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Idi Amin Dada

Idi Amin Dada

As president of Uganda (1971-1979) Idi Amin Dada (born c. 1925) became notorious for massive violations of human rights, economic decline, and social disintegration.

Born between 1925 and 1927 in Koboko, West Nile Province, Idi Amin's father was a Kakwa. The Kakwa tribe exists in Uganda, Zaire (now Congo), and Sudan; some members of the tribe are associated with the Nubi, an uprooted population which emerged as a result of 19th century political upheavals. The Nubi (Nubians) are urbanized and individualistic, have a reputation for homicide and military careers, and are Muslims. Amin embraced Islam and attained a fourth grade education.

Amin was brought up by his mother, who abandoned his father to move to Lugazi. The death of his stepfather soon after separation from his mother led to speculation that he must have been either poisoned or "bewitched" by her.

Amin accompanied his mother and apparently acquired the militaristic qualifications prized by the British at that time: he was tall and strong, spoke the Kiswahili language, and lacked a good education, ensuring subservience. Enlisting in the army as a private in 1946, Amin impressed his superiors by being a good swimmer, rugby player, and boxer. He won the Uganda heavyweight boxing championship in 1951, a title he held for nine years. He was promoted to corporal in 1949.

Friendship with Obote

During the 1950s Amin fought against the Mau Mau African freedom fighters, who were opposed to British colonialism in Kenya. Despite his ruthless record during the uprisings, he was promoted to sergeant in 1951, lance corporal in 1953, and sergeant-major and platoon commander in 1958. In 1959 he attended a course in Nakuru (Kenya) where he performed so well that he was awarded the sword of honor and promoted to effendi, a rank invented for outstanding African non-commissioned officers (NCOs). By 1961 Amin and Shaban Opolot became the first two Ugandan commissioned officers with the rank of lieutenant.

In 1962 Amin participated in stopping cattle rustling between neighboring ethnic groups in Karamoja (Uganda) and Turkana (Kenya). Because of atrocities he committed during these operations, British officials recommended to Apolo Milton Obote (Uganda's prime minister) that he be prosecuted. Obote instead reprimanded him, since it would have been unpolitical to prosecute one of the two African commissioned officers just before Uganda was to gain her independence from Britain on October 9, 1962. Thereafter Amin was promoted to captain in 1962 and major in 1963 and was selected to participate in the commanding officers' course at Wiltshire school of infantry in Britain in 1963.

The need for pay increases and the removal of British officers led to an army mutiny in 1964. Amin was called upon to calm the soldiers. The resulting settlement from this crisis led to Amin's promotion to colonel and commanding officer of the First Battalion Uganda Rifles. The 1964 events catapulted the army into political prominence, something Amin fully understood, and he used the political process to gain favors from his superiors.

Amin's close association with Obote apparently began in 1965 when, in sympathy for the followers of Patrice Lumumba (the murdered prime minister of Congo), Obote asked Amin for help in establishing military training camps. Amin also brought coffee, ivory, and gold into Uganda from the Congo so that the rebels there could have money to pay for arms. The opponents of Obote, such as the Kabaka (king) of Buganda (one of Uganda's ancient precolonial kingdoms), wanted an investigation of the illegal entry of gold and ivory into Uganda. Obote appointed a face-saving commission of inquiry and promoted Amin to chief of staff in 1966 and to brigadier and major-general in 1967. An attack on the Kabaka's palace forced the king to flee to Britain, where he died in exile in 1969.

Amin Seizes Control

By 1968 the relationship between Obote and Amin went sour as the latter showed an interest in the young educated army officers and in creating paramilitary units. An attempted assassination on Obote in 1969 and Amin's suspicious behavior thereafter further widened the gap between the two men. These divisions became even more evident when Amin gave unauthorized assistance to the rebels fighting against the Sudanese government. It is unclear in light of these conflicts why Obote promoted Amin in 1970 to become chief of general staff, a position which gave him access to every aspect of the armed forces. Amin overthrew Obote's government on January 25, 1971.

Ugandans joyfully welcomed Amin. He was a towering charismatic figure and yet simple enough to shake hands with common people and participate in their traditional dances; he was charming, informal, and flexible: and because he married women from different ethnic groups, he was perceived as a nationalist. His popularity increased when he allowed the return of Kabaka's body for a royal burial, appointed a cabinet of technocrats, disbanded Obote's secret police, granted amnesty to political prisoners, and assured Ugandans that he would hand power back to the civilians.

