Full name: Idi Amin Dada Oumee
Born into the Kakwa tribe in northwestern Uganda sometime between 1923 and 1925, the exact date remains unclear as exact records were not kept in the country at the time, Idi Amin Dada Oumee would ultimately go on to become known as the ‘butcher of Uganda’, leading one of the bloodiest and most brutal rules known to post-colonial Africa.
Seizing power in 1971 he declared himself president for life, and following an erratic eight year rule left behind a country in economic disarray with a legacy of mass killings and senseless torture that Uganda would never forget.
With an absent father who spent the majority of his time away in Sudan, the country from which the Islamic Kakwas tribe originates, a young Amin spent most of his childhood being raised single handed by his mother, a herbalist who derived from the Lugbara tribe in the West Nile region of Uganda.
Educated to only the second grade and almost illiterate, he followed the traditional route taken by boys from poor families at the time and enrolled into the Army. Joining the King’s African Rifles (KAR) division of the British colonial army as assistant cook, he would later claim his involvement in its operation in Burma during the Second World War. However records from the time showed that he did not join the regiment until 1946, a year after the war’s conclusion.
Following his entry into the army he quickly ascended through the ranks, serving in one of the KAR’s infantry battalions in Kenya before being promoted to corporal and sergeant respectively by 1953.
Amin was also an accomplished sportsman, a formidable rugby player and holder of Uganda’s light heavyweight boxing championship from 1951 to 1960.
By 1959 Amin had reached the rank of Warrant Officer, the highest rank possible for a Black African in the British army at the time and after his return to Uganda in 1961 he was promoted once again, becoming a lieutenant, one of only two black commanding officers in the country.
Despite being considered a skilled soldier he also garnered a reputation of being overzealous and at times cruel or excessively brutal, and this manner was soon revealed to the public with devastating effect.
In 1962, tasked with the simple operation of suppressing cattle stealing by tribesmen, Amin led soldiers from the 4th Kings African Rifles into the Turkana region of Kenya where he carried out what became known as the ‘Turkana massacre’.
Word of the massacre reached the British Authorities and after exhuming bodies from pits it was clear that victims had been beaten, tortured or even buried alive. However despite this, Amin went unpunished. With Uganda on the verge of independence the British were fearful of prosecuting such a high ranking black officer.
After the country’s Independence from Great Britain in October 1962, Uganda’s Prime Minister ,Milton Obote, made Amin Captain.
Two years later when Amin and the PM were implicated in a deal to smuggle Ivory and Gold from Zaire, the Ugandan parliament demanded an investigation. Obote responded by setting about imposing a new constitution in the country which would eventually lead to him being named president in 1967. Also during this period Amin was named as commander of the Army.
Over the following four years prior to the coup in 1971, suspicions were cast over Amin’s involvement in various incidents, including several mysterious deaths including that of the deputy army commander Brigadier Okoya and his wife ,who were found shot dead in their home.
There was also allegations of his involvement in the attempted assassination of Obote in December 1969, in which the president was badly wounded. Although no official action was ever taken against him, Obote did strip him of his position as army commander creating a rift between the two men.
Certain sections of the army continued to remain loyal to Amin, and it was while Obote was away for a commonwealth summit in Singapore that he staged a military coup and seized power. Entebbe international airport was closed, road blocks were put in place and the presidential residence was surrounded.
Initially the coup was welcomed by the Ugandan population, which in recent years had become disillusioned with Obote. People were taken in by his portrayal as a fair and sensible leader who would uphold his promise to give way to a freely elected government once the country had adjusted to the departure of the previous president.
Instead he did the opposite and quickly moved to secure his position of total power. Opponents were steadily wiped out, some shot whilst others were killed in ‘accidental’ circumstances. A campaign of violent persecution was launched against Obote’s supporters during which around 300,000 people are believed to have been killed.
Figures of authority such as university professors, cabinet ministers, businessmen and religious leaders were brutally murdered or simply disappeared without a trace. There was a purge on the army where he killed all those he believed to be opponents. Around two thirds of the country’s 9000 soldiers were wiped out with reports of soldiers being herded into rooms and blown up with hand grenades and other being crushed by tanks.
In his first address to the nation after taking power he said: “”I am not a politician but a professional soldier”. In retrospect, this was perhaps the first sign of what was to come. The killings that occurred during those first few weeks set the blueprint for the next eight years of his bloodthirsty rule.
Amin had somewhat of a volatile personality seemingly able to switch within a short period from mass killings and compiling death lists to sharing a joke and playing sports. He was a man who showed himself to act on impulse, the greatest example of this being the expulsion of 50,000 Asians from Uganda in 1972.
Claiming he had received a message from god in his dream, within twenty-four hours he had issued a decree stating that the country’s entire Asian population had ninety days to pack up and leave the country. This section of society made up a large percentage of the mercantile class and was the backbone of the Ugandan economy.
Their departure crippled the country’s economy which to this day is yet to fully recover.
After Britain severed all diplomatic relations with his regime and withdrew their diplomats from Uganda, Amin added CBE, ‘conqueror of the British Empire’ to his repertoire of self-proclaimed titles which also included ‘Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea’.
When it comes to his personal life, there is somewhat of a grey area. A Muslim convert he took five wives and although claiming to have fathered 32 children, the exact number remains unclear. Having divorced his first three wives, he showed that no-one was safe from his regime when the dismembered body of his fourth wife, Kay, was discovered in a morgue.
His fifth wife, Sarah, was 31 years Amin’s Junior when he married her at the age of 50. Amin ordered the execution of her former fiancé and according to his former housekeeper was believed to have stored his head alongside many other in a freezer within his residence.
It has been suggested that Amin was suffering from the advanced stages of syphilis during his time in power, leading to mental degeneration which may go some way to explaining some of his most bizarre behaviour during his rule. For example sending a telegram to the then secretary general of the United Nations, claiming that Hitler was right to kill six million Jews, and his offer to become King of Scotland and lead its people to Independence from Britain.
His downfall came following the Tanzanian-Ugandan war in 1979. Years of persecution, terror and economic destruction had caused Amin’s support base to shrink dramatically, formerly loyal soldiers were mutinying and many previous supporters had fled across the border into neighbouring Tanzania, a country that had always remained hostile to Amin’s regime.
This led to accusations that the Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere was waging war against Uganda, and in a vain attempt to draw attention away from his country’s problems he launched into a war against Tanzania.
In late October 1978 Amin launched 3000 troops into Tanzania in an attempt to annexe the border region of Kagera. Nyerere responded to this unprovoked attack by deploying the Tanzanian Peoples Defence Force who with the backing of thousands of Ugandan exiles quickly overcame the Ugandan army who seemingly gave up with a fight.
Upon the capture of Kampala by the Tanzanian forces in 1989, Amin fled to Libya where he remained for a period of time before heading to Saudi Arabia where he was offered protection by the Royal Family.
It is a source of regret for many human rights organisations and above all the Ugandan government, that Amin was never brought to trial for his crimes. Having almost single handedly destroyed what was once a prosperous nation, he did little for Uganda and instead focused on his personal gains.
The man whose name had become synonymous with blood-shed, mass murder and destruction died in exile in Jeddah in 2003 displaying little regret for his atrocious reign.