Idi Amin

In 2006, The Last King of Scotland told the fictional story of a Scottish doctor who travelled to Uganda and became the personal physician of the dictator Idi Amin, a character immortalized by the brilliant performance of Forest Whitaker. Although the story of the movie was invented, it did show a partial portrait of one of the 20th century worst dictators of the African continent, Idi Amin Dada.

Born in the North of Uganda, in Koboko, Idi Amin grew up while his country was still a colony of the British empire. In 1946 he joined the British Colonial Army as an assistant cook, but by 1953 he was already a sergeant. His strength and size (1,95m) never passed unnoticed as he was the Ugandan box champion from 1950 to 1961.

In 1962, Britain granted Uganda its independence. By then, Idi Amin had built a close relationship with the new nation’s socialist prime minister, Milton Obote. He was promoted to army commander and worked closely with Obote until 1971, when he staged a military coup while Obote was attending a meeting in Singapore. By February 1971, Amid declared himself President of Uganda. Despite his promises to return to democracy, his eight years of leadership plunged the country into a human catastrophe and drove Uganda further away from peace.

As journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown argues in this documentary, the danger of Amin was that he was portrayed both as a fool and a villain. Big ego or simply ridicule, Idi Amin demanded many titles, among them those of “His excellency President for Life,  Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.”

Idi Amin dancing
Idi Amin performing ritual dancings

By the mid-1970s however, his titles were worth little as he became best known as the ‘Butcher of Uganda’ for his brutal authoritarian rule. According to Uganda’s Daily Monitor, between 80 000 and 300 000 people were killed during Idi Amin’s rule. Simple criminals, peasants, opponents, and especially, members of the tribes who had supported the previous government of Obote. Thousands of innocents were killed under Amin’s commands; many of them on National Television in order to spread terror amid the population.

His attitudes towards the international community most certainly granted him the worst  reputation. He did everything he could to provoke the British. In 1971, when Britain entered in recession, Amin started the Ugandan ‘Save the British Fund’ to collect food for the starving British. The following year, he expelled all Asians in Uganda with British passports. This measure backfired, as the Asian community represented the biggest business owners in the country, and for years, Uganda was incapable of assuring supply of goods as basic as sugar or butter.

Even more chocking were Amin’s comments following the 1972 Israeli massacre in Munich by Palestinian terrorists. As a revenge for Israel’s refusal to train Ugandan soldiers, Amin sent a telegram to the United Nations’ Secretary where he wrote “Hitler and all German people knew that the Israelis are not people who are working in the interest of the people of the world and that is why they burnt over six million Jews alive on the soil of Germany.”

Unfortunately, the tells of Amin’s actions are too numerous to count. His reign lasted eight years, and in 1979, his troops – which he had sent to Tanzania to annex the Kagera region – were defeated, and the Tanzanian forces took over Uganda. Mr Amin fled to Libya, and later to Saudi Arabia, where he died in 2003.

He was never judged for his crimes.

Read more about Idi Amin in The New York Times and in The Guardian. And if you haven’t, make sure you watch The Last King of Scotland.

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