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I » I » Politics


Idi Amin 1928-2003
 


Country : Kampala, Uganda
Profession : Head of State
Date of birth : 1928-05-17
Date of death : 2003-08-16
Cause of Death : Unspecified

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Idi Amin Dada (May 17 1928 – 16 August 2003), commonly known as Idi Amin, was a Ugandan military dictator and the president of Uganda from 1971 to 1979. Amin joined the British colonial regiment, the King's African Rifles, in 1946, and advanced to the rank of Major General and Commander of the Ugandan Army. He took power in a military coup in January 1971, deposing Milton Obote. His rule was characterized by human rights abuses, political repression, ethnic persecution, extrajudicial killings and the expulsion of Asians from Uganda. The number of people killed as a result of his regime is unknown; estimates from human rights groups range from 100,000 to 500,000.

From 1977 to 1979, Amin titled himself as "His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular." In 1975–1976, despite opposition, Amin became the Chairman of the Organization of African Unity, a pan-Africanist group designed to promote solidarity of the African states. During the 1977–1979 period, Uganda was appointed to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

Dissent within Uganda, and Amin's attempt to annex the Kagera province of Tanzania in 1978, led to the Uganda-Tanzania War and the fall of his regime in 1979. Amin fled to Libya, before relocating to Saudi Arabia in 1981, where he died in 2003.

 

Early life and military career

Amin never wrote an autobiography or authorized any official account of his life. There are discrepancies as to when and where he was born. Most biographical sources hold that he was born in either Koboko or Kampala around 1925. According to Fred Guweddeko, a researcher at Makerere University, Idi Amin was the son of Andreas Nyabire (1889–1976). Nyabire, a member of the Kakwa ethnic group, converted from Roman Catholicism to Islam in 1910 and changed his name to Amin Dada. Abandoned by his father, Idi Amin grew up with his mother's family. Guweddeko states that Amin's mother was called Assa Aatte (1904–1970), an ethnic Lugbara and a traditional herbalist, who treated members of Buganda royalty, among others. Amin joined an Islamic school in Bombo in 1941. After a few years he left school and did odd jobs before being recruited to the army by a British colonial army officer.

Colonial British army

Amin joined the King's African Rifles (KAR) of the British Colonial Army in 1946 as an assistant cook. He claimed he was forced to join the Army during World War II and that he served in the Burma Campaign, but records indicate he was first enlisted after the war was concluded. He was transferred to Kenya for infantry service as a private in 1947 and served in the 21st KAR infantry battalion in Gilgil, Kenya, until 1949. That year, his unit was deployed to Somalia to fight the Somali Shifta rebels who were rustling cattle there. In 1952 his brigade was deployed against the Mau Mau rebels in Kenya. He was promoted to corporal the same year, then to sergeant in 1953.

In 1954 Amin was made effendi (warrant officer), the highest rank possible for a Black African in the colonial British army of that time. Amin returned to Uganda the same year, and in 1961 he was promoted to lieutenant, becoming one of the first two Ugandans to become commissioned officers. He was then assigned to quell the cattle rustling between Uganda's Karamojong and Kenya's Turkana nomads. In 1962 he was promoted to captain and then, in 1963, to major. The following year, he was appointed Deputy Commander of the Army.

Amin was an active athlete during his time in the army. At 193 cm (6 ft 4 in), he was the Ugandan light heavyweight boxing champion from 1951 to 1960, and a swimmer and rugby player.

Army commander

In 1965 Prime Minister Milton Obote and Amin were implicated in a deal to smuggle ivory and gold into Uganda from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The deal, as later alleged by General Nicholas Olenga, an associate of the former Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba, was part of an arrangement to help troops opposed to the Congolese government trade ivory and gold for arms supplies secretly smuggled to them by Amin. In 1966, Parliament demanded an investigation. Obote imposed a new constitution abolishing the ceremonial presidency held by Kabaka (King) Edward Mutesa II of Buganda, and declared himself executive president. He promoted Amin to colonel and army commander. Amin led an attack on the Kabaka's palace and forced Mutesa into exile to the United Kingdom, where he remained until his death in 1969.