During this euphoric period, Amin's other personality began to emerge: ruthless, capricious, cunning, shrewd, and a consummate liar. His "killer squads" systematically eliminated Obote's supporters and murdered two Americans (Nicholas Stroh and Robert Siedle) who were investigating massacres that had occurred at Mbarara barracks in Western Uganda. It was becoming clear that Amin's apparent friendliness, buffoonery, and clowning were but a mask to hide a terrible brutality.

In 1972 he savagely attacked the Israelis and the British who previously had been his close foreign allies. The bone of contention was his inability to procure arms from these countries. Once Muammar Qaddafi of Libya agreed to help, Amin immediately expelled the Israelis and 50,000 Asians holding British passports. The sudden expulsion of Asian traders not only wrecked Uganda's once prosperous economy, it also earned Amin a negative international image.

Between 1972 and 1979 Amin's overriding policy was to stay in power at any cost. Though outwardly looking brave, Amin was a coward. He was, for example, terrified in 1978 when a story circulated that a "talking tortoise" had predicted his downfall. He constantly changed body guards, travelling schedules and vehicles, and sleeping places. His promiscuous life style enabled him to have several possible sleeping places. At one time he was married to four wives and had over 30 mistresses. He controlled the army through frequent reorganization. The powerful position of chief of defense staff was abolished and replaced by army, air, and paratroop commanders. Similarly, when he was out of the country he entrusted power to a defense council made up of several people, making it hard for opponents to plot against him. He also appeased his forces by lavishing on them free whisky, tape recorders, expensive cars, rapid promotions, and lucrative businesses previously owned by Asian traders.

Trying to Stay in Power

Amin used institutionalized violence or terror to eliminate his real and imaginary enemies. His success in using terror was partly due to divisions among Ugandans who on different occasions became his willing spies. The human cost of Amin's rule was devastating not only in terms of the loss of thousands of Ugandans, but also because of its dehumanizing effects. Human life became less important than wealth. The ritualistic and sadistic methods used in the various murders led to conclusions by reputable doctors that Amin's "mental ill-health" must account for what transpired.

With most national funds devoted to the armed forces and to Amin's personal security, education, health, transport, food and cash-crop production, industrial and manufacturing sectors, and foreign investments were neglected. Despite his growing infamy, Amin was elected chairman of the prestigious Organization of African Unity (OAU) on July 28, 1975. Indeed, 1975 must have been a rewarding year for Amin, as his senior officers promoted him to field marshal. African countries also blocked in 1977 a United Nations resolution which would have condemned Amin for his gross violation of human rights. Through individuals and private companies in the West, Amin received torture equipment for his "killer squads," had his planes serviced and pilots trained, procured hard liquor for the army, and had his coffee sold.

By the late 1970s Amin's luck was running out. Coffee prices had plummeted from a high of $3.18 a pound to $1.28; the United States' stoppage of the purchase of Ugandan coffee in 1978 exacerbated the situation, and Arabs, who had generously donated funds, were concerned about Amin's failure to show how Uganda was being Islamized and why he was killing fellow Muslims. The deteriorating state of the economy made it difficult to import luxury consumer goods for the army. To divert attention from this internal crisis, Amin ordered an invasion of Tanzania in October 1978, allegedly because the latter planned to overthrow his government. The invaders were repelled. Tanzanians and exiled Ugandan soldiers then invaded Uganda and continued their pursuit of Amin until his government was overthrown on April 11, 1979. Amin fled to Libya, which had assisted throughout the years and during the war, but he later moved to Jidda, Saudi Arabia. Amin remained in Saudia Arabia until he was expelled in the early 1990s, when he relocated to Bahrain.

A continuing instability in Uganda attested to the enormous drain which Amin's policies had upon the political, economic, social, and cultural life of that country. Amin has been remembered best as the tyrant of Uganda who was responsible for a reign which was overwrought with mass killings and disarray.

Further Reading

Amin's fortune may be followed in: lain Grahame, Amin and Uganda: A Personal Memoir (London, 1980); David Gwyn, Idi Amin: Deathlight of Africa (1977); Henry Kyemba, State of Blood: The Inside Story of Idi Amin (1977); Judith Listowel, Amin (1973); David Martin, General Amin (London, 1974); Ali A. Mazrui, Soldiers and Kinsmen in Uganda (1975); and Thomas Medlady and Margaret Medlady, Idi Amin Dada: Hitler in Africa (1977). □

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Amin, Idi

Amin, Idi c. 1925-2003

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Idi Amin became the president of Uganda in January 1971 after a military coup removed the elected leader, Milton Obote, and he fled into exile to Saudi Arabia on April 11, 1979 after a war with Tanzania. In the intervening eight years his name became synonymous with mass murder, destruction, militarism, and the worst features of political misrule in Africa.

