The Last King of Scotland, by Kevin MacDonald, is an impressive and powerful film, portraying the president of Uganda, Idi Amin during the 1970s. This film begins in 1971, with the rise to power of the new president Amin. In another scene, a doctor, Nicholas Garrigan, has just arrived in Uganda. A young, just graduated boy comes to the African country to seek new experiences, and an escape from the rigidities of his family back in Scotland. He desires to use his education to help the Ugandan people, practicing free health care in the remote and underprivileged areas of the countryside.
However he is not there long before his direction changes course. During one of the president’s tours, making speeches to the Ugandan people, Nicolas meets Amin. From this moment, it is clear to the audience that a relationship will develop. Amin has a strong fondness of Scotland, but furthermore, he is impressed by the young spirit and strong motivation of Nicolas. Nicolas becomes Amin’s personal doctor; however this intended experience on the part of Nicolas soon becomes further from what he could have imagined. His naivety impels him into the centre of a political nightmare.
The main characters of “The Last King of Scotland”: Idi Amin and Nicholas Garrigan
Idi Amin: Idi Amin becomes the new president of Uganda, succeeding Apollo Obote. He grew up in the Ugandan countryside, within a poor community and difficult family circumstances. Amin’s desire to be the president of Uganda came at an early age, and this ambition led him to enrol in the army very young. Although Amin comes to power through a military coup, his presidency, is positively received by the Ugandan people. He enjoys widespread support and many close associates who work along side him. He has a charming personality and ambitious plans for Uganda. In his personal life he has a real passion for fast cars, beautiful women and glamorous parties. He is obsessed with Scotland and declares himself “The King of Scotland” and he names his children; Mackintosh, McLaren, Campbell and McKenzie.
It is arguable that although Amin’s mode of execution were indeed wrong, harsh and extremely brutal, his intentions may have been good. However, throughout the film, the audience becomes increasingly aware of Amin’s violent reign, abusing human rights, creating political repression, ethnic persecution, extrajudicial killings, corruption and economic mismanagement.
Idi Amin clearly suffers from delusions of his own grandeur and magnificence. He believes everything that surrounds him is of monumental importance and of great positive affect to the Ugandan future. Yet in fact Idi Admin ran one of the most horrific reigns of terror. This character gives great opportunity to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a leader, and the opportunities given to such a person to act in such a way that solely abuses his position of authority.
Nicholas Garrigan : He is a Scottish doctor who has just graduated from medical school. Nicholas is looking for adventure and experiences that will stretch him. The opening scene of Nicolas sees him spinning the globe to see where destiny will take him. This immediately could show that he has little self initiative, but leads his life on adventure ands opportunity. Garrigan can be seen to play an antihero: he has little courage and only worries about his own personal safety. He is working for the Ministry of Health through the British Overseas Development Agency. After serving at a clinic in a small town, he is called to treat Idi Amin who has a car accident. He then becomes Idi Amin’s official doctor and later Idi Amin’s personal adviser. He is depicted as a young man, capable of achieving positives from the position that he finds himself, yet as the film develops, Garrigan does little to achieve anything. Besides from the character of Amin, Garrigan can be seen to depict leadership styles which are also worth analysis. Garrigan clearly fails in his developing relationships, he does little to keep in contact with family and friends from Scotland, and when situations become too difficult for him, he merely runs away from the immediate situation.
Kay Amin: The second wife of Idi Amin and the daughter of a clergyman. She has an affair with Nicholas Garrigan.
Sara Zach: Is an Israeli physician who works at the clinic with Nicholas Garrigan. Although she does not have an affair with doctor Garrigan, there are mutual feelings which are depicted at the beginning of the film, however are not developed as Garrigan leaves the countryside to be with Amin. Sara seems deprived of any pleasure to work in the clinic and there are certain situations which allow the audience to ask the question whether she is really a doctor. Later we discover that she probably is a spy for the Israelis. She is very sceptical about the new leader Idi Amin.
Boniface Malumba: A Ugandan student. Malumba is friendly and gives Garrigan advice about living in Uganda. Malumba is killed in the fighting that breaks out between pro-Obote forces and Amin’s army.
President Obote: Apollo Obote was the president of Uganda until 1971, when Amin carried out a military coup on his government. Idi Amin takes the power from Ugandan President Obote on the day Garrigan arrives in Uganda.
Jonas Wasswa: He is Idi Amin’s minister of health, Jonas Wasswa officially appoints Garrigan to his position as Amin’s personal physician.
