How to Become a Tyrant (2021) s01e03 Episode Script

Reign Through Terror

[narrator] Dear tyrant,
now that you've vanquished
your enemies inside the government,
your regime should be
settling in for the long haul.
But there's another group that can pose
a bigger threat to your rule,
and it's much harder to control:
-[glass shattering]
-[blasts echoing]
your adoring countrymen.
So how can you keep the masses
on your side through thick and thin?
The playbook offers
one essential ingredient.
Machiavelli poses the question:
is it better for a ruler
to be feared or loved?
You should rely on fear,
because when people fear you,
you are in control of them.
[narrator] It gets better.
Play your cards right,
and you'll find that terror can have
an unexpected benefit:
winning your people's hearts.
Which brings us to Uganda
to meet legendary tyrant Idi Amin Dada.
[machine gun fires]
Amin's path through the playbook
made violence and terror
the guiding principles of his regime.
Toughness is good,
because the people respect you.
[narrator] Follow his example and learn
how to put your own dark side to work.
[theme music plays]
During Idi Amin's eight-year reign,
as many as 300,000 Ugandans
disappeared or were killed…
[gunshot fires]
…often on his direct orders.
He has turned Africa into
a human slaughterhouse.
[narrator] Before diving into how Amin
ruled over this former British colony,
here's what you need to know about
how he got the job in the first place.
Around 1946, Amin joins
what was called the King's African Rifle,
which was actually used
to suppress insurrection and rebellion
in African countries.
[woman] He had been very involved
in situations of violence,
and instead of being punished
for using excessive force,
Amin was repeatedly promoted.
He was able to recruit
people that were loyal to him
into the army,
and he started recruiting a lot of people
that came from
his own ethnic group, the Kakwa,
from the southwestern part of Uganda.
President Milton Obote was warned
by the departing governor:
Idi Amin was a ticking time bomb.
Obote knew at some point
he would have to deal with Idi Amin.
[Alicia] Not too long later, in 1971,
Amin did seize power from Obote
and ousted him in a military coup.
I will exercise the function
of the head of government,
so help me God.
And so began a new era full of promise.
[Allimadi] The media embraced him.
They coined nicknames like "Big Daddy."
Or he was called the "gentle giant."
But gaining power in a coup meant
that Amin had to wipe out his enemies
to secure his rule.
How do you do that
without turning off your fans
at home and around the world?
The playbook suggests
a little sleight of hand.
[dramatic music plays]
Setting up a new regime is hard work,
and it's not always pretty.
Too much attention to unsavory details
can really cramp a tyrant's style.
Uganda is very peaceful,
and Uganda does not violate
any human rights.
[narrator] That's why,
thanks to the playbook,
top tyrants know the value
of a good cover-up.
As word of Nazi atrocities
began to spread during World War II,
Hitler invited the Red Cross to tour
the Theresienstadt concentration camp,
which they disguised as a model ghetto
full of only healthy residents,
with its own bank,
Jewish-run businesses, and sports leagues.
When Joseph Stalin's agricultural policies
led to millions of deaths by starvation
in the Ukraine,
he used disinformation,
censorship, and friendly reporters
to keep the truth from emerging.
Pol Pot covered up
evidence of his genocide in Cambodia
that killed up to two million people,
saying he and the Khmer Rouge
were framed by the Vietnamese.
[machine gun fires]
[sinister music plays]
Believe it or not, it wasn't long
before Uganda's "gentle giant"
needed to put this tactic into action.
[Allimadi] Idi Amin had
a very charming personality,
but no denying that this is a killer
who unleashed his killing
the very minute he seized power.
-[crowd cheering]
-[Alicia] Six months into Amin's regime,
there started to be allegations
that there were massacres in the barracks,
particularly soldiers
who were members of the ethnic groups
that were closely linked
to the former president, Milton Obote.
People were killed
out in one of the forests outside Kampala.
They were buried
in one of the forests, or indeed,
sometimes dumped into the Nile River.
Rumors of the massacres begin to spread,
so American reporter Nicholas Stroh
decides to investigate
along with his friend Robert Siedle,
a professor at a local university.
Stroh and Siedle drive
to the alleged crime:
a rural barracks about 170 miles
southwest of the capital, Kampala.
And after two days,
they seemingly disappear.
Weeks pass with no signs of the men.
Amin meets with Stroh's wife
to reassure her
that he'll leave no stone unturned
to discover what happened,
but it takes months for him
to open an investigation.
Then a Ugandan Army lieutenant escapes
to Tanzania with a brutal story to tell.
He informs police there
that the two Americans were attacked
by Amin's officers and hacked to death,
their bodies burned
and dropped into a watery grave.
