Idi Amin

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Idi Amin
Amin shortly before addressing the United Nations General Assembly in 1975
3rd President of Uganda
In office
25 January 1971 – 11 April 1979
Vice PresidentMustafa Adrisi
Preceded byMilton Obote
Succeeded byYusuf Lule
Personal details
Awon'go Idi Amin Dada

(1928-05-30)30 May 1928
Nakasero Hill, Kampala, Uganda Protectorate
Died16 August 2003(2003-08-16) (aged 75)
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Resting placeRuwais Cemetery
SpousesAt least 6, including:
(m. 1966; div. 1974)
(m. 1966; div. 1974)
(m. 1967; div. 1974)
(m. 1972, died)
(m. 1975)
Children43 (claimed)[1]
Military service
Years of service1946–1979
CommandsCommander-in-Chief of the Uganda Army

Idi Amin Dada Oumee (/ˈdi ɑːˈmn, ˈɪdi -/ , UK also /- æˈmn/; 30 May 1928 – 16 August 2003) was a Ugandan military officer and politician who served as the third president of Uganda from 1971 to 1979. He ruled as a military dictator and is considered one of the most brutal despots in modern world history.[2]

Amin was born to a Kakwa father and Lugbara mother. In 1946, he joined the King's African Rifles (KAR) of the British Colonial Army as a cook. He rose to the rank of lieutenant, taking part in British actions against Somali rebels and then the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya. Uganda gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1962, and Amin remained in the army, rising to the position of major and being appointed commander of the Uganda Army in 1965. He became aware that Ugandan President Milton Obote was planning to arrest him for misappropriating army funds, so he launched the 1971 Ugandan coup d'état and declared himself president.

During his years in power, Amin shifted from being a pro-Western ruler enjoying considerable support from Israel to being backed by Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko, the Soviet Union, and East Germany.[3][4][5] In 1972, Amin expelled Asians, a majority of whom were Indian-Ugandans, leading India to sever diplomatic relations with his regime.[6] In 1975, Amin became the chairman of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), a Pan-Africanist group designed to promote solidarity among African states.[7] Uganda was a member of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights from 1977 to 1979.[8] The United Kingdom broke diplomatic relations with Uganda in 1977, and Amin declared that he had defeated the British and added "CBE" to his title for "Conqueror of the British Empire".[9]

As Amin's rule progressed into the late 1970s, there was increased unrest against his persecution of certain ethnic groups and political dissidents, along with Uganda's very poor international standing due to Amin's support for PFLP-EO and RZ hijackers in 1976, leading to Israel's Operation Entebbe. He then attempted to annex Tanzania's Kagera Region in 1978. The Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere ordered his troops to invade Uganda in response. Tanzanian Army and rebel forces successfully captured Kampala in 1979 and ousted Amin from power. Amin went into exile, first in Libya, then Iraq, and finally in Saudi Arabia, where he lived until his death in 2003.[10]

Amin's rule was characterized by rampant human rights abuses, including political repression, ethnic persecution, extrajudicial killings, as well as nepotism, corruption, and gross economic mismanagement. International observers and human rights groups estimate that between 100,000[11] and 500,000 people were killed under his regime.[9]

Early life[edit]

Virtually all retellings of Amin's early life are contradictory, as he did not write an autobiography and never authorized a written account of his life.[12][13] British governmental records put Amin's birth year in 1925, however, no records were kept for native Africans at the time.[12][9] In a 1972 interview with Judith Hare, Amin gives his birth place in the village of Koboko and age as forty-six, which would put his birth year in 1926. In a book published in 1977 by Little, Brown and written by a British advisor in Uganda using the pseudonym David Gwyn, Amin was born in Buganda with his age is given as forty-eight, placing his birth year in 1928. The most comprehensive biography of Amin comes from his family based on oral tradition, which has some authority but its details ultimately cannot be confirmed, family tradition and Saudi authorities in Jeddah puts his birth date as 10 Dhu al-Hijja 1346 in the Islamic calendar.[14][15]

Early childhood and family[edit]

Nakasero Hill in Kampala, the district where Amin was reportedly born according to his family.