Idi Amin was born in northwest Uganda in 1925 or 1926; that his birthdate is imprecise illustrates the marginalization and isolation of the peoples of that part of Uganda under British colonial rule. Britain had claimed Uganda as a protectorate at the end of the nineteenth century, and Uganda was integrated into the East African Command of the Kings African Rifles (KAR). Later the events of Amins life became more precisethe records show that he was recruited into the KAR in 1946, one year after the end of World War II. Amin was deployed by the British to participate in the counterinsurgency war against the freedom fighters in Kenya, and there he engaged in brutality and wanton murder against Africans. Based in the Muranga region of Kenya between 1953 and 1956, Amin learned all of the techniques of low-intensity warfare when the British incarcerated more than 1.5 million Kenyans and hanged thousands.

Idi Amin was both a pugilist and militarist; from 1951 to 1960 he was the light heavyweight boxing champion of Uganda. He also rose through the colonial army, eventually attaining the rank of effendi (warrant officer), the highest rank that a black African could attain in the KAR at that time. The Uganda that became independent in 1962 was plagued with deep divisions based on regional, religious, and ethnic alliances. Because of uneven colonial penetration, the areas in the south of the countryincluding the precolonial kingdoms of Ankole, Buganda, Bunyoro, Toro, and Busogawere more involved with colonial cash crops, and hence in these regions there was a higher proportion of Africans educated by the missionary schools. These regional differences were interpreted in ethnic terms, so much of the writings on Uganda portrayed Idi Amin as coming from the tribally backward north. This social reality was compounded by the fact that there were close to 100,000 Asians who dominated the interstices of the colonial economy and owned sugar and tea plantations. At the time of independence in 1962 there was not a single black African wholesaler on the main business street in Kampala, the capital.

Amin was promoted rapidly in the Ugandan army, becoming general and commander in 1966. By 1969 the social divisions in Uganda had deepened to the point where Obotes government increasingly depended on the military to maintain its power. The military was mobilized against trade unions, against village cooperatives, against cattle rustlers, against political opponents, and against students.

The military coup of January 25, 1971, took place while the prime minister, Milton Obote, was attending a Commonwealth summit meeting in Singapore. The military takeover immediately plunged the society into a bloodbath. The coup could not have been consolidated without the support of imperial security networks, especially those of Britain and Israel, and later, records showed that the governments of Israel and Britain were indeed involved in planning, executing, and defending the military coup in January 1971.

The relations between Britain and Uganda changed one year later, however, when Amin declared an economic war, which involved the expulsion of more than 80,000 Asian citizens who held British passports. Many Asians (primarily of Indian origin) owned businesses in Uganda, and by deporting them Amin gained domestic political support amid increased repression in the society. But their expulsion placed Amin on a collision course with the West, and brought the conditions of the people of Uganda to the attention of the international media.

At the height of the cold war, Amin became the chairperson of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The selection of Amin was possible, in large part, because of the divisions unleashed by the cold war in Africa. The Soviet Union supported leaders who declared themselves to be anti-imperialist. When Amin had seized power in the 1971 military coup, Uganda was diplomatically allied to the United States, Israel, and the United Kingdom. After the expulsion of the Asians in 1972, Uganda became a close ally of Libya, Saudi Arabia, and the Soviet Union. Inside Africa, Amin formed a close alliance with known butchers and militarists such as Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and Michel Micombero of Burundi. In the same year Amin expelled the Asians, Micombrero carried out genocide in his own country, killing more than 300,000 citizens. The selection of Amin to be the chairperson of the OAU brought disgrace to the organization insofar as Amin used the clause of noninterference in the internal affairs of states to prevent pan-African intervention to stop the killings.

The killings and wanton destruction of lives in Uganda intensified between 1972 and 1978, and it has been estimated that by the end of his regime Amin had killed more than 300,000 Africans (another estimate puts the number as high as 500,000). In addition, there were more than one million Ugandans living in exile in neighboring countries.

The Ugandan army invaded Tanzania and occupied the Kagera province in October 1978, precipitating the war between Uganda and Tanzania. The Tanzanian army counterattacked and supported Ugandan exiles in launching their own counteroffensive (as the Uganda National Liberation Army, or UNLA) against the Amin regime. At the end of this war, in April 1979, when the combined forces of the Tanzanian army and the UNLA took Kampala, Amin fled the city to exile, first in Libya, then in Saudi Arabia, where he lived until his death in August 2003.