Nigel stone: He works at the British Embassy at Kampala. His character is one of contract to the others in the film. A British official, living in Uganda, is work is to gain vital information about the current situation of Uganda. He clearly helps Garrigan throughout the film, although this relationship is one of gains. Stone is very aware of the close relationship between Amin and Garrigan and wants to exploit this to collapse the reign of Amin.
The relationships between the characters
Idi Amin and Nicholas Garrigan
Idi Amin and Nicolas Garrigan first met when the president becomes injured in a car incident. By taking the situation under control, Garrigan impresses Amin, who quickly offers him to become his official physician in the capital city of Kampala. At the beginning, Garrigan is charmed by Amin’s personality and his ambitions for Uganda. His naivety allows him to feel comfortable with Amin and believe that to become the president’s personal doctor will be an exciting and interesting experience. Although it soon becomes clear that Amin wants, or arguably needs Garrigan for more political concerns. Amin trusts Nicolas, which is enhanced one evening when Amin believes his is dying, but is in fact merely suffering from severe gastric pain. Amin is amazed by Nicolas’ talent as a doctor, but also intrigued by this young courageous British man who has come to Uganda. Thus the relationship between the two men can be seen as one of mutual admiration, at least at the start. As time goes on, Nicholas becomes Amin’s personal adviser: he is the dictator’s confidante, consultant and right-hand man. This relationship allows Nicolas to see Amin in a very different perspective, as the film progresses, he witnesses kidnappings, excessive torture and persecute. As a result, Nicolas starts to loose his character that we had become familiar with. Amin leadership was clearing changing, as so was the relationship with Nicolas. As the situations worsen, Nicolas is finding himself in endless fight for survival. This deterioration is important to analyze the coinciding deterioration of Amin’s leadership skills.
Idi Amin and the people of Uganda
The people of Uganda are very excited about the new president who is supposedly gong to achieve political, economic and social freedom. At first, they are all taken in by his personality and his ambitions but as the social and political climate begins to deteriorate, the true character of Amin begins to emerge. His horrific regime destroyed the Ugandan people, and he killed more than 25,000 people during an 8-year period. This is a very important point that will be discussed through the report on his rule as a leader and they ways in which he abused his position as such a leader.
Idi Amin and Kay Amin
Amin is a polygamist who had five wives. This instantly shows a man of arrogance, ignorance and chauvinism. He clearly exploits his important role as the leader of a country to personal gain with the acquiring of several wives which he can use at his disposal. The director decides to focus primarily on one these wives: Kay Amin. She is the mother of two of Idi’s children and lives separately from her husband in a house given to her by Amin. One of the children has severe epilepsy. It seems the director has intentionally features this as a way in which to display Amin’s behavior towards his family members, even those with severe illnesses that he could have the power to considerably reduce. Yet Amin prefers to reject a person that should be socially outcast and orders that the mother and son remain within the grounds of the house. The relationship between Amin and his family highlights his rigid character as a leader and his determination to exhibit a position of authority without weakness.
Furthermore, at the end of the film, the murder of Kay Amin by officials due to her affair with Nicolas, reiterates this idea that Amin’s treatment to family members mirrored that of his reign over Uganda, unable to separate between private and public leadership.
Nicholas and Kay Amin
Nicholas and Kay first men when one of her boys becomes ill. Nicholas wants to bring the child to the hospital to have proper medical care, however Kay refuses due to the fear of her husband who has ordered that she stays within the home grounds. This relationship of fear and control of Amin over Kay is typical of the leadership of authoritarian leaders. Those under this leadership are too scared to speak out and to act against such control.
Throughout the film, Nicolas and Kay develop a close sexual relationship. Nicolas helps Kay to ensure her son has the best medical care, without the knowledge of Amin. Yet their affair is one of great danger. This relationship is complicated further when Kay becomes pregnant by Nicolas. She begs Nicholas for help and to perform an abortion, tremendously aware of the repercussions should Amin find out. At first, Nicolas refuses, as he himself, even though he is in a position that holds a strong relationship with Amin and has great influence over the leader, he is scared of Idi’s reaction which would very possibly involve murder. This is linked to the exchange theory model which will be discussed later. Amin shares a relationship with Nicolas that is unequally weighted and one of fear and control. Nicolas finally accepts to carry out the abortion, however finds Kay is already dead. She has been disturbingly mutilated by Amin’s officials. This further detail of mutilation is a very clear depiction of the callous brutal and detached character of Amin that is now emerging.