[engine turns over and revs]
[fire crackling]
The crime allegedly involved
high-ranking officials in the government,
but Amin closes the case
without any charges.
Another playbook success story?
Not exactly.
[guitar music plays]
The scandal turns
the nature of Amin's regime
from rumor into front-page news
around the world.
[Derek] The international reporting shifts
as it becomes more obvious
that Amin's government is
an exceptionally brutal one.
[narrator] But really, who needs
the international community?
What matters is
that your people stay loyal,
and the playbook has
the perfect tactic to keep them in line.
Every good tyrant understands
their nation is made up
of human beings with emotions,
and emotions can be hacked.
Scapegoating is
one of the most effective tactics.
Bullying somebody else for the ills
that the general masses are facing.
And that is how you earn
the trust and the support
and the legitimacy from the masses.
[crowd chanting] Sieg Heil!
There are many examples of this.
[narrator] Joseph Stalin blamed
wealthy farmers called kulaks
for hoarding riches during the 1930s
amid the Soviet Union's lagging economy.
Muammar Gaddafi passed a special law
to confiscate assets
from Libya's ethnic Italians
who once ruled over the country,
and expelled them on
what became known as the Day of Vengeance.
And of course, there's Adolf Hitler,
who built his entire movement from day one
around scapegoating and persecuting Jews.
But when Amin unleashes this tactic,
he has a different purpose in mind.
[Alicia] Things were
economically very difficult,
and Amin was trying to come up
with strategies to appease the nation,
so he could demonstrate that he was
in fact a legitimate and important leader.
And so he needed to find
a new group of individuals to target,
and that was the Asians.
There were about 100,000 Asian Ugandans,
mostly Indians
from the Indian subcontinent.
The British had brought them
during the colonial era,
mostly to build the railroad,
and they never went back.
[reporter] The Asian community:
80,000 out of a population of 10 million.
They own nearly all
the large shops and businesses.
[Alicia] A lot of the Ugandans
felt resentment toward the Asians.
They looked around
and saw Asian businessmen,
and they thought, "This is our country."
"There should be Africans
running these shops."
[man] You know, from experience,
we have discovered
that Asians are very, very shrewd.
And they have been exploiting
this country for a very long time.
[man 2] When Amin came into power,
there was great jubilation
amongst the Indian population of Uganda.
And Amin used to say himself
that he had liberated these Indians
which the British had disenfranchised.
But student of the playbook that he is,
Amin decides to change his tune.
[machine gun fires]
[Derek] Toward the end of 1971,
Amin holds a press conference
in which he describes
how the Asian community
was against Black Ugandans,
regarding them as being
less civilized than them.
[narrator] But then the kinder,
gentler Amin seemingly re-emerges.
Amin invites
Asian community leaders to a meeting
to help clear up any misunderstandings.
A who's who of Ugandan VIPs
attend the conference
along with international media.
The mood is hopeful…
until His Excellency the President arrives
along with his top military brass.
[ominous music plays]
Amin launches into an attack
on the Asian community,
accuses them of tax evasion,
funneling money out of the country,
and discriminating
against Black Ugandans in business.
In other words,
economic and cultural treason.
Amin's speech fuels
a wave of anti-Asian propaganda,
hate speech, and violence.
[Mariam] By creating divisions,
not only is Amin as the tyrant responsible
for breaking the bonds of trust
within the larger society,
he's also unifying his support base,
which is predominantly
the Black Ugandan population.
[narrator] Now you've got
your scapegoats off-balance,
you might think you can do with them
whatever you choose,
but it's not always so simple.
At least, not yet.
Even tyrannical societies have guardrails,
otherwise known as laws.
You need to knock them down.
One of the pleasures
of becoming absolute ruler:
you rarely hear the word "no."
But destroying all obstacles
to your tyrannical whims takes work.
Existing legal institutions
can be a barrier to political leaders.
What do they do? They dismantle them.
The idea is to weaken
all of the institutions and the guardrails
that serve as a check on your power.
And once those guardrails are down,
you're free to turn the law
against your scapegoat.
That's something
any tyrant can get behind.
[woman] Idi Amin was able to control
the government, the administration,
and the economic structure.
The tactics I'm using is sport.
By knocking out people,
I'm using politics also.
The only institution Idi Amin failed
to penetrate was the judiciary,
so he suspended part of the Constitution.
He gave himself power to pass decrees
to accomplish what he wanted.
[narrator] Sideline those pesky judges,
and your playing field opens wide.
For Amin, it triggers the next phase
of his scapegoating operation.
[machine gun fires]
One morning while visiting
the town of Soroti in Eastern Uganda,
Amin rises before dawn
and drives himself
to the local radio station.
There, he addresses the nation.
[Alicia] He said,
"Last night, I had a dream
that the Asians were milking the cow,
but they were not feeding it,
and therefore I think
that we should get rid of the Asians."
