An agent for a British money-printing firm recently related how several years ago he personally negotiated a contract with Ugandan dictator Idi Amin to print 2 million shillings worth of 100 shilling notes. At the close of their talks, he gingerly asked how he was to be paid.
"Print 3 million and take 1 million for yourself," Amin angrily retorted.
Such are the stories that Ugandans repeat these days with caustic humor as they relate to foreigners how their country, once one of Africa's wealthiest, was run into the ground through sheer neglect and incompetence by Amin and his semiliterate spendthrift assistants.
How Amin and his cronies and their girlfriends regularly took suitcases full of dollars - up to $1 million on some occasions - from the bank whenever they went abroad.
How Amin appointed a "minister of foreign exchange" and then fired him when the man *kept reporting back that the country had no foreign exchange.
How Amin's supposedly crack "Madi Mechanized Unit" had to get a mechanic from a nearby Catholic mission all the time to come and fix its tanks, armored cars and vehicles because none worked.
How following the 1972 expulsion of Asians, the new owners of the country's cement factory in Tororo did not see the use of sweeping the plant's roof every week. As a result, the cement dust piled up until the roof collapsed.
"This was typical of everything. Nothing worked," commented one Ugandan priest bitterly.
"During his rule," a civil servant said, "Amin started and completed only one project - the color television system. All others were planned, the foundation stone laid and that was the end of them."
Since taking over, the new government as well as potential aid donors have been trying to assess the dimensions of the economic disaster and what will be needed to right the mess. Its own initial report was extremely bleak and concluded that "eight years of sustained mismanagement and gross malad-ministration of Uganda have ruined virtually every economic and social sector of the country."
The figures so far available pretty well justify this gloom. At "liberation" the government found in its coffers just $200,000 in foreign exchange to meet $250 million of debts abroad. Later, however, it found $20 million worth of coffee receipts in Kenya.
The new government also discovered that Amin lately had flooded the country with newly printed notes doubling the money supply between 1976 and 1978, to try to resolve his problem of pending bankruptcy.
The European Economic Community has done a comprehensive study showing just how much backsliding the country did between 1970 and 1978. It found that the production of key export crops - coffee, cotton and sugar - fell off 51 percent while activity in the mines and quarries went down 82 percent. Construction, too, dropped 51 percent.
The only big growth areas were the government, which grew by 68 percent, and rents, which increased 41 percent. One of the few industries that showed any growth was the beer and liquor one, posting a 25 percent increase.
Overall, the study concluded that the entire monetary sector shrunk by 6 percent while the nonmonetary grew by 27 percent.
As Ugandans abandoned cash crops and went back to subsistence agriculture, per capita income fell by $137.
Amin's twisted priorities could also be seen in government spending figures. Expenditures for social services dropped by 72 percent while defense spending steadily grew until it reached 33 percent of the total official budget in 1977-78. Unofficially, defense spending probably topped 50 percent, according to Western economists.
In Amin's Alice in Wonderland economy survival became a full-time task particularly for city dwellers and those on fixed incomes. Inflation was running at 200 percent a year as the price of basic necessities, usually only availbale on the black market, went out of sight.
For example, sugar cost $5 a pound, shoes $185 a pair, trousers $100 and gasoline $39 a gallon. The minimum wage was only $30 a month.
"No one survived on his salary," a civil servant said. "You would spend all your salary for a month on food you could carry in just one basket."
Many like him survived by having farms in the countryside to support them. Others engaged in black market business on the side.
"All civil servants went into business," explained George Lukweya, a schoolteacher who turned himself into a businessman. "They were never in their offices. The government standards went very low."
The police, who were less favored than Amin's soldiers and State Research Bureau agents, were notorious for demanding bribes from the public to supplement their meager salaires.
"They were working in an environment where the authorities were the biggest culprits," explained David Barlow, the new inspector general of police.
Amin's favored few, aprticularly the Nubians and Kakwas, had it a lot easier. They and their wives were allocated the shops and factories left behind by the Asians Amin expelled in 1972. This new business class was given import licenses and foreign exchange denied to established traders and shopkeepers. They lived, according to one Kampala resident, "in a very luxurious way."
Meanwhile the farmers, the backbone of the economy, began concentrating on food crops to feed their families and abandoning cash crops. According to one missionary who worked in northeastern Uganda, "this region's well-organized and prospering cotton production just completely collapsed. One year after Amin took over, the famrers were not paid for their cotton. The next year they were given an IOU. The third year, they did not grow cotton at all."
The production of cotton fell from 410,800 bales in 1970 to just 74,300 bales in 1977.