According to Amin's family, Ugandan oral tradition, and his Saudi death certificate, Idi Amin Dada Oumee was born on 30 May 1928 at ≈ 4:00 AM in his father's workplace, the Shimoni Police Barracks in Nakasero Hill, Kampala.[12][16][17][18] He was given the name Idi after his birth on the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.[16][12] According to Fred Guweddeko, a researcher at Makerere University, Amin's birth name was Idi Awo-Ango Angoo.[18] There is disagreement on the meaning of the name "Dada", with some arguing that it meant "sister" or "effeminate" in KiSwahili, but most sources agree that "Dada" was a clan within the Kakwa tribe which was observed over thirteen generations.[13][12][16]

He was the third son of Amin Dada Nyabira Tomuresu (1889–1976), a Kakwa, and his second wife, Aisha Chumaru Aate (1904–1970), a Lugbara.[18][12] His father was christened as a Roman Catholic and born with the name Andreas Nyabira Tomuresu. According to British journalist David Martin, Nyabira spent most of his life in South Sudan.[12] He converted to Islam in 1910 after being conscripted as a bugler by the colonial British army under his uncle, the Kakwa tribal leader Sultan Ali Kenyi Dada as a six-year-old child soldier and was given the name Amin Dada.[18][16][12] He joined the Protectorate Police Force in Kampala's Nsambia Police Barracks in 1913.[12]

Nyabira was forcibly conscripted into the British King's African Rifles (KAR) in 1914 where he fought in World War I during East African campaign in Tanganyika before being honorably discharged in 1921 and given a plot of land in Arua. The same year, he joined the Protectorate Police Force in the Nsambia Police Barracks prior to being transferred to the Shimoni Police Barracks in 1928, where Amin was born according to his family. He was transferred to the Kololo Police Barracks and retired from the police force in 1931 and worked at the Office of the Resident District Commissioner in Arua.[12]

His mother, Aisha Aate, was born to a Kakwa mother and Lugbara father. By all accounts, Aate was a traditional healer, herbalist, and a midwife.[18] Ten years before Amin's birth, Aate joined the Allah Water (also known as Yakani) movement, which was an anti-colonial alternative medicine congregation centered around a "water of Yakan" that was infused with a psychedelic daffodil plant locally known as Kamiojo, described as the "LSD of Central Africa". The movement was repressed by British colonial authorities who had judged it as rebellion.[19][20] Despite being largely described as a cult, Amin's family claims that Aate was a priestess in the "Yakanye Order" which they explained as a "secret African society", of which Idi Amin was also a member of, that used "sacred water and other mystical powers" for warfare.[12]

According to Amin's family, Aate had cured Irene Drusilla Namaganda, then Queen of Buganda and wife of Daudi Cwa II of Buganda, of her infertility. Aate's high-ranking role in the Allah Water movement allegedly gained the interest of the Bugandan royal family and her alleged connection to the family led to rumors of Amin's biological father being Daudi Chwa II.[12][17] These rumors were reportedly spread by Nyabira's childless senior wife, who was spiteful of Aate bearing two children.[12]

According to Amin's family, Idi Amin was given the name Awon'go (lit.'noise') referring to rumors about his alleged paternity. Idi was reportedly chosen to take a 'paternity test' as an infant by tribal elders which involved abandoning him for four days in a forest near Mount Liru in Koboko where they returned to find Amin still alive. The elders attributed this apparent miracle to Nakan, a sacred seven-headed snake in Kakwa folk religion.[12] His parents divorced when he was four, and most accounts suggest that he moved with his mother's family in a rural farming town in north-western Uganda.[21] The divorce of his parents was reportedly due to the lasting rumors regarding Idi's paternity, which angered his mother.[17] Despite this, his family insists that he moved with his father per Muslim tradition in Tanganyika Parish, Arua, while his mother continued to practice healing in Buganda.[12]

Boyhood and education[edit]

Amin joined an Islamic school in Bombo in 1941. After a few years, he left school with only a fourth-grade English-language education and did odd jobs before being recruited to the army by a British colonial army officer.[18]

King's African Rifles[edit]

Amin joined the King's African Rifles (KAR) in 1946 as an assistant cook, while at the same time receiving military training until 1947.[9][22] In later life he falsely claimed to have served in the Burma Campaign of World War II.[9][23][24] He was transferred to Kenya for infantry service as a private in 1947, and served in the 21st KAR infantry battalion in Gilgil, Kenya Colony until 1949. That year, his unit was deployed to northern Kenya to fight against Somali rebels. 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.[18]

In 1959, Amin was made Effendi class 2 (Warrant Officer),[25] the highest rank possible for a black African in the colonial British military of that time. Amin returned to Uganda the same year and received a short-service commission as a lieutenant on 15 July 1961, becoming one of the first two Ugandans to become commissioned officers.[25] He was assigned to quell the cattle rustling between Uganda's Karamojong and Kenya's Turkana nomads.[18] According to researcher Holger Bernt Hansen, Amin's outlook, behavior and strategies of communication were strongly influenced by his experiences in the colonial military. This included his direct and hands-on leadership style which would eventually contribute to his popularity among certain parts of Ugandan society.[26]

Rise in the Uganda Army[edit]