Difficulty to judge the leadership of a dictator
How to assess the leadership of a dictator who killed thousands of people, yet not be subjective?
It is difficult to have a clear vision of Amin since his reign has been greatly taught through school textbooks, in classes, or historical articles as one of the great assassins of history. It is complex to assess the value of Amin as a leader without personal feelings and moral conscience affecting judgement. It is clear Amin was a leader of great brutality, vicious in his control and ruthless in his methods. However the leadership styles of a leadership must be assessed beyond this immediate view, and an examination must be made on why a leader may behave this way, and the factors that can play a role. It must be remembered, that regardless of the results of Amin’s leadership, there are reasons as to why he acted in this way and the behaviour he used were for reasons that he may or may not have had chose over.
Complexity of Amin’s intentions
Amin’s initial intentions were maybe to lead his people to freedom? Was he an idealist? Did he really care about its people or was he merely avid for power and recognition?
There is little doubt that Amin was devoted to its country and showed great honour of being Angolan which drove his struggle to become the president. His desire to show how he was proud of defending its fellow citizens was obvious at the start of the film, with both powerful speeches and the private behaviour of Amin with his officials. At least at the beginning, he seems to show genuine interest of the Ugandan people, and the director uses a number of scenes to highlight this seemingly genuine excitement at he progression of his country. However, these idealist and patriotic aspects of his personality clearly and quickly fade, leaving room for insanity and a very a unpredictable behaviour begins to emerge, having devastating affects on the Ugandan people. It can be argued that Amin was possibly too weak for the position that he was in, and too easily influenced by the advantages and benefits of being a president of a country. Thus he failed to properly execute his role as a leader and carry out the promises he made, merely abusing his powerful position and exploiting the country’s economic funds for his own personal benefit. He falls at the hands of corruption, and shows increasing insanity, maybe due to guilt, but more likely due to losing of power. He drive becomes motivated by money and control and he fear of distrust merely exacerbates the problem.
Complexity of Idi Amin’s personality
What are the main character traits of Idi Amin?
The secret of Amin’s personality has always been central. Indeed, Amin became the head of the state of Uganda concealing a lot of information to his people. This concealing of his true character can be signal for why the discovery of his atrocity was delayed to his followers and the outside world. His character was cleverly able to manipulate the situations, to ensure that his brutal reign was not fully understood by the people of Uganda.
Depicted well throughout the film, Amin can be argued to have had a peculiar personality yet a exceptional sense of leadership. This can be seen as the main reason for his achievement of the Ugandan presidency. Indeed, through his charisma and his ability to make believe people that he was the last hope for their country, he made it clear to the people that total loyalty would succeed in making Uganda the country that they all desired. In order to achieve this support of his followers, Amin claimed that he was one of them. Yet the director clearly attempted to highlight that conducing with this, Amin was forgetting his humanity, his true identity as a Ugandan citizen and self respect as a man. He had become blinded by his desire to make ‘a mark’ on history, and to retain his power over ‘his’ country.
Role of the follower: Nicholas Garrigan
What is the evolution of the follower’s attitude toward his leader?
The young doctor is shown as an inexperienced man (due to his young age), who, at the beginning, saw Amin as a model and the saviour of Ugandan’s people. The follower is fascinated by the president Amin who does not hide his sympathy toward him.
The personality and behaviour of Nicholas evolves, and the discovery of Amin’s intentions and insanity becomes clear. The two men have a complex relationship which builds into a father and son-type relationship. This can be seen to further Amin’s leadership power of Nicholas, who is already controlled by Amin. However the extent to which Amin has control over Nicolas must be carefully assessed. Nicolas has ultimate control of the life of Amin, as his personal physician, and Nicolas is aware of this. Furthermore, Nicolas disrespects the marriage of Amin to Kay when he begins his affair with the woman. These aspects clearly pose questions as to the extend of Amin’s power over Nicolas, and the extent to which Nicolas can be truly seen as a follower.
However as the film draws to a close, the audience become aware of the disappearance of Nicolas’s support for Amin. We know that followers build leaders since there are no leaders without followers. In The Last King of Scotland, the young doctor supported Amin’s status of leader by following him with his acceptance to live at the official residence near Amin, and later to become his main counsellor. In the movie, Nicholas is clearly shown as part of Amin’s leadership. But at the end of the film, Nicholas’ feeling of guilt become obvious, as he realised through naivety and selfishness, he was an active follower and supported the actions of this leader.