Amin began recruiting members of Kakwa, Lugbara, Nubian, and other ethnic groups from the West Nile area bordering Sudan. The Nubians had been residents in Uganda since the early 20th century, having come from Sudan to serve the colonial army. In Uganda, Nubians were commonly perceived as Sudanese foreigners and erroneously referred to as Anyanya (Anyanya were southern Sudanese rebels of the First Sudanese Civil War and were not involved in Uganda). Because many ethnic groups in northern Uganda inhabit both Uganda and Sudan, allegations persist that Amin's army consisted substantially of Sudanese soldiers.

Seizure of power

Eventually, a rift developed between Amin and Obote, worsened by the support Amin had built within the army by recruiting from the West Nile region, his involvement in operations to support the rebellion in southern Sudan, and an attempt on Obote's life in 1969. In October 1970, Obote himself took control of the armed forces, reducing Amin from his months-old post of commander of all the armed forces to that of commander of the army.

Having learned that Obote was planning to arrest him for misappropriating army funds, Amin seized power in a military coup on 25 January 1971, while Obote was attending a Commonwealth summit meeting in Singapore. Troops loyal to Amin sealed off Entebbe International Airport, the main artery into Uganda, and took Kampala. Soldiers surrounded Obote's residence and blocked major roads. A broadcast on Radio Uganda accused Obote's government of corruption and preferential treatment of the Lango region. Cheering crowds were reported in the streets of Kampala after the radio broadcast. Amin announced that he was a soldier, not a politician, and that the military government would remain only as a caretaker regime until new elections, which would be announced as soon as the situation was normalised. He promised to release all political prisoners.

Amin was initially welcomed both within Uganda and by the international community. In an internal memo, the British Foreign Office described him as "a splendid type and a good football player". He gave former king and president Mutesa (who had died in exile) a state burial in April 1971, freed many political prisoners, and reiterated his promise to hold free and fair elections to return the country to democratic rule in the shortest period possible.

Establishment of military rule

On 2 February 1971, one week after the coup, Amin declared himself President of Uganda, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Army Chief of Staff and Chief of Air Staff. He announced that he was suspending certain provisions of the constitution and soon instituted an Advisory Defence Council composed of military officers, with himself as the chairman. Amin placed military tribunals above the system of civil law, appointed soldiers to top government posts and parastatal agencies, and informed the newly inducted civilian cabinet ministers that they would be subject to military discipline. Amin renamed the presidential lodge in Kampala from Government House to "The Command Post". He disbanded the General Service Unit (GSU), an intelligence agency created by the previous government, and replaced it with the State Research Bureau (SRB). SRB headquarters at the Kampala suburb of Nakasero became the scene of torture and executions over the next several years. Other agencies used to root out political dissent included the military police and the Public Safety Unit (PSU).

Obote took refuge in Tanzania, having been offered sanctuary there by Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere. He was soon joined by 20,000 Ugandan refugees fleeing Amin. In 1972, the exiles attempted to regain the country through a poorly organized coup attempt, without success.

Persecution of ethnic and other groups

Amin retaliated against the attempted invasion by Ugandan exiles in 1972 by purging the army of Obote supporters, predominantly those from the Acholi and Lango ethnic groups. In July 1971, Lango and Acholi soldiers were massacred in the Jinja and Mbarara Barracks, and by early 1972, some 5,000 Acholi and Lango soldiers, and at least twice as many civilians, had disappeared. The victims soon came to include members of other ethnic groups, religious leaders, journalists, senior bureaucrats, judges, lawyers, students and intellectuals, criminal suspects, and foreign nationals. In some cases entire villages were wiped out. In this atmosphere of violence, many other people were killed for criminal motives or simply at will. Bodies floated on the River Nile in quantities sufficient to clog the Owen Falls Hydro-Electric Dam in Jinja on at least one occasion.