In 1962, following Uganda's independence from the United Kingdom, Amin was promoted to captain and then, in 1963, to major. He was appointed Deputy Commander of the Army in 1964 and, the following year, to Commander of the Army.[18] In 1970, he was promoted to commander of all the armed forces.[27]

Amin was an athlete during his time in both the British and Uganda Army. At 1.93 m (6 ft 4 in) tall and powerfully built, he was the Ugandan light heavyweight boxing champion from 1951 to 1960, as well as a swimmer. Amin was also a formidable rugby forward,[28][29] although one officer said of him: "Idi Amin is a splendid type and a good (rugby) player, but virtually bone from the neck up, and needs things explained in words of one letter".[29][30] In the 1950s, he played for Nile RFC.[31]

There is a frequently repeated urban myth that he was selected as a replacement by the East Africa rugby union team for their 1955 tour match against the British Lions.[29][31] Amin, however, does not appear in the team photograph or on the official team list.[32] Following conversations with a colleague in the military, Amin became a fan of Hayes F.C., an affection that remained for the rest of his life.[33]

Amin (centre-left) as chief of staff during a visit of Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol (centre) in 1966

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, the Ugandan Parliament demanded an investigation. Obote imposed a new constitution abolishing the ceremonial presidency held by Kabaka (King) 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.[34][35]

Amin began recruiting members of Kakwa, Lugbara, South Sudanese, and other ethnic groups from the West Nile area bordering South Sudan. The South Sudanese had been residents in Uganda since the early 20th century, having come from South Sudan to serve the colonial army. Many African ethnic groups in northern Uganda inhabit both Uganda and South Sudan; allegations persist that Amin's army consisted mainly of South Sudanese soldiers.[36]

Seizure of power[edit]

Milton Obote, Uganda's second president, whom Amin overthrew in a coup d'état in 1971

Eventually a rift developed between Amin and Obote, exacerbated by the support Amin had built within the Uganda 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 took control of the armed forces, reducing Amin from his months-old post of commander of all the armed forces to that of the commander of the Uganda Army.[27][37]

Having learned that Obote was planning to arrest him for misappropriating army funds, Amin seized power in a military coup with the assistance of Israeli government agents[38][39][40] on 25 January 1971, while Obote was attending that year's Commonwealth summit meeting in Singapore. Troops loyal to Amin sealed off Entebbe International Airport 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.[41] Amin, who presented himself a soldier, not a politician, declared that the military government would remain only as a caretaker regime until new elections, which would be held when the situation was normalized. He promised to release all political prisoners.[42]

Amin held a state funeral in April 1971 for Edward Mutesa, former king (kabaka) of Buganda and president who had died in exile.[43]


Establishment of military rule[edit]

On 2 February 1971, one week after the coup, Amin declared himself President of Uganda, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Uganda Army Chief of Staff, and Chief of Air Staff. He suspended certain provisions of the Ugandan constitution, and soon instituted an Advisory Defense 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 government-owned corporations, and informed the newly inducted civilian cabinet ministers that they would be subject to military courtesy.[27][44] Amin ruled by decree; over the course of his rule he issued approximately 30 decrees.[45][46]

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 capital punishment over the next few years.[47] Other agencies used to persecute dissenters included the military police and the Public Safety Unit (PSU).[47]

Obote took refuge in Tanzania, having been offered sanctuary there by the Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere. Obote was soon joined by 20,000 Ugandan refugees fleeing Amin. The exiles attempted but failed to regain Uganda in 1972, through a poorly organised coup attempt.[48]

Persecution of ethnic and political groups[edit]

Many victims of Amin's regime perished in torture chambers during his reign

Amin retaliated against the attempted invasion by Ugandan exiles in 1972, by purging the Uganda Army of Obote supporters, predominantly those from the Acholi and Lango ethnic groups.[49] In July 1971, Lango and Acholi soldiers had been massacred in the Jinja and Mbarara barracks.[50] By early 1972, some 5,000 Acholi and Lango soldiers, and at least twice as many civilians, had disappeared.[51] The victims soon came to include members of other ethnic groups, religious leaders, journalists, artists, senior bureaucrats, judges, lawyers, students and intellectuals, criminal suspects, and foreign nationals. In this atmosphere of violence, many other people were killed for criminal motives or simply at will. Bodies were often dumped into the River Nile.[52]

The killings, motivated by ethnic, political, and financial factors, continued throughout Amin's eight years in control.[51] 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.[9]