When Amin came to power in 1971 he had been hailed as an archetypal common man, and Western social scientists had declared that Ugandas military government could serve as a model for modernization in Africa; Makerere University in Kampala was a veritable laboratory for the ideas of modernization and nation-building. But Amins regime left a tradition of destruction, low respect for human life, and cross-border warfare that is still plaguing the regions of eastern and central Africa. The continuing war between the Ugandan government and the Lords Resistance Army, a rebel paramilitary group in northern Uganda, remains one of the outstanding legacies of this period of militarism, masculinity, and warfare.

SEE ALSO African Studies; Colonialism; Dictatorship; Genocide; Militarism; Military Regimes; Obote, Milton

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anderson, David. 2005. Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire. New York: W. W. Norton.

Avirgan, Tony, and Martha Honey. 1982. War in Uganda: The Legacy of Idi Amin. Westport, CT: L. Hill.

Campbell, Horace. 1975. Four Essays on Neo-Colonialism in Uganda. Toronto: Afro Carib Publications.

Elkins, Carole. 2005. Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britains Gulag in Kenya. New York: Henry Holt.

Kyemba, Henry. 1977. A State of Blood: The Inside Story of Idi Amin. New York: Ace Books.

Mamdani, Mahmood. 1984. Imperialism and Fascism in Uganda. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.

Horace G. Campbell

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Amin, Idi

Idi Amin

Born: c. 1925
Koboko, West Nile Province, Uganda

Ugandan president

As president of Uganda from 1971 to 1979, Idi Amin (c. 1925) became well known for his terrible violations of human rights, for causing the collapse of the country's economy, and for causing social disorganization. Amin is remembered best as the tyrant of Uganda who was responsible for a reign filled with mass killings and disorder.

Early life

Idi Amin Dada was born sometime between 1925 and 1927 in Koboko, West Nile Province, in Uganda. His father was a Kakwa, a tribe that exists in Uganda, Zaire (now Congo), and Sudan. As a boy, Amin spent much time tending goats and working in the fields. He embraced Islam and attained a fourth-grade education. He was brought up by his mother, who abandoned his father to move to Lugazi, Uganda.

As Amin grew he matched the qualifications for military service desired by the British at that time. He was tall and strong. He spoke the Kiswahili language. He also lacked a good education, which implied that he would take orders well. Joining the army as a private in 1946, Amin impressed his superiors by being a good swimmer, rugby player, and boxer. He won the Uganda heavyweight boxing championship in 1951, a title he held for nine years. He was promoted to corporal in 1949.

Friendship with Obote

During the 1950s Amin fought against the Mau Mau African freedom fighters, who were opposed to British rule in Kenya. Despite his cruel record during the uprisings, he was promoted to sergeant in 1951, lance corporal in 1953, and sergeant-major and platoon commander in 1958. By 1961 Amin had become one of the first two Ugandan officers with the rank of lieutenant.

In 1962 Amin helped stop cattle rustling, or stealing, between neighboring ethnic groups in Karamoja, Uganda, and Turkana, Kenya. Because of the brutal acts he committed during these operations, British officials recommended to Apolo Milton Obote (1924), Uganda's prime minister, that he be brought to trial as a criminal. Obote instead publicly criticized him, deciding it would have been politically unwise to put on trial one of the two African officers just before Uganda was to gain independence from Britain on October 9, 1962. Thereafter Amin was promoted to captain in 1962 and major in 1963. He was selected to participate in the commanding officers' course at Wiltshire school of infantry in Britain in 1963. In 1964 he was made a colonel.

Amin's close association with Obote apparently began in 1965. Obote sympathized with the followers of the murdered prime minister of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba (19251961). Obote asked Amin for help in establishing military training camps. Amin also brought coffee, ivory, and gold into Uganda from the Congo so that the rebels there could have money to pay for arms. The opponents of Obote wanted an investigation into the illegal entry of gold and ivory into Uganda. Obote appointed a committee to look into the issue. He promoted Amin to chief of staff in 1966, and to brigadier and major-general in 1967.

Amin seizes control

By 1968 the relationship between Obote and Amin had gone sour. An attempted assassination of Obote in 1969, and Amin's suspicious behavior thereafter, further widened the gap between the two men. It is unclear why Obote promoted Amin in 1970 to become chief of general staff, a position that gave him access to every aspect of the armed forces. Amin overthrew Obote's government on January 25, 1971.

Ugandans joyfully welcomed Amin. He was a larger-than-life figure and yet simple enough to shake hands with common people and participate in their traditional dances. He was charming, informal, and flexible. Amin was thought to be a nationalist (a person who supports his or her country above all else). His popularity increased when he got rid of Obote's secret police, freed political prisoners, and told Ugandans that he would hand power back to the people.

