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SCOTT DREYER: Lessons from Dictator Idi Amin

Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly. — John 7:24

You can’t judge a book by its cover.  — Old Saying

Since these two warnings against making surface-level judgments are ancient, it is probably fair to guess making such knee-jerk verdicts is part of our human nature. 

In “A Ugandan Pastor’s Message to America” (Part I), we met the remarkable Pastor Peter Wamono. In Part II, we learned of his first visit to and impressions of the USA. 

Maybe you have heard the line, “If you want to know what the water is like, don’t ask the fish.” 

At first glance, that seems counterintuitive or even silly. It seems fish should be experts regarding water. However, since life in water is all they know, and they are unable to get outside it on their own, they actually cannot evaluate their own water because they have nothing else to compare it to.

That quotation has been applied to cultures too. If a person lives his or her whole life in only one area and culture, they usually have a hard time judging or identifying the plusses, minuses, and idiosyncrasies of their hometown. That is why, after people travel, not only do they have a bigger view of the world, but they see their own community with different lenses too. Likewise, foreigners can often notice aspects of a place more than native residents there do. 

For example, when studying the life and culture of the United States as a new country, the definitive work is Democracy in America, published in two volumes, in 1835 and 1840 by Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville, who visited the US as a perceptive twenty-five-year-old.

In other words, a young man from France was able to identify some key aspects of the American mind and psyche to a degree no Americans at that time were able to put into writing.

With that in mind, I think we Americans have much to learn from Pastor Wamono, as well as other foreign guests, students, and residents. 

A major thrust of Wamono’s message to us Americans is, we need to take our “IN GOD WE TRUST” heritage seriously and protect and cherish it, and not neglect it as most of us have largely done for generations. 

To describe his home country of Uganda in East Africa, Wamono chose these words:

“Growing up in a country that was not under God, but under witchcraft and worship of lakes and rivers, I could see the obvious difference God makes in a society. People in Uganda are waking up to the fact that the spiritual heritage they inherited does not serve them and they are aligning themselves to the God of Heaven; they want to be a people under God.” 

Over the past few days, his words have been churning in my mind. 

My fellow American, how often do you hear people nowadays use vocabulary even remotely similar to this? In fact,  I think to most modern, politically-correct sensibilities, his words come across as bizarre if not downright offensive. 

But let us take a brief look at Uganda. Even though Pastor Wamono did not utter the name during his message at church, when I think of Uganda, I think of Idi Amin.

Because I was old enough to follow the news in the 1970’s, Idi Amin’s name was familiar. In short, he was a bloodthirsty dictator, one of the world’s worst of the 20th century. Amin overthrew Uganda’s elected government in 1971 and in only eight years caused the death of some 300,000 of his fellow citizens. 

For reference, that death count is about three times the population of Roanoke City then and now. (Roanoke City’s population is stagnant, but that is an issue for another column….)  

A few thoughts: 

  • If we, like Wamono, came from a nation that had been through a nightmare like Idi Amin, would we be more appreciative of our Judeo-Christian consensus that values human life and a strong moral code of right and wrong?
  • At one time, Uganda had been called “The Pearl of Africa.” Tragically, Amin drove it to the brink of ruin in eight brief years. Are we aware that once-great lands can fall and be decimated quickly?
  • Today’s Antifa/BLM/Cancel Culture movement tells us that white people are evil and oppressive while non-whites are virtuous and oppressed. In that case, what are we supposed to make of Idi Amin? He was evil, but not white-skinned. (Check the link below to see for yourself.) 
  • A year into his misrule, Amin expelled all Indian and Pakistani citizens, a move that drove his nation into economic collapse. Is there any correlation between that and what the prestigious Wall Street Journal recently called “A PTA Purge of Asians”?
  • Are schools teaching young people about Idi Amin and Uganda today? 

What else can we learn from Pastor Wamono and other non-American voices who may be able to evaluate our culture and times better than we can? 

Scott Dreyer in his classroom.

– Scott Dreyer



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