with great relish as either the ruthless murderer of tens of thousands of Ugandans of as a buffoon to be laughed out of court because of his ridiculous telegrams of advice to heads of state and pronouncements on world events
But much of Africa saw him in a different light, particularly at the beginning of his rule and especially among the common people. The truth of the matter is that Amin was probably the best known leader across the continent, far more popular than intellectual presidents like his archenemy, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.
He was the African common man's hero, viewed as the incarnation of black nationalism-the African who freed his economy from the greedy grasp of Asian traders and middlemen and who stood up to the white West by nationalizing British and other foreign companies.
Black Ugandans marched through the streets acclaiming him when he expelled 40,000 Asians and shouted "Uganda is basically a country for Ugandans" and "Uganda must be controlled by Ugandans."
It was not only a highly popular move among Ugandans, but among Africans across the continent, because so many felt foreign themselves being exploited by some foreign minority or another-Arabs in West Africa, Asians in East Africa, Belgians in Zaire and other whites everywhere. The refrain to his "Uganda for the Ugandans" was "Africa for the Africans."
A few black Americans responded just as enthuusiastically to Amin's expulsion of the Asians. Ory Innis, the national leader of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), recruited black Americans to fill Asian posts and acclaimed Amin as the great African leader who would "lead a liberation army to free those parts of Africa still under the rule of white imperialists."
At one point, he even had Africa's radical Marxist leaders cheering when he nationalized 31 British companies and tea plantation in December 1972.
President Sekou Toure of Guinea, who had at first opposed Amin and what he stood for, turned around after that and called him a "true African" and hailed his =progressive" policies.
The highly respected Kenyan professor Ali Mazrui once compared him to Shaka Zulu, the feared leader of black resistance to the penetration of white colonists in South Africa, and saw in Amin "the resurrection of the warrior tradition in African political culture."
"As a reaction and rebellion against dependency," concluded Mazrui, "the resurrection wears the face of proud promise" as well as "its own special hazards."
But slowly the "brutal side" of Amin's Shaka-like personality, as Mazrui called it, began to get the upper hand and mold an image that few Africans leaders cared to applaud though just as few condemned it.
Thanks largely to the Western-particually British-press, the horrors Amin was perpetrating in Uganda began to be exposed. No one has ever gotten a proper fix on the magnitude of deaths he was responsible for, and estimates varied between 50,000 and 200,000.
But independent black Africa never came to terms with Amin. So long as it was just the "white" and "imperialist" West casting Amin in the image of a black butcher, most of Africa seem to feel the problems of human rights and the rule of law he posed could be ignored.
Other than a few African states led by Tanzania and Zambia, no attempt was made to stop him from becoming president of the Organization of African Unity in 1975. For an entire year, Amin represented all of Africa to the outside world, masquerading as the "great liberator" of Africans still under white rule in southern Africa and a peacemaker of the continent even as he was exterminating tens of thousands at home.
At the annual summits of the African body, he repeatedly entertained his collegues with jokes about himself and his detractors.He even managed to get a standing ovation at the 1977 summit in Libreville, Gabon, after he put down an abortive coup and portrayed himself the victim of "imperialist" machinations.
It was the Commonwealth grouping of former British colonies that finally condemned his butchery, while the Organization of African Unity steadfastly avoided any word of condemnation. The hope was that he would somehow simply go away and stop embrassing the continent.
Only time will tell whether Amin will live on as hero or villain, the bloody butcher or black nationalist liberator of Uganda. But it is unlikely he will be forgotten by the great mass of Africans for years to come. CAPTION: Map, By Richard Furno-The Washington Post