In his book State of Blood: The Inside Story of Idi Amin, Henry Kyemba (who was a Ugandan minister for 3 years in Idi Amin's cabinet) states that "Amin's bizarre behavior derives partly from his tribal background. Like many other warrior societies, the Kakwa, Amin's tribe, are known to have practiced blood rituals on slain enemies. These involve cutting a piece of flesh from the body to subdue the dead man's spirit or tasting the victim's blood to render the spirit harmless. Such rituals still exist among the Kakwa. Amin's practices do not stop at tasting blood: on several occasions he has boasted to me and others that he has eaten human flesh". (Kyemba 109–10)[53]

Among the most prominent people killed were Benedicto Kiwanuka, a former prime minister and chief justice; Janani Luwum, the Anglican archbishop; Joseph Mubiru, the former governor of the central bank of Uganda; 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.[54]

Amin recruited his followers from his own ethnic group, the Kakwas, along with South Sudanese, and Nubians. By 1977, these three groups formed 60 per cent of the 22 top generals and 75 per cent of the cabinet. Similarly, Muslims formed 80 per cent and 87.5 per cent of these groups even though they were only 5 per cent of the population. This helps explain why Amin survived eight attempted coups.[55] The Uganda Army grew from 10,000 to 25,000 by 1978. Amin's military was largely a mercenary force. Half the soldiers were South Sudanese and 26 per cent Congolese, with only 24 per cent being Ugandan, mostly Muslim and Kakwa.[56]

We are determined to make the ordinary Ugandan master of his own destiny and, above all, to see that he enjoys the wealth of his country. Our deliberate policy is to transfer the economic control of Uganda into the hands of Ugandans, for the first time in our country's history.

— Idi Amin on the persecution of minorities[57]
Refugees of Uganda's Asian Community in the Netherlands, November 1972

In August 1972, 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 Indian subcontinent and born in the country, their ancestors having come to Uganda in search of prosperity when India was still a British colony.[58] Many owned businesses, including large-scale enterprises, which formed the backbone of the Ugandan economy.[59][60][61]

On 4 August 1972, Amin issued a decree ordering the expulsion of the 50,000 Asians who were British passport holders. This was later amended to include all 60,000 Asians who were not Ugandan citizens. Around 30,000 Ugandan Asians emigrated to the UK. Others went to Commonwealth countries such as Australia, South Africa, Canada, and Fiji, or to India, Kenya, Pakistan, Sweden, Tanzania, and the United States.[59][60][61] Amin expropriated businesses and properties belonging to the Asians and the Europeans and handed them over to his supporters. Without the experienced owners and proprietors, businesses were mismanaged and many industries collapsed from lack of operational expertise and maintenance. This proved disastrous for the already declining Ugandan economy.[44] At the time, Asians accounted for 90% of the country's tax revenue; with their removal, Amin's administration lost a large chunk of government revenue. The economy all but collapsed.[62]

Idi Amin murdered an estimated 500 Yemeni Hadrami Arab merchants.[63][64]

In 1975, Emmanuel Blayo Wakhweya, Idi Amin's finance minister and longest-serving cabinet member at the time, defected to London.[65] This prominent defection helped Henry Kyemba, Amin's health minister and a former official of the first Obote regime, to defect in 1977 and resettle in the UK. Kyemba wrote and published A State of Blood, the first insider exposé of Amin's rule.[66]

On 25 June 1976, the Defense Council declared Amin president for life.[67]

International relations[edit]

Idi Amin during the inauguration of William Tolbert, 20th president of Liberia, in 1976

Initially, Amin was supported by Western powers such as Israel, West Germany, and, in particular, the United Kingdom. During the late 1960s, Obote's move to the left, which included his Common Man's Charter and the nationalisation of 80 British companies, had made the West worried that he would pose a threat to Western capitalist interests in Africa and make Uganda an ally of the Soviet Union. Amin, who had served with the King's African Rifles and taken part in Britain's suppression of the Mau Mau uprising prior to Ugandan independence, was known by the British as "intensely loyal to Britain". This made him an obvious choice as Obote's successor. Although some have claimed that Amin was being groomed for power as early as 1966, the plotting by the British and other Western powers began in earnest in 1969, after Obote had begun his nationalization programmed.[68]

Throughout the first year of his presidency, Amin received key military and financial support from the United Kingdom and Israel. In July 1971 he visited both countries and asked for advanced military equipment, but the states refused to provide hardware unless the Ugandan government paid for it. Amin decided to seek foreign support elsewhere and in February 1972 he visited Libya. Amin denounced Zionism, and in return Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi pledged Uganda an immediate $25 million loan to be followed by more lending from the Libyan–Ugandan Development Bank. Over the following months Amin successively removed Israeli military advisers from his government, expelled all other Israeli technicians, and finally broke diplomatic relations.[69] Gaddafi also mediated a resolution to long-standing Ugandan–Sudanese tensions, with Amin agreeing to stop backing Anyanya rebels in southern Sudan and instead recruit the former guerilla fighters into his army.[70]

