- - Tuesday, February 7, 2012

KAMPALA, Uganda — Ugandans increasingly are comparing their current president to their former “president for life” — Idi Amin, whose ruthless dictatorship during the 1970s earned him the nickname “the butcher of Uganda.”

No one is accusing President Yoweri Museveni of the atrocities that were emblematic of the Amin regime. But Ugandans are invoking images of Amin as Mr. Museveni enters his 27th year of rule, resorting to force and patronage to preserve power.

Joseph Kalyamagya, a 50-year-old construction business owner, was a boy when Amin seized power. His memories are still vivid of teachers, clergy and neighbors who disappeared; of four-star hotels converted into torture chambers; and of rumors of corpses being fed to crocodiles.

“We’re going through a silent killing now,” said Mr. Kalyamagya. “That’s the only difference.”

For decades, such a comparison was nearly sacrilege in this East African country scarred by one of the continent’s most violent post-independence histories. A former rebel, Mr. Museveni ushered in a long period of peace, stability and economic growth.

Now the economy is declining. The inflation rate reached 30 percent in October, and unemployment affects eight out of 10 youths, according to the World Bank.

Graft is at a record high, with presumed corrupt officials shielded from prosecution and with supplementary budgets ordered to cover up financial malfeasance.

Bloody riots last year left at least 12 dead. In a resumption of protests, opposition leaders have been jailed and police have fired on unarmed civilians.

Conditions have become so dire that some Ugandans are voicing a vague nostalgia for Amin’s regime, especially his public works programs.

“The last 12 months have made it easier to dream of Amin in a positive way,” said Frederick Kisekka-Ntale, a researcher at the Makerere Institute of Social Research in Kampala. “Bad as Amin’s regime was, there seemed to be a better management of public resources.”

During his eight-year reign that ended in 1979, Amin built hospitals, an international conference center, a national coffee trust, and a satellite radio and TV station.

A top public-policy analyst cautioned against sentimentality for Amin.

“Under Amin, the press was controlled by the military. Parliament was suspended. He ruled by military decree. It was a reign of terror,” said Arthur Bainomugisha of the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment, a Kampala-based think tank.

Amin killed an estimated 300,000 people. Thousands fled in fear to neighboring countries. After converting to Islam, Amin praised Adolf Hitler for systematically killing Jews.

Amin awarded himself the country’s highest military honors and declared himself “the conqueror of the British Empire” and “big daddy.”

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