The killings, motivated by ethnic, political and financial factors, continued throughout Amin's eight-year reign. The exact number of people killed is unknown. The International Commission of Jurists estimated the death toll at no fewer than 80,000 and more likely around 300,000. An estimate compiled by exile organizations with the help of Amnesty International puts the number killed at 500,000. Among the most prominent people killed were Benedicto Kiwanuka, the former prime minister and later chief justice; Janani Luwum, the Anglican archbishop; Joseph Mubiru, the former governor of the Central Bank; Frank Kalimuzo, the vice chancellor of Makerere University; Byron Kawadwa, a prominent playwright; and two of Amin's own cabinet ministers, Erinayo Wilson Oryema and Charles Oboth Ofumbi.

In 1977, Henry Kyemba, Amin's health minister and a former official of the first Obote regime, defected and resettled in Britain. Kyemba wrote and published A State of Blood, the first insider exposé of Amin's rule.

In August 1972, Idi Amin declared what he called an "economic war", a set of policies that included the expropriation of properties owned by Asians and Europeans. Uganda's 80,000 Asians were mostly from the Subcontinent born in the country, whose ancestors had come to Uganda when the country was still a British colony. Many owned businesses, including large-scale enterprises, that formed the backbone of the Ugandan economy. On 4 August 1972, Amin issued a decree ordering the expulsion of the 60,000 Asians who were not Ugandan citizens (most of them held British passports). This was later amended to include all 80,000 Asians, with the exception of professionals, such as doctors, lawyers and teachers. A plurality of the Asians with British passports, around 30,000, emigrated to Britain. Others went to Australia, Canada, India, Pakistan, Sweden, and the U.S. Amin expropriated businesses and properties belonging to the Asians and handed them over to his supporters. The businesses were mismanaged, and industries collapsed from lack of maintenance. This proved disastrous for the already declining economy.

International relations

Foreign relations of Uganda

Following the expulsion of Indians in 1972, India severed diplomatic relations with Uganda. The same year, as part of his "economic war", Amin broke diplomatic ties with Britain and nationalized 85 British-owned businesses. He also expelled Israeli military advisers and turned to Muammar al-Gaddafi of Libya and the Soviet Union for support. In General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait, he discussed his planned war against Israel, using paratroops, bombers, and suicide squadrons.

In 1973, U.S. Ambassador Thomas Patrick Melady recommended that the United States reduce its presence in Uganda. Melady described Amin's regime as "racist, erratic and unpredictable, brutal, inept, bellicose, irrational, ridiculous, and militaristic". Accordingly, the United States closed its embassy in Kampala.

In June 1976, Idi Amin allowed an Air France aeroplane hijacked by two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - External Operations (PFLP-EO) and two members of the German Revolutionäre Zellen to land at Entebbe Airport. There, the hijackers were joined by three more. Soon after, 156 hostages who did not hold Israeli passports were released and flown to safety, while 83 Jews and Israeli citizens, as well as 20 others who refused to abandon them, continued to be held hostage. In the subsequent Israeli rescue operation, codenamed Operation Thunderbolt (popularly known as Operation Entebbe), nearly all of the hostages were freed. Three hostages died and 10 were wounded; six hijackers, 45 Ugandan soldiers, and one Israeli soldier, Yoni Netanyahu, were killed. This incident further soured Uganda's international relations, leading Britain to close its High Commission in Uganda.

Uganda under Amin embarked on a large military build-up, which raised concerns in Kenya. Early in June 1975, Kenyan officials impounded a large convoy of Soviet-made arms en route to Uganda at the port of Mombasa. Tension between Uganda and Kenya reached its climax in February 1976 when Amin announced that he would investigate the possibility that parts of southern Sudan and western and central Kenya, up to within 32 kilometres (20 mi) of Nairobi, were historically a part of colonial Uganda. The Kenyan Government responded with a stern statement that Kenya would not part with "a single inch of territory". Amin backed down after the Kenyan army deployed troops and armored personnel carriers along the Kenya-Uganda border.