I want to see the whole Kampala street
is not full of Indians.
Would you like
to get all Asians out, really, sir?
Yes. They must go to their country.
Uganda's Asian community were given
three months to pack up their businesses,
leave the country.
And therefore,
they must sell everything they have
between now
and the ninth day from Monday.
[crowd cheering]
I was there in Uganda and I was
a teaching assistant at the university.
And the general feeling amongst those
I knew in the Asian community was
that this was a bombast.
[narrator] Asian leaders appeal
to Uganda's courts for protection,
but it's no use.
Many of the Asians
who'd been in Uganda were born there.
Their families had been in Uganda
for generations. They had nowhere to go.
People left their car at the airport,
left the keys in the car.
Nobody could figure out
what was happening to them.
[chuckling] I mean…
You just…
Imagine in a country where you had made
your whole life, and you…
Several generations.
You're leaving, and there was not
a single person to say goodbye.
Well, it wasn't a disaster for everyone.
[upbeat music plays]
Once you've cast off
your chosen scapegoats,
it's time to reap the rewards.
When the entire Asian population
was kicked out…
[crowd cheering]
…there was some celebration
in the population in Uganda.
Idi Amin was able to take those businesses
that had been owned by the Asians,
and awarding it to Africans.
It's good for them to go.
[reporter] Why?
They have sucked us enough.
[Mahmood] It was a popular move.
It in some ways resonated very deeply
with the demands
of the vast majority of people,
so it was popular.
Whether it was successful,
that's a different question.
After the Asian expulsion,
there was a massive economic crisis.
The people who had received the shops
that were Asian property
didn't have the skills.
They didn't know
how to manage economic enterprises.
[Allimadi] The shortage
of all sorts of commodities
resulted in mass inflation,
and many parts of the economy collapsed.
[narrator] So maybe terrorizing one
small group won't solve all your problems.
As you can see,
it can actually create more headaches.
But don't blame the playbook.
It's the people who've let you down.
Before they start complaining about you,
give them a good reason
to keep their mouths shut.
Torture is a very good way
to deter people from opposing you.
[man] It's better than killing,
because the person's kept alive.
You can trap them,
imprison them, pin them down,
and exert raw violence against them.
Tyrants love this.
[narrator] They certainly do.
In Cambodia, Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge
used a wide array of torture techniques,
including waterboarding, electric shock,
and even covering people in scorpions,
to force confessions.
North Korea's Ministry of State Security
uses sleep deprivation and the Pigeon,
a stress position, which over time,
forces the victim's backbone
out of the body.
While Joseph Stalin's NKVD favored
the classic Russian strappado technique,
which involves tying the victims' hands
behind their back,
then suspending them in air.
[machine gun fires]
As a result of the Asian expulsion,
it was a time of increased smuggling,
it was a time of economic chaos.
[funk music plays]
[narrator] Nothing like a bad economy
to stir up opposition to your rule.
So to keep the chaos in check,
Amin relied on his main torture squad:
the State Research Bureau,
whose agents were infamous
for their viciousness
and their fashion sense.
Everybody who saw these agents
knew who they were,
'cause they'd wear bell-bottom trousers,
dark glasses, flowered shirts.
You know,
they kind of had this 1970s vibe.
[narrator] But despite their cool threads,
these are probably not guys
you'd want to party with.
Some would be literally
whisked off of the street.
They'd be pulled from a restaurant
they'd be sitting at,
bundled into the trunk of a car,
and driven away.
[tires screeching]
Never to be seen again.
But everyone knew where they'd gone.
Amin had a large number
of torture chambers.
One of the most infamous
was the headquarters
of the State Research Center,
which was located
right in the middle of Kampala.
The French Embassy was
actually right next door,
and people working in the embassy
would recount being able to hear screams.
[Derek] The SRB building was famous
for the terrible things
that happened within its walls.
Ordinary, innocent people
were tortured and killed.
[ominous music plays]
[Alicia] But Amin and his henchmen
always made sure
that they let a couple people escape
so that they could tell the story.
I also visited a place
where they smash heads… with a hammer.
[Alicia] Amin was very careful
about cultivating rumors
in a way that would keep people afraid.
So the result is that ordinary citizens
never knew who they could trust,
and so they weren't able to mount
opposition against the state.
You'd think ruling through terror
would push your people away,
but as all tyrants know,
that's not how this works.
We're not great at distinguishing fear
from a more generalized feeling
of arousal.
And in a dictatorship, that could
actually be channeled into thinking
that heightened sense of emotion
is a feeling you're feeling
for the dictator themselves.
[crowd chanting]
[narrator] And that feeling
can seem a lot like love.
