The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin
With self-given, sophisticated titles such as “Conqueror of the British Empire”, “CBE”, “VC”, and Alhaji, it is not surprising that Idi Amin – the “Butcher of Uganda” – often places top on the list of the most ruthless African dictators to ever exist. General Amin, a former army officer in the British colonial Army, ruled the small landlocked East-Central African nation of Uganda from 1971 to 1979.
The despot came to power after overthrowing President Milton Obote. Although the 1971 coup was a relatively bloodless one, it was what Amin did in the years that followed that made him the most despicable despot Africa has ever seen. By the time the Amin regime was overthrown by a Tanzania-led force, it was estimated that Amin was responsible for the deaths of close to half a million people. When Amin fled to Libya, the Uganda economy was almost nonexistent, leaving the nation scarred for decades.
World History Edu details how Idi Amin, a man who started as a chef in the British army, rose to become one of Africa’s most ruthless dictators.
Birth and early military career
Idi Amin was born in 1925 in Koboko – a town in northwestern Uganda. His father and mother were from Kakwa and Lugbara, respectively.
At around the age of 20, Idi Amin enlisted in the King’s African Rifles (KAR). It’s been stated that he received very little education prior to joining the British colonial army.
He was part of the men that fought to quell the Shifta rebels in Somalia in 1949. He was also part of the British army that fought against the Mau Mau rebels in Kenya between 1952 and 1956.
Rise in the military and the Coup of January 1971
Idi Amin rose steadily through the ranks; and in 1959, he attained the rank of effendi. In 1966, he was promoted to commander of the Ugandan Army. Uganda was by then an independent nation, after gaining its freedom on October 9, 1962.
Idi had by this time formed a very close work relationship with Milton Obote, who was Ugandan’s first prime minister. Obote helped Idi Amin get new recruits and equipment into the Ugandan Army.
As one of Obote’s trusted military men, Idi Amin was the obvious choice when it came to suppressing the rebellion by Buganda people in south-central Uganda. Amin is believed to have brutally crushed the rebellion. His use of excessive force claimed the lives of many Buganda people, including women and children. Such was his fierceness of General Amin’s force against the Buganda that the king of Baganda had to flee the country.
Towards the late 1960s, Obote had started growing very suspicious of Amin. Fearing that he Amin was eyeing his seat, Obote arrested Amin just before he left for a Commonwealth Heads of State meeting in Singapore.
Amin capitalized on the army contacts he had made over the decade and staged a coup d’état on January 25, 1971. The Obote government was overthrown and Amin became Uganda’s first military ruler.
Idi Amin’s Tyrannical and Terrorizing Reign
Amin’s reign of terror and bloodshed began about one year into his rule. Much of the massacres were done along ethnic, religious and political lines. He was quick to eliminate the last remnant of Milton Obote loyalist in the civil and public service. The likes of Acholi and Lango – tribes that were loyal to Obote – suffered a similar gruesome fate. Amin also target Christian tribes that had supported the Obote regime, imprisoning and killing scores of people.
He maintained an iron grip on the whole of Uganda by instilling fear in the general population. His security agents – those from the Public Safety Unity and the State Research Bureau – acted as spies, fishing out people that were of the slightest of threat to Amin’s rule.
It was not until Idi Amin’s 1972 expulsion of all India and Pakistani citizens that the international community started taking the threat posed by Amin seriously. All in all, close to 80,000 of Uganda’s Asian population were kicked out of the country. Their businesses and other property holdings were confiscated by the Amin regime. With many of the foreign expatriates fleeing Uganda, the national economy took a nose dive.
The Entebbe Airport Rescue
On June 27, 1976, an Air France flight bound for Paris was hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Idi Amin received the hijackers and the hijacked plane with open arms. To show his defiance of international norms and solidarity, the dictator Amin even armed the hijackers.
Amin and his generals received the biggest embarrassment of the lives when a group of Israeli trained forces stealthily broke into the airport and freed the hostages. Not want to eat humble pie, Ali executed all the airport officials that aided the Israeli commandos rescue plan. Ali also killed several Kenyans that were implicated in the Entebbe Airport rescue. It was also claimed that General Amin had a hand in the death of an old British hostage that was receiving treatment at a hospital close to the airport.
The fall of Idi Amin
As more and more extrajudicial killings occurred, and as the economy got worse and worse, Amin’s support among the soldiers began to shrink. Skirmishes and sporadic mutiny became the order of the day. Some of the mutinied soldiers were given safe haven across the Ugandan border in neighboring Tanzania. As a result of this, Amin and then-Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere locked horns. The eccentric and ruthless dictator Amin accused Tanzania of fomenting trouble in Uganda in order to destabilize Uganda.
In November 1978, Amin marched his Ugandan army to the Ugandan border with Tanzania and annexed a large chunk of the Kagera Salient. Less than a month later, the Tanzania army, aided by mutinied Ugandan soldiers and exiles, was able to push out the Ugandan forces from the area, taking back full control of the territory. This military defeat at the border region proved a huge blow to Amin’s forces. Tanzania rightly judged that Amin appeared unhinged, and so they decided to liase with exiled Ugandan soldiers to topple Amin.
On April 11, 1979, Idi Amin’s forces and his loyalists were overran and surrendered to Tanzania. After Kampala fell, Idi Amin fled to Libya, where he was received by fellow dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Following the overthrow of Idi Amin, Yusuf Lule – a professor and the chairman of the Uganda National Liberation Front – was sworn in as president in April, 1979.
Amin would later make his way to Saudi Arabia, claiming asylum from Riyadh. The egomaniac Amin, the man who once described himself as the Conqueror of the British Army and lord of all beasts on earth, died of a kidney disease in 2003.
Facts about Idi Amin
- It has been estimated that General Idi Amin killed close to 500,000 people during his 8-year reign.
- Between 1951 and 1960, Idi Amin was the light heavyweight boxing champion of Uganda.
- Amin had countless spouses and children. It has been estimated that the former dictator had at least 40 children.