Following the expulsion of Ugandan Asians in 1972, most of whom were of Indian descent, India severed diplomatic relations with Uganda. The same year, as part of his "economic war", Amin broke diplomatic ties with the United Kingdom and nationalized all British-owned businesses.[71] The United Kingdom and Israel ceased all trade with Uganda, but this commercial gap was quickly filled by Libya, the United States, and the Soviet Union.[70]

The Soviet Union under Leonid Brezhnev grew increasingly interested in Uganda as a strategic counterbalance to perceived Chinese influence in Tanzania and Western influence in Kenya. It dispatched a military mission to Uganda in November 1973. While it could not supply the financial level available from the Western powers, the Soviet Union opted to provide Amin with military hardware in exchange for his support.[72] The Soviet Union quickly became Amin's largest arms supplier, sending Uganda tanks, jets, artillery, missiles, and small arms. By 1975, it was estimated that the Soviets had provided Amin's government with $12 million in economic assistance and $48 million in arms. Amin also sent several thousand Ugandans to Eastern Bloc countries for military, intelligence, and technical training, especially Czechoslovakia.[73] East Germany was involved in the General Service Unit and the State Research Bureau, the two agencies that were most notorious for terror. Later during the Ugandan invasion of Tanzania in 1979, East Germany attempted to remove evidence of its involvement with these agencies.[5]

In December 1973 Amin launched a sarcastic 'Save Britain Fund' during the 1973–1975 recession to "save and assist our former colonial masters from economic catastrophe", while offering emergency food supplies and urging Ugandans to donate.[74][75][76]

Idi Amin visits the Zairian dictator Mobutu during the Shaba I conflict in 1977

In June 1976, Amin allowed an Air France airliner from Tel Aviv to Paris 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. The hijackers were joined there by three more. Soon after, 156 non-Jewish 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 (among whom were the captain and crew of the hijacked Air France jet), continued to be held hostage.[77] In the subsequent Israeli rescue operation, codenamed Operation Thunderbolt (popularly known as Operation Entebbe), on the night of 3–4 July 1976, a group of Israeli commandos flew in from Israel and seized control of Entebbe Airport, freeing nearly all the hostages. Three hostages died during the operation and 10 were wounded; 7 hijackers, about 45 Ugandan soldiers, and 1 Israeli soldier, Yoni Netanyahu (the commander of the unit), were killed. A fourth hostage, 75-year-old Dora Bloch, an elderly Jewish Englishwoman who had been taken to Mulago Hospital in Kampala before the rescue operation, was subsequently murdered in reprisal. The incident further soured Uganda's international relations, leading the United Kingdom to close its High Commission in Uganda.[77] In retaliation for Kenya's assistance in the raid, Amin also ordered the killing of hundreds of Kenyans living in Uganda.[78]

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 armoured personnel carriers along the Kenya–Uganda border.[79] Amin's relations with Rwanda were tense, and during his tenure he repeatedly jeopardized its economy by denying its commercial vehicles transit to Mombasa and made multiple threats to bomb Kigali.[80]

War with Tanzania and deposition[edit]

Idi Amin in 1979 during the end of the war.

In January 1977 Amin appointed General Mustafa Adrisi Vice President of Uganda.[81][82] That year, a split in the Uganda Army developed between supporters of Amin and soldiers loyal to Adrisi, who held significant power in the government and wanted to purge foreigners, particularly Sudanese, from the military.[83] The growing dissatisfaction in the Uganda Army was reflected by frequent coup attempts;[84] Amin was even wounded during one of them, namely Operation Mafuta Mingi in June 1977.[85][86] By 1978, the number of Amin's supporters and close associates had shrunk significantly, and he faced increasing dissent from the populace within Uganda as the economy and infrastructure collapsed as a result of the years of neglect and abuse. After the killings of Bishop Luwum and ministers Oryema and Oboth Ofumbi in 1977, several of Amin's ministers defected or fled into exile.[87] In early 1978, Adrisi was severely injured in a car accident and flown to Cairo for treatment. While he was there, Amin stripped him of his positions as Minister of Defense and Minister of Home Affairs and denounced him for retiring senior prison officials without his knowledge. Amin then proceeded to purge several high-ranking officials from his government[88] and took personal control of several ministerial portfolios. The shakeup caused political unrest and especially angered Adrisi's followers, who believed that the car accident was a failed assassination attempt.[89]