Erratic behaviour

As the years went on, Amin became increasingly erratic and outspoken. In 1977, after Britain had broken diplomatic relations with his regime, Amin declared he had beaten the British and conferred on himself the decoration of CBE (Conqueror of the British Empire). Radio Uganda then read out the whole of his new title: "His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, CBE." In 1971, Amin and Zaire's president Mobutu Sese Seko changed the names of Lake Albert and Lake Edward to Lake Mobutu Sese Seko and Lake Idi Amin Dada, respectively. Amin became the subject of rumours and myths, including a widespread belief that he was a cannibal. Some of the unsubstantiated rumours, such as the mutilation of one of his wives, were spread and popularised by the 1980 film, Rise and Fall of Idi Amin.

During Amin's reign, popular media outside of Uganda often portrayed Amin as an essentially comic figure. In a 1977 assessment typical of the time, Time magazine article described him as a "killer and clown, big-hearted buffoon and strutting martinet". For focusing on Amin's excessive tastes and self-aggrandizing eccentricities, the foreign media was often criticized for downplaying or excusing his murderous behavior.[ Other commentators even suggested that Amin had deliberately cultivated his reputation in the foreign media as an easily-parodied buffoon in order to defuse international concern over his administration of Uganda.

Deposition and exile

Uganda-Tanzania War

By 1978, the number of Amin's close associates had shrunk significantly, and he faced increasing dissent from within Uganda. After the killings of Luwum and ministers Oryema and Oboth Ofumbi in 1977, several of Amin's ministers defected or fled to exile. Later that year, after Amin's vice president, General Mustafa Adrisi, was injured in a car accident, troops loyal to him mutinied. Amin sent troops against the mutineers, some of whom had fled across the Tanzanian border. Amin accused Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere of waging war against Uganda, ordered the invasion of Tanzanian territory, and formally annexed a section of the Kagera Region across the boundary.

Nyerere mobilized the Tanzania People's Defence Force and counterattacked, joined by several groups of Ugandan exiles who had united as the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA). Amin's army retreated steadily, and despite military help from Libya's Muammar al-Gaddafi, he was forced to flee on 11 April 1979 when Kampala was captured. He escaped first to Libya and ultimately settled in Saudi Arabia.

Amin held that Uganda needed him and never expressed remorse for the abuses of his regime. In 1989, he attempted to return to Uganda, apparently to lead an armed group organised by Colonel Juma Oris. He reached Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), before Zairian President Mobutu forced him to return to Saudi Arabia.

Amin's death

On 20 July 2003, one of Amin's wives, Madina, reported that he was in a coma and near death at King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. She pleaded with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to allow him to return to die in Uganda. Museveni replied that Amin would have to "answer for his sins the moment he was brought back." Amin died in Saudi Arabia on 16 August 2003. He was buried in a simple grave in Ruwais Cemetery in Jeddah.

Family and associates

A polygamist, Idi Amin married at least six women, three of whom he divorced. He married his first and second wives, Malyamu and Kay, in 1966. The next year, he married Nora and then Nalongo Madina in 1972. On 26 March 1974, he announced on Radio Uganda that he had divorced Malyamu, Nora and Kay. Malyamu was arrested in Tororo on the Kenyan border in April 1974 and accused of attempting to smuggle a bolt of fabric into Kenya. She later moved to London. Kay died on 13 August 1974, reportedly from an attempted surgical abortion performed by her lover Dr. Mbalu Mukasa (who himself committed suicide). Her body was found dismembered. In August 1975, during the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) summit meeting in Kampala, Amin married Sarah Kyolaba. Sarah's boyfriend, whom she was living with before she met Amin, vanished and was never heard from again. According to The Monitor, Amin married a wife a few months before his death in 2003.