The Role of leadership: with reference to leadership models
(in particular concentration on the role of a developing crisis situation)
Throughout the years, many academics have attempted to identify and analyze the role of leadership, and to discover whether these leaders were born with unique characteristics or if the situations in which they find themselves, and the followers they have, play the fundamental role in the development of their leadership.
A number of research papers can be found, which discuss these different models, including Emily Spencer’s ‘Leadership Models and Theories: A Brief Overview’. Various leadership models have been laid out and discussed throughout this paper, and give opportunity to analyze the role of Amin as the Ugandan leader with reference to these models.
In the early years of leadership research, it was believed that leaders possessed skills, innate skills that could not be attained empirically. Known as the Trait Theory, these theorists assumed people were born with such traits as intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity and sociability, and it was these skills best suited for leadership positions. As it can be seen in the film, Amin clearly holds these traits, gaining the popularity of the Ugandan people to bring their country into a better situation (scene from 13 minute to 14 minute 30 second). These traits can also be seen with Amin’s developing relationship with Nicolas, the doctor. Amin uses his strengths as a sociable, confident and determined leader, to obtain the services of Nicolas who was subject to uncertainty at the beginning (scene from the 25 minute to 27 minute). Offering him a lavish lifestyle with an apartment, a Mercedes Benz (scene from 48 to 50 min) and the social lifestyle of a true king (scene from 27 to 28min), Nicolas soon accepts the role as Amin’s personal doctor (scene from 37 to 38 min). This persuasive character could be argued to be natural traits of a leader, rather than empirical knowledge. His powerful speeches to his followers, his ability to motivate those around him to their collective cause, and his intelligence to captivate the people of Uganda all can be linked to his natural ability as a leader (scene from 13 minute to 14 minute 30 second).
However, in later years, academics believed this trait theory to be too simplistic, overlooking the influences of the environment and circumstances in which a leader can be placed. Amin often refers to his childhood as a way to explain his behavior, and desire to be Uganda’s leader (scene from 35 min to 37). This touches upon the theoretical model of Psychodynamic Approach. Leadership is based on the foundation of an individual’s first experiences in life, which is where these leadership traits are actually formed. This often occurs by exposure to parents and the immediate community around them. Amin grew up in a difficult and challenging home setting. The imagery used within the film clearly depicts this, highlighting the poverty and the hardship of growing up in a village in one of Africa’s troubled countries. Thus suggesting that in fact this Trait Theory does not apply, but that it is possible Amin’s young childhood circumstances which have brought him to the leader that he is today.
Yet, broadening this view that childhood environments influences and moulds a person into their leadership character, it seems evident even the immediate environment can have a major impact on a leader. Besides the evident remarks made by Amin that his childhood had much influence on his character and desire to be the president of his country, there are many other signals throughout the film which suggest it is in fact the environment that can have major influences upon him (scene from 1h06 to 1h09). As the film moves into a situation of crisis and emergency, this coincides with the alteration of Amin’s character (from minute 51 to 55). Amin’s regime strengthens in its suppressive nature and authoritarian disposition, and Amin himself moves from a man of composure and apparent genuineness at the beginning of the film (scene from 30 to 35 min), to a man of a frantic, vicious and unpredictable disposition (compared to the scene at 1h24 to 1h25). The current environment in which Amin now finds himself, alters radically his leadership facade. The deteriorating political environment impacts deeply on the decisions made by the leader and the way in which he reacts to current issues.
The outside environment is clearly altering the ways in which Amin is leading his country. This is primarily represented in the developing relationships that Amin has with his colleagues and his doctor. As the external political and social climate deteriorates, he moves from a relationship of exchange (scene 40 to 41 min) to total authoritarian (scene 53 to 55 min). This idea of exchange can be seen in the Exchange Theory Model. The model suggests leaders use a series of exchanges to help with their leadership positions. These exchanges however are not formed with a large number of followers, but a small group of trusted followers who may work as subordinates, assistants or advisors. Amin has a very small number of advisors who work closely beside him, namely Jonah Wasswa and Daniel Ssettaba, and also Nicolas, Amin’s doctor. With the exchange model, these followers are classified as part of the ‘in-group’. The remaining followers, who in the example of the film are the Ugandan people, are in the ‘out-group’, with no mutual influence. The development of the leader-follower relationship can be been explained like a ‘life cycle’. The relationship begins with stage one, where the leader and the follower evaluate each others and any potential gains from this relationship. Amin is clearly captivated by Nicolas’s charm from the moment he meets him (scene from 17 to 20 min), and Nicolas is easily persuaded by the lavish lifestyle that can be offered as the doctor of a president. Amin trusts Nicolas instantly through his distinctive character and lack of fear (from 25 to 27 min). This fondness is also encouraged by Amin’s affection for Scotland, where Nicolas is from (scene at the 18 min). Mutual roles of the two are established, which is then followed by the second stage of the life cycle. During this stage, the mutual exchange arrangement is developed, and mutual trust, loyalty and respect are established. Amin becomes very close to Nicolas, trusting him and referring to him like a family member (scene from min 39 to 40 and scene from 58 to 59 min). At the third stage, the ‘mature’ stage, mutual commitment is established, based on self-interests.