In November 1978, troops loyal to Adrisi mutinied. Amin sent troops against the mutineers, some of whom had fled across the Tanzanian border.[44] Fighting consequently broke out along that border, and the Uganda Army invaded Tanzanian territory under unclear circumstances.[90] According to several experts and politicians, Amin directly ordered the invasion in an attempt to distract the Ugandan military and public from the crisis at home.[91][92] Other accounts suggest, however, that Amin had lost control of parts of the Uganda Army, so Amin's sanction for the invasion was a post-facto action to save face regarding troops who had acted without his orders.[93][94] In any case, Amin accused Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere of initiating the war against Uganda after the hostilities had erupted, and proclaimed the annexation of a section of Kagera when the Ugandan invasion initially proved to be successful.[44][48] However, as Tanzania began to prepare a counter-offensive, Amin reportedly realized his precarious situation, and attempted to defuse the conflict without losing face.[95] The Ugandan President publicly suggested that he and Nyerere participate in a boxing match which, in lieu of military action, would determine the outcome of the conflict.[96][a] Nyerere ignored the message.[96]

In January 1979, 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, despite military help from Libya's Muammar Gaddafi[22] and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).[99] The President reportedly made several trips abroad to other countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq during the war, attempting to enlist more foreign support.[100][101] He made few public appearances in the final months of his rule, but spoke frequently on radio and television.[102] Following a major defeat in the Battle of Lukaya, parts of the Uganda Army command reportedly urged Amin to step down. He angrily refused and declared: "If you don't want to fight, I'll do it myself." He consequently fired chief of staff Yusuf Gowon.[103][104] However, Amin was forced to flee the Ugandan capital by helicopter on 11 April 1979, when Kampala was captured.[22] After a short-lived attempt to rally some remnants of the Uganda Army in eastern Uganda[105][106] which reportedly included Amin proclaiming the city of Jinja his country's new capital,[107] he fled into exile.[22] By the time of his removal from power, Amin had become deeply unpopular in Uganda. The symbols of his rule, his pictures, and buildings associated with him were subject to vandalism during and after the war.[108]


Amin first escaped to Libya, where he stayed until 1980, and ultimately settled in Saudi Arabia, where the Saudi royal family allowed him sanctuary and paid him a generous subsidy in return for staying out of politics.[22] Amin lived for a number of years on the top two floors of the Novotel Hotel on Palestine Road in Jeddah. Brian Barron, who covered the Uganda–Tanzania War for the BBC as chief Africa correspondent, together with cameraman Mohamed Amin (no relation) of Visnews in Nairobi, located Amin on 4 June 1980, and secured the first interview with him since his deposition.[109][110] While in exile, Amin funded remnants of his army that fought in the Ugandan Bush War.[111] Though he continued to be a controversial figure, some of Amin's former followers as well as several rebel groups continued to fight in his name for decades[112] and occasionally advocated for his amnesty[113] and even his restoration to Ugandan Presidency.[114] During interviews he gave during his exile in Saudi Arabia, Amin held that Uganda needed him and never expressed remorse for the brutal nature of his regime.[115]

In January 1989, Amin left his exile without authorization by the Saudi Arabian government and flew alongside one of his sons to Zaire. There, he intended to mobilize a rebel force to reconquer Uganda[116][117] which was engulfed in another civil war at the time.[118] The rest of his family stayed in Jeddah.[117] Despite using a false Zairean passport, Amin was easily recognized upon arriving with Air Zaïre at N'djili Airport and promptly arrested by Zairean security forces. The Zairean government reacted unfavorably to Amin's arrival and attempted to expel him from the country.[119] At first, Saudi Arabia refused to allow him to return,[116][117] as its government was deeply offended that he had "abused their hospitality" by leaving without permission, and doing so for political reasons.[120] The Zairean government wanted neither to extradite Amin to Uganda where the ex-president faced murder charges nor keep him in Zaire, thereby straining international relations. As a result, Amin was initially expelled to Senegal from where he was supposed to be sent to Saudi Arabia, but the Senegalese government sent him back to Zaire when Saudi Arabia continued to refuse Amin a visa.[117][120] Following appeals by Moroccan King Hassan II, the Saudi Arabian government finally relented and allowed Amin to return.[116][120] In return, Amin had to promise to never again participate in any political or military activities, nor give interviews. He consequently spent the remainder of his life in Saudi Arabia.[116]

In the final years of his life, Amin reportedly ate a fruitarian diet.[121] His daily consumption of oranges earned him the nickname "Dr Jaffa" among Saudi Arabians.[122][123]

Illness and death[edit]

On 19 July 2003, Amin's fourth wife, Nalongo Madina, reported that he was in a coma and near death at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, from kidney failure. She pleaded with the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, to allow him to return to Uganda for the remainder of his life. Museveni replied that Amin would have to "answer for his sins the moment he was brought back".[124] Amin's family eventually decided to disconnect life support and Amin consequently died at the hospital in Jeddah on 16 August 2003. He was buried in Ruwais Cemetery in Jeddah in a simple grave, without any fanfare.[125]

