Last night Emma and I watch The Last King of Scotland. A film about Uganda under Idi Amin during the 1970’s. It’s a remarkable film – tense, beautifully shot, incredibly acted – and it seems sadly relevant in light of the ongoing monster-parade of leaders that plague the developing world.
In the news at the moment we are hearing about the rioting in Kenya, rioting and instability in Pakistan. Countries that have a history of leaders who appear to believe that the good of their countries is best served by their own personal aggrandisement.
Perhaps putting it that way is too simplistic.
It cannot be denied that many of those leaders who have become notorious for their brutality, or corruption, or cult of personality, are (or were) people of great charisma and leadership ability. Often they are very urbane and intelligent people. Always, they come to power asserting that they seek the best for their people, things which only a strong leader can achieve.
It’s easy for us to ‘look behind’ this rhetoric and see nothing but irrational evil and self-interest. It may well be that this is the case, but I’m certain it wasn’t the reality that presented itself to the consciousness of the leader any more than the people whom he persuaded. What ever our beliefs about the causes of evil and the human capacity for free will. At a subjective level no one actively pursues evil, there are no Cackling Arch-Villains. That would be such a failure of logical consistency that it would render the person virtually incapable of normal function. Whatever evils people do, we do it because we have told ourselves, in some fashion, that they are good.
It seems to me, as an arm-chair observer, that leaders like Idi Amin, subscribed to a theory that the good of their nation was best served by their own personal good. For Idi Amin, as presented in The Last King of Scotland this was not in a tawdry, greedy sense. Rather, he believed himself the ‘Father’ of the nation. His personal strength was a measure of the nation’s strength, his personal wealth was a measure of the national wealth. Every aspect of national life was related personally to himself as leader. This led him to take every personal slight or threat as a national betrayal, which he would exterminate for the sake of the people.
I wonder if Hitler’s Germany didn’t operate along similar lines.
There is something deeply right about this way of thinking. The life of a people is intimately connected with the life of their leaders. This understanding is central to Christian faith.
What is deeply wrong with Idi Amin, and all the sorry list of criminal leaders who have blighted our world, is a failure to understand the sacrificial nature of leadership displayed by Christ.
This was revolutionary in the 1st Century, and remains so in the 21st. The good of the people will be served by the sacrifice of the leader. For a leader to seek the good of the people is not equivalent to seeking his own good. This Christian understanding of leadership is nicely expressed in our use of the term ‘Minister’ for our political leaders. The word ‘minister’ is a Latin loan-word meaning ‘servant’. Our Prime-Minister is the ‘First Servant’ of the people.