Sources differ widely on the number of children Amin fathered; most say that he had 30 to 45. Until 2003, Taban Amin, Idi Amin's eldest son, was the leader of West Nile Bank Front (WNBF), a rebel group opposed to the government of Yoweri Museveni. In 2005, he was offered amnesty by Museveni, and in 2006, he was appointed Deputy Director General of the Internal Security Organisation. Another of Amin’s sons, Haji Ali Amin, ran for election as Chairman (i.e. mayor) of Njeru Town Council in 2002 but was not elected. In early 2007, the award-winning film The Last King of Scotland prompted one of his sons, Jaffar Amin, to speak out in his father's defense. Jaffar Amin said he was writing a book to rehabilitate his father's reputation.

On 3 August 2007, Faisal Wangita, one of Amin's sons, was convicted for playing a role in a murder in London.

Among Amin's closest associates was the British-born Bob Astles, who is considered by many to have been a malign influence, and by others as a moderating presence. Isaac Malyamungu was an instrumental affiliate and one of the more feared officers in Amin's army.

Portrayal in media and literature

Film dramatisations

  • Victory at Entebbe (1976), a TV film about Operation Entebbe. Julius Harris plays Amin. Godfrey Cambridge had originally been cast as Amin in the production, but died of a heart attack on the set.
  • Raid on Entebbe (1977), a film depicting the events of Operation Entebbe. Yaphet Kotto plays Amin.
  • Mivtsa Yonatan (1977) (also known as Operation Thunderbolt), an Israeli film about Operation Entebbe. Mark Heath plays Amin.
  • Rise and Fall of Idi Amin (1980), a film recreating Idi Amin's atrocities. Amin is played by Joseph Olita.
  • The Naked Gun (1988), a comedy film which begins potraying Idi Amin (played by Prince Hughes) along with characters depicting other world leaders such as Yasser Arafat, Fidel Castro, Mikhail Gorbachev, Ruhollah Khomeini, and Muammar al-Gaddafi who are meeting in Beirut, Lebanon to conspire a plan to attack the United States until Lieutenant Frank Drebin (played by Leslie Nielsen) arrives and fights with them.
  • Mississippi Masala (1991), a film depicting the resettlement of an Indian family after the expulsion of Asians from Uganda by Idi Amin. Joseph Olita again plays Amin.
  • The Last King of Scotland (2006), a film adaptation of Giles Foden's 1998 fictional novel of the same name. For his portrayal of Idi Amin in this film, actor Forest Whitaker won the Academy Award for Best Actor, a BAFTA, the Screen Actors' Guild award for Best Actor (Drama), and a Golden Globe.

Documentaries

  • General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait (1974), directed by French filmmaker Barbet Schroeder.
  • Idi Amin: Monster in Disguise (1997), a television documentary directed by Greg Baker.
  • The Man Who Ate His Archbishop's Liver? (2004), a television documentary written, produced and directed by Elizabeth C. Jones for Associated-Rediffusion and Channel 4.

Books

  • State of Blood: The Inside Story of Idi Amin (1977) by Henry Kyemba
  • The General Is Up by Peter Nazareth
  • Ghosts of Kampala: The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin (1980) by George Ivan Smith
  • The Last King of Scotland (1998) by Giles Foden (fictional)
  • Idi Amin Dada: Hitler in Africa (1977) by Thomas Patrick Melady
  • General Amin (1975) by David Martin
  • The Collected Bulletins of Idi Amin (1974) by Alan Coren, portraying Amin as an amiable, if murderous, buffoon in charge of a tin-pot dictatorship
  • I Love Idi Amin: The Story of Triumph under Fire in the Midst of Suffering and Persecution in Uganda (1977) by Festo Kivengere
  • Impassioned for Freedom: Uganda, Struggle Against Idi Amin (2006) by Eriya Kategaya
  • The Feast of the Nine Virgins (2001) by Jameela Siddiqi
  • Bombay Gardens (2006) by Jameela Siddiqi
  • A Distant Grief (1979) by F. Kefa Sempangi
  • Confessions of Idi Amin: The chilling, explosive expose of Africa's most evil man - in his own words (1977) compiled by Trevor Donald

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