After Amin's death, David Owen revealed that during his term as the British Foreign Secretary (1977 to 1979), he had proposed having Amin assassinated. He has defended this, arguing: "I'm not ashamed of considering it, because his regime goes down in the scale of Pol Pot as one of the worst of all African regimes".[126]

Family and associates[edit]

Remnants of Amin's palace near Lake Victoria

Idi Amin married at least six women, three of whom he divorced. He married his first and second wives, Malyamu and Kay, in 1966. In 1967, he married Nora, and then married Nalongo Madina in 1972. On 26 March 1974, he announced on Radio Uganda that he had divorced Malyamu, Kay and Nora.[127][128] Malyamu was arrested in Tororo on the Kenyan border in April 1974 and accused of attempting to smuggle a bolt of fabric into Kenya.[127][129] In 1974, Kay Amin died under mysterious circumstances, with her body found dismembered.[130] Nora fled to Zaire in 1979; her current whereabouts are unknown.[129]

In July 1975, Amin staged a £2 million wedding to 19-year-old Sarah Kyolaba, a go-go dancer with the Revolutionary Suicide Mechanised Regiment Band, nicknamed "Suicide Sarah".[131] The wedding was held during the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) summit meeting in Kampala, and the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Yasser Arafat, served as Amin's best man.[132] Before she met Amin, Sarah was living with a boyfriend, Jesse Gitta; he vanished and it is not clear if he was beheaded, or detained after fleeing to Kenya.[131] The couple had four children and enjoyed rally race driving Amin's Citroën SM, with Sarah as navigator.[131] Sarah was a hairdresser in Tottenham when she died in 2015.[132]

Amin's Mercedes Benz that he owned between 1972 and 1979

By 1993, Amin was living with the last nine of his children and one wife, Mama a Chumaru, the mother of the youngest four of his children. His last known child, daughter Iman, was born in 1992.[133] According to The Monitor, Amin married again a few months before his death in 2003. [129] [134]

Amin fathered as many as 60 children.[b] Until 2003, Taban Amin (born 1955),[137] 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.[138] 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.[139]

Sarah Kyolaba's third child, Faisal Wangita (born in 1983 in Uganda; according to himself born in 1981 in Saudi Arabia) was involved in a brutal gang murder in Camden, North London, in 2006. In connection with this, he was sentenced to 5 years detention in 2007, for conspiracy to wound, conspiracy to possess offensive weapons and violent disorder. He had been convicted for possession of offensive weapons, theft and fraud in the years before.[140]

In early 2007, the award-winning film The Last King of Scotland prompted one of his sons, Jaffar Amin (born in 1967),[141] to speak out in his father's defense. Jaffar Amin said he was writing a book to rehabilitate his father's reputation.[142] Jaffar is the tenth of Amin's 40 official children by seven official wives.[141]

Among Amin's closest associates was the Briton Bob Astles.[143] Isaac Maliyamungu was an instrumental affiliate and one of the more feared officers in Amin's army.[87]



Over the course of his career, Amin gained numerous nicknames, many of them derogatory:

  • "Big Daddy":[144][145] affectionate nickname[146]
  • kijambiya ("the machete"):[147] attributed to Ugandan security forces often murdering their victims with machetes[148]
  • "Butcher of Uganda"[144]
  • "Butcher of Africa"[149]
  • "Butcher of Kampala"[120]
  • "Black Hitler"[120]
  • "Dada": It is disputed whether this was part of Amin's family name or a nickname. Some observers have claimed that it originated as a nickname for Amin's "cowardly" behavior, as it can be translated as "sister", though this has been strongly disputed by others.[150][151] Amin's family has stated that "Dada" was simply an alternative name for the Lugbara people which is occasionally used as a personal name. Researcher Mark Leopold judged this to be more likely than the nickname theory.[152]
  • "Dr. Jaffa":[122] he earned this nickname in exile in Saudi Arabia due to his daily consumption of oranges, especially after allegedly transitioning to fruitarianism.[121][123]

Erratic behavior, self-bestowed titles and media portrayal[edit]

A 1977 caricature of Amin in military and presidential attire by Edmund S. Valtman

As the years progressed, Amin's behavior became more erratic, unpredictable, and strident. After the United Kingdom broke off all diplomatic relations with his regime in 1977, Amin declared that he had defeated the British, and he conferred on himself the decoration of CBE (Conqueror of the British Empire). His full self-bestowed title ultimately became: "His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, CBE, 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 addition to his officially stated claim of being the uncrowned king of Scotland.[153] He never received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) or the Military Cross (MC). He conferred a doctorate of law on himself from Makerere University as well as the Victorious Cross (VC), a medal made to emulate the British Victoria Cross.[7][154]