Those farmers who still produced cash crops, particularly coffee, turned to smuggling them to neighboring Kenya and Rwanda and batering them there for consumer goods. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, when coffee prices skyrocketed in 1977 but Amin refused to raise the sum paid to farmers, 90 percent of the country's high quality Arabica coffee was smuggled outside Uganda. The same year, Rwanda exported 40 percent more coffee than it normally produced.
In an effort to control this lucrative trade, Amin's British-born security advisor, Bob Astles, formed his famous Anticorruption Squad. Astles' agents patrolled Lake Victoria in speedboats, intimidating, arresting and frequently killing not only suspected smugglers but also fishermen.
Astles' squd centralized coffee-smuggling in the hands of a small clique of top government officials, according to one Western diplomat.
But the most macabre - and evidently lucrative - business to flourish under Amin was that of body hunting.
Here again Amin's henchmen, particularly from the State Research Bureau, held a monopoly, extorting thousands of dollars from bereaved families anxious to give their murdered relatives a proper burial.
One family, the Sembeguyas, reported that they paid $5,000 to various Bureau agents, all of whom turned out to be charlatans, to recover their father's body.
Despite the run-down state of the modern sector of the economy and war destruction and massive looting of shops and offices in the cities, the forecast of most economists is for a relatively quick recovery - provided there is a big dose of foreign assistance and, most importantly, political stability.
Hudson Sembeguya, a factory owner, reflected the gut feeling of many Ugandans.
"What we want most of all is stability," he said. "We want an Army governed by civilian laws. We don't want to hear this firing in the night anymore. We want this more than we want foreign aid."
The government, however, in drawing up the economic balance sheet has estimated that it will need as much as $1 billion in emergency relief to get the economy back on its feet. But it is moving cautiously in accepting foreign aid to avoid being burdened with unneeded foods and medicines, inappropriate technology and unsuitable experts.
It has put a top priority on getting sugar, salt, cement and hoes and on restoring power supplies, telecommunications and the transport system.
To even the casual observer, the countryside of Uganda appears incredibly fertile and little affected by either Amin or the war. There, the government's main task, according to Western economists here, is to get farmers growing cash crops again, and bringing them to the market.
To do this, the government will have to raise and stabilize prices paid for export crops, rebuild the transport and marketing networks, bring in fertilizers, replant old areas, and - most important - restore the farmers' confidence in the state, these economists say.
Less than two months old, the government has yet to fix its economic strategy and its leaders, almost all returning exiles, range from Marxists to monarchists.
As one Catholic priest remarked, "This government looks to us like Noah's ark. They all got in the boat to get back here. But how will they behave now that the deluge is over?"
So far, most agree, they have behaved with remarkable unity and good common sense.
In particular, three economic problems are currently being grappled with: the currency, trade and the Asians
"The main problem now is how to stabilize the currency," one Western economist said. While the official exchange rate is 8 shillings to the dollar, the black market, the barometer of economic instability, shot up to 125 to $1 during the war and is now around 40 to $1.
It appears likely that when the old shilling notes bearing Amin's picture are changed, the government will also devalue the currency.
The second problem is trade. Landlocked Uganda historically has been dependent on Kenya's port of Mombassa for access to the sea. Yet the war to depose Amin, fought largely by the Tanzanian Army and quietly opposed until the very end by Kenya, is pushing Uganda toward new trade alliances.
In an effort to gain some breathing space from Kenya and to show its gratitude to Tanzania, the new government has begun sending some coffee and receiving some fuel and other commodities through Tanzania.
Last week Uganda ordered four ferries capable of carrying railway cars to ship coffee and other produce across Lake Victoria for export through the port of Dar es Salaam.But how much trade can efficiently be sent through Tanzania's already overburdened rail and port system remains to be seen.
The new government has announced that Uganda's expelled Asian will be allowed to return. The details however, including the terms of compensation for their confiscated properties, as well as how many will actually take up the offer, is still unclear. Already a number of Asian businessmen, including a member of the huge Madhvani industrial family, have come to Kampala to sniff the political wind and confer with government officials.
Ugandans themselves are somewhat weary of an influx of Indians, whose commercial monopoly and frequently arrogant manners had caused much popular resentment.
"When they come back they should not assume a feeling they are a higher class," one civil servant said. "There will be sharp competition with local people in trade. Quite a number of Ugandans have now learned to transact international business." CAPTION: Picture 1, Looters carry away sacks of sugar, which had become expensive, from a warehouse in Uganda shortly after Amin was driven from power. - Sygma; Picture 2, Residents of Kampala, the capital of Uganda, sweep up the debris caused by the looting and fighting in the city during the Tanzanian-led ouster of Idi Amin. AP; Map, no caption, By Richard Furno - The Washington Post