During this period, Amin's other personality began to emerge: that of a merciless, unpredictable, cunning liar. His "killer squads" murdered Obote's supporters and two Americans who were investigating massacres (large-scale killings). It was becoming clear that Amin's seeming friendliness and clowning were only a mask to hide his brutality.

In 1972 he savagely attacked the Israelis and the British, with whom he had been friendly. He did not like that these countries would not sell him weapons. Once Mu'ammar al-Qaddafi (1942) of Libya agreed to help, Amin immediately threw Israelis and fifty thousand Asians out of Uganda. Uganda's economy was wrecked because Asian traders were suddenly forced to leave. The action also earned Amin a poor international image.

Between 1972 and 1979 Amin's policy was to stay in power at any cost. Though he seemed brave, Amin was a coward. He was, for example, terrified in 1978 when a story circulated that a "talking tortoise" had predicted his downfall. He constantly changed bodyguards, traveling schedules and vehicles, and sleeping places. He controlled the army through frequent reorganization. He also kept his army happy by giving them tape recorders, expensive cars, rapid promotions, and businesses that had been owned by Asian traders.

Trying to stay in power

Amin used violence and terror to eliminate his real and imaginary enemies. The human cost of Amin's rule was hugenot only in terms of the loss of thousands of Ugandans, but also because of its dehumanizing (making people feel less than human) effects. Human life had become less important than wealth.

Most government funds were devoted to the armed forces and to Amin's safety. Health, transport, production of food and cash crops (easily marketable crops), industrial and manufacturing sectors, and foreign investments were neglected. Despite his growing poor reputation, Amin was elected chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), an organization of African nations, on July 28, 1975. In 1977 African countries blocked a United Nations resolution that would have condemned Amin for his gross violation of human rights.

By the late 1970s Amin's luck was running out. The economy was getting worse. Arabs were concerned about Amin's failure to show how Uganda was becoming an Islamic nation but also concerned about his killing of fellow Muslims. It was becoming difficult for Amin to import luxury goods for his army. To distract attention from the country's internal crises, Amin ordered an invasion of Tanzania in October 1978, supposedly because the latter planned to overthrow his government. Amin's army was forced back. Tanzanians and exiled Ugandan soldiers then invaded Uganda and continued their pursuit of Amin until his government was overthrown on April 11, 1979.

Amin fled to Libya, but he later moved to Jidda, Saudi Arabia. There he spends his time reciting the Koran (the holy book of Islam), reading books, playing an accordion, swimming, fishing, and watching televisionespecially sports programs and news channels. He follows events in his homeland closely.

For More Information

Grahame, Iain. Amin and Uganda: A Personal Memoir. London: Granada, 1980.

Gwyn, David. Idi Amin: Deathlight of Africa. Boston: Little, Brown, 1977.

Kyemba, Henry. A State of Blood: The Inside Story of Idi Amin. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1977.

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Amin, Idi

Idi Amin (ē´dē amēn´), c.1925–2003, Ugandan army officer and dictator. From the small Kakwa ethnic group, he advanced in the Ugandan armed forces from private (1946) to major general (1968). In 1971 he seized control of the government, toppling the regime of Milton Obote. In power, Amin exhibited an unpredictable personality, often capricious and cruel yet displaying a modicum of shrewdness and cunning. His relatively brief regime was nonetheless vicious and corrupt; he brutally suppressed other ethnic groups and political enemies, killed what is believed to be nearly 300,000 (most innocent of any wrongdoing), tortured uncounted thousands more, and looted the nation's treasury. In 1972 he ordered the expulsion of Ugandans of Asian extraction, thrusting the nation into economic chaos. Tanzanian troops joined exiled Ugandan nationalists to invade Uganda in 1978, and Amin was driven into exile in Saudi Arabia the following year.

See J. T. Strate, Post-Military Coup Strategy in Uganda: Amin's Early Attempts to Consolidate Political Support in Africa (1973), H. Kyemba, A State of Blood (1977), D. Barnett and R. Wooding, Uganda Holocaust (1980), and P. A. Allen, Interesting Times: Life in Uganda under Idi Amin (2000); B. Schroeder, dir., General Idi Amin Dada (documentary film, 1976; video, 2002).

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Amin, Idi

Amin, Idi President of Uganda (1971–79). He gained power by a military coup in 1971, overthrowing Milton Obote. Amin established a dictatorship marked by atrocities and expelled c.80,000 Asian Ugandans in 1972. Amin fled to Libya after Tanzanian forces joined rebel Ugandans in a march on Kampala. He was forced to leave Libya in 1979, and eventually settled in Saudi Arabia.

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