Idi Amin


Issue No.142011

Words: Amani Hughes & Kelly Easton Copy Editor : Gerhard Jacobs

‘A murderer, a liar and a savage,’ fumed former Tanzanian President, Julius Nyerere. What he did ‘disgusted the entire civilised world,’ described former American President, Jimmy Carter.

According to exile organisations and Amnesty International, the estimated death toll during Idi Amin’s reign is between 300–500 thousand people and although he once had the boldness to call himself, ‘the hero of Africa’, Amin is remembered as nothing more than the ‘Butcher of Uganda’.

A bloody road to power

Idi Amin Dada Oumee was born in the town of Koboko in Nothern Uganda. His exact birth date has not been determined, but according to Africa 24 Media it is somewhere between the years 1923–1925. His father – Andreas Nyabire – belonged to the Kakwa ethnic group and after converting to the Islamic religion he changed his name to Amin Dada. Although carrying his father’s name, Idi Amin was raised by his mother, Assa Aatte, a traditional herbalist from the Lugbara ethnic group who was also said to be a camp follower of the King’s African Rifles (KAR) of the British Colonial Army.

Amin was a poor child who received very little basic education and in an ambitious attempt to better his life: he joined the army. In 1946 he became an assistant cook in the KAR and soon after served in Kenya during the British Suppression of the Mau Mau in 1952. In 1959, about seven demanding years later, Amin was chosen to be Afande (a warrant officer) which was the top position for a Black African in the British Army and he was later promoted to Lieutenant in the Ugandan army.

In The Guardian newspaper, an obituary written by a journalist called Patrick Keatley read: ‘The first sign of his sadism came after the fatal decision to make him a commissioned officer. In 1962, commanding troops of the 4th KAR, he carried out the Turkana Massacre, an operation that began as a simple assignment to check cattle rustling by tribesmen in the Turkana region of Kenya. Complaints from villagers reached the British authorities in Nairobi; bodies were exhumed from pits and it became clear that the victims had been tortured, beaten to death and, in some cases, buried alive... Later in 1970 while the Obote [Prime Minister Milton Obote, who by this time had declared himself as president, after imposing a new republican constitution which got rid of all kingdoms in Uganda] government was still in power, police investigating an armed hold-up, arrested a gang of kondos, the local word for thugs in illegal possession of arms. Under questioning, one of them indicated he took his orders from Brigadier Amin. This was embarrassing, as Obote was about to promote Amin to chief of staff, so the police commandant, Inspector-General Cryema, took no action. The kondos were released from detention and were killed in unexplained circumstances soon afterwards.’

Keatly went on to describe how Cryema was arrested and executed, following the well-built, tall and dark skinned Amin taking over a military coup in 1971 – the same time Obote was attending a meeting in Singapore. Amin then declared himself as president and made many disreputable changes, such as changing the system of civil law to military tribunals. According to the late journalist, six weeks after the incident 32 army officers, made up of Christian tribes all loyal to Obote, were jam-packed into a small cell and blown up by a charge of dynamite at the Makindye Prison in Kampala. President Julius Nyerere offered protection to Obote in Tanzania and soon many Ugandan’s followed him as they also wanted a safe haven away from Amin. As that year ended, Amin had executed around nine thousand men in the Ugandan army and if this was not cruel enough, his cunning road to power meant a lifetime of tyranny.

‘Amin brought bloody tragedy and economic ruin to his country, during a selfish life that had no redeeming qualities,’ – Remembered as nothing more than the Butcher of Uganda.

Aggressive dictatorship

Idi Amin liked to be referred to as ‘Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea’.Photo: Mohammed Salim,

Determined to make Uganda a ‘black man’s country’, Amin forced out around 40–80 thousand Indians and Pakistanis and justified his actions as a message from God in a dream. Thousands of Asians with British passports were forced to leave Uganda within three months and their abandoned homes, possessions and businesses, which made up the majority of the trade and manufacturing sectors in the country, were handed over to Amin supporters.

Britain and the international community, including Israeli governments, had believed Amin was a charismatic leader until he began this ethnic purge of the country and in response they decided to withdraw the selling of arms to Uganda. This caused Amin to turn to the Soviet Union to provide him with arms. It also pushed him to shake hands on a deal with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi to make Uganda an Islamic state.

‘The Islamic religion became a fetish for this unbalanced man, and his uncouth espousal of it did great harm to the Muslim cause in Africa. Amin succeeded in enlisting the support of his Islamic nearneighbour, the Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi. But other Muslim leaders in Syria, Jordan and Iraq rebuffed him when he travelled to their capitals looking for alliances. However, contingents of Libyan troops and planes helped his regime survive, against the odds, on more than one occasion,’ clarified Keatley in the obituary.

In order to maintain his power, the ‘Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea’ (as he was often referred to) murdered between 300–500 thousand rival tribes which included Obote followers and in the process killing innocent people, former cabinet ministers, diplomats, educators, journalist, Roman Catholic and Anglican archbishops and the list of titles go on and on until entire villages were wiped out. Before the cold dead bodies had a chance to deteriorate after being thrown into the Nile, Amin expanded his army and spent almost all of the country’s money on the military. And in the year 1975, the ruthless dictator declared himself as president for life.

No redeeming qualities

Idi Amin is remembered as one of the most famous postindependent leaders of Africa for the brutal way he ran Uganda.Photo: UN Photo/Muldoon

The once uneducated and underprivileged boy followed out further wicked plans to boost himself as a powerful governor – leaving his country with a fragile economy and a land with a history of brutality and murder. Instead of spending his time fixing the mess in his own country, he attacked Tanzania, but he didn’t expect the neighbouring country to fight back and scare him enough to flee to Libya with his family: wives, mistresses, children and the whole shebang. Yet, karma didn’t pay a visit to the dictator and after being asked to leave Libya, Amin moved to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and lived with servants, cooks, drivers, cars – all under a secure life and the sole condition that he didn’t involve himself in politics. Although asked to leave Republic of the Congo in his effort to go back to Uganda in 1989 and reclaim the power, according to Africa 24 Media, in an interview with a Ugandan newspaper Amin expressed no remorse for the abuses of his regime and stated, ‘ I am much happier now then when I was president’.

2002 marked the year when Uganda officially celebrated Amin’s downfall and in 2003 Amin went into a comma and was admitted to the King Faisal Hospital in Jeddah for high blood pressure and kidney failure. Even at this vulnerably ill stage, Amin was not allowed back into Uganda unless it was for a common burial – this was of course the orders of the new President Yoweri Museveni. But after Amin died due to multiple organ failure, he was buried in Jeddah’s Ruwais Cemetery within hours after his death.

Amin’s obituary by Patrick Keatley ended with the following words: ‘Amin brought bloody tragedy and economic ruin to his country, during a selfish life that had no redeeming qualities.’ – Remembered as nothing more than the Butcher of Uganda.