The Ugandan government is designing what will be known as the “Amin Trail” given the global attention the fallen dictator commands.
Amin is expected to boost tourism in a country whose main attraction over the years has been the endangered Mountain Gorilla.
“For some reason Idi Amin is very much connected to Uganda. We want to turn that into a positive force, ” said Emma Nahayo Mugizi, the Public Relations Officer, Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife & Antiquities. “The potential will be in using history as a tourism tool.”
A source had earlier told The Sunrise: “People thought why not turn this dark history into something useful to the nation. People would want to know about Amin.”
The ministry, however, is yet to understand how different sections of society, including the political arm, Amin’s family and human rights activists, will react to the development.
“We need to package this very carefully so that it brings back memories and lessons to Ugandans, not conflict,” the source said.
An officer in the ministry who preferred anonymity said: “Idi Amin has great potential to boost Uganda’s tourism. We even have his Passport in the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB). The problem is how to get this [plan] beyond the politics.”
Mugizi said the Amin tourism issue had come-up in management meetings but added that it was too early to make conclusions.
“This is still at discussion stage. You will discover that it is a long process,” Mugizi said.
A tourism agent, who attended a workshop early last year, where Amin was mentioned for tourism, said it ignited a hot debate.
“Please don’t quote me on this. But I remember some people saying Amin, or the image we have been given of Amin, was a creation of the western media,” he said.
“Fears were also raised that whoever would design the story might do it with a bias. You know how the politics is played,” he added.
Amin was Uganda’s President between 1971 and 1979. He governed with an Iron hand that to the world, he was a brutal dictator who mercilessly butchered his subjects including religious leaders.
If the proposal is passed, Amin’s Trail will be followed like that of the Uganda martyrs, detailing his life from birth to death – the symbol that would be missing in Uganda would be his grave because he was buried in Saudi Arabia in2003. He had been exiled there since 1980.
Amin became President after toppling his former boss Milton Obote in a coup in January 1971. He was to lead Uganda through eight years characterised by human rights abuses, political repression, extrajudicial killings, nepotism, corruption, and gross economic mismanagement. Human rights groups estimate that his regime killed between 100,000 and 500,000 people.
A section of Ugandans, however, credit the fallen dictator for his patriotism as exhibited in a number of national assets and institutions he established including Uganda’s first television network.
Uganda is not the first country to try to use its gruesome past as a tourism attraction and a source of learning for later generations. The Germans have numerous symbols and attractions from Hitler’s brutal reign which include Holocaust memorials that draw hundreds of thousands of people every year. They have also conserved several items from the cold war era including gas chambers, Hitler’s cars and military gear as well as thousands of photos of eminent people who were killed during his reign.
In the United States, Americans have also conserved unsettling items from the dark days including things like parts of the plane, passports and wallets of people who were traveling in the planes that were used to bomb the World Trade Center. Millions of people visit a museum in New York to see monuments erected in memory of 9/11 attacks.
Next door in Rwanda, one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions is the Genocide memorial that was erected in memory of close to a million people who were killed during the 1994 genocide.
Perhaps, Amin’s Trail may remind the government and other conservationists to establish special tourist attraction about similar episodes in Uganda’s history including the 1980-86 Luwero war, the Lubiri attack by Obote’s forces in 1966, missionary work and colonial invasion, all of which remain little known despite the huge economic potential they have.