Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Book Review: Snakepit, Moses Isegawa

The novel "Snakepit" covers the last years of the reign of Uganda's deranged dictator, Idi Amin. The author, Moses Isegawa, who was a child during those years 1971-1979 paints a visceral picture of those very cruel years through three protagonists: Bat Katanga, of Ugandan descent but Cambridge educated. Bat Katanga can't imagine a better time to go back to his native country. After all, this was around the time Idi Amin had expelled all people of Asian origin and jobs were plentiful. Little did he realize what a pit full of vipers he was going to be visiting.

Then there's General Bazooka, who is the poster child of Idi Amin's new government. He's corrupt, cruel, greedy, petty, revengeful and seems totally devoid of empathy, a conscience or any moral values. Wine, women, power, money, tribal revenge and magic white powder (cocaine) seems to be all he's interested in. Finally, there's a British expatriate, mercenary Robert Ashes, who is Amin's right hand man and who intends taking over General Bazooka's anti-smuggling forces, making a deadly enemy of the general in the process.

The social portait that the author presents of Idi Amin's rule makes depressing but compelling reading. Some of the incidents described makes you wonder if it is even possible for human beings to possess so much evil. But it must be, because, according to factual reports, after Idi Amin After seized power in 1971 (he was initially helped by the British and the Israelis), he expelled thousands of Ugandan Asians, and undertook a campaign of imprisonment, torture, and murder that eventually cost between 300,000 and 500,000 lives, out of a population of ten million. An imprudent grab at Tanzanian territory aroused Julius Nyerere's fury against Amin, and Tanzanian regular forces, with some help from Ugandan dissidents, overthrew the tyrant in 1979. The country was in a state of economic collapse.

There are no heroes in Moses Isegawa's book---just evil rulers and victims. It's a sad read, but compelling because it is written by one who was there.