These stages of the exchange theory can be seen vividly throughout the film. The two men become heavily involved in a relationship that moves beyond the basic concepts of leadership with his follower. Amin’s dependence on Nicolas become much more than the needs of a doctor. Amin asks Nicolas to replace him in a serious meeting (scene from 41 min to 43), and Amin becomes reliant on Nicolas to aid him in his decisions, and turns to him in times where he can no longer carry out his leadership responsibilities affectively. This greatly depicts the changing character of Amin as a leader, who is faced with a number of very difficult problems. He begins to use his relationships with his followers as a method in which to aid himself as a leader. As he starts to hesitate in his leadership role, his character can become unnerving, unpredictable and seemingly losing control (scene from 53 to 55min). Amin also displayed this fluctuating behavior in reverse; Amin is easily moved from an angry and violent disposition to a positive and cheerful character (scene from 28 to 32 min). This fluctuating behavior has been identified by academics as a trait that does not correspond well for leaders, but that a calm, composed character id better suited, able to assess a situation without involving great personal attitude.
Through the movie, it appears clearly that Amin can be considered as a veteran in the leadership consideration approach as he was born on 17 May 1924. In fact, he is really focused on himself; he is looking for his own security first and doesn’t care about people’s life (scene from 1h44 to 1h47). Furthermore, Amin is continuously looking for recognition and accomplishment. In his megalomania, he collected a large number of decorations and honorary titles. Also, the president often adopts a proactive approach, he likes taking decisions (scene from 1h 04 to 1h06).
Discussion: What aspects of leadership had we not considered but are evident in the film
We assume that leaders are calm and under control, but in fact, the depiction of Amin in this film is not a story of rarity. He gives the image of himself as an insane dictator, violent and autocratic. In fact, there are many examples of leaders who are unable to effectively take on the role of such a position, and results can occur which do not benefit themselves or their followers. Even when people are given the chance to become a good leader, with the right settings, circumstances and followers, under the pressure, they can easily fail. This film highlights the defects of leaders, and that it must be taken into consideration that leaders are neither born with innate talents which others can not strive to, nor do they gain flawless experience on which they can use to be successful. But that it is the way in which one adapts themselves to the situations in which they find themselves that can display a good leader, with the ability to lead his people in the right way. Amin clearly failed to achieve this, even with the great loyalty of his people, the ability to negotiate with the outside world of his desire to improve Uganda and from the help of his close associates such as Nicolas Garrigan. Amin was given many opportunities to use his strong position to help the cause of Uganda, yet failed, falling to the hands of corruption, greed, and self superiority. Thus it may be argued that in fact, it is the character of the person, the leader who is put in such a position, that results in the success of a leadership role, and his desire to achieve success or failure.
Throughout history, the structure of societies has continued to follow the formation of leaders with their followers. Whilst there are some who take on the role of a leader, the majority will follow, in the hope of gains for themselves and their communities. The dictatorships from recent history can be closely analysed in order to offer clear demonstration of these relationships, including the true story of Idi Amin in Uganda.
The film offers a number of ways in which to consider a leader and to present an interesting debate as to which characteristics really create a good leader. Also, it can be stated that Amin is a leader anchored in our contemporary civilisations.
It leads us to ask ourselves can we still believe in leadership? This film allows us to ask ourselves whether a good leader still exists. People want to believe in leaders who can led them to a better world or a better situation than at current, a leader who has the abilities to improve circumstances, to bring something new and beneficial. However, it seems people are increasingly aware of the disadvantages and problems of leaders and the power given to such people can be one of mistake and regret.
At present, the ideal of a perfect leader is less considered as the solution to problems and that power should be given to a wider number of people and that democracy is a much fairer method of transaction. The heightened corruption and excess of power that has been prominent in the history of leaders, is allowing for the realisation that leaders alone should not be given such power. The film underlines this idea, as the Ugandan people reflect the evolution of thought on leadership in our contemporary society.