Amin became the subject of rumors, including a widespread belief that he was a cannibal.[155] Amin reportedly also boasted that he kept the severed heads of political enemies in his freezer, although he said that human flesh was generally "too salty" for his taste.[156]

During Amin's time in power, popular media outside of Uganda often portrayed him as an essentially comic and eccentric figure. Julius Harris emphasized Amin's allegedly clownish side in Victory at Entebbe, while Yaphet Kotto drew more praise for projecting Amin's sinister nature in Raid on Entebbe. In a 1977 assessment typical of the time, a Time magazine article described him as a "killer and clown, big-hearted buffoon and strutting martinet".[157] The comedy-variety series Saturday Night Live aired four Amin sketches between 1976 and 1979, including one in which he was an ill-behaved houseguest in exile, and another in which he was a spokesman against venereal disease.[158] In 1979, radio host Don Imus made multiple on-air telephone calls in an attempt to talk to Amin, and later hosted a phony interview with him that was deemed "very dirty".[159] In a Benny Hill Show episode transmitted in January 1977, Hill portrayed Amin sitting behind a desk that featured a placard reading "ME TARZAN, U GANDA".[160]

The foreign media were often criticized by Ugandan exiles and defectors for emphasizing Amin's self-aggrandizing eccentricities and taste for excess while downplaying or excusing his murderous behavior.[161] Other commentators even suggested that Amin had deliberately cultivated his eccentric reputation in the foreign media as an easily parodied buffoon in order to defuse international concern over his administration of Uganda.[162] Ugandan soldier and rebel Patrick Kimumwe argued that Amin's "clowning conceal[ed] a ruthless extinction of human rights" in Uganda.[163] Journalists Tony Avirgan and Martha Honey wrote, "facile explanations of Amin's regime, as either a one-man show or a lawless and ruthless band of killers, do not get at the heart of the power structure."[164]


Gender historian Alicia Decker wrote that the "deeply embedded culture of militarism in Uganda is undoubtedly Amin's most enduring legacy."[165] In the immediate aftermath of his deposition, war correspondent Al J Venter stated that Ugandans still spoke about Amin "with a certain amount of awe, now laced with venom".[108] His reputation in Uganda has been viewed over the decades following his rule in more complex ways than in the international community. Some Ugandans have praised him as a "patriot" and supported his decision to expel Asians from the country.[166] At the time of his death, he was particularly well-regarded in north-western Uganda.[167] One of Amin's sons, Jaffar Remo, criticized the negative public perception of his father and called for a commission to investigate the veracity of the abuses committed under his rule.[168]

In popular culture[edit]

During the 1970s, while Amin was at the height of his infamy, British comic actor John Bird starred on the album The Collected Broadcasts of Idi Amin, with lyrics based on Alan Coren's anti-Amin Punch columns.[169][170] In 1975 the satirical single "Amazin' Man", from the album, was released on the Transatlantic label.[171][172] The record stayed for 12 weeks in the Australian Singles Chart, peaking at number 26.[173]

A 1974 documentary film General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait by director Barbet Schroeder was made with the support and participation of Idi Amin. Rise and Fall of Idi Amin (1981) is a Kenyan film that details the history of Idi Amin's reign. This film popularized many rumors about Amin's brutality, such as his alleged mutilation of one of his wives. Amin is played by Joseph Olita, who reprised this role in Mississippi Masala (1991), a film about romance between African and Asian-Americans following Amin's 1972 expulsion of Asians from Uganda.

Amin is the subject of English journalist Giles Foden's book The Last King of Scotland (1998), which focuses on Idi Amin's Uganda through the eyes of a young Scottish physician. In 2006, it was adapted into a movie, where Amin is portrayed by Forest Whitaker. Whitaker won the best leading actor award for this role at the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, the Screen Actor's Guild Award, and the BAFTAs.[174]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Amin also proposed that Muhammad Ali could act as referee.[97] Researcher Alicia C. Decker reasoned that the suggestion of a boxing match was supposed to "bolster [Amin's] masculinity" and thereby showcase that he remained a strong leader in the face of mounting opposition to his regime. Accordingly, the proposal was mostly directed toward a Ugandan audience, and part of Amin's "performative" ruling style.[98]
  2. ^ A report in The Monitor says he was survived by 45 children,[129] while another in the BBC gives the figure of 54.[135] Some members of his family estimated that he had near 60 children.[136]


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External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by President of Uganda
Succeeded by