What would happen if the ruling power goes into the hands of violence? And so you would see in the story of Idi Amin. Between 1971 and 1979, he was the president of Uganda. Since then, he became a man of mystery and of myth.
In 1971, when General Idi Amin overthrew the elected government of Milton Obote and declared himself the president of Uganda, people celebrated having no idea how violent and harsh the next decade would be.
He is famous for being the cannibalistic dictator who threw out Uganda’s 50,000 Asians and killed up to 500,000 people. Read to know about the story of Idi Amin and the ruling period.
Who is Idi Amin?
Idi Amin Dada was a Ugandan president. He overthrew the current leader in 1971 and declared himself president and then remained in power from 1971 to 1979.
He lived a lavish lifestyle and sought to stay in power at all costs. He is known for contributing to the collapse of Uganda’s economy and resulting violations via mass killings. In the Ugandan culture and politics, he remains a key point of reference. His name has become synonymous with brutal African dictatorship in the world.
Idi Amin is known as the “Butcher of Uganda” for his mass killings and violations of human rights. But still, his legacy is cherished by Ugandans to this day. This speaks volumes of his success in bringing up the image of a liberator.
The early life of Idi Amin
Idi Amin, fully known as Idi Amin Dada Oumee was born in the year 1925 in Uganda’s Northwest, near the borders of Sudan and Congo. His father was a farmer and a member of the Kakwa, which is a tribe native to Uganda, Congo, and Sudan. His mother was of the Lugbara people.
At a very young age, Idi Amin’s parents separated. And so he and his mother had to move to another city. He was brought up by his mother who was an herbalist and diviner. Idi Amin enrolled in a Muslim School and left shortly after reaching the fourth grade. As a boy, Amin spent much time tending goats and working in the field.
The impressive quality of Idi Amin
As Idi Amin grew, he matched the qualifications from the military service which were required by the British at that time. He was at a height of 6 ft 4 inches and have the ability to speak the local Kiswahili language. He lacked education and was seem to be the perfect person to mold into an obedient Soldier who would work under orders.
As a young adult, he worked hard to gain the martial qualifications valued by the British, which had ruled Uganda since 1894. He got enlisted in the army in 1946. He impressed his superiors and stood out from his peers by focusing on Athletics. He was a good swimmer, boxer, and rugby player. He 1951 he won the heavyweight boxing championship and he held the title for 9 years.
In 1949, Idi Amin was promoted from private to corporal and it was the first of his many notable steps up the ladder of power.
Amin’s career in the military
Amin was extremely charismatic and skilled. He rose quickly through the ranks. He used Anti-Imperialist sentiment to inspire public support. He helped the British maintain control outfits African protectorates by fighting against the Mau Mau African Freedom Fighters in Kenya and rebel fighters in Somalia.
He was promoted to sergeant in 1951, a lance corporal in 1953, and sergeant-major and platoon commander in 1958. By 1961, Amin was given the rank of “effendi,” the highest rank available to native-born soldiers in Uganda. By 1962, Amin had the highest rank of any African in the military.
Idi Amin And Milton Obote
In 1962, before the independence of Uganda, Amin became closely associated with the new nation’s prime minister and president Milton Obote.
A simple assignment was given to root out cattle-stealers. But it was reported that Amin and his men had committed brutal atrocities. The bodies were dug out by the British authorities in Nairobi and they found out that the victims had been tortured and beaten to death whereas some had been buried alive.
Since Amin was one of only two high-ranking African officers, and Uganda was nearing its Oct. 9, 1962 independence from Britain, Obote and British officials decided not to prosecute Amin. Obote promoted him and sent him to the U.K. for further military training.
Idi Amin became president and chief of the armed forces in 1971, field marshal in 1975, and life president in 1976.
Idi Amin and prime minister Obote formed a profitable alliance in 1964, rooted in an expansion of the Ugandan Army and various smuggling operations. Both of them worked to smuggle gold, coffee, and Ivory out of Congo.
Other Ugandan leaders were upset about Obote’s abuse of power. King Metusa II of Buganda, who was one of Uganda’s precolonial kingdoms, asked for a thorough inquiry into the prime minister’s dealings. Obote responded by putting in place his own commission that essentially let him off the hook.
Obote sent tanks to attack the Palace of Mutesa II. He fled the country leaving Obote in charge of the government and Amin in charge of the government’s muscle.
On January 25, 1971, while Obote was attending a meeting in Singapore, Amin staged a successful military coup. Obote was forced into exile by Idi Amin.
Rise to power
When Amin was about to take control, the Ugandans were enthusiastic thinking that it would be a good rule. They felt the new president was a charismatic man of the people and they danced in the streets.
His informal personality like shaking hands, posing for pictures, and dancing the traditional dances with commoners made people think that he really cared about the country. He rose to popularity when he allowed King Mutesa’s body to return to Uganda for burial in his homeland while abolishing the secret police of Obote. He released the political prisoners and he seemed to be an admirable ruler.