It's not unlike an abusive relationship
such as in a family,
or in a gang,
or in a cult.
They actually come to align themselves
psychologically with the oppressor.
But there are always going to be holdouts
who resist your terrible charms.
[machine gun fires]
Like this man:
Janani Luwum, Anglican Archbishop
of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Zaire,
and one of the most powerful Christians
in East Africa.
Luwum was well-regarded
by almost everyone.
Over the course of his archbishopric,
he was increasingly obliged
to speak against the violence of his time.
He had written a letter
decrying the violence.
It was enough for President Amin
to see the archbishop as a threat.
[narrator] So Amin points his finger
back at the archbishop.
Amin accused him,
along with two cabinet ministers,
of plotting to overthrow the government.
It was said the archbishop
was stockpiling weapons
in anticipation of an Anglican uprising.
The next day, the two cabinet ministers
and the archbishop
are found in a wrecked car.
Ostensibly, they lost their lives
in an auto accident.
[narrator] But witnesses tell
a different story of what happened.
Apparently Luwum and his wife were
attending a gathering at Amin's residence
when the president requested
a private meeting.
[ominous music plays]
Amin accused Luwum of treason
and demanded he sign a fake confession.
Luwum refused and was taken into custody.
Inside the State Research Bureau,
Luwum was brutally beaten
and threatened with worse
if he didn't confess
his crimes against the regime.
But Luwum did not bend.
That night, Luwum received a visitor.
Amin encouraged
the archbishop to reconsider,
but Luwum simply prayed
for God's mercy on Uganda and its leaders.
But mercy was not on Idi Amin's agenda.
[gun blasts]
[Derek] His body was buried
the next morning.
It was never subject
to an official examination report,
but it's plain that he was shot,
his bones were broken,
and other injuries were done to him.
[narrator] Maybe there is such a thing
as going too far.
[Derek] The archbishop's murder
kind of solidifies sentiment
that Amin's government needed to go.
But when your back is against the wall
and all hope seems lost,
the playbook has an ace in the hole
that can still turn your fortunes around.
[man yelps]
[electronic music plays]
[narrator] War.
What is it good for?
[machine gun firing]
As a tyrant, quite a bit,
especially when you're in a jam
like Idi Amin was in 1978.
Tyrants always go to war,
and the reason is there's always a point
when their domestic support
seems to be a little fragile.
And so what they do then
is find a foreign enemy
to marshal the country against.
[Derek] Amin absolutely used the threat
of foreign invasion and foreign opposition
as a kind of provocation
that could inspire
Ugandans' loyalty and self-sacrifice.
[machine gun fires]
[narrator] Let's see how that worked out.
In 1978, units of the Uganda Army
crossed the border in the south of Uganda
and invaded Tanzania.
He had no legitimate reason
to invade Tanzania,
except as a diversion.
[narrator] And to settle some old scores.
[Allimadi] Tanzania had maintained
a close relationship
with Milton Obote all these years.
Now is the time for Ugandans
to overthrow the regime of death.
And Amin obviously did not like that.
[narrator] Needless to say,
if you're going to make this tactic work,
you need an army that's up to the task.
[Allimadi] All these years,
Amin's army had sophisticated weapons,
but in reality,
his soldiers had never
fought against armed opposition.
All they had done was met brutality
against unarmed Ugandans.
Field Marshal Amin started it
with a territorial claim on my country.
So he had now had the legitimate excuse
to actually invade Uganda.
[narrator] That was probably not what Amin
had in mind when he started all this.
[Alicia] By this point,
Amin's army, the Uganda Army,
was completely out of control.
The Tanzanian People's Army
was much more organized.
Amin's army collapsed very quickly.
[crowd cheering]
[funk music plays]
Amin is in Arua. And we're going there.
-[reporter] You're going there?
[reporter] When will you be in Arua?
I don't know. Because we're walking.
[crowd cheering]
[Allimadi] Idi Amin was still
in the country with a mobile radio
and still communicating
and claiming that he was still in power
and urging the population,
which he had brutalized for nine years,
to actually stand up…
[chuckles] …and fight on his behalf.
Which was utter nonsense, of course.
[narrator] Nothing less intimidating
than a loser on the run.
So take note:
when you decide to go to war,
make sure you pick a fight you can win.
And then eventually, he flies himself
out of the country to Saudi Arabia,
where he lives in exile
for the rest of his life.
[narrator] The demise of Idi Amin's regime
holds an important lesson.
Just because you have
a playbook to work from,
doesn't mean your success is guaranteed.
To make sure your rule endures,
you need an even grander vision
and the discipline to see it through.
Take a page from a man
who dominated all aspects
of his nation's day-to-day life,
including the most basic concept of all:
the truth.
[in Russian] Who alone do we owe this to?
[theme music plays]
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