The Last King of Scotland

by Giles Foden

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 962

Questions about Ethical Behavior
Throughout the book, Garrigan struggles with the question of whether his behavior is ethical. The first instance of this is when he travels to Mbarara on a crowded bus, and Ugandan soldiers pull the bus over to collect money from the passengers. Everyone provides money to the soldiers except for one man who claims to be a Kenyan diplomat. The soldiers retaliate by hitting him with the end of a rifle, which rips open a huge gash in his face. Garrigan keeps quiet until the soldiers leave and then moves to give the Kenyan first aid. The Kenyan reacts angrily, demanding to know, “What good are you to me now?” Furthermore, he says that the soldiers would have left the bus alone if Garrigan, a white person, had come forward. According to the Kenyan, Garrigan had power that he did not use at the appropriate time.

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This scene is a precursor for what is to come in Garrigan’s life. During the entire time he works for Amin, he knows about the horrible and unspeakable violence his boss directs, yet he does nothing. When the British Embassy asks him first to modify Amin’s behavior and later to kill Amin with drugs, Garrigan shrugs his shoulders. His only reaction is to imagine how exciting it would be to do these things because they are so much like actions found in a James Bond story. Even after rejecting the request to kill Amin based on his position as a doctor, Garrigan thinks, “It would be rather grand to rid the world of a dictator.” On the other hand, Garrigan admits that he actually likes Amin. “I could kill Amin and get away with it,” he says. “But there was, I conceded it to myself again, something in me that actually liked the man, monster though he was.” In another incident, Sara calls Garrigan and begs him to get involved in the hijacking incident by urging Amin to release the hostages. Garrigan responds instead “I can’t get involved in all that . . . I’m not made for this kind of thing.”

Loneliness and Friendship
Garrigan is a lonely man with few close ties to other people. Garrigan admits that the death of his pet donkey was the most significant event in his childhood and that the family home was emotionally stifling. When he hears that his father has died, he chooses not to travel to Scotland for the funeral or to be with his mother and sister. A short time later, when his mother dies, he makes the same decision to remain in Uganda.

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Once in Uganda, Garrigan fits in well at the Mbarara clinic, but he seems to focus more on the flora and fauna than on the people he works with. Long-term relationships do not seem to be his forte, and many of the people he gets along with at Mbarara either meet with bad ends or are not who he imagined them to be. His relationship with Sara is long in its development but is over rapidly and without much discussion. She suddenly decides that she is no longer his lover and eventually leaves without a word being said. A few years later, she turns up as an Israeli spy, making Garrigan realize that he did not know her as well as he had thought. Boniface, whom Garrigan meets on the bus into Mbarara, dies with his family during a rebel attack on the town. Boniface’s brother, Gugu, becomes a maniacal killer in Amin’s troops. When friends come to Garrigan for help, he rarely extends his hand, usually because he is afraid of the consequences. While living in Kampala as Amin’s physician, he associates with a few people but has no deep friendships. The one time he reaches out to someone it is to the British ambassador’s wife, who becomes angry at his assumption that she is interested in him.

Amin represents the closest relationship Garrigan has. As the book moves along, he spends more and more time with the ruler and shares conversations with him that are much more intimate than those he has with anyone else. Garrigan seems to relish taking care of and protecting the despot; he feels warmth in response to Amin’s childlike behavior and the “nurserylike atmosphere” of his quarters. In the beginning of their relationship, “I even felt a sneaking sense of affection towards him,” Garrigan remembers. He admits later that his life is focused on Amin, even though the closer he gets to the ruler the fewer illusions he has. “Still I stayed, more fascinated than frightened,” recalls Garrigan.

Relationship of African Nations to the Western World
The relationship between African nations and the West is a complicated one in the novel and in history. In the novel, Africans seem to hold both disdain and respect for Westerners. For example, Amin’s fascination with Scotland and his corresponding affection toward the Scot Garrigan come from his exposure to the nation and its people while training as a soldier. Amin believes that, in their struggle for independence from England, the Scots have decided that he is their liberating king, much as he sees himself as the liberator of Uganda and all of Africa.

The impact that Western colonization has had on the continent is apparent in the book and evokes anger and contempt from many of the African characters. The Kenyan on the bus is angry when Garrigan fails to use his supposed power as a white man to stop the thieving soldiers. Waziri laughs when Garrigan says that he wants to see “the real Africa” and remembers with some derision that in the recent past all whites who came to Africa were considered “miracle workers.”

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