Amin married his spouses from various Ugandan ethnic groups. In addition to his six wives, it is said that he had a minimum of 30 mistresses around the country.
His true reality came out
Behind the scenes, Idi Amin Dada was busy creating his own killer squads tasked with killing soldiers suspected of being loyal to Obote. A total of 5,000-6,000 soldiers from the Acholi, Langi, and other tribes, right in their barracks were brutally murdered.
He became known as the “Butcher of Uganda” due to his brutality. It is believed that some 300,000 people were killed during his presidency. He was ruthless and vengeful. In 1972, it was further highlighted when his inability to deal with political matters in a civil manner.
He asked Israel for money and arms to help fight Tanzania. When Israel refused his request, he turned to Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, who promised to give him what he wanted.
Idi Amin ordered the dismissal of 500 Israelis and 50,000 South Asians with British citizenship. The expulsions led to a dramatic economic downturn in Uganda, as Israel had undertaken several large building projects, and Uganda’s Asian population consisted of many successful plantation and business owners. All of these developments soured Amin’s international image but he did not seem to care.
His sadistic behavior
During the mid-1970s, Idi Amin grew increasingly unpredictable, oppressive, and corrupt. He altered travel schedules and modes of transportation and slept in different places. To keep his troops loyal, Amin provided them with expensive electronics, whiskey, promotions, and fast cars.
He also handed over businesses that were previously owned by Uganda’s Asian population to his supporters. He was behind the murders of his countrymen. Tens of thousands of Ugandans continued to be violently killed on ethnic, political, and financial grounds
The methods of killing became sadistic. Rumors were spread that he kept human heads in his refrigerator. He ordered 4,000 disabled people to be fed by crocodiles. In 1976, he said, “I have eaten human meat,”.
The majority of the national funds were used for the armed forces and for his personal expenses. Even after his brutal rule, Amin was elected the chairman by the Organization of African Unity.
Personal life of Idi Amin
Amin fathered 43 children and had 5 wives. He could get any woman he desired whether she was interested or not and also silence whoever was against it.
Kay Amin, the fourth wife. She met Idi while she was studying at Makerere University in Kampala in the early 1960s. In 1973, the couple officially divorced. Kay’s body was found dismembered in the trunk of a car the following year, with allegations of adultery and uncertainty around her death following her to the grave.
In August 1974, Kay’s body was discovered in the trunk of a car, dismembered and sewn back together in a crude fashion. A doctor with whom Kay is rumored to have had an affair and his body was found the day before, and it was ruled that he had committed suicide.
Later, he married the 19-year-old Sarah Kyolaba as his fifth wife. The two tied the knot in 1975 in a very lavish wedding that reportedly cost over $2 million.
Hijacking of Air France flight
In June 1976, Idi Amin supported Palestinian and leftist militants who hijacked an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris. The plane had 246 passengers and 12 crew members as hostages. But Amin allowed the terrorists to land at Entebbe airport in Uganda and provided them with troops and supplies.
On the night of July 3, Israel sent a team of elite commandos to rescue the hostages in a surprise attack on Entebbe airport. This was one of the most daring and successful rescue missions in history. During the operation, only one Israeli soldier lost his life, while all seven hijackers and 20 Ugandan soldiers were killed.
Amin ordered the execution of one of the hostages who was a 74-year-old British-Israeli woman. She had fallen ill during the hostage crisis and was being treated in an Uganda hospital. It was revealed that the woman was dragged from her hospital bed screaming, shot to death, and dumped into the trunk of a government car.
Later, the body of a white woman was found on a sugar plantation 19 miles away. It was too burnt and disfigured to identify.
The British severed all diplomatic ties with Uganda in the aftermath of the Entebbe incident, and Amin announced himself the “Conqueror of the British Empire.” The title was just one more addition to the dictator’s god-like description of himself.
His rule got worsened
The destructive methods of Idi Amin got worsened even further by the late 1970s. A few notable Ugandans like Archbishop Janani Luwum and Interior Minister Charles Oboth Ofumbi were ordered to be killed.
Coffee is Uganda’s main export. In 1978, the United States, which accounted for one-third of Uganda’s coffee exports, stopped trading with Uganda altogether. The economy deteriorated and its rule of Amin was opposed. So his power was growing increasingly weak.
Many Ugandans had fled to the U.K. and other African countries while his troops fled to Tanzania.
The turning point in the life of Idi Amin
In October 1978, he ordered the invasion of Tanzania, claiming they had instigated unrest in Uganda. Tanzanian forces fought off the attack and invaded Uganda.
On April 11, 1979, Uganda’s capital, Kampala, was captured by Tanzanian and exiled Ugandan soldiers, and the regime of Amin was overthrown.
At first, Amin fled to Libya, with his four wives and more than 30 children. They moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Until 1989, he remained there and he used a fake passport to fly to Kinshasa.
After multiple organ failures, Idi Amin died on Aug. 16, 2003. His family disconnected him from life support.
Three years later, his character was famously captured by actor Forest Whitaker in an Oscar-winning performance in the 2006 film, The Last King of Scotland.
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