Idi Amin's "Positive Qualities"?

Actor Forest Whitaker's new biopic about the bloodthirsty dictator "nailed Amin's complexities."

Actor Forest Whitaker stars in "The Last King of Scotland," the acclaimed biopic about Uganda's bloodthirsty dictator Idi Amin, who is thought to have killed over 300,000 of his countrymen duringa reign that was cruel even by the standards of African dictatorships. The Times' Africa correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman went to Kampala for the red carpet opening and made Sunday's front page with "A Film Star in Kampala, Conjuring Amin's Ghost."

"Mr. Whitaker said it was enormously helpful to walk through the actual places Amin haunted and meet actual people he victimized.

"'All these things come together in this alchemic way,' Mr. Whitaker said at a pre-screening news conference. 'The character comes to life and the spirit is brought forth.'

"Whatever he did, many Ugandans said, it worked. Mr. Whitaker nailed Amin's complexities, they said, and unlike previous portrayals that were one-dimensionally evil, this role revealed some of Amin's positive qualities, helping explain how he rose to power in the first place.

"'Amin made an attempt of ensuring the economy was in the hands of the indigenous people,' said Dixon Kamukama, a history professor at Makerere University in Kampala. 'It was crude. But it was the beginning of what we needed.'"

"Crude" doesn't quite cover it, but Gettleman doesn't pry. One wonders: Do thefanatical dictator's "positive qualities" (such as putting "the economy in the hands of the indigenous people") include his expulsion of 50,000 Asians, the backbone of the Ugandan economy, without compensation for their business and property losses?